Chip MacGregor

November 7, 2014

Planning, Scheduling, and Doing Author Talks (a guest blog)


When my first book, Why I Left the Amish had been accepted for publication, one of my sisters said to me, “I can just imagine that when you get up in front of an audience, you will be in your element.”WILtA cover 2.indd

My sister was right. My favorite way of interacting with people is in person. I get the feeling, as I’m standing in front of an audience, that I’ve lived my whole life to be at that place at that time.

Had I lived out the life I was taught, I would definitely not be speaking in front of an audience. When I was growing up in an Amish community, I often heard the statement, “You just want attention.” And this was not a compliment. To “want attention” meant that I was not demure, humble, and submissive — all qualities of a “good” Amish girl. So hearing this was the equivalent of someone telling me that I was a bad girl.

Suffice it to say that I have had to overcome a lot to be standing in front of any audience. And so I appreciate every one of them.
My very first audience was huge — 160 people at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. The person who introduced me said the only other audience they’ve ever had that was bigger was for Ambassador Galbraith.

As I was listening to this introduction, I was just about to get stage fright. And right there, I had a stern talk with myself, “Saloma, you did not wait seventeen years to see your book in print to get the shakes now. You go out there and talk to the people who are waiting to hear what you have to say.”

It worked. I did go out and talk to that crowd. And I’ve talked to 170 audiences since then.

As all authors discover, much of the marketing of our books happens through us. It is a juggling act to simultaneously find time for the craft of writing and do a proper job of marketing our books too. And so we must choose the ways that best fit our talents and our temperament. Besides doing public speaking I blog regularly, maintain a website, I tweet, and have an author presence on Amazon and Goodreads.

I know what you’re thinking. “What about Facebook?” Here comes the confession. I don’t do Facebook. If you care to know why, you can read my blog post, Why I Am Leaving Facebook. Disclaimer: If you are an author, you probably should follow the advice of the marketing professionals and have a Facebook presence. I happen to sometimes take the hard road.

Finding, organizing, and doing speaking engagements is not an easy road. However, I will share some tips that I have learned, in case you are up for the adventure.

For me it all starts with Google Maps. Let’s say I want to do talks at libraries or bookstores along the coast of Maine. I pick a town, and I type it into Google Maps. Once that town pops up, there is a little button called “search nearby.” I type in “public libraries” and suddenly the map gets the measles. All those red dots are public libraries. And if I click on one of them, a little pop-up window will give me the option of visiting that library’s website (if they have a website, and believe it or not, some still don’t.) I look at several things: do they host author talks, does it look like a vibrant library community, and does their library building look like it has a good-sized community room. If it all looks good, I will either call them or send them an email, depending upon whether it’s clear from the website who to send the email to. If not, I will call and find out.

My email is short and to the point. I introduce my books and myself and let them know when I will be in their area, and I name my fee.

If someone responds to my email and wants to schedule an event, we work out a mutually agreeable date. Then I put it on my calendar, post it on the event page of my website, and send the coordinator a confirmation and an invoice. I also point that person towards my press kit page where I offer all kinds of helpful tools for them: a press release, an author photo, images of my book covers, a template for an event poster, and an introduction. I’ve had several hosts tell me how much they appreciated this kit.

At first I did local book talks for free. Some libraries offered a modest honorarium. And then as the word about my speaking program began to spread, I started asking for an honorarium and a stay at a local hotel or B&B.

Just like any other kind of networking, speaking builds on itself. One person tells another how much they liked your talk, and a new person will call you to invite you to speak. These people are silver. I had one librarian send a message out over his listserve that reached his whole state. He challenged them to host a larger audience than he had. This librarian was gold.

Three years ago, when I started doing this, it was a lot easier to get speaking engagements than it is now. Many libraries have had their budgets cut and can no longer offer an honorarium.

I will also contact bookstore owners near the libraries where I’m speaking to schedule something with them — a talk, a signing, or I go and meet the booksellers and sign their copies. The bookstores are important to visit for obvious reasons: they will be selling my book, long after I’ve left their town.

Getting media coverage in the areas where you speak is important. If you are working with a publicist, he or she can make the initial contacts for you. I’ve had great success with that.

During the times when I’m working without a publicist, I will ask the coordinator at the library for a list of media contacts in the area. About three weeks before the event, I will call and let the media know that I am going to be in the area, and I offer them the opportunity to do an interview.

When the day of the speaking event arrives, I make sure I’m well rested. I know what I am going to be talking about. And I arrive an hour in advance to set up my props and my book-selling table. I greet people as they come in. And then I put my all into the talk. The only audience that matters at that moment is the one in front of me. I always leave time for questions, and there are always plenty. There are not too many of us who leave the Amish and have a desire to share our story in front of an audience or in the Amish way of thinAmish Authorking “just want attention.”

Saloma Miller Furlong graduated from Smith College with a major in German Studies and a minor in Philosophy. She is the author of two books, Why I Left the Amish and Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds. Her story is featured in the PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned” on American Experience. You can read more of Saloma Furlong’s biography by following the link.

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