Reaching Your Fans: How to Give an Author Reading
Some authors are outgoing, spotlight-lovers who shine at readings. Many others feel insecure reading their work in public for one reason or another. Regardless of how comfortable you are, readings are a part of the book industry. Your fans want to meet you. They want to hear from you and have the opportunity to ask you questions, so here are some tips to make readings fun for them and less stressful for you.
Choosing an Excerpt to Read
Which excerpt you choose will determine whether your listeners are hooked and invested in your reading or bored and internet surfing. I know that’s a lot of pressure, but when you think about your time limit and audience, you will be able to select a portion of your manuscript that will linger with your listeners.
Be Aware of Time
Despite the formality of your reading’s setting, you will likely have some sort of time limit. What you pick needs to fit and make sense for your time limit. A good rule of thumb is 2.5-3 double-spaced, 12 point font pages will take 5 minutes to read. Don’t try to read faster to fit more words in because your listeners won’t be able to comprehend what you’re saying that fast and you’ll come across as nervous and flustered.
Also, make sure your excerpt makes sense on its own. You don’t want to waste time explaining or setting up your premise when you could be reading. Pick a scene or moment that’s funny, suspense-filled, or tension-packed on its. There may be little bits your listeners will miss because you haven’t read everything that happened earlier, but they will still be able to follow and enjoy the excerpt by itself.
When I read in graduate school from my creative thesis, I chose a scene where a teenage boy is forced to walk his mom’s yappy Pomeranian when he heads to the park to buy drugs. The scene is funny, fit within my time limit, and didn’t require setup. I didn’t waste time explaining who the other characters present were or why the character needed a new drug dealer. I just let my audience enjoy the humor of some kid trying to sneakily buy drugs with the most annoying dog ever drawing attention to his actions. Look for excerpts from your work that are enjoyable on their own like this.
Think About Your Listeners
Just like you need to understand your ideal reader to effectively market your book, you also need to understand your listeners to pick an excerpt that will make them want more. If you’re speaking to an experimental graduate school program, pick a section that shows off your literary skills. If you’re reading to hard science fiction fans, choose an excerpt with well-researched, plausible science or technology. If you’re reading your marketing book to small business owners, give them a nugget of insight they can act on now. Give them a little of what your listeners love about the genre you’re reading.
Also be sure to choose a section that accurately represents your manuscript. Don’t read the only vignette in your poetry collection or the hint of magic in an otherwise contemporary story. If you do this and someone new to your work buys your book, they will be disappointed and not leave good reviews.
Pick an excerpt that will hook your listeners and make them want more. A reading is an opportunity to turn that friend dragged to your reading into a raging fan. Choose what you read thoughtfully.
Don’t Recite, Entertain
When you give a reading, you are a bit of a performer. Reading your excerpt like it’s your turn to read a paragraph out of a textbook at school will not leave an impact on your listeners or convince them to buy your book. Instead, take a breath. Imagine you’re reading to your child, spouse, or good friend on a vacation that doesn’t allow technology. You are reading only to entertain the two of you.
So, slow down. Most people rush when they read in public. Make an effort to read slower and enunciate. Commit to your reading and the words you’re saying, so you don’t trail off or mumble. The listeners are there to hear you. They want you to do well and have fun. They are rooting for you to succeed, so internalize that.
And finally, practice. The best way to become an entertaining reader and feel more confident sharing your writing on a stage is to practice. I read my excerpts out loud to my roommate or stuffed animal in college to practice words that were tricky for me to pronounce, make sure the piece fit within the time limit, and feel more comfortable with the material.
Read any time you get the chance. One of the writers groups I actively participate in – the Writers Idea Factory – gives members time and space to read their writing once a month. I love watching my peers develop their reading skills and blossom into more confident authors. Don’t allow the first time you really read an excerpt out loud to be on stage.
An Editor and Listener’s Thoughts on Readings
I’ve been to an unfortunate number of readings. We were required to go to a lot in my MFA program, so I can honestly say your listeners want to be entertained. They’re ready for you to share with them and will be pissed when you go way over your time limit. They also want to get to know you. Let your personality shine through when you’re on stage or develop a stage character. Your listeners will feed off your energy, so dance around, tell a joke, or share a quick story related to your venue to break the ice. This will build a connection between you and your listeners and make them even more invested when you start reading your excerpt. If you’re reading is more of a talk, I’ll have tips for other things you can do besides read next week. If you are invited primarily to read, take a breath, trust your writing, and read with your clear, strong voice to Ignite Your Ink.
How do you approach author readings? Share your tips in the comments below. For tips on giving reading and other aspects of being an author.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.