Congratulations! You’re an author! If you’re generating some “buzz” about your book (or even if you hope to), you’ll need to know how to talk about what you’ve written in a compelling way. Every writer knows that good writing is re-writing. That’s the way it is with public speaking as well. It’ll take you some time to hone your style and discover what works for different audiences and different formats. There are some basic best practices though to help you get started.
Have a message
This is author Lauren Weisberger on her book “The Devil Wears Prada” speaking to “Readers Read”:
“Hopefully readers everywhere can relate to the other things in Andrea’s life. The repercussions of her job on her personal life, the problems that arise with her best friend and boyfriend and family, and the way it feels to live in the big city for the first time, are common experiences for so many young women. At the end of the day, I’d be thrilled to hear that readers related to Andrea and this year in her life, and that they had a few laughs while they read. This is clearly not War & Peace, so I’d love to hear that people just enjoyed themselves while reading the book. That would be perfect.”
Ms. Weisberger’s messages sum up that her book is about a relatable young woman, living life in a big city, coupled with the author’s hope the book brings enjoyment and laughter to readers. While there are any number of things she could say about the book (based on a real-life internship she had for a noted designer in the fashion industry), her core messages simply revolved around her central character’s test of strength and ambition that anyone can relate to.
Messaging isn’t about the details of the book, but rather opening a window into its bigger ideas and themes. Think about what you’d like people to remember and take away from what you’ve written and build your talk from there.
Tailor your pitch
Always speak about your book with your audience in mind. Knowing what you know about them, what would they be most interested in hearing? Is there an excerpt or anecdote that you can summarize that you know your audience would especially want to hear? For instance, in an interview with NBC’s Dateline, Author JK Rowling spoke about how her life has changed since becoming one of the world’s best known authors.
“…Everyone wanted my emotions to be very simple. They wanted me to say, ‘I was poor and I was unhappy, and now I’ve got money and I’m really happy.’ And it’s what we all want to see when the quiz winner wins the big prize, you know. You want to see some jumping up and down, for everything to be very uncomplicated. The fact is, I was living a very pure life. There was no press involvement, there was no pressure. Life was very pure and it became more complicated.”
Instead of details of her well-known characters and speculation about where the story might go next, Rawlings surely knew that the very broad and mostly adult audience she was speaking to would focus more easily on what her personal success has meant. She might have expected far different questions from a different media outlet, based on the interest of their viewers.
Understand as much as you can before doing any interview or appearing before any audience about the audience itself. Be prepared to understand their perspective and speak to what about their particular interests intersects with your subject.
Leave them wanting more
Of course you want to turn listeners or viewers into readers. You want to give your audience just enough information to fascinate them, but not so much detail that there is no point in reading your book! This will take some work and practice. Learn to speak about your subject in broad terms, adding color or anecdotes to spark more interest. Think of speaking orally about your book as the equivalent of the “book jacket,” with more color and one or two anecdotes added in.
When people hear or see you in person, they also want something that’s NOT in the book. A backstory, a funny or interesting anecdote, something about the way your book came to be is always interesting to a broad audience. Here’s how Anthony Bourdain described his route from chef to well-known author to Powell’s Books:
“I was getting frustrated, so I mentioned it casually to my mother, and like a good mother she said, ‘Oh, you should send it to The New Yorker. It’s good enough.’ Yeah, right. That’s gonna happen. An unsolicited submission to The New Yorker? Never. I was absolutely floored when they called up a month later and said they were going to run it. They explained to me that the odds are something like one in ten thousand, if not more. They use me as a case study now when they do seminars at colleges. Very shortly after it appeared, a publisher called up and said, “Want to write a book?”
Remember, oral communication is very different than written communication. Most people listening and watching won’t be taking notes. You have to be understood the first time. Be brief, be engaging, and know that no one is more qualified to speak on your book than you are.