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Getting in Front of the Readers
Jack Whitsel
Posted: Friday, November 18, 2011 11:55 AM
Joined: 5/7/2011
Posts: 35

Nearly three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being the Keynote Speaker at the Beaverton Rotary. Now, despite the pictures you see, I was completely sober. Really…not a single drink. I’ve always said, I have a mug made for radio, but these photos made me appear as if I was making my debut appearance at Alcoholics Anonymous. (photos at But all jokes aside, my visit at the Rotary was fantastic.
After a fulfilling lunch and a splendid introduction, I approached  the podium to talk about writing. I kept my bio brief, as well as my writing process in order to answer as many questions as the audience was willing to ask. Though I did find opportunities to plug my upcoming Shadows of Kings, my speech was designed to be as informative as possible, while also incorporating a little wit. When it came time for the Q&A portion, I was pleasantly surprised to receive many questions - quite different from the fears I was harboring. (I thought no one would ask anything, forcing me to resort to my Andrew Dice Clay jokes.) “Poems…I got Poems”
My audience asked questions ranging from creative inspiration to industry insights. I could have stood at the podium all day and allowed them to rifle questions at me, but all good things come to an end. In short, my afternoon at the Rotary was wonderful. I feel it’s important for writers to connect with the public beyond the usual workshops and book signings. Sometimes individuals just want to pick your mind without having to dance around formalities or be forced to elbow through the masses to get an autograph.
I was informed a few days later that the Rotary enjoyed my appearance. But I can honestly tell you that the pleasure was all mine.

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Monday, July 30, 2012 4:01 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

Public speaking is a skill--as writing is--and thus benefits from practice.  Not all writers are good speakers--but even the not-so-great speakers can get better.  For the very shy, taking a class or joining a group that teaches how to speak publicly may help. For the more confident, reading about how to do it, and watching videos of good speakers and bad speakers (so you don't do that) is a good idea. 

There's a purpose to every public speaking gig--the purpose of the organizers will vary (pure entertainment, educating that particular audience) but the writer's purpose is almost always to get people to buy the books.   Luckily for us, if people enjoy  the speech, they're more likely to buy the books even if (actually particularly if) you didn't pound "Buy my books!" into their head.

Each kind of public speaking has its own challenges: the school visit, the signing at a bookstore (yes, that's a public speaking event--you're going to speak to the people who ask you to sign),  a reading-and-signing at a bookstore,  a speech (as above to a community organization, or to a library, or at a writers' meeting), a panel at a science fiction convention, a workshop gig.   Someone who's great talking to kids may not be comfortable with a roomful of businessmen--and vice versa. 

Every encounter is an opportunity to create interest in your work--no matter the kind. do you do that?

First, know yourself.  If you're painfully shy, and find it very hard to speak one-on-one to strangers, then you're probably not going to chat readily with people on a train or bus or airplane...don't even push yourself.  Do have good business cards made in case you're asked what you do, and then hand one over.   If you're bubbly-outgoing, and  find it easy to talk to anyone, tone it down so you don't become the feared pest who buttonholes everyone to tell them about your book and how great it is.   Like kids and get along with them?  Accept all those invitations to speak at schools.   Fear the chaos of kids and prefer the calm of more placid adults?   Consider book clubs.  Enjoy discussing topics with other writers, in groups?   Consider panels at conventions.  Love to teach to adults?  Do workshops and take gigs in classes at colleges as a visiting lecturer.

Generally:  Be prepared for all your planned speaking engagements.  Find out about the audience--what are they like, what are they likely to expect?  Organize your thoughts--if you don't write out a complete speech, jot down the important points you want to make.  If you do write out the whole speech, read it aloud, time it (will it fit the time you're given?),  and practice reading it unobtrusively--don't make the audience look at the top of your head while you mutter into the pages.

It shouldn't need to be said, but it does have to be said:  arrive at the venue clean and non-stinky (sorry, some don't get this),  in appropriate clothing (it can be casual, but shouldn't be offensive.  I wouldn't speak to the Pittsburgh Steelers wearing a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt and cap.)  Be on time, so you can have time for that last minute dash to the facilities you may need.  Have business cards, and one "show and tell" book if it's not a bookstore.  If the purpose is educational and you're dealing with a high school or older audience, they may like to see what a rejection letter, an acceptance letter, etc looks like. 

Don't talk too fast.   Use expression, as you would if telling a story to a little child.  Make eye contact with people in the audience.  And be human...if you're someone they find interesting--someone who shows he or she enjoys things, might make a good neighbor, isn't stiff and arrogant and harsh--they're more likely to remember you and consider buying your book.  Have responses ready for the people who say "I never heard of you," or "I just can't read [whatever genre you write it]" or "I only read good books" or "Why don't you write about [their pet topic/opinion]". Pleasant, friendly responses...because some people are tactless and rude, and some envy your being up there with a published book in hand that they are spiteful.  Being pleasant in response wins you points with everyone else, and occasionally (not often) with the snippy one.

For the casual, unplanned encounters (I ride the train, so I have them on the train--but also at church, at doctors' offices, any place someone might ask me what I do) if you're the kind of person who talks to people casually, start with "I'm a writer."   And wait.  Some people will go "Oh," and nothing more and start another topic.  Fine, you haven't wasted your time or bored them.  Some will say "What do you write?" or "Are you published."  These are predictable following questions if they have any interest.  Answer them, but don't push.  Remember, other people are overhearing this and some of them will notice if you're loud or pushy or defensive. 

"What's your book called?" is your cue to offer your card (which can have the book title(s) on the back) and give a brief (very brief) description.  If the person has already said "I don't read [genre]," ask what they like to read.   If they say another genre, ask what writers they like, or titles they like.  You may spot a chance to do good for your genre, if you find out what they like, and that the reason they don't read your genre is that 40 years ago in 10th grade they had to read X (in your genre) and hated it.  You can mention that it's changed (they've all changed) and that--since they like Writer A in the other genre, they might like Writer L in yours, because it's got (this, this, and the other thing) that they mentioned liking in Writer A.  (Obviously this is easier to pull off if you've read widely in their genre as well as your own, know the characteristics of those writers, and many in your own, and can play matchmaker.)

Best casual experience I had was in the dining car of a train back in June of this year.  The other three people at the table were all interested in meeting a writer, and asked about my books.  One of them with a smart-phone then immediately ordered the e-book version from  That really opened my eyes to the value of being open to every encounter.

You can "get in front of the readers" anywhere, any time, so be alert--and someone they're happy to see.

Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 11:27 AM
Public speaking makes me a nervous wreck. I have panic disorder with agoraphobia. But the more I get out there in front of people (readers) and interacting with people (readers), the better I'm getting at it. The ones who know me / know about me, understand the panic and are wonderfully patient with me - that goes a long way.