Building a Book Talk

Hey y’all! So I have a book talk coming up next week and figured I might as well do a walk through of *how* I make and organize my lists (mostly the organizing part) . If you are like, “What is a book talk?”…

A book talk is basically me standing up in front of people pitching a list of books chosen for the particular group or topic. In this case, I’m book talking to high school sophomores at one of our local high schools and my topic is “New and Notable.”


  1. Books had to have come out in the last year
  2. List has to be between 25-30 books long
  3. There are four people doing book talks (other genres are mystery/thriller, nonfiction, and sci-fi/fantasy) so my list has to attempt *mostly* to not overlap.

My personal parameters for all my book talks:

  1. At least 1/3 of the books must feature a queer MC
  2. At least 1/2 of the books must be written by an author of color or indigenous author

My personal parameter for this specific book talk:

  1. Rachel you have too many fantasy books on this list, to help you cut the list down, I’m implementing a rule that all fantasy books on the final list must be written by an author of color or indigenous author.

Basically, I went through my list of things I’d read that came out in the past year and made an initial list!

…Which I don’t have. I’d already turned in my final list of 30 books by the time I started writing this blog post. What I can tell you is that I start by listing everything I think I’d want to talk about, regardless of genre, and then I start eliminating one by one. Some because they don’t fit parameters, some because the overall pitch is a little too similar to another book I feel I need to talk about, some because I literally have to eliminate something in order for my list to not last the entire school day.

So here is the list I turned in, alphabetical by author.

Percentages: authors of color/indigenous authors (21/32, 65.6%), books with a queer MC (11/30, 36.6%)

Now, I do not book talk in alphabetical order. It kills my flow, it feels weird, and I just generally dislike it. So how do I *create* that flow?


I add these columns! Under MC, each book got a B, G, BG, or NB label (meaning it has a boy MC, girl MC, more than one MC and at least one is a boy and at least one is a girl, nonbinary MC, respectively). Why does this matter? Well, I get bored if I’m talking about 10 boy main characters in a row. All other columns get an X next to any book that fits their description (CTP=contemp, HIS=historical, etc)
Do not yell at me for putting Very Large Expanse in historical, I’m pretty sure 2002 was before these sophomores were born

Now is the fun part, let’s start moving things around! I always try to pick my starting book and my ending book first–start strong, end strong. Of these, I think one of my most intriguing premises is in Juleah del Rosario’s 500 Words or Less, so we’ll start with that. And Picture Us in the Light is on my list, so that’s the last book I talk about. The other easy thing is that I have just two mysteries on my list–Sadie and Monday’s Not Coming–so I’m going to separate them as much as possible and make one my second book and one my second to last book.

I added another column to put numbers in when I’ve determined the placement of a book!

Now, sometimes it can be fun to pair books together. In this case I’m talking about An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason and Always Never Yours. One is a book set in Shakespeare time where Shakespeare is literally a character, and one is a Shakespeare retelling in the present day. Now, I don’t like doing this when two books are the same genre, because I think it dilutes the pitch a little, but since one is historical and one is contemporary, I’m good with putting them together.

But I want to get another contemporary in first before I put those two, so let’s go with What If It’s Us, followed by Assassin’s Guide and Always Never Yours

Now would be a good time to throw a SFF on, and of these I think I’d like to talk about Mirage first (I have two sci-fis, so Contagion will have to go in the second half of my talk). And then another contemporary, because there are 60 billion of them, let’s go with Down and Across. 

Down towards the bottom, pre-Sadie I added in Light Between Worlds and Odd One Out because they both have really great concepts that are super easy to talk about and will keep the teens’ attention, even at the end of a book talk list this big.

Here’s where we are now

Now comes the part where I just sort of throw the rest together so the Xs are relatively spread out. A couple rules I’m arbitrarily following

  1. No more than 3 CTPs back-to-back
  2. Tyler Johnson, Here to Stay, and Anger is a Gift can’t be back to back
  3. Contagion is in the second half
  4. No historical or SFF back-to-back
  5. No more than 2 duplicates back-to-back in the MC column
  6. Sad books must be immediately followed or preceded with happy books

With those rules in mind, here’s what I got

Once I had a full picture, I could move things around if I wanted–which I did, but not very much. I moved Mirage to before Assassin’s Guide, moved Isle of Blood and Stone up from 10th to 7th, but really, small changes just based on what I know I’ll say.

Final list

And remember, just because it’s not on this list, doesn’t mean I haven’t book talked it (I mean, there’s a TON not on here that killed me to cut).

I hope that my rambling gave you a little bit of insight into how I plan book talks, and let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more of this type of post!


One thought

  1. This was honestly FASCINATING and one of the most engaging posts I’ve read in a while!! I love love love lists like this and it was so fun to see how you put it together!! Thanks for sharing! 😊


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