“It’s my dream to have my books in bookstores!” enthuses a first-time author. Though I smile and stay silent, my mind is screaming, “Wrong! You should be strategizing how to get your books out of bookstores!” Returns are a serious problem in bookselling today, and unless authors are proactive, it can only get worse.
Publicity and word of mouth are the traditional “fixes” that grow your books legs, allowing them to march out of the stores. A third element can enrich the mix–public speaking.
Many authors speak about their books at bookstores in the course of doing launches and tours. Why stop there?
Whether your books are fiction or nonfiction, individuals and groups can benefit from your knowledge, and they will even pay to hear what you can tell them. In fact, public speaking can create a strong subsidiary market for your knowledge in various forms. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on speaking as a mechanism to increase media attention and word of mouth for books.
Finding Eager Audiences
A popular myth asserts that the bookstore is the most appropriate venue for speaking about your book. In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. Consider the typical bookstore talk audience. If they are not part of your family and friends network, their only common denominator is that they like to read and value the opportunity to experience authors reading and discussing their own work.
Now consider that a more targeted audience may be available to you, which you are not addressing. Spend a few minutes doing some intense brainstorming to target the three groups of people who would be most strongly motivated to buy your book.
Then ask yourself the following questions:
1. What do these people read, watch, and do for fun?
2. Are there any clubs, associations, or organizations these people already belong to?
For illustrative purposes, let’s assume your book is on gardening, and you’ve determined that your #1 audience collects gardening books, visits gardening centers for fun on weekends, and watches gardening shows on cable TV.
Good start. Now you want to find organizations, clubs, and/or associations that cater to these individuals. A quick, friendly call to your local librarian can point you in the right direction. Call the clubs, organizations, and associations, and find the appropriate person to hear your verbal pitch that you become their speaker. In most cases, you’ll be warmly welcomed, but they’ll expect you to speak for free.
Free?! I can hear you grumble.
Relax. The engagement is free, but you’ll bring a box of books and sell them at full price. You can bring a brochure and offer consulting services. And you can invite this wonderfully targeted audience to subscribe to your e-zine so that you have them as customers forever. That way, you can sell them more gardening books down the road. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even create your own gardening products one day and can work with this valuable list.
Depending on the subject of your book, it’s also possible that power players from top corporations are in the audience. They may be so entranced by your speaking ability that they offer you the opportunity to speak to their corporation. Then you could make a nice fee for your trouble.
Your biggest opportunity is to parlay the speaking engagement into a publicity opportunity that will get a photo of you splashed on the appropriate pages of local papers. Just call up the editor of the appropriate section of the paper, explain that you are a local author invited to speak in front of Such-and-Such group, and suggest that it would be great if they could have a photographer there to immortalize the event.
Start with the largest newspaper and work your way down to neighborhood papers (which, by the way, can usually be counted on to show up!).
Even if the photo “just” circulates in your own community paper instead of the Sunday “Styles” section of The New York Times, you will soon find yourself having achieved “celebrity status.” Everyone from the corner grocer to the dry cleaner will be saying they saw your picture–and“What’s this, you’ve written a book?”
Smile and say you’d be happy to personally sign it for them the next time you’re in, adding that there are some copies over at Such-and-Such bookstore. You can even make this offer stronger by adding that you’ll give them a little freebie–this could be a bookmark you produce yourself or a publisher’s promotional item.
At this point, you’re beginning to generate “word of mouth” sales. The dry cleaner might very well tell her niece in the Midwest that she met you, a “real live author,” and the niece could buy your book and tell several friends.
Continue to market yourself to associations, organizations, and even trade shows that tie in with the subject of your book. You’ll quickly see that one booking leads to other bookings, and that you’re increasingly in demand as a speaker.
Help! I Don’t Know How to Speak!
What? Of course you do! You’ve been speaking since you were two or three.
What you probably mean is that you don’t know how to organize your thoughts into a compelling, entertaining talk that people will enjoy so much that they’ll want to take a piece of you home in the form of your book.
Here’s a template that you can use to create an entertaining talk. Try to keep it to 20 minutes, at the most. Remember that though your expertise brought the audience in, the entertainment value of your talk is what will keep them hooked!
Why the audience needs to know your theory about the subject of your book (which I will call X from now on)
How your audience can use X to solve their problem
Your credentials for writing the book and discussing X
How you have broken down the complex issue of X into three key points
- Introduce this point clearly and distinctly.
- Support this point with facts, statistics, and an anecdote.
- Conclude this point.
Do the same with POINT TWO and POINT THREE.
Summarize the points you’ve made, accentuating their benefits.
Announce that you’ll take questions for 10 minutes before making your concluding statement.
Make your concluding statement, summarizing your key points again.
Strongly state (not merely mention) that your book is available at the back
of the room, PLUS add a special benefit they’ll get with their purchase.
People do not buy unless they’re motivated. The fact that you’re a speaker and an author helps, but ensure profitability by offering more. What’s more? Autographs are good, but not enough. Try these ideas!
Create a freebie that you can give away with your book.
Give a special “this night only” discount.
Say that people who buy the book will be entitled to get your e-zine.
(You do have an e-zine, don’t you?)
Make Yours a Happy Book
Remember, your objective in speaking is more long-term than selling a carton of books. You can use news of the event to create media releases to send to papers all over your area in advance, and even after the event. You can use pictures the media took the night of the speaking event for future publicity and your Web site. You’ll have several new names to add to the “hot list” on your database. You will have improved as a public speaker!
Remember, a returned book is not a happy book. Create happy books by speaking on their behalf. Silent by nature, books don’t have the power or ability to assemble a targeted audience and reveal their brilliance in spoken form. You do.
Marisa D’Vari specializes in presentation training, media training, and book publicity. This article is adapted from her book “Media Magic: Profit and
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