Book-selling At Meetings
The tones of the speaker's voice fade away and are forever lost. Too
often the ideas which the voice proclaimed drift into the background and
presently disappear. This is the crowning limitation of public speaking.
The lecturer should be, first of all, an educator, and his work should
not be "writ in water." The lazy lecturer who imagines that his duties
to his audience end with his peroration is unfaithful to his great
calling. Lazy lecturers are not very numerous as they are certain of a
career curtailed from lack of an audience.
There are some lecturers, however, who see nothing of importance in
their work except the delivering of their lectures. And the educational
value of such workers is only a fraction of what it might be. Life is
not so long for the strongest of us, nor are the results that can be
achieved by the most gifted such that we can afford to waste the best of
our opportunities. This article is not intended as a sermon, but if as
lecturers we are to be educators we must not neglect to use the greatest
weapons against ignorance in the educational armory--books.
The books here referred to are not the volumes in the lecturer's own
library. They, of course, are indispensable. There have been men who
felt destined to be lecturers without the use of mere "book learning,"
but they never lived long enough to find out why the public did not take
them at their own estimate.
The man who undertakes to deal with a subject without first reading, and
as far as possible, mastering, the best books on that subject, would no
more be a lecturer than a man who tried to cut a field of wheat with a
pocket-knife would be a farmer.
Any good lecture of an hour and a quarter has meant ten to fifty hours'
hard reading. There is much in the reading that cannot possibly appear
in the lecture. Another lecture on a related theme or one widely
different, has probably suggested itself. I remember while rummaging in
history to find proofs and illustrations of "The Materialistic
Conception of History," which conception I was to defend presently in a
public debate, gathering the scheme of a course of four lectures on the
significance of the great voyages of the middle ages--a course which
proved very successful when delivered about a month later.
Again, the reading furnishes a great deal of material on the question of
the lecture itself which cannot be put into it for sheer lack of time.
This is why a lecture always educates the lecturer much more than it
does the hearer. The hearer therefore labors under two great
disadvantages. First, he forgets much that he hears, and, second, there
is so much that he does not hear at all.
The first handicap can be removed by the printing of the lectures. The
second is not so easily disposed of.
A lecturer may state in three minutes an idea which has cost many days'
reading. The idea has great importance to the speaker and, if he is a
master of his art, he will impress its importance on his hearers. That
is what his art is for. But that idea will never illume the hearer's
brain as the lecturer's until the hearer knows as does the lecturer what
there is back of it.
There is only one way in which this can be done--the hearer must have
access to the same sources of knowledge as the lecturer. This does not
necessarily mean that every hearer should have a lecturer's library. It
does mean, however, that there are some books which should be read by
The lecturer himself is the best judge as to which books belong to this
category. In number they range anywhere from a dozen up, according to
the ambitions of the reader.
My method of dealing with this problem has been to take one book at a
time, tell the audience about it and see that the ushers were ready to
supply all demands. In this way I have sold more than two whole editions
of Boelsche's book "The Evolution of Man." In one week speaking in half
a dozen different cities I sold an entire edition of my first book
"Evolution, Social and Organic." One Sunday morning this spring at the
Garrick meeting at the close of a five-minute talk about Paul Lafargue's
"Social and Philosophic Studies" the audience, in three minutes, bought
250 copies, and more than a hundred would-be purchasers had to wait
until the following Sunday for a new supply. A few Sundays later
Blatchford's "God and My Neighbor," a dollar volume, had a sale of 204
copies--the total book sale for that morning reaching what I believe is
the record for a Socialist meeting--$220.00. The last lecture of this
season (April, 1910,) had a book sale of $190.00, which included 380
paper back copies of Sinclair's "Prince Hagen."
These figures are given to show that this work can be done, and if it is
not done the lecturer alone is to blame. Anyone who can lecture at all
can do this with some measure of success. There can be no sane doubt of
its value. About 500 young men in the Garrick audience have built up
small but fine libraries of their own through this advice given in this
way, and there is no part of my work which gives me so great
I never allow my audience to imagine for a moment that my book talk is a
mere matter of selling something. There will always be one or two in the
audience who will take that view--natural selection always overlooks a
Now let us tabulate some of the results that may be obtained in this
(1) By getting these books into the hands of our hearers we give our
teachings from the platform a greater permanence in their minds. We not
only help them to knowledge, but put them in the way of helping
themselves directly. This alone is, justification enough, but it is not
(2) We encourage the publication of just those books which in our
estimation contain the principles which we regard as destined to promote
the happiness of mankind.
(3) The difference between the wholesale and retail prices is often
enough to make successful a lecture course which would have otherwise
died prematurely of bankruptcy. Where a meeting cannot live on the
collection, the book sales may mean financial salvation. The morning we
sold $220 of books at the Garrick we also took a collection of $80.
Without the book sales $80 would have been the total receipts, and this
collection was normal. Yet the Garrick meetings cost $140 each. After we
had paid the publisher's bill we had a balance from book sales of $120,
which made the total receipts not $80 but $200. And this is among the
least important results of book selling.
Everything, of course, depends on the book talk. I will now give sample
book talks which any speaker may commit to memory and use, probably with
results that will be a surprise and an encouragement.
Next: Example Book Talks
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