How to Prepare for a TED-style Author Talk in Less Than 10 days


When an event organizer contacted me to fill in for a last-minute cancellation who was supposed to give a TED-style author talk as part of a weeklong writing festival at a local high school I panicked. There was no way I could pull off a talk like that in less than 10 days. That was the sort of thing that took months to prepare for, possibly a year. I was worried because this would be the largest crowd I’d ever addressed. There would be at least 200 people in attendance but there could be up to 500. Plus I had to be onstage for 35-40 minutes. Since the crowd would be made up of high school students the odds were good that I’d connect with some of my target audience there: teens who love John Green novels. Even though the thought of this speaking opportunity scared me, I knew in my heart that I had to do it. What I did to pull it off and how you can, too:

Watch other TED talks for inspiration. Understand your talk probably won’t leave people with as big of a “wow” feeling due to the time crunch you’re under, however, make a note of which talks capture your attention and why. Try to bring some of that X factor to your own presentation. The talks I gravitated toward included some very personal stories so I knew I had to include some in my own talk.

Make a quick list of all the possible story lines you can tell about yourself as a writer. Keep each story to one sentence/phrase. My ideas were:

-I am old enough to have paper and email rejections

-I started writing women’s fiction but was supposed to be writing YA

-I’ve met a few bestsellers—some randomly, some on purpose

-I quit writing at least 10 times

-I struggle to call myself a writer and share my work

-I know the journey is unpredictable but worth it in the end

I decided to go with a combination of the last two ideas because they were the most upbeat and inspirational. It also had a natural narrative arc.

Once you decide on your idea, figure out how to make it visual. Audiences remember speeches better if there are visuals involved. Studies have shown that people process images 60,000x faster than text. Since this was a personal journey story I decided to include a lot of photos: myself at five years-old since that’s when I started writing; my senior yearbook photo to represent the time I started writing my first novel; images of my college newspaper where I worked as an editor. During my speech I also talked about sources of inspiration and showed pictures of my dog, Cuba. I could see smiles form on attendees’ faces as that slide went up. Images are great in terms of jogging your own memory, too, and reminding you what you need to be speaking about at a given moment.

Do not write a script for your speech. Jot down notes and phrases but don’t try to plan for everything that will be said. The best talks allow for some ad-libbing. Plus if you write a script for yourself you will stumble if you don’t remember to say something exactly as you wrote it. I took an executive speaking course last year for work and saw this happen time and again. Someone tried to remember a script they had written instead of having a more natural conversation with the audience.

Don’t make it a sales pitch. Talks like these should be managed like your social media accounts. Be helpful. Be yourself. Be genuine. Tell the audience what makes your personal story unique. Tell them what obstacles you encountered. If there are logical places to mention your book by all means try to work it in. I mentioned my novel, One Night, when I got to the sources of inspiration section of my talk (One Night is set in Hawaii and I shared some of my favorite Hawaii vacation photos). But don’t make it a blatant “buy my book” pitch.

Practice as much as time allows. Ideally you should run through your talk at least three times if possible. Time yourself to make sure it fits within the time frame you’re given. If you mess up during practice, just keep going. Pretend it’s the actual day of the talk where you won’t be able to have a redo. If possible practice in front of someone, or at the very least, your dog.

Wear something that makes you feel like a million bucks. Whether that is a red dress, a suit, or a leather jacket. Wear something that instills confidence and makes you feel like you’ve earned the right to be up on stage. If you hear a Beyoncé song in your head when you put on an outfit that’s the outfit you should wear.

I was a nervous wreck before my big talk, going so far as to Google “author visits gone wrong,” but in the end it went well. I had a lot of fun doing it. The audience was engaged and students asked thoughtful questions. Afterward, a few students came up to me to commend me on my performance. One girl said, “You know, we’ve had a lot of boring speakers come and talk to us, but you were actually interesting.” Her compliment made my day.

Author’s Note: this post originally appeared as a guest post at Writer Unboxed. To be the first to get new posts, sign up for my email list.

Books to read if you enjoyed One Night

Book pic

Here’s a list of comparable books to check out while you’re waiting for the companion to One Night. (Spoiler alert: fans of Thompson’s BFF Ronnie will be glad to know he plays a much bigger role in this book!)

The One Night comp title list, in no particular order:

Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas. This YA novel takes quirky friendship to a new level. Ollie is allergic to electricity and Moritz has a rare heart condition. For medical reasons the two can never meet, but their friendship is brought to life through their heartfelt letters to one another.

The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely. Hendrix, the main character in this novel, would definitely get along with Thompson. Like Thompson he makes it his mission to reunite his grandpa with the one place that reminds him of his one true love. Hendrix busts grandpa out of assisted living and they take an epic road trip from LA to NY.

The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis. This is another YA novel that centers around an unlikely friendship that just works. Teenager Maggie is blind until the day she suddenly starts seeing Ben, a ten year-old boy. Ben is the only person she can see and over time they develop a great friendship. I’m a firm believer that two people don’t have to be near the same age to share a special bond and this book delivers on that idea.

Paper Towns by John Green. Like Thompson, Quentin pines for a girl who doesn’t deserve it and goes to extreme lengths to find her when she goes missing. Don’t watch the movie instead of reading the book! There are some great scenes in the book that didn’t make the cinematic cut.

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What I’m Into This Month


It’s that time again to talk about what I’m reading, writing, and watching this month.

What I’m reading:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Unabridged, people! This is not my usual read, but my husband ADORES this book and can’t wait until I finish reading it. It is interesting and in general I’m familiar with the story, having seen an adaptation starring one of my favorite actors Jim Caviezel. But it’s much longer than an average book. I just hope I finish by the end of the year.

What I’m watching:

  • The Wolfpack, a documentary about a group of brothers who grew up sheltered in an apartment in New York who have a passion for movies. Completely fascinating and available on Netflix right now.
  • Newtown, another documentary (apparently they are my thing this month) about the town of Newtown, CT and how they’ve dealt with the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. I make it a point to not get political on my web site, but this is really an eye-opener about how we need some reform to gun control laws. You will need tissues for this one.

What I’m writing:

  • A companion to One Night that follows Ronnie and Thompson into college. Tentatively titled The Only Thing. Thompson finds himself in another romantic predicament. More details coming soon.
  • I’m also editing my YA novel that’s set in Serbia. Why set a novel in Serbia you ask? My husband in Serbian and Serbia is a beautiful country that often gets a bad rap in the media.

If you want to be the first to know about new book news and read a preview of One Night, sign up for my email list.

P.S. I am giving away a signed copy of One Night over at my friend Melissa’s blog, So About What I Said. Be sure to enter and check out her great web site!


Upcoming events


Hey all, I have a lot of events going on next week – an event bonanza as I’ve been calling it LOL. Where you can find me:

To be the first to know about events, sign up for my email list. If you’d like information on my public speaking or booking info go here.

What I’m reading, writing, and watching this month


Okay friends, it’s been a while since I’ve done a post like this. My apologies.

What I’m reading:

  • House of Bradbury by Nicole Meier. It’s women’s fiction about a woman who buys Ray Bradbury’s old house in southern California. It’s a great read and can I give a shout out to Nicole here who graciously answered some questions for me recently about her publishing experience! Such a lovely person.
  • My Beautiful Life by Mina Dobic, a true story about a woman who cured her cancer by eating a macrobiotic diet. Fascinating. Thanks, hubby for the book recommendation!
  • Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, contemporary YA about a girl who’s forced to live with her stepmother across the country. Just got this for Kindle on sale for $1.99.

What I’m writing:

What I’m watching:

  • We are binge watching Caribbean Life at my house. It is one of my greatest ambitions in life to live by the ocean one day. When I’m by the ocean I feel like I’m home!
  • I am sad and relieved that the first season of This is Us is over. Tuesday night has been my weekly cry session since this show started. I think it’s because the show feels too much like real life!

Help my book get on Goodreads lists

Hi all,

I have a favor to ask that will only take a few seconds of your time. If you are a member of Goodreads would you consider adding One Night to these reading lists (links follow below):

Teen Reads for Adults


YA Road-trip novels

If you like John Green

Favourite Fictional Friendships

Adding One Night to these lists would greatly help me in spreading the word about my novel. Since I’m the author I am unable to add my own books, but if you could help that would be awesome!!

Thanks 🙂

One Night: Bonus book club content

  1. Thompson has a special place in his heart for Cap’n Crunch cereal. Make these tasty marshmallow treats using the cereal and share with your book club, friends, family, or just make them for yourself!
  2. The 2013 movie, The Way Way Back, shares a similar premise to One Night. Watch the movie and discuss how it differs from Thompson & Johnny’s story. Are the two projects making the same point or different ones?
  3. The idea of fate or destiny is prevalent in One Night. What is the novel’s take on these themes?


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Marketing strategies for indie authors: what works and what doesn’t


In the last few months I’ve tested a number of marketing tactics to promote my YA novel, One Night. I will continue to update this post with results in the future. Below is my analysis of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing indie or self-published novels. Traditionally published authors may find this post helpful, too.


Email newsletter

Details: Once a month I email my subscribers with updates on writing, what I’m reading, contests, and recipes. Each month the content varies and I don’t include all of the above every month. But I do make sure to send them something.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes, I have seen sales as a direct result of emailing my newsletter subscribers. My list is small, but becomes more powerful as it grows.

Is it worth my time? YES

Other paid advertising

Details: I have tested Free Kindle Books and Tips, Ereader News Today, and BookBub (international deal only).

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes. I saw the most sales from Bookbub – 148. The results for FKBT & Ereader News Today were dismal, at 7 sales each.

Is it worth my time? Bookbub is. The rest are not.

Blog tours

Details: I booked a blog tour through YA Bound Book tours.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Yes. I received a lot of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and would do it again.


Details: I signed up for a one-month slot in the NetGalley co-op through Patchwork Press. It was a steal at $50 compared to the regular NetGalley rate.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Yes. I got a number of good reviews on Goodreads and exposure on blogs.

Live events

Details: I’ve done an in-store book signing and have also participated in a Local Author Fair.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes. Sales were not through the roof but they did happen. For the people I didn’t sell to, I made sure to give them a postcard or magnet with my book’s info on it. Going forward I will not do a signing where it is just me. I met a lot more people when I partnered with other authors. Plus it’s more fun. I will do speaking events, however, or other events with a guaranteed audience.

Is it worth my time? Yes.

Telling everyone I know about the book

Details: When I launched my book I emailed everyone I knew – friends, family members, work colleagues, old teachers.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Yes. For example, my sister posted on Facebook about the book as well which led to an immediate sale.

Is it worth my time? Yes.

Goodreads’ giveaway

Details: I have given away two copies of my book via two Goodreads’ giveaways.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Not sure.

Is it worth my time? Yes. It’s easy to set up, gets eyeballs on the book, and the only cost is postage to mail the book to the winner

Posting on social media

Details: I try to be active once a day on Twitter. I prefer Twitter over other networks. I also post about once or twice a week on Instagram. I post on Facebook maybe every two weeks.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Not sure.

Is it worth my time? Yes. I think this is a long-term sales play and a good way to connect with readers.


Library outreach

Details: I called many libraries to try and schedule events/promote my book. This did not work. Calls were either not returned or a million excuses were given for why they couldn’t help. What I tried next was walking into the library and donating a copy of my book.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Maybe. My book is now available in a few libraries. One can only hope that it is being checked out.

Guest blogging

Details: In the past few months I’ve guest blogged at Jane Friedman and Teen Librarian Toolbox.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? Not sure. I think this is a good way to get my name and book cover out there to a good audience, but the referral traffic to my own site hasn’t been huge.

Blogging on my own site

Details: I try to write a new blog post once a month.

Does it work in terms of selling books? Hard to tell.

Is it worth my time? Not sure. What it does do is give me something to post on Twitter. I get a lot of referral traffic to my site from Twitter when I share helpful blog posts.


Facebook ads

Details: I have tested spending less than $100 in Facebook advertising.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No, not for me. I have targeted ruthlessly, getting as specific as fans of John Green who live in specific zip codes, specific ages, and times of day. It leads to clicks but not sales. I suppose if I had a budget of $100K it might possibly work, but if it’s not working on a small scale I don’t think it will work on a big scale.

Is it worth my time? No

Emailing random book bloggers

Details: For a few months, I have reached out to as many book bloggers as possible when I have time.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? No. While some bloggers I’ve emailed have reviewed the book, it’s less than 1% of them. I have wasted way more time emailing bloggers than the results are worth.

Paid publication reviews

Details: I signed up for a paid review from Midwest Book Review & Portland Book Review.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? No. Though I got some decent blurbs to put on my web site and sales pages I don’t think this was a good use of my time and/or money.

Releasing a nonfiction ebook

Details: I put out a guide to self-publishing, for free on Amazon, iBooks, etc. and included a preview chapter of One Night at the end.

Does it work in terms of selling books? No.

Is it worth my time? No. I have seen this strategy work for other authors, but it did not work for me.


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Five Keys to Successful Author Events

Or, what I learned from my second event as an author 🙂

This past weekend I participated in a Local Author Fair at a nearby library. I learned a lot and wanted to share these tips in the hopes of helping other writers.

  1. Bring a buddy who is good at pimping your book. In my case this was my mother. She talked my novel up to anyone and everyone who walked into the room and touted my book to the other 14 authors in attendance. I don’t know if that led to any sales but at least she helped spread the word.
  2. Make sure your table looks amazing. Some of my fellow authors had great books, but their displays didn’t convey as much. I brought a tablecloth, giant print out of my cover made at Fedex Office, magnets, postcards, an easel to prop my book on. Your table needs to sell your book. author-fair-photo
  3. Network with other writers. I shared a table with the lovely Lina Chern, a crime writer, and basically interviewed her at length about her publishing experience when not selling my book. I also grabbed a business card from another author who said she might know a good critique partner for me.
  4. A more general pitch is better when trying to sell your book. At the start of the fair when someone stopped by the table and asked what my book was about, I gave them a blow-by-blow of the plot. Heartbroken teen boy meets Elvis impersonator and quirky friendship and adventure ensues. After I said this, a lot of people gave me a blank look. When I generalized my description, though, to: “It’s a YA novel but it’s not too angsty and it has a sense of humor and it’s set in Hawaii” I got a WAY better response.
  5. Remember that it’s one sale at a time. It’s easy to get discouraged when a lot of people walk through the room and only a fraction of them actually purchase. The hope is some of the readers who do buy your book like it and tell all their friends about it. And when a teen girl stops by, reads your back cover and says, “This sounds sick!!” the struggle will be worth it.

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Authors, if you have any other tips I’d love to hear them via comments 🙂