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

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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.

What I’m Into This Month

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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

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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:

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

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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!

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 🙂

2017 Writing Resolutions

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I’m not usually a resolution kind of person since I’ve had a goal list since I was eight, lol, but I do find it helpful to set writing resolutions for the year. Here are my writing resolutions for 2017:

  1. Find a reliable critique partner. Because of my schedule I am not typically able to meet critique partners in person, however, I am very responsive to email. Even though I have connected with great writing partners over the years, none of those people have been able to commit to more than one project. Or more than one week. Even if all hell is breaking loose in my personal life I still manage to find some time to write and/or edit work. As such, I am hoping for the same from a potential critique partner. I would love to find one who doesn’t fall off the face of the earth.
  2. Produce an audiobook of One Night. A reader asked me recently if I had an audiobook of One Night out. I don’t yet, but think it’s a great idea and will be fun to execute.
  3. Secure a traditional publishing contract. I enjoy independent publishing. I love working with an editor, designer, and managing my own business. But a traditional publishing contract and the distribution power that comes with it would make my life so much easier. I’m still dreaming of New York City validation and am working on getting it with The Other Side of the World.
  4. Finish current work in progress, a new YA novel. This will be done within the next month or two, if I continue at my current pace.
  5. Attend at least one writer’s workshop or conference. I’m a firm believer in working on the craft of writing and find professional workshops are always helpful.
  6. Start another novel. I may be dreaming on this one, but I think it’s doable.
  7. Accept praise more graciously. As a writer who’s been rejected more times than I can count, it’s still hard for me to take a compliment. When people tell me they’ve read One Night and really liked it my usual response is to mumble, “Thanks,” look at the ground, and change the subject immediately. Even though I know I’m a good writer there are parts of me that doubt myself. I would like to change that in 2017.

If you have any writing goals for this year I’d love to hear them! Feel free to comment on this post 🙂

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2016 Writing Accomplishments

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As writers it’s easy to focus on what we didn’t accomplish in the last year. With so many books being released and the amount of competition it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the small victories. Here’s a rundown of my wins from 2016. When I’m feeling unmotivated in 2017 I’ll look back at this post for inspiration!

2016 writing accomplishments:

I hope you all had a nice holiday and wonderful new year in 2017!

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Monthly update

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What I’m reading:

  • Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven. Had the pleasure of meeting her recently at a book signing.
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Love his stand up comedy and really enjoying his book about dating in modern times.
  • With Malice by Eileen Cook. It’s about a young girl who can’t remember something awful that happened on her class trip to Italy.

What I’m watching:

  • Superstore. OMG this show. Thompson in One Night works at Kmart. If he were a real person I’m sure he could relate to this comedy!
  • This is Us. Haven’t had a go-to tear-jerker show in a few years. This is definitely it, lol. This show is a little too much like real life.
  • Narcos (Season 2). This show about Pablo Escobar and his domination of Columbia is kinda violent, but compelling stuff.

What I’m writing:

  • New book description has been posted. So excited about this YA novel! More details coming soon.
  • A new YA novel set in Serbia (mostly). I’m about a third of the way into it. I went to Serbia over the summer and got a lot of inspiration! Plus I’m Serbian by marriage 🙂

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