I invited author Sally Jenkins to share some of her tips on public speaking. Here’s her advice for anyone planning that nerve-wracking first author event:
All writers, whether traditionally, self or unpublished, need to learn the skill of self-marketing. If the world doesn’t know you exist, it isn’t going to read your work. Social media is a great publicity tool but is impersonal and the posts are soon forgotten. Nothing beats getting away from the computer and talking to readers. Personal contact lives in the mind far longer than a tweet or a gif.
Author events are a great way of generating this personal contact and libraries are a good venue for authors new to addressing an audience. Most libraries are keen to increase their footfall and become community hubs rather than just book depositories, therefore they welcome author events.
Preparation is key to a successful author event and below are some points to help you in the construction of an attention-holding author talk:
Plan to speak for around 40 to 45 minutes, to be followed by questions from the audience. The whole event should last about an hour.
Divide the talk into ten minute chunks. Each chunk should focus on a different topic, such as the inspiration behind your book, the research needed along the way or your typical writing day. This regular change of subject will re-ignite the attention of the audience and give you, the speaker, a burst of energy.
Have a memorable opening. My current author talk is about writing a psychological thriller. I start by teaching the audience ‘how to make money out of murder’ and produce a selection of murder weapons as visual aids. Having grabbed their attention, I switch to writing-related topics.
Don’t read the talk from a script. Make bullet point notes and talk freely around each bullet point. This will enable you to make eye contact with the audience and build a good rapport.
Accept that a little bit of stage-fright is good. Adrenaline sharpens your performance. But don’t let it overwhelm you – focus on sharing your enthusiasm for books and writing with the audience.
Include a maximum of three readings from the book and make them short, two to three minutes is sufficient. Unless you are a trained actor, it’s difficult to hold audience attention when reading aloud. If you need glasses for small print, reproduce the extract on A4 paper in a large font. This will enable you to read without glasses and maintain better eye contact with the audience.
A few months before the event, join a Speakers’ or Toastmasters’ Club to practise speaking in front of an audience. Both organisations will provide constructive feedback on how you’re doing and enable you to gain experience.
Take some books to sell! Also useful are a cash float for giving change and some business cards in case anyone wants to book you to speak at their WI or other organisation.
Well done on holding your first author event! It’s OK to feel exhausted! Now, take some time to analyse how it went and then start planning the next one. Good luck and enjoy!
Sally Jenkins is an author and speaker. In 2018 she represented the Midlands in the National Speech Competition held by the Association of Speakers Clubs. Her book, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners, is designed to hold the hand of the novice speaker. It contains information on constructing a talk, managing speaking engagements and creating speeches for special occasions.
The Lonely Crowd invited me to contribute to their Books of the Year feature. Here’s what I wrote:
I’ve very much enjoyed some of this year’s Big books: Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport demonstrates how the full stop might actually be getting in the way of the energy of many a story, Ali Smith’s Spring examines frankly the awfulness of our times and conjures heart-rending tenderness in spite of it, while Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Othercelebrates Black British women with a vitality and rhythm that is all her own.
But the book which stands out for me in what I’ve read in 2019, over and above these giants of the literary world, is Adèle by the French-Moroccan author Leïla Slimani, the 2019 English translation of her first novel, originally published in French in 2014 as Dans le jardin de l’ogre. I devoured this one afternoon back in March and it locked onto something in me. As an exploration of a woman’s search for meaning in her life this is – in my opinion – peerless. If once or twice Sam Taylor’s translation juddered, for the most part it was crystalline. Do not think this novel is about a sex addiction; it is about a quest for authentic feeling. Adèle is a 21st century Emma Bovary, and Leïla Slimani’s book deserves to be read as widely and remembered as long as Gustave Flaubert’s.
So, this was a surprise – joint winners of The Booker Prizer 2019. The organisers might have been shocked, but I think a lot of people have welcomed the decision of the judges to flout the rules and award the prize jointly to Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernadine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. Seeing the way the two authors have responded to the decision is no less than inspiring: visibly supporting one another, plus Margaret Atwood is gifting her share of the prize money (£25,000) to the Canadian Indigenous charity, Indspire, which invests in the education of Indigenous people.
I’m rather shocked that the Booker organisers are apparently so angry about the judges’ decision that they are threatening to withhold their fees. That seems very small-minded.
Who could not be pleased to see the warmth between Atwood and Evaristo? I’m looking forward to reading both their books.
For the past two years I’ve taken a close interest in The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. In 2018 I decided to read all six books on the shortlist and was invited to be a member of the judging panel. There are five votes that decide the winner: two go to the book which wins the public vote and the three members of the judging panel have one each. So if just one member of the judging panel goes with the public’s choice, that book is the winner. (You can read more about the longlisting and shortlisting processes and the full rules on the link.)
Both last year and again this year (with a different judging panel) the prize has gone to a book which was not only not the public’s favourite but actually received few votes in that process. Both times that has provoked some people to cry ‘Foul!’ and curses upon the heads of the judges, who have been called an elite (and worse things which get deleted from The Guardian’s website).
I know from my personal experience that last year the final voting process was fair. There was no discussion between the judges prior to the judging meeting. I have no reason to think things were different this year.
Whether or not there are lobbies for particular books that influence the public voting, one thing is for sure: no-one taking part in the public vote has to have read any book on the shortlist other than the one they are voting for, or give more than a few lines of review about their chosen book. To be on the panel you must have read at least three of the six and commented on them in some detail during the weeks leading up to the vote. In practice panel members will have read most if not all of the six.
The debate has little to do with the value of the prize (a Guardian mug – though of course it is something for the winning writer’s CV). It is more about how people see their opinions being regarded or disregarded, and about how some will hold to the belief so brilliantly delineated in Orwell’s Animal Farm that ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others’, whether or not it is really so.
The 2019 Not the Booker prize was won by Lara Williams for her debut novel Supper Club.
Coming soon: Thoughts about The Booker Prize – and the return of the Friday story…
As I said in my last post, I’ve been working on edits of my second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, which will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020. You can read an extract of it here.
The editing process has been a very positive and fruitful one. It’s been great to work with an editor who is thoughtful and thorough, and Louise and I have sent edits back and forth several times to get to the point where we’re both happy to send the book off for copy editing. Louise has challenged me on sections where I’ve been a bit too much in love with my own writing and I’ve had to murder a few of my darlings. I’ve also had to work to make some parts clearer – a writer may see something in her/his own mind, but we have to make sure we’ve conveyed it to the reader. But on the other hand Louise has also been sympathetic to my wish to retain certain things, so long as I’ve been able to justify their inclusion. All in all, I’m sure the process has made the book a better one, and for that I’m very grateful.
And, excitingly, we’ve secured the rights to include the lyrics of a song which is very pertinent to the story.
There’s a way to go, but we’re well on the road to publication.
Here’s a selfie of me in my garden room, a haven for writing.
Coming soon: My thoughts about the shortlist for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.