Monday, September 5, 2011

The Author Talk—Different Messages for Different Groups

SinCI’m speaking this Sunday at a Sisters in Crime meeting in High Point, North Carolina from 2-4.

I’m looking forward to the talk because I’m most comfortable with writers. Although I probably should be more comfortable with readers…it just hasn’t worked out that way.

I don’t have an assigned topic to speak on (sometimes when I speak with groups, they ask me to talk on a particular topic.) So I’ll set my own topic—it’s always better to go in with a plan. I’ve found that most writing groups want me to talk about how to juggle different series and publishers at once, how to use social media to promote, and how I got my start in publishing. This is all stuff I know by heart. :)

But I also speak with other types of groups, although I don’t think of myself as a good speaker (I’m getting better.)

Here are some of my thoughts and tips on speaking to different audiences:

Talking to children (if you write for adults): This is so dependent on the age-group you’re speaking to. I’ve done presentations for early elementary through middle school age, and my tip is to know your audience. The little guys just don’t have an attention span. Bring in lots of props. For early elementary age, I usually bring in my journals and writing from when I was a kid, encourage them to write their own stories, show them a marked up manuscript (for some reason they’re always very interested in this), and then follow up by reading a favorite picture book.

For older children (again, if you write for adults): I ask the teacher (whoever gave me the invite), how they’re teaching writing and what they’re focusing on. The last thing I want to do is undo what they’ve taught! I follow their lesson plan (frequently on topics like elaboration, how to start and end a story, focusing on a small part of a story instead of throwing the net too wide) and talk about how I use what the teacher has taught in my own writing. Older kids really want a Q&A session, too.

Talking to other writers: It’s important to know what you’re there for. Once I apparently didn’t get the memo and found out when I was at the event that I was talking about humor in mysteries. That was fine, but I usually don’t do well shooting from the hip! Sometimes they’ll want you to talk about something really specific—editing or promo or dialogue or POV. Sometimes they’ll leave the topic up to you (but you’ll want to plan ahead for what you’ll speak about….just to make your talk more polished.) I’m fond of handing out sheets with helpful websites, resources for writers, etc.

Talking to readers: This is always completely different from talking with other writers. Readers like to hear more about the writing life, how we come up with characters, why we chose our genre, where we find our inspiration, our favorite authors, etc. There’s also, subtly, a bit more of a sales aspect to talking to readers (because your books are for sale on the back table) and so you’ll want to use quick and interesting examples from your own work.

Talking to book clubs. How is this different from talking with readers? Because these folks have all read your book! And boy, you should know that book backwards and forwards. If you have written a fair number of books or have a poor memory (I can claim both) then bring a cheat sheet with you of characters and plot points. Believe me—you’ll need it.

Readings. Um…well, I hate readings. But you should always be prepared to give a reading, no matter who you’re speaking to. I’ve been surprised before by moderators who asked me to read from my book and was frantically flipping through, trying to find a good spot to read from. Just mark a book with a Post-It note and be sure to bring your reading glasses. Try to read with inflection. Keep it short. That’s about all the advice I have on this topic. :) I keep mentioning to event organizers that I don’t do readings, but apparently this message gets lost.

I could also talk about speaking on panels, but I’ll skip it here because it’s pretty easy—you’re usually speaking on an assigned topic, responding to moderator questions, sharing time with other writers (don’t hog the spotlight), and addressing one of the groups I’ve mentioned above (readers if it’s a readers’ convention, writers if it’s a writing convention.)

Have you spoken to different types of groups about your writing? Do you have favorite groups to speak to? Got any public speaking tips?