PrinceHow to prepare for a successful reading

Once your book is published, expect to schedule events where you read an excerpt of your work out loud to an audience. Reader engagement sells books and one of the tried and true methods for authors are public readings. How can you best prepare for a successful reading?

If you have been to enough author readings you know what doesn’t work.

  • The author who does not make any eye contact with the audience but puts their reading glasses on and focuses on the paper in front of his face.
  • The author who adopts the sing-songy voice of a liturgical reader.
  • The author who doesn’t know when to stop and puts the entire audience to sleep.

If an audience turns out to hear you, don’t disappoint. Here is a list of 10 steps you can take to best prepare for your reading.

  1. JillRemember it’s an oral performance. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
  2. Time the reading so you know how long it is. Longer than 10 minutes and you begin to lose your audience.
  3. Slow down your reading. Be kind to your listeners. Enunciate.
  4. Make the right selection for a public reading. Some passages simply aren’t appropriate. Dialogue doesn’t work well if there is nothing more than ping-ponging of he said/she said. Reading the end of the book might be a spoiler. The selection shouldn’t raise questions in the mind of the audience you don’t answer. Find an excerpt that stands alone.
  5. Edit the excerpt to make it a reading draft. Pronouns without clear referents, references to events earlier in the narrative, and terms or conditions set forth prior to the excerpt deserve revision for your listening audience. In other words, write an adaptation for reading aloud.
  6. Involve your audience somehow. Get them to participate. Make it a rewarding event.
  7. RynMake sure your book is in stock and there is plenty of inventory to sell and for you to sign.
  8. Publicize the event.
  9. Begin with a direct conversation with your audience before you introduce the piece you are reading. Show up and be present for those who come to see and hear you.
  10. Keep it short and invite the audience to ask questions or converse with you and each other about the reading.

You don’t have to wait for your book to be published to do a reading of your work-in-progress. Writing groups, art colonies, Elainesigningindependent bookstores, literary organizations, and public libraries sponsor these popular public events. Take the opportunity to give a reading if you can. It is a great way to beta-test your work with an audience who provides immediate visceral feedback.

Reading aloud is also a great way to edit your own copy.

4 thoughts on “How to prepare for a successful reading

  1. Those are great tips, Jill. Thanks for posting. Number 6 got me brainstorming. I’d welcome a discussion on good ways to encourage audience participation. Questions, of course, are an old standby, but has anyone else tried out other techniques with success?

    • Inviting audience participation can take many forms, Ann Marie. Tina Welling handed out horehound hard candies for her reading from WRITING WILD when she spoke at Buffalo Street Books. She gave the audience a taste of her home state of Wyoming. Props and a physical demonstration might work, depending on the subject matter. Sandor Katz continues to tour the nation selling his book on the ART OF FERMENTATION with workshops on making your own sauerkraut. Accompanying art on exhibition or a musical performance enhances audience engagement in any author’s event. For example, The KBG Bar in Brooklyn offers a calendar full of author events and across the country we continue to see bars and books becoming partners in sponsoring author events. Hold an event in a specific place related to your book’s subject matter. If your book has a nautical theme, bring your readers on board a boat for a ride and reading. Finding a way to elicit the stories your readers have to tell about your book’s subject should guide your strategy.

  2. Thanks, Jill. Doing readings can be so much fun. And they can be really stressful too. Great tips for being prepared. I must work on audience participation more. I’m the one who put on the eyeglasses and disappeared into my text.

  3. Great advice. Thanks for all the help you’ve given me the last few years including advice to give readings whenever possible. I’m now used to talking about emotionally loaded material in public.

    I begin a reading with an informal story and end with interaction. People love to be involved and tell their stories, so I read about a topic appropriate for the group and ask people about their experiences with grief, care-taking, kindness, or the healing power of nature and writing. I read passages, but not more than a 5 minutes per story and give backstory first. I tend to read one longer passage (less than 5 minutes) and then a few shorter ones to bring out the topic. If the group is small, I have everyone sit in a circle. Better for more hearing loss, but also better for people to connect to each other.

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Amy Pershing / Chevese Turner
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Diane Tober
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Larry Scheckel
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