The Lecture Experience: Part III
edited: Monday, July 18, 2005
By Feather Schwartz Foster
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, April 16, 2005
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The final installment of tips for promoting a book-by lecture.
The Lecture Experience: Part III
By Feather Schwartz Foster
Author of LADIES: A Conjecture of Personalities
So now you’ve arranged some speaking engagements. Your talks have been prepared and you are about to start a new – and very pleasurable – experience. This essay is not designed as a treatise on public speaking; it is already assumed that you are able to speak in front of an audience. Suffice it to say that my high school public speaking teacher gave us the three cardinal rules: Stand Up, Speak Up and Shut Up. My college public address professor gave us one dictum: Know Your Subject. They were both right.
However, this essay is designed to offer some suggestions to making the lecture experiences easier, more delightful, and more beneficial for your book promotion efforts.
When you leave your house, be sure to take the name of the organization, address (and if possible, phone number) of the meeting place, your contact person’s name and directions. If you have the opportunity, or it is feasible to trouble-shoot the route, do so, and get an idea of how long it will take. This will be especially helpful if the meeting takes place at night and you don’t know the way.
1. Save your back. Invest in an inexpensive carry-on piece of luggage – the kind with wheels and a sturdy handle. It can hold a couple of dozen books and ancillary items, and it is far easier to maneuver than a carton. It also is better protection for your books in bad weather. And, needless to say, it’s much easier to pull it up stairs.
A lesson learned. What I dodo I must be!! One of my audience members actually had to give me that no-brainer advice!
This recommendation depends on your subject matter and/or book, and whether or not you can expect large numbers of book sales. Since I don’t usually sell large quantities, I only set up 10-12 books as a display. This way it is not overwhelming, intimidating or suggestive of over-expectations. I can always take more books from my carry-on – or get more from my car. If it is likely that you will sell dozens or even hundreds of books at a single lecture, you can set out 20 or more, and/or perhaps arrange to have cartons sent to the meeting hall in advance.
2. Questions and Answers
Every group will want to leave time at the end for questions and answers – and with a subject like the “old” First Ladies, I usually have plenty. But you need to always be prepared in case the audience has a collective attack of shy, and no questions are forthcoming. Play with them a little and encourage the questions. I always tell my shy audiences “If you don’t ask me questions, I’ll ask you questions.” That usually gets them going.
A lesson learned. Have a couple of questions prepared yourself. If your book is about traveling, ask them about their own travels. If it is about health issues, ask them if they ever had a serious illness. If it is a murder mystery or science fiction or romance novel, ask who their favorite authors are. This will help get the ball rolling! My favorite question – especially for older audiences – is “who was President when you were born?” Most of them don’t even know!
3. Bring your flyers!
I usually bring several dozen of my “speaker” flyers, which not only tells about my availability, but about my book, including some brief reviews, and all the vital statistics (where to obtain it, and where to contact me). The reverse side lists some comments about my presentations. People will be happy to take your flyer – even if they don’t purchase a book.
A lesson learned: For my very first talk, I brought along cards, listing where my book could be purchased “in case you want to think about it.” (I am not a hard-sell person.) Six people came up to me to ask if I would speak at their club or church, etc., and I found myself putting my email address and phone number on the cards. By the third or fourth talk, I decided that my presentations seemed to be even more appealing than the book (which is why I now charge an honorarium). The “old” First Ladies can be a very appealing subject for an hour – but one needs to be really interested in the subject to buy the book!
So I started bring along my flyers and telling my audiences that I’d be delighted to come to their groups, and “please feel free to pass it along.” They take a lot of flyers!
A caveat: I do NOT include a fee on my flyer. Since several groups have a particular honorarium they usually pay, and since my fee is based on distance, and since I like to reserve the right to waive or lower the fee at my discretion, I prefer to deal with that subject on a one-on-one basis. This is something that only you can decide for yourself.
4. Start A Guest Book
If you find, after a few lectures, that your audience comes to you with sincere and enthusiastic responses, you may as well get it in writing.
Buy an attractive notebook, and prepare a page for your event: the organization, place and date. Invite your audience to write you a few kind words.
A lesson learned: Favorable comments from your audience go a long way in securing additional speaking engagements. A large percentage of my talks have been obtained by word of mouth. After I had amassed a bunch of delighted comments from a dozen organizations, I picked out a handful and included them on the reverse side of my flyer. To insure privacy, I never use a last name; I merely state the quote, followed by “Ruth C.” or “Marian R.” and the name of the organization.
Ah. This can be tricky. Most organizations will do their own publicity, and the local papers are more apt to run an article from the “x-town” Woman’s Club or Historical Society than they are from you, the unknown-to-the-area author-speaker. Some organizations are “private” in nature and only send notices to their membership. Senior housing centers, for example, do not publicize at all, other than to their own residents.
Always ask your contact person what publicity they do themselves, and if they would save copies for your files. They will be happy to do so. Most of them will ask you for your bio and perhaps a photo. In the case of a “public” engagement, such as a library program, it might be feasible to send a release to their local papers in addition to whatever they send. Ask them. Also ask them for the name of their newspapers, the contact person, and a phone/fax or address.
When I first began to lecture, I prepared a sample news release, a sample flyer and a brief bio. I email it over to my contact person, and they can adapt it to their needs.
If the group is a particularly well-known organization, or I feel it has more than local interest, I send my own release to selected media, including some on-line sites. And I always, ALWAYS, include every event on my web page, and never delete them. I include the group or town (or both) on my “keyword” list as well.
In addition, once a month (more than once, if I have a lot of speaking engagements), I send out a few dozen postcards to let people know where I will be appearing. These are computer-made postcards, four to a page, and are readily available at the local office supply store.
On the left, I show the artwork of the book cover, a brief blurb, the ISBN and where the book can be obtained. On the right is the title “Upcoming Appearances for Feather Schwartz Foster” and I list four or five engagements for that month. I keep it short and simple, i.e. Wed., 1/15, Rotary Club, Kenilworth, NJ.
A lesson learned: You do not heed to send postcards to everyone on your list; it will be too costly. If you have email addresses, the same information can be sent by email. I reserve my postcards for the following: close friends and family members who are out of state and potential organizations that I am trying to solicit. I find that the card works better than email for them. They can bring it along to their next planning meeting.
I also include radio or TV appearances and bookstore signings on my engagement list – and always send the inviting organization a postcard, so they know that I am promoting them as well as myself.
An important lesson learned. If someone sees your name/book in print, they are a) likely to remember it, and b) forget where they saw it. This way, if you send a couple of postcards, and then follow up with a phone call to solicit an engagement, your contact person will probably remember hearing about you/your book – which is good – and may forgot how they heard about you – which is also good. People tend to forget email content and delete it.
Another lesson learned. I started out by sending advisory flyers, and then realized it was much more time consuming and expensive than postcards, which I can do 4 at a time and send for 15 cents less apiece. And I am still saying everything I need to say!
One more lesson: I hand address the card. Since I am only sending a few dozen, I can do it easily enough watching TV. It shows particular interest in the person/group than a mailing label. I also hand-write a brief message, i.e. “book now for spring!” and include my phone number. It makes the recipients or groups feel special – which they are.
Once you get the hang of a good routine, you’ll be surprised at how much you will be in demand as a speaker – and you’ll probably sell a good many books!
Feather Schwartz Foster has been an amateur (non-academic) presidential historian for more than 35 years, and has a personal presidential library of more than 1,000 volumes. She is the author of “LADIES: A Conjecture of Personalities,” published by PublishAmerica, about First Ladies between Martha Washington and Mamie Eisenhower. Her second book, “Garfield’s Train” will be published in 2005.