some advice on author readings

black & white Glasses & Book - exhausting read

Last night, I gave my first author reading in far too long. Naturally, I was more nervous than I needed to be. It was a friendly crowd in a great venue, and the organizer has already (twice) asked me back again. I find I’m now looking forward to doing more of these events.

Looking ahead, here’s some advice on preparing for a reading—and maybe I’ll even follow through on more of this next time.

1. Marketing materials

Someone in the audience—even if it’s just one person—will want to know more about your book. If you have a tear sheet, postcard or bookmark available to handout, that gives attendees something to take home with them as a reminder about you and your book. Even better, bring a box of your books with you to the event that you can sell to readers right then and there.

SUPER GIANT BIG HINT: Do not wait until you have an author reading on the calendar to start thinking about (and printing) these materials. These simple “give-aways” should be part of your book’s marketing strategy from the outset.

As it happened, the date of the reading snuck up on me and all I had with me were my business cards. But those cards had not only my name on them, but also the titles of my books, so it wasn’t a completely lost opportunity.

2. Practice

Choose a selection of text that is appropriate to the specific event’s audience—you wouldn’t want to read a particularly gory, sexy or obscenity-filled passage at a YA book club, nor would you want to present a chapter about kittens and lollypops at a Goth bar.

Find out from the organizer well in advance what your time limit is, and make sure your selection will fit in your allotted time. You can edit your work to make it fit, reading a couple of pages from an early chapter and then another selection from later in the book. Also be sure to leave room for your introduction and set-up:

“I’m Jennifer Willis. I’m reading from Valhalla, my young adult urban fantasy novel. Here’s the background and this is what has happened just prior to this action . . .”

. . . and for your conclusion:

“So that was a brief excerpt from Valhalla. You can find it in print and as an ebook online. My name is Jennifer Willis. Thank you for listening this evening.”

And then practice your reading, complete with your intro and conclusion. Time it. Make sure you’re not going to go long. This is one occasion where less really is more—you’d rather leave readers hanging, wanting more (and ready to buy your book) than to bore them by going too long. Plus, you don’t want to find yourself in the position of being yanked off the stage by the MC.

3. Have friends in the audience

There’s typically not a huge amount of public contact in this profession, and most writers view this as a bonus. As a result, we’re not especially comfortable getting up and speaking in front of other people. Having some friendly faces in the crowd helps. Even if you’re blinded by the stage lights and can’t see past the end of the platform you’re standing on, just knowing that there are people in the audience rooting for you really does make a difference.

(Big thanks here to Sorcha, Bill, Terry and Mike who showed up for me last night. You guys rule!)

4. Get familiar with the space

If you’ve not been in the event’s space before, try to show up early and get familiar with the set-up. Will the mic need to be adjusted for your height? Is there a lectern or a chair that you’ll be using? Is there enough light where you’ll be standing?

I got surprised on this last question last night. I’d arrived plenty early, but hadn’t though about getting up on the stage just to check out the space. I’d watched the authors ahead of me leaning over to read the pages they’d rested on the tall table; their faces fell into shadows and their voices were swallowed up. I’d done my practice reading standing and holding my own book in front of me, allowing me to look up and project my voice. I figured I’d be fine.

As it turned out, that table was the only place there was enough light to actually read. I started out holding my book out in front of me, but the stage lights cast the text into shadow. I ended up doing the same thing the other authors did, looking down at my pages on the table instead of out at the audience. If I’d taken a few minutes before the event to check out the space, I might have found another “sweet spot” on the stage that would have been a better fit for me.

5. Stay after to network

Okay. I’m notoriously bad about staying late to network. Or staying late, period. I’m a morning person, so I start getting sleepy around 9 p.m.

But hanging around after the event is over is a great way to meet and get to know the other authors at the event—and networking and forging bonds with your colleagues is never a bad thing. There will also undoubtedly be members of the audience who want to ask you a question about your work—or maybe even ask for your autograph.

Last night’s event ran long, and it was nearly 10 p.m. when the last reader left the stage. Mike and I were both whipped, so we said our quick goodbyes and headed home. It was a missed opportunity, but I was so tired I could barely think straight.

Know what I’ll do next time? Take a nap beforehand.



Creative Commons photo by photosteve101.



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4 thoughts on “some advice on author readings

  1. Great tips, Jen! I’d say practicing is the number one tip. You have to be on intimate terms with the text you’ll be reading to read it well at the event, despite the jitters you’re definitely going to have.

  2. Thanks, Jen. Great information. I appreciate your taking the time to share this with everyone. I’ve never done an actual reading but now at least I feel better prepared.

  3. Thanks, Annette and James, for the great comments. Perhaps I should have presented this as an unordered list, since I wasn’t really trying to set priorities. A great piece of advice I got from another author in the hours before I went on last night was this: No one knows my material better than I do, so why be nervous?

  4. I’ve done several poetry readings and usually have a problem with my hands trembling uncontrollably. I’m not terrified, so who knows what it is: excitement? The anxiety doesn’t sound in my voice, but if I have to hold what I’m reading it flutters like a flag. So I always ask the organizer for a lectern (or music stand). If my hands have something to rest on, they’re fine. Oh, and one glass of red wine beforehand works wonders.

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