Speaking at ChipLitFest 'Trade Secrets' day

ChipLitFest logoIn the pantheon of literary festivals, the Chipping Norton Literary Festival is reckoned to be one of the best: world class speakers, an unrivalled range of events, the ‘localness’ yet global appeal, and not least, enthusiasm and fun. So when I was invited via my writing friend Liz Harris to speak on self-publishing at one of their satellite events, I nearly fell over myself to get to my keyboard to type, ‘YES!’.

Although I wasn’t asked, I sent in a full proposal detailing what I would speak about, what the participants would learn, and what my experience and credentials were.
Tip: Have this document ready for when the call comes – it creates a professional impression. It needs to be as clear and polished as any other piece of writing.

In full flowThe organiser asked if I would take part in a second talk called ‘Researching your novel’; Liz would talk about general and historical research and I would follow with tips for researching imaginary settings. This didn’t apply only to my Roma Nova series – alternative historical thrillers – but also to science fiction and fantasy writing.

Liz Harris plottingThe day starting with Liz talking about plotting and how everything – setting, structure, research, conflict and character – winds into and around it. Despite a technical failure with the projector until halfway through her talk, she carried on gamely from her notes. This was down to two things – she knew her subject and wasn’t spooked by the setback.
Tip: Practice, practice and practice beforehand and ensure you have prompt cards so you can continue with your talk when a technical failure sends your lovely PowerPoint presentation into the abyss.

Will it work?

Will it work?

Next was our joint session on research. Liz and I knew each other already through the Romantic Novelists’ Association, but we discussed beforehand the structure of the session, how long we’d each speak for and exactly what each of us would be saying.
Tip: If presenting jointly or sitting on a panel, communicate with your fellow speakers well before the day. If you don’t sort out content and running order beforehand, you not only look incompetent, but the audience doesn’t get its money’s worth. When I chaired the self-publishing panel at the Historical Novelist Society conference in Denver this year, I set out ‘rules’ about not mentioning our own books and emphasising the audience’s requirements as well as consulting with them extensively on topics.

Self- or indie publishing is far more complex today and needs forethought and dedication to do it successfully. In my hour’s talk I interspersed the good, the bad and the practical with photos, questions and anecdotes.
Tip: Audiences are keen to hear what you want to say, but keep it snappy and digestible. You do not have to cram everything in.

Talking self-publishingI stressed the twin needs for quality of production and self-started marketing. A few faces blenched at the latter, but I suggested that publishing meant just that – making public!
Tip: Offer handouts as a summary of your talk, further reading or deeper detail of a specific topic covered in your talk. For this session, I gave out notes on the slides, how to choose a publishing services company and social media marketing for authors.

Roma Nova booksAnd yes, I took along a small supply of my SilverWood Books published Roma Nova thrillers and my DIY self-published The 500 Word Writing Buddy to show what could be done at different ends of the self-publishing spectrum. And sold both.
Tip: If the event organiser doesn’t mention selling your books, raise the subject yourself – they probably assumed you would, or they just forgot!

Speaking at events is a way of spreading word of your and your books’ existence, an opportunity to give something back to newer writers and the pleasure of mixing with other writers.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIO and AURELIA

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…

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