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The Lecture Experience: Part I

During the past year or so, I have done nearly a hundred talks about my book, "LADIES: A Conjecture of Personalities." It's about the First Ladies ? the OLD First Ladies, Martha through Mamie. Since they talk to each other and cross through centuries, it is, of course, an historical fiction. In doing so many lectures, I thought it might be interesting to discuss are some of the things I have learned?.

1. Sadly enough, while my audiences LOVE my talks (and they are never the same), not too many actually BUY the book.

A lesson learned: People need to be interested in the subject or genre. They read what they like to read ? sci-fi, romance novels, murder mysteries, etc. So while they may enjoy spending an hour listening attentively and say lovely things about you and your presentation, it doesn't mean they will outlay twenty bucks to read the book. Do not take it personally.

2. Be selective in choosing your target audiences. A book about raising two-year-old twins probably will not appeal to the Rotary Club. My book about the "old gals" appeals to a wide range of audiences, but mostly women, and mostly older women at that. I have done well by appealing to Woman's Clubs, Historical Societies, Libraries, Senior groups, etc.

A lesson learned: Be very selective choosing senior groups. The "younger" seniors are wonderful. They are still working, still driving, still traveling, etc., and reading. They love having interesting speakers. The older seniors, or super seniors" who live in senior residences or assisted-care facilities are not your best audience for obvious reasons of frailties. Go if they invite you (and if they will pay). Do not solicit them.

Another lesson learned: Be very selective choosing religious groups as an audience. Of course this depends upon the subject matter of your book/lecture. Many church or synagogue groups will be happy to have you as their guest and will enjoy your talk, but few actually purchase books that don't deal in some way with their religion ? at least not in that venue.

3. To charge or not to charge: Fortunately for my financial circumstances, I am not dependent on book sales for a living. So I started out by doing my programs for free, hoping that publicity and book sales would follow. I wound up doing a lot of talks and driving a lot of miles for limited publicity and very few (usually under 10) books sold. Like I said, you have to be interested in the subject.

By the time I did a couple of dozen free talks and having my audiences LOVE me and refer me along for more FREE talks, I did a little soul-searching. If I am good enough for FREE, maybe I am good enough for PAY. After all, I reasoned, when people call me, they always ask about my fee, indicating they are prepared to pay an honorarium. So I decided that "I don't charge but my CAR does." I've kept it nominal: If the group is within 20 miles from my home, I charge $50; if it is more than that, I charge $100.

A lesson learned: Few groups object. My car is happy.

Occasionally I still do a freebie, or go to a senior care facility (although those facilities usually have a budget for programs). I like doing a good deed, and the "oldies" love hearing a talk on something other than cataracts, blood pressure or managing their incomes.

Another lesson learned: Do not be afraid to turn down a group if it is far away and they won't pay. Unless, of course, you usually sell a heap of books. Then you can go to the North Pole if you like.

4. Finally, know your audience:

This is important to any speaker, of course, but doubly so for me, since my subject is so varied and can be arranged to suit my listeners. Always as the Program Chairman (or whoever contacts you) to tell you a little about their members: their general age category, general income category (particularly if you are contacted by a social worker), the general purpose of the group, i.e. charitable, social, academic, etc.) and anything else that may be of importance to the speaker.

For instance, I was invited to speak at a banquet given by the Ladies' Auxiliary of a large hospital. So I decided to talk about the health problems of some of the "old" First Ladies. At a "Red Hat Society" program, I picked three First Ladies who I thought they would enjoy having as "honorary members." For other groups I sometimes choose one or two "old gals" that might be pertinent to their organization.

A major lesson learned: Do not forget to promote your book and read to them a little. Sometimes I get so carried away about my subject matter that I neglect to encourage book sales. Make sure you talk about your book, why you wrote it, why they should purchase it, why it makes a wonderful gift, and why they should recommend you and your program to their friends.

About The Author

Feather Schwartz Foster is the author of "LADIES: A Conjecture of Personalities" and "Garfield's Train" (to be release in 2005). She has made nearly 100 personal appearances to discuss her book.

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