Recently, I was listening to an interview of a Christian speculative fiction author. A blogtalk radio “station” out of Canada with a listening audience in the hundreds of thousands had granted this author an hour long interview to talk about his book. As I listened, I was appalled. Was this man a communicator? Didn’t he write a novel? How was it he was such an inarticulate speaker?
I began to listen to other podcast interviews and online interviews and I discovered something. As authors, we are the masters of the WRITTEN word, but often we are abysmal with the SPOKEN word. That author I mentioned above? That was me, Bruce Hennigan, in an interview for my first self published novel.
My journey since then has been totally unanticipated. I am an apologist, or one who is trained to defend the truth of the Christian worldview and since that interview, I have become part of a local organization producing seminars and mini-retreats on how to defend the Christian faith in an increasingly hostile culture. I sat down and asked myself, “Why has God chosen to make me an apologist AND a novelist? What do the two have to do with each other?”
Well, God has shown me an answer. And it is simply this. One way we as authors can promote our WRITTEN word is by becoming SPEAKERS and communicating, with clarity, the message that underlies our novels. From a strictly utilitarian point of view, speaking in public can afford us the opportunity to promote our works. So, how is this accomplished? Let me give you four suggestions:
ONE -- REFINE YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
I enrolled in the Certified Apologetic Instructor program from my denominations North American Mission Board under the direction of one of the most awesome speakers and generally all around wonderful brother in Christ, Mike Licona. As part of this intensive training program, Mike required us to attend the Dynamic Communications Workshop (Now known as the SCORRE Conference). Now, I have been a public speaking since high school. I am producer, director, playwright, and actor in church based drama. I have spoken at dozens of writer’s conferences on writing plays as well as dozens of regional and national drama festivals. Why would I have to attend a communications workshop?
While DCW isn’t the only workshop out there, I can tell you unequivocally that it changed my life. Really! It changed my life! This Christian based program showed me where I was going wrong and taught me invaluable skills in communication. I cannot recommend this program highly enough. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is intensive. But, as authors, we must master the skill of selling ourselves in interviews and podcasts and videocasts. If we stumble and mumble and “UMM” our way through an interview, who in their right mind would want to read what we write!
I had to humble myself and realize I can always be taught something and let the wonderful people at DCW teach me how to promote my novels; how to take my “commodity” of writing and turn it into a “product” that people will want to purchase.
TWO -- SPEAK ON WHAT YOU KNOW
But, Bruce, I am NOT a public speaker. What do I know? I’m not an apologist!
Stop, just a doggone minute! You are too an expert. You didn’t just pull the words out of thin air for your novel -- well maybe you did. But, you did research for you novel, right? There is a definite message there; a genre; a “hook”. It might be historical information. It might be technical information. But, there is information there. And, you’ve written about it which makes you an expert. So, talk about it!
An old adage goes, “write about what you know”. As novelists we KNOW about something. If we can write about it, we can talk about it. If nothing else, we can talk about the process of being published authors. Think of all the aspects of the writing life we have had to become experts on. Marketing, publicity, social media, editing, research skills, etc. We have something we can bring to an audience. And, in that process, we promote our novels!
Now, this is not for everyone. Not all of us are comfortable in front of an audience. But, we should at least be articulate enough to pull off an interview or a podcast. Find that subject or subjects you can speak comfortably about and then PLUG your novel!
THREE -- SPEAK ON WHO YOU ARE
I was so touched by Mike Dellosso’s accounts of his struggle with colon cancer. The man is a hero in my book. As a physician, I work with dying patients all the time. We will all face that medical crisis that might end our lives. And, how we face death is determined by our character; our faith; our strength. It also takes guts to speak about our weaknesses; our battles; our losses. But, it also gives us an opportunity to speak about our triumphs! And, as a Christian, I have found that EVERY triumph is ultimately due to the supernatural intervention of my God.
Years ago, I battled depression. After two years of struggling through counseling and changing my life completely, God led me to develop some tools to keep me from getting depressed again. My pastor approached me about writing a book on the subject. Out of my pain, “Conquering Depression” was picked up and published by B&H Publishing in 2001. For the next three years, Mark Sutton and I offered a three hour seminar on “Conquering Depression”. We required that every participant (or, at least, every couple) purchase a copy of our book and that was included in the price for the seminar, a reasonable $25 per person. We spoke about who we were and we sold lots of books. The downside was the constant need to expose my very soul to my audience; to reveal my inner most secrets and struggles. But, God ultimately received the credit!
Every good novelists writes out of some corner of pain and suffering. Everyone of us bleeds onto the page because of the circumstances of our lives. Find that angle. Be willing to talk about it. Help others struggling with the same issues in life. And, in the process, you can promote your books!
We may end up speaking on something totally unrelated to the subject of our novel. But, people will check out our books because of WHO WE ARE!
FOUR -- TIE IN YOUR SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT WITH YOUR WEBSITE
I was invited recently to speak to our state’s Evangelism Conference on apologetics. I chose to speak on the six most commonly asked questions from skeptics. I was anticipating about a dozen for each of my two sessions. I was shocked when over 100 showed up!
I provided a business card with my web address and contact information. And, I told the attendees they could download the pdf version of my notes and resources from my author website under the “Apologetics” tab. I mentioned in passing that I was an author. I even told them that my book, “The 13th Demon” was “apologetic fiction” and an exciting, scary read they could give to their skeptical friends. In one presentation, I guaranteed a possible 100 hits on my website during the next week. The presentation went well, thanks to my DCW training, and out of this presentation I received a dozen more invitations to speak!
This week, I am speaking to a seminary class in Orlando, Florida. The week after, I am speaking to our church congregation on apologetics. That following weekend, I will be speaking at our state drama festival. At each one of these venues, I will be passing out contact information and directing listeners to my website. I am hoping for a snowball effect. In fact, I want this to be so successful, I will have to turn down invitations. Although these presentations have very little to do with my novel, they still afford me the opportunity to promote my writing. Don’t know where to start? Ask your agent.
But, as exciting as this all sounds, my one goal is to glorify God through all that I do. God, and God alone is providing for my writing and speaking career. As Mike Dellosso so eloquently put it last week in this blog:
If you expect to reach just one person through your writing then success is within your grasp. If you expect to glorify God with the best you have to offer then success is within your grasp.
So, consider adding a speaker career to your writing career. Start by polishing those communication skills and start turning your “commodity” of writing into your “product”!