Reading another author’s blog last week about using speaking engagements to support books beyond the initial launch, I noticed a couple of pre published authors asked about how an author figures out what to talk about, and how fiction authors secure invitations to speak. Here’s how I built my speaking credits over a 20 year career and what I talk about.
Start small and network. As a newly- published author of a novel for young readers, I approached my next door neighbor, a teacher in the local schools. I showed him the book and offered to speak to the fifth graders at his school free of charge. I visited our local bookseller and set up a book signing for the Saturday following my talk at the school. On the day of my talk, I took the quilt that had inspired the story and some pictures of the real-life people who had cameo appearances in the novel. I read a brief excerpt from the book, led the students in a brief writing exercise, and handed out a brochure with my photo, the book jacket, and info about the signing. I left my contact information with the school librarian, the teachers,and with the bookseller. Within a month, I had five invitations to speak at surrounding schools, and three of those offered a modest honorarium. Some were able to host book sales thorough a local bookseller or parents’ organization.
Contact organizations that have some connection to your book and offer to speak. In my case, I contacted the state writers organization for young people’s literature, and was invited to speak at a regional conference. In attendance at that regional conference was someone who booked speakers at the national level. It took several more years of sending in proposals but eventually I was invited to speak at the national conference for which I was paid, in addition to having my hotel, airfare, and conference registration paid. This conference like most others, hosted a huge book signing for me and for the other speakers on the program.
Take a look at what your main characters do, and see if there is an organization that might be interested. For instance, if your character is a quilter, check out local quilting clubs, guilds, or organizations. If he’s a horse trainer, look for local equestrian organizations.
Contact local college and university programs. Offer to speak to their students of creative writing. It might turn into a permanent gig that will help pay the bills between books.
Sign up for speakers bureaus. Many organizations maintain a free database of people who are available to speak. After you have published a few books and established a track record, contact writers’ groups, conference coordinators, and workshop directors and ask to be considered for places on their programs.
I started small, at the local level, and over several years, built a reputation for offering programs that are fun, interactive, and helpful. By the time I had written my twelfth book, I had accumulated speaking credits at more than a hundred venues, speaking to groups as small as 20 and as large as two thousand.
Check into getting on the program at book fairs and festivals. Chances are if your book is selected for the festival, you will have to pay all your own expenses to get there. But most of the big festivals draw thousands of readers, and the potential for exposure is great. Even if you don’t sell many books when it’s your turn in the signing tent, your name and your book will be printed in the program.
No matter how small the group, solicit an endorsement from the person who booked you. Consider putting endorsements on your website, and/or in the printed material you send to prospective venues.
What I Talk About: Depends on the audience. Obviously, for writers conferences and workshops, I focus on some aspect of craft. Last year at the South Carolina Writers Workshop, I talked about self editing, and gave a second workshop on writing for teens. At the 2010 ACFW workshop, I talked about writing historical novels. This is also my topic when I speak at the national Romantic Times convention in Chicago next April. In March I’m speaking to a group in Houston about getting and working with an agent. Over the years I’ve spoken on crafting strong beginnings, avoiding sagging middles, developing a plot skeleton, and building three dimensional characters. But I’ve also spoken on how I conduct research, what online resources I love, and once, on the funniest things that have happened to me on the road to publication.
The important thing is to choose topics you feel comfortable teaching. Always provide a “take away” for your audience. Be generous with your information and your printed materials. You never know when one of them will wind up in the hands of a national conference director.
Next week I’ll share some tips on how to craft and deliver a dynamite speech.