Book talks are part of marketing, and some authors love them while others hate them. I’m in the first group. It’s tough to come up with topics for talks, especially when you are speaking to both people who have read your book and those who have not. My two rules of thumb for speech topics are to fit my talk to my audience and also consider my purpose.
Three May Keep a Secret, my first Endurance Mystery, came out near the end of 2014. Before its launch, I did a number of book talks locally. I spoke about how to find an agent or small publisher, how to write a cozy mystery, and how to create a town and characters. Some of these talks mentioned both the upcoming mystery and the memoir I self-published in 2010, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) However, I could discuss the content of my memoir more and use examples from it because people in the audience were familiar with that book. Not so my mystery which was still several months from publication. One of the advantages of such talks is that you keep in the public eye, but you don’t give away the upcoming book plot. So the purpose of these talks was not only good publicity, but also to give information to people who were interested in books in general.
Once my first Endurance mystery came out, my book talks shifted to that particular book and how it fit in the series I anticipate writing. The audience members were interested in buying and reading that specific mystery. So my topic was geared toward speaking about Three May Keep a Secret, and how I came to write it. I could also talk to that audience about the town of Endurance and its main characters. Then I considered questions that people had asked me. This caused me to speak about my writing habits and where I came up with names and events. If I could describe the overall reason for these talks, it was to promote my book and to familiarize my audience with my characters and town. First book in the series = introductions to those two elements.
This is where things begin to get dicey. Now I’m talking with mixed audiences who HAVE read my mystery and who HAVEN’T read it. I don’t want to give away what happens in the book to those who have not read it, but I also need to describe my book and/or series to audience members/potential buyers without boring those who have read it. So now I have a problem.
So far I’ve given two talks in this vein. The first group was a PEO group, many of whom had read my first mystery. So, to fit the talk to the audience, I went in another direction. I spoke briefly about the nature of the book, but then I spent more time discussing the research for my second book, Marry in Haste, which will be out next year. The centerpiece of that book is a huge, Victorian house that was razed in 1990, but many years earlier I had lived in that house and knew it had a rich history. Since this was a local audience, many remembered the house. I could show them a copy of the plat record of ownership and the various articles I used that gave me the history of the house. Another aspect of that second book is the changes in laws and attitudes toward domestic violence over a hundred-year period. Since this was an audience of intelligent, educated women, I could use some points about researching that aspect of my second book. This would have the purpose of intriguing them about the upcoming book, but also describing to them how authors research.
Finally, I have a book talk coming up in my hometown. In my Endurance mystery series, I have used many aspects of that town, as well as the town where I now live. So I geared all of my advanced publicity to the idea that I would be talking about my memories of growing up in my hometown, and the experiences that found a place in my writing thoughts, my memoir, and my first two mysteries. This is a hometown audience and they will recognize many of the memories and places of my childhood that influenced my writing. Part of this audience will have read my first mystery. So I will use the event for this purpose: briefly intriguing people who have not read my books, and creating an occasion to explain how authors use their past experiences in their writing. Again, I’m gearing my topic to my audience and my purpose.
The bottom line is this: if you are an author considering a topic for a book talk, you must think carefully about your purpose and about your audience. Those two pieces of information should inform the subject of your talk.