5 Steps to a Killer Book Talk

book event

Photo by Joe Mabel

Today’s guest post is by Kate Raphael (@katrap40), author of the award-winning Murder Under The Bridge: A Palestine Mystery.


Every debut author dreams of the moment when she stands up in front of a crowd of admiring fans and talks brilliantly about her new book.

Yet too few of us actually spend enough time planning that talk. Many new authors spend a lot more time on the logistics of their launch events, getting the word out, even shopping for signing pens, than on what they are going to say.

That’s a huge mistake.

We’re not only launching our books, we’re launching ourselves as authors. An engaging talk can get you invited to be on panels or radio shows. That’s happened to me a couple times. But it takes as much work as writing a guest blog or an op-ed. Almost no one can extemporize well all the time, or even very much of the time.

I will venture an untested statistic: at least 90 percent of great speakers, from President Obama on down, are really great writers, or have great writers working for them, or both. The more unscripted they sound, the longer they likely worked on what they’re saying. They also have teleprompters and we don’t, so we have to work even harder to get that brilliantly off-the-cuff sound.

Preparation is respectful.

I think one thing that keeps authors, especially women authors, from preparing their talks is fear of appearing self-important. It’s easier to think of ourselves giving a party. But people have a lot of choice about what to do with their time. No one is going to resent having to listen to a lively, well-crafted, funny, surprising talk about your book.

People don’t go out to an author event for the reading. If they just want to know what is in the book, they can buy it and enjoy it in the comfort of their easy chairs. They are there for the value added, which is not the mediocre champagne. It’s the story behind the story, the well-chosen information that makes the reading come alive.

Speaking is writing; writing is editing.

The other reason people don’t prepare well enough is that we all know our books better than we know our lovers. We talk about them all the time, probably too much.

One of the counterintuitive things I have learned as a radio host is that the better I know the subject, the more I need to prepare. If I don’t know much about a subject, I can just say everything I know. If I know a lot, I have to do a lot of editing. It’s easy to forget that things that seem very basic to me probably aren’t. I need to put myself into the mindset of the listeners who are least familiar with the subject and ask, “What will they want to know?”

If your event is anywhere but in your house, if it was advertised in even one newsletter, you never know who will show up. At one of my readings, there were a couple people who were walking by and the title of my book grabbed them; at another a woman told me she had heard me on the radio two hours earlier and decided to go. Another author I know was shocked that seven people she didn’t know appeared at an out-of-town event because a friend of hers told them about it.

5 steps to a great book talk

1. Write out what you’re going to say. Write about 10 minutes of talk, 5 minutes of reading, 5 to 10 more minutes of talking and another 5 minutes of reading. Time it. Humor is wonderful, but if it’s not your style, don’t use it. Heartfelt is just as good or better.

2. Read your talk out loud over and over until you feel really comfortable with it.

3. Take your written talk and turn it into notes. Write down a few words that will remind you what’s in each paragraph. Get onstage with your notes. Print them out in large type or use an electronic device and enlarge the text.

4. Some beautiful writing is not suitable for reading aloud. Shorter sentences with few dependent clauses work best. Try to read passages that are not packed with description and don’t have too many characters. Dialogue, since it’s speech translated to the page, is generally easy to translate back into speech.

Vary the tone of the passages you choose (light, heavier, suspenseful, romantic). Don’t hesitate to edit for easier reading. If you stumble over a word or phrase twice in practice, take it out. Here is what my reading copy looks like:

reading copy

5. Think about what questions people are most likely to ask and practice your answers. Have a few points you want to make during the Q&A and be prepared to work your way around to those points even if the questions are not asked directly. If you get an off-the-wall question, you can use it as an opportunity to make one of your prepared points.

Recently, I interviewed Claudia Six, author of Erotic Integrity: How to Be True to Yourself Sexually, along with Brooke Warner, author of Greenlight Your Book. I asked them why it takes so long to bring a book into the marketplace, and Brooke talked about the pre-sale and pre-publicity process. Then Claudia chimed in, “It’s kind of like having erotic integrity—you’ve got to own that you’ve written this book and you have something to say.”

I thought, “She is going to do well because she can turn any question into a chance to talk about her book.” That’s a great skill to cultivate.


To find out more about Kate Raphael and her book, visit her website.

Kate Raphael on prepping for a great book talk: "An engaging talk can get you invited to be on panels or radio shows. That’s happened to me a couple times. But it takes as much work as writing a guest blog or an op-ed."

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion and tagged .
Kate Raphael

Kate Raphael

Kate Raphael is an activist and journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her debut novel, Murder Under the Bridge: a Palestine mystery, was released in November and won the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) silver medal for mystery. She is host and producer of the weekly feminist radio program, Women’s Magazine, on KPFA/Pacifica. Connect with her at kateraphael.com.

Join the conversation

22 Comments on "5 Steps to a Killer Book Talk"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
trackback

[…] Every author dreams of having a successful book reading in a roomful of admiring fans. Yet too few actually spend enough time planning what they will say.  […]

MooseNotes.com
I’m not sure I understand the women and self-importance comment. But I do know, from my mother’s experience on panels and at readings and signings, that no two events are ever quite the same. This gave her a lot of comfort, because although there’s lots of standard material she would share at each event (jokes and stories), the setting, how she’s feeling that day and the audience are always different. Also, her events often centered around pre-planned questions. She would appear with two or three published mystery authors, and one of them would moderate with questions, and then the questions… Read more »
Robin E. Mason

great list of tips! i hadn’t thought about #5…. when i gave my senior presentation in college i read my speech into my notes on my phone and listened to it over and over and over again, essentially memorizing it. i also printed it out in 16 pt font to have in front of me but found i didn’t need to refer to it after all!
i will put your good idea into practice for my next event!

Steve Masover

“Don’t hesitate to edit for easier reading” — that’s good advice, Kate. I hesitated at first to do this, it felt like ‘cheating’ or ‘disloyalty’ to the prose I worked so hard to polish. But I soon realized that, as in most circumstances, in conveying story context is everything. At a reading event, making the listeners’ experience of hearing an excerpted passage smooth and engrossing is the goal. When the listener comes back to that passage on the page, in her armchair, the prose will (if I’ve done my job right) be polished for that experience.

Laura Matson Hahn

Item one: instead of writing down what you are going to say, try speaking it into a recorder – over and over as you walk the dog or do the dishes and write down the sections that work …. Building your talk while practicing at the same time

Peter DeHaan

I never thought about editing my reading selection. What a great idea.

trackback

[…] 5 Steps to a Killer Book Talk (Jane Friedman) Every debut author dreams of the moment when she stands up in front of a crowd of admiring fans and talks brilliantly about her new book. Yet too few of us actually spend enough time planning that talk. Many new authors spend a lot more time on the logistics of their launch events, getting the word out, even shopping for signing pens, than on what they are going to say. That’s a huge mistake. […]

ferris robinson

Kate, thank you for this helpful advice! I agree that the idea of editing my own words for a reading is a good one, and also like the idea of speaking for 10 minutes (although that seems like forever!) and reading for 5, etc. And varying the funny/serious/sad. I was stumped when I was asked to do a ‘reading’ b/c I figured who wants to hear straight prose read out loud but your tip to mix it up makes sense! Thank you!

Barbara Riiff Davis

Excellent discussion and succinct directions/suggestions for preparation. I have a book coming out this year (hopefully), but my problem is I am unable to travel, don’t drive anymore and have to have help getting to places. I am 91 years old, professional business, trainer writer in the working days and my book is about showgirls and craps dealers! As I go along, I am making notes for any other writers who are handicapped for one reason or another and hope to write about my experiences with helpful suggestions.

Lynne Spreen

“Preparation is respectful.” Oh, thank you for that. If I’m going to make the time to show up for the author, mightn’t s/he take a few minutes to organize her preso? I once attended a book talk (women’s fiction) that was hijacked by a guy in the audience who wanted to preach about vitamin supplements. The author was fascinated and ended up focusing her time on his product! Which now seems funny in retrospect.

trackback

[…] Chalmers asks an often-overlooked question: what is book marketing anyway? Kate Raphael gives 5 steps to a killer book talk, and Barb Drozdowich reveals 10 tricks for getting your book reviewed by a book […]

trackback

[…] Kate Raphael, author of the award-winning Murder Under The Bridge: A Palestine Mystery, offers 5 Steps to a Killer Book Talk. As with anything, preparation is the […]

trackback

[…] 5 Steps to a Killer Book Talk […]

Charlene Ball

Kate, this article gives so much good advice. One main thing I took away from it is – prepare more for a topic I know a lot about than for a topic I don’t. It is so true: I think something is obvious when it isn’t. Also, I need to select what I want to emphasize. Thank you for writing this.

John Grabowski
> People don’t go out to an author event for the reading. If they just want to know > what is in the book, they can buy it and enjoy it in the comfort of their easy chairs. This is why I don’t understand why bookstores do *readings.* I enjoy the other parts, but the reading makes me zone out. For one thing, even when I was little, in first grade, I didn’t like being read to. Reading something myself exercises a different part of my brain than being read to, and I find the latter is harder to concentrate… Read more »
Caryn Sullivan

Also – authors should be mindful of why people are attending the event. I don’t want to hear a fiction author opine about politics. As a writer, I’m curious about the author’s writing process, how she gleans content, stays motivated, etc.

wpDiscuz