This edited transcript is the last in a four-part series from an interview on April 2, 2015. Dr. Judith Briles asks me about how authors can become experts and promote their expertise. Prefer audio? You can download it here or listen on iTunes. If you think this advice is valuable, share this link with your social media friends, followers and fans. Also let them know about my free cheat sheet for authors on “10 Profitable Ways to Use Email to Create SuperFans Who Help You Sell Books.”
Judith: How do fiction authors brand themselves as experts in “fill in the blank”? Of course the first person that pops into my mind, Tom Clancy, was all over the place as the terrorism expert and what did he write? Fiction. So, Joan?
Joan: Fiction authors are lost at sea on this topic. When I speak at author conferences, it’s apparent that most of them can’t figure out how to do it. Let me give fiction authors a little guidance.
Explain Your Passion for Your Topic
Joan: You can explain in many different ways why you are so passionate about your topic or your story. Let’s say that you’ve written a book about a child who was adopted. Let’s say you were adopted, and that’s the reason that you wrote the book—because you feel strongly about the topic. You can become somewhat of an expert on the topic of adoption. Even if you weren’t adopted—even if that’s only what you wrote about—you can offer that as the topic that you want to educate people on.
You can teach a class or a workshop related to a topic in your book. There’s a wonderful fiction book I read, Downward Dog, about a bad boy yoga teacher in New York City whose clients are in the top 1 percent of the rich people in that city. It was written by Edward Vilga, a yoga instructor and expert on yoga. His expertise ties into the book.
Here’s another one: Think of a campaign for a cause or an issue that you have written about that you want to support. Let’s say that you wrote about somebody whose identity was stolen and there are proposed identity theft laws in some states throughout the United States. You can take a position on those proposed laws.
You can also lobby for a law that you might want changed. Take gun control, for instance. Talk about a controversial topic! If you have written about a mass killing in your fiction book, you may want to lobby for changes in gun control legislation.
You can educate people about the main problem or conflict that’s within your novel. What’s the actual conflict and what do people need to know about that?
Expertise About Your Book’s Locale
Joan: Here’s another one. Take a look at the city, state or region where your fiction takes place. If it’s a place where you’ve had to do a lot of research in that particular area before you could write your book, can you be considered an expert in talking about that city, state or region? Possibly.
(Example: Writing coach Anne Randolph, author of the fiction novel Sweet Bye and Bye which takes place in Alabama, researched the state where she grew up to make sure the novel was historically accurate. That makes her an expert on the state. Read her fun facts about Alabama.)
Judith: The reality is that fiction authors, especially those who write historical novels and the romance novels, more often they do some deep diving into their research for the locations. I mean, some of these locations become characters in the books they write.
Judith: The authors know these locations intimately. They’ll know the folklore. They’ll know where the skeletons are buried. They’ll know everything that could be a juicy piece of trivia. Maybe someone is writing about that location. You could provide that inside tip that no one knew about.
Write Cheat Sheets and Checklists
Joan: Exactly. So while you’re doing your research for your fiction novels, be thinking about ways you can use the little nuggets you’re uncovering in your research, even if they don’t make it into your book. They could be golden nuggets that would be perfect for a cheat sheet or a blog post or a media interview or something like that.
You don’t need to take all the information that doesn’t make it into the book and leave it on the cutting room floor. You ought to be picking up all of that stuff to repurpose it.
Judith: No question about it. I mean, the idea of a cheat sheet about “what you really didn’t know,” it’s the rest of the story. The rest of the story that was so popular for so many years.
Those are great ideas. If you write fiction, you’re not left out. There are plenty of ideas and things you can do to label yourself as the go-to person for the back story. Everyone is always looking for back story when they’re doing a lot of news pieces, whether it’s online, whether it’s the typical traditional media or a blogger. Online articles matter, so don’t forget about that. You should be researching those pieces to see if you can contribute to them.
Judith: So I’m going to recommend that. All right, any other tips? We have about maybe six minutes.
Follow Influencers in Your Topic
Joan: Here’s one. Remember I talked about how, even if you’re already an expert in your topic and you have a long history of expertise, you should always be learning? I would like everybody, regardless of where you are on the ladder of expertise, to make a list of three or four people who are well-respected experts in the topic that you also want to become an expert in.
I want you to follow them. That means either subscribing to their blog posts or following them on Twitter. Take a look at the content they’re creating. It’s a way for you to be smarter.
I believe that if you think you’ve “arrived” and you don’t need to learn anything more about your topic, somebody is going to leave you in the dust. Your competitors who are always out there learning and always becoming better at what they do are going to leapfrog over you.
In The Harvard Business Review, I found a quote that says, “Becoming an expert begins with deciding whom you will acquire knowledge from and how.” So go find some experts to follow and pay attention to what they’re doing. Follow them for four to six months and then go find a couple more in areas that you think you’re weak in.
Judith: I would say also when you’re doing that search for experts, also use the phrase “top influencers” in a certain field because those phrases get interchanged often.
Joan: Absolutely. Influencer is an important word online.
I always reference a wonderful White Paper from our trade association, the National Speakers Association. It was written about 12 years ago. For those of you who want to become speakers, I would highly recommend you do a search for this online. It’s real easy to find. It’s called The Expertise Imperative.
It’s about a 12-page report written by several top, very successful speakers in NSA. They delved into the whole topic of expertise and what you need to do as a speaker to become a recognized expert in your field. Some of the material that I took for our podcast today, I have taken from this White Paper. I’ve taught a lot of this, too. I think it’s wonderful and it lays out the various levels of expertise.
Judith: That’s great. Actually I’ll make that one of my tweets.
Public Speaking Sells Books
Judith: What’s important for all of you, whether you’re a non-fiction or a fiction author, is you really need to think about speaking, because it moves books. It’s the Number One thing that moved books for me. What I love about book sales when you’re speaking is that no one returns them, and they pay you right there on the spot, which is really lovely.
Joan: OK, Judith. An author hears that and they come back to you and say, “I could never imagine myself in front of a room of 300 people speaking.” What do you tell them?
Judith: “Get over it.” That would be the first thing I would say.
Some of them are nervous Nellies. Some of them just are petrified. Maybe you have to work with someone like a speech coach to learn how to do that. But you just go back to what is your area of expertise? Then there are perfect ways to structure a speech. Do that and you just think of it as a sandwich, what’s the opening comment? Your solid content goes in the middle of the sandwich and your close is at the end.
Joan: Exactly. My advice is, there is probably a Toastmasters near you and it’s free. Join Toastmasters. They will teach you how to speak and they will teach you how to communicate that passion. (The National Speakers Association, like Toastmasters, teaches platform skills but its emphasis is on how to make money from speaking.)
Frightened? Speak to Small Groups
Joan: The other thing I tell authors is, you don’t have to speak before a room of 300 people. You can be a speaker and do workshops for groups of 30 people like I do. That’s my specialty because of my topic. And it helped me feel comfortable as a speaker so I could perform in front of larger groups.
Judith: Well, that’s right. Some people do far better with smaller audiences. I’ve spoken to audiences of 5,000. I don’t do great with only five or 10 people. That’s not my thing, although I have done that many times. What I like is high energy and a lot of things going on. I’m really comfortable.
You need to find out where you’re comfortable. Maybe 16 is your magic number, or 20. But find out what works best for you. Is it casual? Is it a more formal deal? Do you prefer a “sit down and let’s have a chat” type thing? Or is it something where you really do have some formal stats with that?
Joan, obviously we ought to do a whole presentation on presentations, but we’re out of time today!
Joan: You’ll have to have me back again.
Judith: I’d love to. Thank you for being with me and the Publicity Expert Joan Stewart. Sign up for her twice-a-week snack-size email publicity tips. Get out there and write. Come to Denver for the Author U Extravaganza. Joan and I would love to meet you in person. Go to AuthorU.org.
I’m Judith Briles. Have a great week.