Before my recent book reading, I perused various blog posts offering tips on “How to have a Successful Book Reading.” Most of them included familiar advice: Prepare well, practice, be a polite guest, don’t read too long, etc. I was glad I read them because I gleaned excellent advice from each. Here are some tips that worked for me, a couple of which you might not find elsewhere.
Engage the Audience.
My husband, Rich, suggested I give the audience a pop quiz on 1968, since both The Cavanaugh House and Buried Secrets are set in that year. (Yes, add brilliant to his long list of virtues.) As a teacher, I called this an anticipatory set. You’re setting the scene for what your audience can expect.
In preparation for the release of Buried Secrets, I had written a blog titled “Researching 1968 Brings Me Hope in 2016,” so I pulled that post up on my phone and did an impromptu quiz to start off my book reading. Everyone enjoyed it—even the people too young to remember that year. What aspect of your book can you use to hook the audience? If you write non-fiction, you’ve got it made—a pop quiz about your content. With fiction, find some aspect of your book that readers will relate to, making them even more eager to read it.
A former student of mine sat front and center. Imagine the surprised look on her face when, while reading the first page, I sneered “bitch.” And sneered it, I did. Then, as if an aside, I whispered into the microphone while looking at her, “I never said that in class, did I, Brittany?” The more your reading is a performance, the more you’ll catch the readers. I know, many authors are introverts and this isn’t easy. Many actors are introverts, too, but not when they step into their character. Step into your characters and let it rip.
Keep it Short
Blogs I read varied as to how much time an author should read. One said 10 minutes, which seemed short to me. One said 30 minutes. He never taught teens. Even adults get antsy after 20 minutes. I kept mine reading to 15 minutes, and that seemed to work well. Less than that didn’t allow for a mix of exposition, dialogue and scene development. You can always cut it short if you sense you’ve lost them, but I doubt I’d want to ask, “Would you like me to read more?”
I can hear the introverts groaning. I know, it’s difficult for some. But cf. the last point. You need to gage audience engagement and determine whether or not to continue. If they are looking at you, especially if they are leaning forward, you’ve got them. If they are fidgeting, checking their watches, or worse, texting, it’s time to wrap it up.
Ask the people in line to write their names on a sticky note that they will give you when they reach the table. I know you may be surrounded by family and friends at a reading, but do this anyway. I once misspelled my niece, Darleen’s name. I spelled it “Darlene”. I was mortified. This alleviates several problems. First, you get the spelling correct. Second, you don’t embarrass yourself and the person whose name you’ve been trying to remember since they got in line. Third, not having to ask how to spell it gives you more time to think about what to write if you want to personalize it.
What I Wished I’d Done But Didn’t
One blogger suggested giving a definite time for questions and answers. For example, “I’ll take questions for 15 minutes.” Again, the audience knows what to expect, and you can wrap it up without an awkward, “Okay, I’ll take a couple more.” I like to hang around after the signing to engage in more casual conversation, anyway, so unasked questions can be dealt with then.
Rich was about to give me the “time’s up” signal because I had gone about 25 minutes with Q&A. Get me talking about my writing, and I could talk all night. As he suggested, next time, I will set 15 minutes for questions.
The main thing is to have fun. Sure, it’s stressful, and sure, you have to stand up before a bunch of people and talk. But think about what you’re talking about—your work! Your characters! Your passion! These people came because you have something to say. Say it!
Here is a link to a post on Chuck Sambuchino’s blog with more excellent advice.
Do you have more tips to share for successful book readings and/or signings? Do you have a funny story to share? I’d love to hear from you!