As we ease into a “new normal” of virtual, in-person, and hybrid book events, these tips will prepare you to get your book’s message across in any format.
1. Write down your book’s key takeaways
This might sound self-explanatory, but if you’re not sure what message you’re trying to convey to an audience, they probably won’t receive it. Brainstorm the key talking points about your book, focusing on the following:
- What makes your book stand out?
- What messages does your book convey and why are they important to you?
- Which talking points do you want an attendee to remember hours, days, and weeks after your event?
Once you have these notes, hone your message into a few key takeaways. (For example, “This book is the go-to guide for X” or “This book is perfect for fans of Y.”) Once you have the key talking points sketched out, it’s time to start planning your pitches.
2. Practice pitching your book . . . a lot
Keeping the main points in mind, practice pitching your book to various audiences. You can rehearse with a friend or spouse, record your own pitch and play it back, or pitch it to an empty room—or even to your pets!
Throughout the lifespan of your book, you’ll need to prepare pitches of varying lengths. Here are two examples:
- The elevator pitch. From family gatherings to networking events, you’ll need to craft a succinct pitch that piques the listener’s interest. Get out your phone’s timer and try to describe your book in thirty seconds. Then do the same thing in half the time. The more you practice this, the more you’ll be prepared to confidently answer the common question, “What’s your book about, anyway?”
- The book-event pitch. No matter the type of bookish event you’re participating in—and no matter the format—you’ll likely be asked to talk about your book for 1–2 minutes. With longer pitches, you should strike a balance between giving the audience enough information about your book to make them interested, but not overexplaining or rambling. Focus on the key elements: the hook from your elevator pitch, a brief overview of the plot or concept (you can take inspiration from your marketing copy for this!), and the inspiration behind your book. Think of it this way: “What did I write and why did I write it?”
There’s no one-size-fits-all. For more tips on pitching, check out this popular News for Authors resource from 2017: How to Pitch Your Book to Anyone.
3. Tailor your message to each event format
Your speaking strategy will change based on the type of event. Here’s a rundown of the most common events you’ll participate in, from the popular News for Authors article What to Expect at an Author Event.
- Bookstore events:
- Solo. The most standard bookstore event is a solo appearance. You’ll be expected to speak for 15–20 minutes, followed by 10–15 minutes for audience Q&A, and then a book signing. Fiction authors often choose to read from their books.
- Joint. To draw a bigger crowd, bookstores may pair authors who have similar audiences. The format of the event can vary, but authors typically present separately and then do a joint Q&A, followed by a book signing.
- Conversation. You can expect to be interviewed and should prepare a few questions for the interviewer, especially if it’s another author.
- Panel discussions: Panel events typically have a moderator, who asks each individual author specific questions and raises broader questions that anyone on the panel can answer. Authors typically receive the panel topic in advance and, in some cases, the questions as well.
- Conferences or trade shows: These events vary from meet-and-greets to panels to formal presentations, but your book will likely dovetail with a theme or trend relevant to attendees. You are often grouped with a few other authors and asked to speak for 5–10 minutes about yourself and your new book.
4. Take inspiration from other authors and events
Watching other authors speak at book events is one of the best ways to hone your pitching and speaking skills; you can support fellow authors and unlock inspiration for yourself. When you’re listening to another author, think about which messages stick with you. Maybe they started off with a captivating story from their life, talked about an interesting bit of research that went into the book, or isolated an important hook in the book.
After the event, ask yourself, “What are my takeaways from this presentation?” See how you can use the same techniques when talking about your own book.
5. Breathe, relax, and have fun
If you’re having a great time at an author event, it’s likely the attendees will, too. Book events are special because the audience is full of bookish people who are excited to hear about your book and learn more about your story. Preparing and rehearsing your pitches with your key takeaways in your mind will make sure you stay on track and leave an impression. It will also leave you open to speaking more off-the-cuff about the book.
Want more tips? Here are some more great resources for book events and public speaking:
How to Hone Your Virtual Speaking Skills
Marketing Your Book: What You Need to Prepare for Your Book Launch
And keep an eye out for the third round of Author University, where we will go in depth on pitching and media training for authors. More information coming soon!
Phil Stamper-Halpin is Associate Director, Author Development for Penguin Random House.