You created a strong relationship with your local bookstore. You shop there. You know the staff and are familiar with the inventory, programs and events.
And now you’ve committed yourself to a public reading of your work-in-progress at your local independent bookstore. How can an author best prepare to make the experience – for the bookstore, for those who attend, and for an author – a positive one?
First, find the perfect excerpt. This sounds much easier than it is. You want the piece to pull the audience into your narrative. Select a scene that opens with action, reveals the central premise and hooks the interest of the reader. It should also have a clear endpoint and leave the listener begging for more of the story.
There may be a time limit imposed on the length of the reading, but even if there is not, keep your reading time under 15 minutes, or less than 10 pages. Shorter is better than an excerpt that is too long.
Write up a brief bio and prepare an introduction to the reading. Use third-person in this document since you will provide the host or moderator with this information well in advance of the event. Provide the premise, or a brief synopsis of the work from which your reading is excerpted, and just enough information for the selection to be put into context for the listeners’ comprehension.
Once you have identified the excerpt, be sure to print it out and read it aloud. You may find this leads to more self-editing. If you stumble through your words, will a reader grasp their meaning? When you listen to your own piece, are there certain words you have overused? Did you hear when you switched verb tenses even though you didn’t see that happen in the text? Continue to refine the document based on your practice readings.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Read it out loud to yourself. Find a listener and read it again.Stand in front of the mirror and watch yourself read.
Slow down. Too many authors race through their own words because they are so familiar. They sound rote. Flat. Slow down in your delivery. Remember this is the first time anyone will have heard these words. Give them time to wrap their heads around the ideas and images your words conjure up in their minds.
Many authors are surprised how quickly time passes during the reading. Give your words breathing space. Allow for audience reactions. Getting feedback from a live audience is incredibly helpful to an author. Much of the feedback may be in the form of nonverbal cues from those in attendance. Slow down during your reading to observe your audience in response to your words. Listen for laughter, sighs, rustling in the seats, sobs and snorts. Watch for smiles, frowns, direct eye contact and whether arms are folded across chests leaning back or do listeners sit forward with hands folded loosely in their laps.
The most important thing you can do is to help publicize the event through your own connections. Get on the telephone. Use personal email. Promote the event using social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google +.
At the event, encourage those in attendance to shop at the bookstore which has hosted your reading. Remember to thank your bookstore host and the audience for supporting the work of writers in your community.
If there is a microphone, kiss it. Really. The closer the microphone is to your lips, the better. If there is no microphone, please don’t tip your chin down to your chest when you read. Make sure you enunciate and address your voice to the back of the room. You want to be heard.
Don’t forget to bring your business cards. Ask for the cards of those in the audience who come up to speak with you after the reading and hand them yours. Those who engage with you in face to face conversation have already become invested in your work. Connect with them and show your appreciation, even if what they say sounds like a criticism or negative feedback. They have made an effort to offer you the feedback you seek. Express your gratitude.
After the reading, write thank you notes to your hosts. Booksellers are the real kingpins in the book business: they play a pivotal role in putting books into the hands of readers.
If you are an author working on a book manuscript and seek publication, then reading your work-in-progress is an important step toward that end. It’s a wonderful opportunity to audition for a reading audience.