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Preparation and Practice for Public Speaking

practice-615644_1280.jpgLast time I wrote about different ways of presenting:
1. A speech
2. An interview
3. A conversation
4. A reading
5. Show and tell
6. Acting it out

The most important part for any of these methods is preparation, practice, and personalization.

Prepare what you are going to say, how you'll answer questions, the section of your book you'll be reading, what you'll show, what images and/or text you'll use on a PowerPoint, what scenes you'll act out. Whatever you plan to use, preparation is essential.

Here's how I do it:

First, I either write an outline of what I want to talk about or create a PowerPoint which is affectively an outline. This helps me organize my talk/interview/conversation in a logical order. My outline or PP are not full sentences. Instead sections look like this:
DIALOGUE TIPS
• ATTRIBUTIONS - said, asked
• TAG LINES - She gulped her lemonade.
• NO SPEECHES
Or like this:
WHY DO YOU WRITE FOR CHILDREN?
• Age I was first hooked on books
• Limited pov
These are reminders of what I want to say. Not word for word text to read aloud.

However, if I have a quote by someone I want to share, that is written out completely in my notes. E.g. "Use adverbs as if they were rationed." -Juliet Gardiner. If I'm reading from my book, I might make enlarged copies of the pages (or retype them) so they are easier to read aloud.

Make sure your outline includes personal details. Share when/how you learned something, or why you have such and such opinion. People want to get to know you. Why you do something is interesting. What motivated you to write this particular story is interesting. People like what they perceive as secrets--those things that someone reading your book and/or bio won't know. Let them in on some secrets.

Second, I play with my outline until I'm happy with it. If I'm doing a PowerPoint, I build it and add images, etc.

Third, I practice out loud. This is where I discover:
• Things I've left out or should leave out
• Awkward phrasing
• Where I need to pause or hold up a prop
• A better ordering of the subtopics
• Perhaps a better story to tell to illustrate my point
• An approximate "runtime"
During this stage I may make reminders to myself, such as smile, or pass out a handout. Note: even adults can't listen while papers are being passed around, so don't talk during this time. Call them back to attention when ready. During my out loud practice I may realize I'm trying to cover too much for my allotted time. Rarely do I find I have too little.

I make my changes and go over it again. This time I make sure I'm not speaking too fast. And I practice again. And again until I'm not making changes but just rehearsing. It's not memorizing per se, but it's definitely familiarizing. And it means I won't be reading directly from my notes, but glancing down at them or looking at what I've chosen to include on the PowerPoint slide.

If I get the chance, I practice with a small audience. This person (or several people) can point out where he wants to know more, where she was confused, where he thought something was too basic, etc. Even if you receive no feedback from your audience, you'll hear problems. If something was supposed to be funny, did your audience laugh or grin? If not, the humor is not working. Watch for expressions of boredom.

Practicing for an Interview

But how does this fit with an interview? If you ask, an interviewer can give you the questions ahead of time, or at least you'll know what topics will be covered. Prepare answers to the exact or possible questions, such as "What are your favorite books?" or "What's the best part of writing?." Practice those answers until they flow off of your tongue. On the day of, if the interviewer asks a question that stumps you, use some stalling techniques to let yourself come up with an answer. E.g. "That's a good question." "I've never thought about that." Or even "No one has ever asked that before." If you can come up with an answer, well and good, give it. If not, there's no shame in saying something like, "I really don't have an answer for that."

Practicing for Acting it Out

If you are using the "act it out" method, how are you choosing volunteers? A show of hands? The teacher selecting? Award for answering a question first? If you plan ahead, you'll be more comfortable. Will you need/want props for "act it out?" Gather them and put in a handy container. Will you lay them all on a table ahead of time or will you be pulling them you're your container as you go? The latter is often more affective. Write out your instructions ahead of time and practice those as well.

Microphone Handling

Will you be using a mic? If so, practice with a real one if you can. Schools, churches, and other organizations may let you try one. Here are a few basic microphone rules:
• Don't tap a microphone to see if it is on. They usually have a light. Or you can blow across it.
• Speak into the microphone to test it.
• Hold the microphone near your mouth.
• Don't be afraid of the microphone. If the sound is too loud in the room, whoever is controlling the speakers should turn it down versus you pulling the microphone away.
• If you get feedback, make sure you aren't standing in front of the speakers.
• If you get popping, put the microphone below your mouth.
• Don't freak out at the sound of your voice--it only sounds odd to you.
If you can't practice with a real mic, at least hold something that is a similar size to your mouth when practicing. And when you arrive early, test the real mic at your venue.

Making Mistakes

Okay, I've prepared and practiced, but during the actual presentation I'm afraid I'll make mistakes. Of course you will. We all do. Correct the mispronounced word and go on. Don't anguish about it. If you leave something out, you can always say something like, "Oh, and I meant to mention earlier . . ." or "One last thought on the topic of . . .". If you get lost, pause and say, "I'm going to check my notes and make sure I haven't left something out." If you get sidetracked, you can even say "where were we?" and someone will probably answer.

Remember, the audience doesn't expect you to be perfect. What they expect is to be entertained or learn something. People like being in the know and when you tell something personal, they'll enjoy it. Be who you are, be prepared, and practice, and I'm betting it will go well.


Public Speaking Phobia

cartoon-1300891_1280.jpgRecently I've seen a number of writers almost panicking about being asked to speak. I understand. I am an innately shy introvert. As a kid I wouldn't call the library to see if they were open. (Obviously before internet days.) I didn't take debate or go out for drama in high school. At church as an adult I remember reading a portion of a letter in front of the small congregation and afterwards being afraid I wouldn't be able to return to my seat as my knees were shaking so hard.

I think we approach public speaking all wrong. We're all storytellers. Who hasn't been with a group of friends, or at the dinner table, and told a funny story of something that happened that day? Or when someone else tells a story of a kid/pet/work, been able to contribute a story of your own? We share what excites us, amuses us, annoys us all the time.

Think of a funny story right now and tell it! Ack. The pressure's on. I'm writing this and I can't even come up with one! That's because it is a command performance. We think about public speaking as command performances. What if instead we thought of it as talking to friends? A conversation. A conversation with a focused topic.

No one knows your book(s) better than you. You know your process, your struggles, your successes, your mistakes. You know what motivated you to write. Those are things the friends in your prospective audience want to know. Those are things you can share.

"But I hate speeches!" So don't do a speech. There are other options. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have someone interview you. Ask someone to collect questions from the audience ahead of time. Or create questions yourself. Or find a list of commonly asked author questions on the internet. In either case, take the questions, decide which ones you like and put those on your list. Order the questions in an order that makes sense to you. If there are questions that can be answered with "yes or no" mentally add "why?"
  2. Have a conversation. Ask the group a question or two. Answer too. For example, I started out writing magazine pieces, so when I went into a classroom, I asked, "Do you like to read magazines?" Of course, some of the students said yes or raised their hands. "What magazines do you like to read?" I called on specific kids. I told them magazines I like. Then I told them what I like about reading magazines. I explained the different ways magazines get their stories and articles. I might ask "What's the difference between a story and an article?" A student or two answers. I agree. I tell them what I like to write best. I might show them some of my stories or articles. Read one. I might ask if they've ever gotten a grade they weren't happy about on their writing. I tell them writers get rejections and explain how that feels like a failing grade.
  3. Do a reading from your book or a wip. Follow it up with an interview or Q&A.
  4. Do a show and tell with slides or PowerPoint. You can start with your bio. Students like seeing pictures of you when you were young, where you lived, where you write, your pets, etc. If you did research for your book, show pictures of places you went, stacks of books from the library, people you interviewed. Show them rejections. Read portions from discouraging ones and encouraging ones. Show them a stack of manuscript pages. Show them a critiqued page with writing all over it. Show them an editorial letter.
  5. Act it out. Have you ever acted out a scene from your story or done an action trying to figure out how to write it? Show the audience that process. Encourage them to try writing some action so others know what the action is. Or in a classroom have students act out various actions and see if the others can guess the action. (I've provided actions on strips of paper for kids to choose from.)

Wow, I've gone on much longer than I had intended. So next time, I'll talk about preparation and practice.

Authors in the Classroom

gender-1459661_1280.png"Ackk, I've been asked to do a school visit! What do I talk about?" Often there's some panic or anxiety to the question.

The amazing thing is I've talked about the same topics and done the same writing exercises for a variety of ages for school visits. Yes, of course, the wording or detail is simpler for younger kids than for older kids; the exercises less complicated, but it's the same material.

I like showing my first book to a group of children and asking them, "How long do you think it took since I started writing this book to when it was published?" They'll guess a month. I point up. They guess three months, six months, a year. I keep pointing up. The students are shocked when I finally tell them seven years! I talk about why it takes so long: writing, rewriting, critiques, rewriting, submissions, waiting, rejections, acceptance, contract, editing, time for the cover to be created (or the illustrations to be done), printing. I also tell them, "No, I didn't do the pictures."

I've done the same thing with short stories. Talked about how after I wrote it, I had it critiqued (explaining what that means), rewriting, submissions, editing, time till publication. My first story for Highlights for Children took three years to be in print after I signed the contract! I've told them things my editor said on this short story and how I fixed the problems. In this story's case, it took two rewrites with the editor. Since kids think writing a piece once is good enough teachers love this.

So what can YOU talk about? Here's a list of ideas:

  • What writing the book was like.
  • When you write.
  • Where you write. (I write at home, sometimes in my pajamas, on my laptop. Or at my desktop where I stand. I like meeting other writers to write in coffee shops.)
  • What inspired you to write in general and this specific book in particular.
  • The hardest thing for you to learn about writing.
  • Number of rejections on this book.
  • If you have an agent, what that person does for you.
  • Rewrites and edits.
  • Read various drafts of a paragraph or page so they can see the difference writing makes.
  • Funny writing mistakes you've made.
  • Titling your book.
  • Naming your characters.
  • Why you decided to write from the viewpoint of your main character.
  • Why you included humor, or romance, or facts about science or baseball.
  • How you came up with the personality of your main character.
  • How you chose the setting for your book.
  • The unique factors of your book.
  • The skills of the main character and where you got that knowledge (experience, research, interviews).
  • Plotting your story.
  • Big problems you had writing this particular story. E.g. I couldn't figure out how my main character was going to . . . And then . . .
  • Your favorite part of the book.
  • Read a scene from the book and ask the kids what they think might happen next. (If they haven't read the book.)
  • Q&A - but I strongly recommend having some starter questions that are on the topic you want to discuss or having the teacher work with the kids to prepare questions ahead of time. Kids will go off topic, will make statements instead of asking questions. If they read your book ahead of time, they may have "why" questions.
  • Your education to prepare for writing, if any. Or that you attended lots of conferences and workshops, read books, etc.
  • Money! Tell students how much you earn per book or explain advances and royalties. (They'll often think authors are rich, so you may have to put it in some kind of context.)
  • Ask them about their favorite books or authors and tell them some of yours appropriate for their age level.
  • Book genres.
  • How many copies of your books have sold and what that would look like if they were stacked or laid out end to end.
  • Your book an ebook? Make sure they know what that means. Talk about how those books can be read. Ask if any of them (or their parents) read books electronically. (One safe way to ask some questions is to say, "raise your hand if . . ."
  • What you cut out of your book and why.
  • Why you wrote it in first person or third person or from different viewpoints.
  • Did you go somewhere and do research? Show pictures!

You can also do activities. I like to do an activity related to something I talk about. Some writers mostly do activities. (Remember two things: have kids raise their hands to answer or ask questions, and plan very simple writing for under fourth grade. You can do a lot of the writing on a white board for younger children.)

  • Create samples of poor versus good writing to read. Ask them which they like best. Ask them why they like it better? Talk about those reasons. E.g. They say it is more exciting. You explain about action, suspense, details, etc.
  • Have them draw something from your story.
  • Do a simple story outline as a group. First, decide on a character, then this person's problem, discuss possible solutions, etc.
  • Give a simple scenario about a kid with a problem and have the students write for five minutes as if they were that kid. (Give very specific guidelines.)
  • Explain about the five senses. Ask the kids to write a description of their favorite place using as many senses as they can.
  • Think about activities related directly to your book. Your main character collects words. As a group create a list of interesting words. Your mc makes wishes, each student could write down three of their wishes and share a top wish with the group.
  • Your next book is about a specific age gender who lives in a specific place. Make a group list of what hobbies this kid could have. Does she have older, younger siblings? How many? Does he have pets? What kind? This is showing them the kinds of decisions authors make all the time.
  • Give each student (or small group) a verb or noun and have them come up with more specific verbs or synonyms. Everyone will get to share and you may add suggestions. This can lead to a discussion of a thesaurus.
  • Have volunteer students read a scene from your book as if they are the different characters. They have to act out what the characters are doing, so you'll provide some appropriate props. You can be the narrator.
  • Ask what kinds of problems they've read about in stories and/or know about from real life. E.g. someone sick in family, wanting to win a contest, earning money for something special. Write them down for all to see and pick two or three to combine into a new story idea. Talk about how you'd get ready to write that story.
  • Tell them how writing was your dream and ask them what dreams they have? Think how you can turn that into some kind of writing activity. Would you have them write about the steps they need to achieve their dream? The kind of education or training they'll need? Or why they want to reach that goal? Of course, you'll make it age appropriate.

Remember, kids of all ages like it when adults are interested in them. They also like the novelty of special guests in the classroom. That means that most of them are happy you are there. Listen to them as well as talk and you'll probably have a satisfactory visit.

If this was helpful, you may also want to read these older posts: Dragged to the Podium and Going Back to School.


When Educational Publishers Ask for Your Résumé

Guest post by Jan Fields

Photo courtesy of wintersixfour on morguefile.com
detective.jpgA résumé that you send on first contact with a publisher (especially an educational publisher) is not the same kind of résumé you would use to find a job as a teacher or other position. The writer's résumé is basically a map of writing experience and any useful knowledge/experience/expertise in your brain because that's where the gems that interest the publisher lie. Approach your résumé by asking yourself, why does the publisher want to see my résumé? What's in it for him/her? The publisher approaches your résumé like a detective: "what do I see here that I could make use of?"

You're selling your KNOWLEDGE, EXPERIENCE, INTERESTS, and SKILLS.

So what kinds of things will you need to include? One very "normal" résumé item is education. Much of the time, the scope of your education doesn't matter, but occasionally an editor will look specifically for someone with a certain level of education (this is especially true with assessment writing or when a publisher is looking for a specific kind of expert.) Or a publisher may look for someone who'll look good in their catalogue because of education level. Education is almost always a bonus, but (most of the time) it's not a deal breaker.

Another "normal" résumé item is job experience, but most of the time, the jobs you've held won't be of interest to a publisher. However, if you have educational or classroom experience, or experience working with children in another setting, this will be of interest. It will suggest that any school scenes or similar moments in the book will be based on much more recent experience than your memories of your own childhood. For example, if you're pitching a fiction series that takes place in the classroom to an educational publisher, you BETTER have classroom experience as a teacher, room mom or other volunteer or the publisher will pass because they will worry that your books won't mirror modern classroom settings.

Even experience with children's Sunday School or Girl Scout leader suggests you are familiar with children TODAY and won't be writing with only your memories of what childhood was like when you were a kid. And if your experience is unusual, you never know what a publisher will cherry pick THAT part of the résumé and ask for a proposal on it. For example, I once volunteered to help with a creative problem solving competition. I mentioned that in passing to an educational publisher and was asked if I'd consider sending a proposal connected to that experience.

Focus on skills & experience

Any area where you are already an expert will shave time off the learning curve, so if you're a licensed diver, or you've taken a flying course, or you can rock climb, or whatever - put it in. BUT be careful NOT to include things that you don't want to write about. If you're a licensed pilot but don't ever want to write books related to flying, you might not want to mention being a pilot because editors will ask. So add in any unusual expertise, experience or interest. You honestly never know what will spur interest and result in an assignment offer.

Make the Résumé look LIGHT

The easier your résumé is to consume, the more likely an editor is to examine every item on it. Keep in mind, this is a different document than the one you would send when seeking a job. You don't need to give addresses and dates and extensive information about each place where you've worked. The removal of all that extraneous detail will help you to make your résumé look like something a publisher could easily look over on even the most stressful day. So don't overburden the document. Don't try to look too academic. The look you're going for is clean, light, and easily consumed. If you don't have a website, but you're regularly submitting to publishers who ask for résumés -- consider getting a website. It's a great place to put the more extensive details you didn't put on the submitted résumé. And it's a great place to load more writing samples. The kinds of editors who ask for résumés are also the kind who check out websites -- so having a clean, professional website to back up your résumé is always a bonus.


JAN'S BIO

Since my first magazine publication in the 1980s, I have been steadily writing for money in some form. Today I have over twenty books in print and still more in the pipeline - books for children and adults. I've also written for magazines, educational publishers and even a toy company! Writing is the only thing I've ever done really well that didn't eventually become more like work than fun.

Read more here. And see her own résumé here.

WEBSITE Q&A

internet.jpg

Post by Don and Sue Ford
(image courtesy of mantasmagorical on morguefile.com)

Q: Should authors/illustrators have their own website?

A: In our opinion, yes. Once you are published it is helpful to have a site to answer questions, advertise what you do, a place for people to learn more about you, find out what else you have published, share speaker information, and more.

Q: Where do I start?

A: First, purchase a domain name; often, it is something as simple as www.yourname.com. Domain names can cost around $10 per year. See resources below.* Next you'll need to decide where or who will host your site.

Q: Host my site. What's that mean? And how much does it cost?

A: Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may already provide website hosting included in your Internet access fees. Check it out. If not, you will need a hosting service. Comparisons and reviews can be found at sites such as findmyhosting.com and webhostingstuff.com. Cost ranges from $1.50 a month upward depending on storage provided, data transfer limits, number of email addresses provided, and various other services. A basic plan is appropriate for your first website.

Q: Are there downsides to having my own site?

A: Yes, in the fact that it must be maintained and be kept current. Nothing worse than someone landing on a website and finding inaccurate and out-of-date information.

Q: What elements should a website have?

A: The basics for a book creator are: a book list, a bio, a picture of the author/illustrator, and contact info or a contact link.

Q: Does that all go on one page?

A: Not necessarily, unless that's all the info you plan to share. First, you'll have what's called a "home page." This is the "index page" or the page seen first. Try to find a happy balance between almost no text (i.e. "click here to enter Website" which annoys both of us) and an overwhelming amount of text. You'll have links from your home page to other pages, plus a menu of other pages offered.

Q: Is that what is sometimes called a site map?

A: No. A site map or site index is a graphical representation of all of the pages in the website. This is usually a separate page, but is not required. Each page of your site should include a navigational area (a set of links) to help visitors find their way around your website. It can be a bar across the top, or a box on one side of the page. Often the bar across the top appears on every page, whereas the box may only have info applicable to each individual page. It is important for each page to have an obvious way to get back to the home page.

Q: What else can be on a website?

A: Your imagination is the limit. However, here is a list of possibilities:
• Your book covers
• Summary of each book
• Where to purchase the book(s)
• Testimonials to your writing or illustrating
• Book excerpts
• Upcoming projects or what's next
• Writing or illustrating activities for kids or adults
• Links to other sites
• Articles or essays
• Speaking or school visit information
• Other services
• A blog
• Podcasts
• Your favorite books or authors or illustrators
• Pictures of your childhood, family, pets, office
• A downloadable press release
• Behind the scenes info (i.e. what inspired you to write a particular book)

Q: How many pages should I have on my website?

A: That's a two-fold question. Your host may limit the number of pages. Otherwise, if your content is interesting, people will keep clicking to see what else they can find.

Q: Is it okay if someone can only see part of a page at a time on their screen?

A: Left and right, it's better to fit one page. Top to bottom, sure, most browsers have a scroll bar and users are used to scrolling down for more info. You can have links with in a page to go to other sections of the same page, too.

Q: You mentioned links to other sites and now links within a page. How does that work?

A: Depends on whether you are building your website using HTML (the actual computer code for websites) or website building software. Basically, the former takes one off your site to another site. I like the open in another window option, so your site is still up. The latter is a clickable link that takes one to another page of your site or to another section on your page.

Q: Everyone seems to be blogging. How does that fit into websites?

A: It's one way to have active content on your website. It's also a forum to say what you want to say--though, of course, it should relate in some way to your website. Some blogs are set up so readers can sign up to receive posts automatically (recommended). Blogging works best when using special purpose blogging software provided by a web hosting service.

Q: Are there downsides to blogging?

A: Yes, of course. It requires a time commitment. Blog posts should be well written, free from grammatical and punctuation errors. Controversial posts can raise a furor of email.

Q: What's a podcast?

A: A recording downloadable from a website for use on an MP3 player. The content of a podcast would be a complete discussion in itself. Podcasts are usually hosted on dedicated podcast hosting services that provide specialized software to support them.

Q: Okay. I want to create a website. I've purchased a domain name and have a hosting site. Now what?

A: Many hosting sites offer some type of user friendly software to create a website. These can include templates, formatting options for text and pictures. You may take a class or seminar on website building, where you get information and help as you build your website yourself.

Q: Speaking of pictures, what format do I use?

A: The easiest format is a jpeg (.jpg). When posting pictures, you want the images to be small (say less than 150 kbytes ) so that your website doesn't take a long time to load. The more images per page, the longer it can take. Don't use animated gifs (or Don will come after you). Okay, you can use one on your website, but that is it.

Q: I'm not computer savvy enough to create a website myself, so how do I get a one?

A: You can hire it done, or make friends with a nerd, who will build it for you for the fun of it. In either case, don't forget you'll need them to teach you how to update your website or have a maintenance plan as part of your agreement.

Q: I want to post original art, but don't want anyone to be able to copy my images. How do I protect these pictures?

A: First, of all, posting small pictures (limited number of pixels) means these images won't enlarge well. If someone copies one and tries to make it bigger, the resultant picture will be grainy and obviously not their original work. Some artists save a version of their work with a copyright notice or "for viewing only" or their name in "watermark style" lettering across the image itself.

Q: What can you tell me about fonts and colors?

A: You want your website to be readable and attractive. Fonts should be easy to read. No flashing text. Colors shouldn't hinder readability. Look at websites you like and see what they've done. Compare them to websites you don't like. This applies not only to fonts, colors, but formatting, etc.

Q: What else can you tell me about website formatting?

A: Your webpage formatting may change when viewed in different internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc.) If possible, view your website in more than one to see any problems.

Q: Will I make money selling books on my website?

A: Probably not much. Don't forget you'll have shipping for getting the books, and have to pay sales tax. If mailing books to customers, not only do you have postage, but you must pay for shipping containers. Reselling books is a lot of work that includes quite a bit of recordkeeping. Plus not all publishers allow their authors/illustrators to resell books--check your contract.

Q: Wow, there is so much to learn. It's overwhelming. Maybe I should just forget it.

A: It can be overwhelming. But start with the basics and keep your website as simple as possible at first. As you get more experienced, you can add more to your website. See our list of resources, too.


Internet Resources about Websites

*Domain Registration Services aka Domain Registars
Five Best Domain Name Registrars
List Of Top 10 Domain Name Registrars

What Every Authors Website Should Contain

Why should an author have a website?



P.S. I have an article on website design in Writer's Guide to 2012.

Preparation and Practice for Public Speaking

Public Speaking Phobia

Authors in the Classroom

When Educational Publishers Ask for Your Résumé

WEBSITE Q&A

School Visits, the Extended Version

Going Back to School

Author Talks versus Workshops

My Favorite Online Resources

Technicalities - More Thoughts on Public Speaking

Dragged to the Podium