Booktalking Tips

What is a Booktalk?

A booktalk is NOT a review or a book "report." A book report tells somebody you read the book, a booktalk tries to convince the person to read the book. The key to booktalking is to "sell, don't tell." Thus, a booktalk is more of an advertisement or a commercial.

A booktalk is a Performance - you want to "hook" the listeners, to do everything, use every trick you can think of to make the booktalk fun, exciting, and suspenseful. The best scenario is that you succeed to the extent that the teens will want to read at least one of the books to find out how it ends. At worst, you have hopefully made their day a bit brighter and relieved the monotony of the typical school day.

The Cardinal Rules of Booktalking

Do your own thing…create your own individual style.
Don’t try to be someone else. Everyone on our entire Teen staff has her/his own individual styles. We always go out in pairs so teens can hear different voices, styles and types of books. Exception – sometimes what someone else has written is just too good, you might want to use it verbatim.

Don’t talk a book you haven’t read.
Read the whole book, even if you write the booktalk halfway through. Be sure it’s a book you want to recommend. Exception - there is one booktalk of 20 nonfiction books with a super short flashtalk for each book that students love. The booktalker did not read ALL of every book.

Don’t tell the ending.
Remember, we want to encourage the audience to the read the book. Exceptions - Sometimes the ending is already known such as The Sword in the Stone. For a series of books, one may sometimes tell the ending of the first book, especially if the author leaves a cliffhanger ending to encourage readers to continue to read the series. Sometimes a good way to tell about a book of short stories is to tell one of the stories completely, including the ending.

Don’t talk a book you don’t like or are uncomfortable with.
Exception - One of our staff had a book that she didn't particularly care for. But, she has a great booktalk, and when she gives it, you would never know that she wasn't fond of the book unless she told you.

Show the Book.
At the end of the booktalk, show the book and announce the title and author.

Practice alone, in front of your co-workers or significant other. Practice movements as well as the words. Know the material.

Choosing a Book

Choose a book that has a subject that you are interested in and that will be interesting to teens. Subjects that interest them haven’t changed, at least since the time of Shakespeare – humor and horror, sex and love, murder and magic, friendship and betrayal, and problems they deal with in their everyday lives (school, family breakup, violence, dating, illness, divorce, etc). Romances, mysteries, horror, popular authors, and books with great covers are typical good bets. REMEMBER, you want them to sit up and listen!

If you have trouble finding an interesting good book, try the following resources: ask your contemporaries, use Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites, library publications such as School Library Journal or VOYA, the YALSA website and their booklists for teens. Use older lists too. Quick Picks are a great resource for the younger adult.

Go to one of the many booktalking websites like this one (do a google search on "booktalking"), find a booktalk that engages your curiosity and try it. Remember, you don't have to finish the book if it isn't interesting.

Preparing a Booktalk

How do you prepare the booktalk? First, read the book, the whole book, even if you write the booktalk halfway through. Be sure it’s a book you want to recommend.
Some people take notes as they read, especially when they find a page that is particularly engaging and only write the booktalk after they have read the book. Some stop & write the booktalk in the middle of reading when an idea for how to present the booktalk hits them. Experiment. Try it several ways and use whatever is best for you. As you read, be thinking about potential “hooks” – the hook is the key dramatic device of your booktalk. There may be more than one possible hook, find one that works for you and your style. We all do them differently.

Most booktalks begin with a hook. You want the listener to be interested from the start. A hook can also be nonverbal. You can mimic an action. Sometimes silence can be a great hook. In our modern day and age, teens are used to being entertained and having noise around them all the time. Silence, especially with an accompanying action, can rivet their attention.

Then, you have to keep them interested. Middle hooks can also be effective. If possible, plant hooks throughout the booktalk. An effective booktalk leaves at least one hook at the end.

Presenting the Booktalk

Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to setup your books and relax a bit before talking. If possible, present in groups of at least two. That way one person can be preparing for his/her next booktalk while the other is giving a talk. Pay attention to the teens you are talking to and adjust your presentation as you judge necessary to appeal to the individual group. The amount of time you have for the booktalks often affects which books you talk and whether you give a longer or shorter booktalk.
Interactive booktalks, where you ask questions of the teens, are often helpful to draw the students into active participation. Timing and spacing are also important. Try not to rush through every booktalk. While some character booktalks require a quick pace, others are more effective when given at a more leisurely pace. Don't be afraid to use pauses, or sometimes complete silence. In our fast-paced world, silence and pauses can be riveting and create attention-grabbing curiosity . . . even if it is only in anticipation that you have messed up.

Move around as you talk, act out specific actions, and use props where appropriate.

End each booktalk with a "hook," hold up and display the book, and announce the title and author.

In general, booktalks should be no longer than 3-5 minutes, and it is a good idea to vary the length of booktalks throughout the session. Make sure that you have at least one booktalk that you can give in 1-2 minutes or can adjust in length at the end of the session if needed.


Booktalking Tips from DinoSam

  • If a book doesn’t call to you, don’t booktalk it. If it does, do.
  • If a booktalk idea comes to you while you’re reading, stop and write it down.
  • Learn the high points of your booktalk, don’t memorize.
  • Embrace your mistakes. We learn more by our failures than by our successes. If you make a mistake, chances are you’ll be the only one that knows anyway. If the teens catch your mistakes, own up to it.
  • Be aware of your pace, timing, inflection, expressions, and tone and vary them as needed. Sometimes, silence is very effective. For instance, one booktalk I do starts as follows:
    Reach out for staff/walking stick. Stagger as you grab it and almost fall. Use staff to keep you upright, but unsteady. Look up at the staff and then around the ceiling as if in confusion. Look back at the staff, again questioning. “Ah, the early 21st century.” Look back around the room in wonder, then at the audience as if seeing them for the first time. Oh! Sorry. Even after so many years, time travel can still be disorienting...”
    And on with the booktalk. Which leads into...
  • Don’t be afraid to do something new and outrageous. Try something challenging and unique. I was terrified the first time I tried the booktalk above but it went over great. In fact, my co-booktalker even started to get up to help me when I staggered.
  • Overact, especially when the situation may call for underacting. Underact, especially when the situation is obviously dramatic. In other words, keep them off balance.
  • Don’t be afraid to break the “booktalking rules” if it makes sense for a particular booktalk. These rules are really guidelines that make sense in most, but not all, situations.
  • Listen to other booktalkers and storytellers every chance you get for new techniques.
  • Expand your genre horizons.
  • Listen to the recommendations of others but if you get through a few chapters of a book and it just doesn’t feel right, put it down and try another.
  • Don’t do all serious, or all comedic. Vary the type and length of booktalks during performances.
  • Be aware of and adjust your booktalks to appeal to particular audiences.
  • Involve the teens. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to wait for a response, usually one of them will break down before you do. But be prepared in case they never answer. Which does happen.
  • Be yourself! Whether you’re reading, preparing the booktalk, or performing the booktalk, do it your own way.