Wright’s Writing Corner: Virginia Johnson On A Writer As Speaker

Originally published at Welcome to Arhyalon. You can comment here or there.


Hello Folks,

One week until Prospero Los hits the shelves. (If you missed the announcement about the starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, check the entry below this one.)

Today, we have a guest blog but the gracious and lovely Virginia Johnson, author of  the delightful Virginia Horse Racing: Triumphs of the Turf, a non-fiction book on the history of horse racing in the state of Virginia. (All similarity between the name of the state and the name of the author are purely accidental.) Virginia’s tips are on the subject of how to prepare for speaking engagements related to your writing.



Without further ado—Virignia Johnson:


A Tip Sheet for the Author Talk/Signing

My dear friend Jagi asks that I give some advice on author talks/book signings.  First, a confession: I am a rather shy person who can occasionally overcome her normal state with a bit of preparation.  What I write is straight-up history in a popular format (Virginia Horse Racing: Triumphs of the Turf. The History Press, 2008).  It’s not the same as preparing for a Con panel, but in some ways these talks can be just as daunting.  Following the Wrights’ excellent examples, I shall give such tips in list format:

1) Know your audience.  A speech at a general venue such as a public library or a teachers’ convention is different from that at a convention or historical society.  The focus can be more technical with the latter. The former will be hopelessly lost if you overload them with detail.


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2) Make sure the books are there to sign. I am lucky for usually my publisher sets these things up and gets the organizations a goodly supply.  However, the two times I did not rigorously check on available copies, there were misunderstandings and mistakes which I had to fix at the last minute.  If it wasn’t for some happy coincidences, there would have been no copies, and a lot of disappointed readers. Both times, we sold out.

3) Mind your manners.  Unless you want to get a reputation for being really difficult, try to answer zingers cordially, if briefly.

4) Any speech longer than a half an hour to a general interest audience is probably too long.  Forty-five minutes is about right for subject-specialists. If you’re on a lengthy, shared bill, make it fifteen, if that.

5) Unless you have an assistant and something worth putting up on an overhead, don’t feel you have to use it. Talk is cheap, quick, and most always works.

6) Try to convey a genuine and hopefully charming interest in the subject no matter how exhausted you are.

7) Have business cards to give out to people who want to contact you for later speaking engagements.

8) Be familiar enough with your speech so youdo not have to do more than glance at it throughout the presentation. Feel free to embroider a point or edit down sections as you go along.

9) Get to the site about 10 to 15 minutes early. Any earlier, and you will probably get more nervous than you need to be. Any later, and you will make the organizers nervous.

10) You may need to develop an "author" persona, which is what the audience wants from you.  This is not to say that you should be to be acting a part, but you should seem to be confident and having a good time even if you are normally a shy person. If you have a good time, they will have a good time. Alcohol is probably not a great idea.

11) Jagi recommended this one: have a story or two that’s a special bit of background or research that never made it into the book to share.

12) Dress the part.  This is really a subset of 12.   Dressing reasonably well shows respect to your audience.

13) Prayer.  My first talk was in front of about 50 people (mostly subject specialists) at the Library of Virginia. There’s no way I could have managed it as well as I did without a lot of prayer in the background.

14) The inevitable question will be "I’VE got a manuscript–what did you do to get YOURS published?" Be prepared to answer it, preferably without sounding like a conceited jerk.

15) Another common question is, "Isn’t your book just like.." Well, you’ll need an answer for that one, too.

16) Write thank-you notes to the organizers after the event.



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