Tips For Successful Author Readings

Wendy Van Camp SpeaksAuthor readings are a great way to present your new book to the public. It allows you to give a personal sample of your writing, interact with potential readers, and can turn into a sales event. There are many venues to set up a reading location: bookstores, libraries, seminars, book clubs, restaurants and even private homes. In my area, the writer societies have “salon readings” on a semi-regular basis. If you are a paid member of the society, you can usual find a space in their advertised reading events. I am finding that these events are well attended, with 20 to 30 audience members and some record the readings and turn them into podcasts to go onto the web. It is a win-win for both the writer and the readers because it is a great way for writers to present themselves to new fans and for fans to find authors that interest them.

I have prepared a few tips on getting ready for a reading based on my former experience as a talk show television host. These are some of the things I’ve done to get ready to go “on the air” during my younger days when I hosted “Flowers by Rod”, a how-to program about flower arranging and “Class Act”, an interview talk show.

Rehearse

Remember that a reading is performance art. You are “on stage” the moment you walk into the venue. No matter how many people are there, you want to make a good impression. Choose three or four short passages from your novel. You may only read one or two at the salon, but it is good to have alternate options available if needed. Read your selections out loud while facing a mirror in the privacy of your own home. If you own a video camera, consider video taping your reading performance so you can view it and make any corrections necessary.

Wardrobe

Yes, it is difficult to watch one’s self on television, but remember no one has to see it but you. This is also a good time to select wardrobe. You can see for yourself how you will appear to the audience if you record yourself in your wardrobe choice. Does the fabric move with you? Does the outfit reflect your mood as an artist? Most authors wear clothing that is dressy casual and have something that pops that members of the audience might remember. If you are female, an artistic piece of jewelry is often a good idea.

Biography

You should prepare a written bio to take with you. Often times you will hand this to the moderator, who will introduce you to the audience before your reading. However, sometimes you will be expected to introduce yourself. Keep it short and if possible, humorous. Practice your bio information so you can recite it naturally when needed. As a television host, I would often sit and chat with my guests for a short time before the program and base my introduction on this, but I feel that it is best to be prepared with something in writing too.

Timing

Do not read too long. I would prepare no more than ten minutes of prose to read. When you practice your readings at home, make sure you time it. Ten minutes may not sound like a long period of time, but for a performance, it is substantial. Think about how long a typical television segment on a television program is. That is what you should be aiming for.

After your reading, you should be able to take questions from the audience. You will get typical questions such as:

Where do you get your ideas?
What do you use to write with?
Who are your favorite authors?
Why did you become a writer?
What inspires you to write?

Be prepared to answer questions such as these ahead of time. The readers are seeking a more personal connection with you as an author. They want to know what is behind the story you’ve written, the deeper meaning that is not readily apparent.

Performance

Do your best to relax when reading your work. Stand comfortably and speak clearly. Do not bury yourself in your words, try and look up from time to time and make eye contact with the audience. During question and answer sessions, talk directly to people, remember to smile, and just be yourself.

If you can calm your nerves, your performance time is a wonderful way to gauge how your audience reacts to your words. It is similar to when you are in a critique group and have someone else read your story out loud and then you the author can sit back and gauge the reactions to the story. What is great about a reading is that the audience are not always fellow writers, they are the true public that reads your work. Seeing their reactions can be a golden opportunity.

Publicize

Before your reading date at the Salon, make sure you announce it via your social media platform. Post on your website, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Send out a press release to shopping guides with calendars of community events or to your local paper.

Books

Bring a box of books to sell at the event, fliers or cards with links to your ebook seller sites, or if you are in a bookstore, make sure your book is stocked on the shelves. Double check with the bookstore about their policy of who sells the books to the audience. You want to be able to return to this location, so keep the store happy. If you do bring books, make sure that you sign them, even ones that the store may purchase from you to sell later. Some stores like to keep autographed books on a front table after your appearance is over for book collectors.

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19 thoughts on “Tips For Successful Author Readings”

  1. Great tips, Wendy. I obsess about what to wear to readings. Nothing ever seems quite right. I’ve learned the hard way to not wear spanx because it’s helpful to be able to breathe while reading.

  2. Wardrobe is something I think more about. As you can see by my photo, I wore far too much black at my last event. I’m rethinking my wardrobe into brighter colors that allows me to stand out more in front of the crowd. Come to think of it, I had a fever that day too. LOL I felt committed to make the date and went anyway. It turned out to be a good event for me.

  3. Hi Wendy. Thanks so much for your sage advice. I’m finalizing my debut novel and planning events now, so your post is just what I needed. Following your blog now and shared this post on Twitter.

    1. I think about wardrobe because of my television background. Back in the day you couldn’t wear fine prints due to causing the TV image to go crazy and the color red would saturate the tubes and create a sort of halo effect. Of course, in the digital age we don’t worry about things like that. Still, I think that creating a favorable impression starts with wardrobe. It helps create the personal statement you want to associate with your book.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I am gearing up to release my first novel in January and am really interested in making public appearances.

    Do you have any suggestions for how to contact these locations to set up a speaking event? Over the phone? In-person?

    1. I use word of mouth to find venues that accept authors for speaking in my area. Many are connected with local writer’s groups. I join the groups if they interest me or simply fill out an application form. I have never done this by phone. Most of the time, the venues prefer email or an online sign up form.

      1. I travel to other cities for venues all the time. I have a few major ones within a few hours drive. Also, sometimes there are venues close to you that you don’t realize. Writer’s group can get to be a little “tucked away”. Just put your ear to the ground and see what you can find. Starting your own venue is a good idea, but it takes work and you would need to feature other authors than yourself to make it viable.

  5. I don’t know if I have a “best route” to recommend. Everyone does this a little differently relating to their personal talents, time constraints, and other considerations. You should let your fingers do the walking over the internet and read about how other authors do their marketing or join a local writing society. Hanging out with fellow authors is a great way to learn the ropes.

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