Red Press author Lyla Bashan has been on the road doing talks at schools and universities to promote her book. Here’s what she’s learned from the experience, and her top tips for other authors planning similar events.
I wrote Global: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary Heroes to inspire and empower Americans to get more engaged in the world and to help make the world a better place. My target audience is college-age Americans and the book provides a great overview of global affairs, so it can serve as an awesome resource in college curriculums. I thought it would be a great opportunity to speak to college students. During just over a week spent in Portland, I spoke at five colleges (two of them twice) and my old high school (three times), so I had ten speaking events and got to reach hundreds of students.
1. Don’t be afraid to reach out
The first step is to reach out to every college/university/school in the city you’d like to speak in — or, of course, the city where you live. Because I grew up in Portland, I knew most of the colleges off the top of my head, but a quick Google search will help you come up with the list. I didn’t actually have any contacts at most of the colleges, but definitely use a contact if you already have one. While in Portland, I learned that an old high school classmate of mine taught at a local college and he invited me to come speak to his class, which I happily accepted. You never know when you will stumble upon a contact!
Target people relevant to your book topic — mine is about global affairs, so I focused on international affairs teachers/section heads and career centers since my book also provides career advice. I suggest that you contact several people in one email to increase your chances of someone responding. And don’t be afraid to politely follow up after a week or two of not hearing back. Emails get buried, sent to the spam folder, etc. and sometimes a nice reminder email is just what someone needs to respond. I noticed it was a lot more difficult to be in communication with my college contacts during the summer months — which is completely understandable, so keep that in mind when you’re scheduling your tour. Also, I had to be in Portland right after the academic year started which was the only time I could plan my talks. However, several people said that it would have been better if it weren’t at the very beginning of the school year.
So, if you have the freedom to schedule your college tour, do it at a time that is conducive for the school year — not at the very beginning or end and not around mid-terms or finals.
2. Get the logistics down
Before heading out on your tour, print out the college campus maps, make sure that you know how to locate where you’re supposed to be, and write down the address of the college and the name and phone number of your contact. You don’t want to be figuring out logistics on the way to your event. Also, make sure to get there early to have time to locate where you’ll be speaking.
Be flexible and be willing to take on more speaking commitments in case people are super inspired when they hear you talk and want to get you more events. One event a day in your allocated time is good if you have enough time. The most I did was three in a day and that was a lot! I spoke at my high school’s assembly, to a class at a college, and then to a group of students at another college. I got through it, but by the third event I was pretty tired and it was a little more challenging to keep my talk fresh.
3. Plenty of preparation
In my initial email contacting colleges, I explained in general what I could talk about and provided a link to some sample chapters on my website. This was a great way to make initial contact, but also to share information. Even if they didn’t ask me to come speak, they’d still know about my book. Once I got a positive response from a college, I would ask the contact what they would like me to talk about. Even though some of my events were a bit different — like an international affairs class versus an open-invite career advice session — I came up with a general outline of what I wanted to talk about and then slightly redirected it for each event. That way, I didn’t have to come up with ten different talks, but rather just one that I got really good at and was able to tweak as needed.
One helpful part of this was that at two of my initial talks, I had someone with me (my Mom was one of them!) who could provide feedback — things that seemed to really resonate with my audience or ways to engage them better for the rest of my tour. If you can’t get someone you’re familiar with to observe one of your early talks, you can reflect on your own afterwards and tweak your talk accordingly.
4. To sell or not to sell…?
I initially thought that I wanted to bring copies of my book to sell at the events, but then I realized it was more important for me to get my message across than to sell a few books. So instead of bringing books to sell, I brought enough to give one to each group I was speaking to and I wrote a note on the title page specifically to that group. Since my ultimate goal is to get my book taught in colleges, hopefully my contact would be interested enough by what they heard at my talk and get inspired to use it in their classes. Of course, your objective will differ on a case by case basis; this was the call I made and what worked best for me. Think about your overall aim for these speaking events in terms of future book sales and raising awareness before you start.
One of the classes I spoke to was actually already using my book, which was super exciting to show up to the class and to see my book on the classroom desks! So if I had hauled a lot over to sell, it would have been a wasted effort.
Instead of selling books, I had business cards made specifically to hand out during my college tour. In addition to (of course) my name, the cards had my website, the name of my book, a picture of the cover and my email address. I handed them out to all of the students at my events and encouraged them to follow up with me if they had any questions.
5. Final thoughts
If you are talking to a class, I suggest that you ask the professor beforehand to encourage their students to come with some questions. I personally prefer a more interactive discussion rather than me talking at students, but it can be hard to get students to warm up enough to ask questions.
If you’re speaking at a college-sponsored event, don’t let it hurt your feelings if tons of students don’t show up. But do encourage the college to advertise your event to maximize the chance of more students coming. Also, encourage them to invite specific classes to your event — that way you have a guaranteed audience.
Most of my events ranged from sixty minutes to ninety minutes. This is a good amount of time for you to read from your book, give a talk and answer questions. But it’s good to be able to scale your talk to fit into a smaller timeframe if necessary because you won’t always get a full hour and a half.
After your event, make sure to write follow up thank you emails to your contact at the college. That way you’re reaching back to them, acknowledging the effort they put into arranging your visit and hopefully building a contact with someone who will continue to share with students about your book.
And with that, happy book touring!