Public Speaking – Tapping Into Your Inner Hambone

In light of my post on how to best pitch your seminar to the Ms. Head Bananas of the world, I thought I’d talk a bit more about seminars and public speaking, in general.

Promotion is key to gaining a readership, and one of the effective ways of doing this is public speaking. It’s not for everyone and can be an acquired taste. But it also makes an impact because it’s the only place where potential readers can see you in all your gorgeiosity. They can see your passion and your humor – and trust me, this goes a LONG way to making a sale. I’ve seen great speakers sell out of really crappy books. Conversely, I’ve seen really crappy speakers not sell a single copy of a fabulous book.

So the advice here is, do public speaking if it really floats your boat.

Why Do a Seminar?

Well, for starters, you do a seminar because you have information to impart, and it’s pretty easy to find a place that will give you the platform in which to get that message out. Bookstores are a logical choice, since they’ll sell your book for you after you’ve spoken to your adoring masses. But there are plenty of other places, as well. Consider your readership and figure out where and how to gather them together in a single venue. A captive audience is one who will buy your book.

Topic seems to be a sticking point for a lot of authors – what is my message when I write romance/fantasy/SF/mystery/thriller/historical fiction? I’ve often used the example of Mr. Two Surfer Dudes because he’s a shining example of how to take something from seemingly-nothing and create a wonderful platform for his books. Now that was a gent who really found his inner hambone.

Your message is key. It should teach something, enlighten, or inspire. Nonfiction is pretty much a no-brainer in the seminar department – but even nonfiction writers can miss the mark. They are so close to their book that, oftentimes, they fail to see the marketable qualities that can be pulled out and discussed in a seminar. This is why it’s vital to discuss this with your editor and/or their marketing guys. They have ideas bursting out their pores.

Booking an Event

Bookstores and libraries are more apt to book an author for a signing if they have a talk because they have more to promote than just your book. Which poster would entice you to attend a book event:

Come to a booksigning for Alana Banana, author of If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Time For Margaritas


Come listen to author Alana Banana discuss her book, If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Time For Margaritas – a humorous look at bar drinks from around the US. Alana will discuss which cocktails are better, why a single cocktail will add years to your life, and why rum is considered nectar of the gods.

The second blurb is meant to pull in readers who would be interested in a book of this nature, along with learning something.

Consider your book, even if its fiction. Is there something you can pull out that would make for an interesting talk? Back when I doing promotion for Donovan’s Paradigm, I wanted to get readers thinking because that’s an extension of my book. So I had a talk that asked the question, “Do you think your doctor’s beliefs influence the way they treat you?”

It was an intriguing question that brought in readers to hear what blasphemy I had to say. It made for a lively give and take with the audience, which I adored. And they always bought the book.

I”m Shy

Many authors would rather swallow hollow-point bullets than speak in front of an audience, so perhaps doing Skype talks or blog interviews is more your thing. The important consideration is to allow readers to “see” you, to get a feel for who you are. You may not think you’re terribly fascinating (ask my kids; they think I’m as dull as an English muffin), but your readers don’t, and they appreciate the opportunity to hear what you have to say.

In this business, shyness is a buzzkill.

Analyze Your Personality

Writing a book is no longer a matter of, “If you write it, they will come.” They won’t. With all the distractions in our lives, it’s easy to get lost among the white noise, which means that we all have to work harder to be heard. That also means that editors love an author who isn’t afraid to get out and show their pretty faces.

Take the time to analyze yourself; what kind of promotion are you comfortable doing? Personally, as hambone-y as I am, I will bathe in engine grease rather than do a booksigning event because it’s so hit or miss.

Even if I have a great talk planned, there’s no guarantee that anyone will show up. To counter that, I contact my potential audience. In Donovan’s Paradigm’s case, I sent out flyers to local nursing groups, alternative care clinics, and doctor’s clinics. The last thing I wanted to do is talk to the one guy who came in for the free water and cookies. At that, planning doesn’t equal success.

But dollars to doughnuts, I can attest that I always sold far more books after making public appearances. Yeppers, it’s that important. So if you feel you have a hambone just waiting to surface, give it some meat to work with and think about what elements of your book would make for a wonderful talk.

7 Responses to Public Speaking – Tapping Into Your Inner Hambone

  1. Public speaking, most definitely. In the business world we know that folks do business with folks that they like. I’m sure it’s the same way with a novel. If you can sell yourself to an audience, you can sell books.

    Tim Sunderland

  2. NinjaFingers says:

    The answer for SF/fantasy/horror fans is the convention circuit. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, your area probably has three-four accessible conventions a year. Most conventions will cheerfully take any published (and sometimes they have a very loose definition of ‘published’) writer and give them a seminar slot or a reading slot. The actual literary cons are often absolutely thrilled to hear from any writer who’s willing to be on a panel…they run lots of them and need lots of talking heads ;).

  3. Team Oyeniyi says:

    I have never understood those surveys that declare most people fear public speaking more than death.

    I’ve done a reasonable amount, although not yet for my book, so now I have read your article, I’ll store this tip away for future use!

    My advice to those who fear public speaking is to imagine the audience in their pajamas or underwear. Saggy underpants are not nearly as intimidating as a pinstripe suit!

  4. I’ve never been able to picture anyone in their Victoria Secrets or BVD’s. Knowing me, I’d get completely sidetracked and forget what I was talking about. One-track-mind Pricey; that’s me.

  5. catdownunder says:

    The inimitable Nicola Morgan has just been talking about the problems of introducing oneself over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. The notices in the bookshop are like that. One introduces you. The other does not. The first is polite. The second is rather rude. It suggests the shop simply does not care.
    I hate speaking in public. I sometimes have to do it. Being properly introduced makes it much easier!

  6. Dan Holloway says:

    The public appearance part of it is what I live for and one reason I’m sure why I’ve slowly evolved from writing experimental literary novels to performance poetry (the key trigger was running out of daytime TV gameshows to appear on to give me my exhibitionist fix). I’ve found bookstores and other venues very receptive to a performance-based event (and because I organise events I’m increasingly being asked to compere literary events, which is super because the people you’re compering bring new readers who are probably into your kind of book) but I’ve also found that being gobby about self-publishing has been a very good way to get invited onto seminar panels.

    Ninjafingers makes a very good point about the convention circuit in certain genres – SF/fantasy and steampunk in the UK have huge, devoted fan scenes. One thing I found whilst I was still writing literary fiction was how willing academic conferences were to have writers speak if they write in a similar area – universities and academic funders are under increasing pressure to widen their research’s impact to the public and what they call a “practitioner-based session” is a big part of that – and you have a table to sell your books from to a captive audience during breaks. In my case I was writing about post-communist Europe and my book was out 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – I was able to give a number of papers at conferences marking the anniversary by linking the themes of my book to conference focus – so widen your search would be my advice.

    In terms of the practicalities of speaking, my single biggest bits of advice would be to sort out your physical things – by which I mean 1. scope out the venue and get used to the microphone, where you’ll be standing, what you can see etc, in plenty of time and 2. rehearse and rehearse again the daft things like what to do with your spare hand if you’re holding a book in the other – practise gestures, even develop your own. It’s surprising how off-putting the physical details of speaking can be – rehearsing them means you can focus entirely on what you’re saying without those sudden moments where you look down and notice you’ve got a sweaty palm flapping around r when you just don’t know where to look and find our eyes transfixed by the toupe in the second row.

    (If I may be really inappropriate – feel free to edit out, but you might be interested as you publish books on bipolar and this post is about performance – this is a video of a poem I performed this week

  7. Ninjie, I’ve learned to assume I won’t be introduced, that way I’m always prepared to introduce myself with a canned self-intro. And I agree with you; it’s a bit rude not to introduce a speaker, but each store has their own idiom when it comes to hosting author events.

    Dan, tossing up a big huzzah about being very familiar with your talk. When you’re up in front of a crowd, your mind is buzzing with a million different thoughts, and knowing your talk allows you the freedom and confidence to improvise by tossing in other things that aren’t in your written talk. It’s what keeps it extemporaneous. In many cases, I’ve given the same seminars many times, and each one is different.

    The absolute worst.thing anyone could do is read from their notes and not maintain eye contact with the audience. Also, it’s important to enjoy speaking before a crowd because that joy will come through in your delivery.

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