Advice for Giving a Good Author Reading Event (Important for Writers)

I received a forward from my agent a little while containing an article from Chuck Thompson entitled “An Author’s Six Rules for Better Readings.” While I have never heard this gentleman read, I liked his tips so I thought I’d present them here (plus my own additions) but modified for genre writers. (Mr. Thompson clearly writes popular non-fiction.)

Tips for a Good Author Reading Event

1. Don’t Read for More Than Five Minutes at a Time. (Unless you’re Tanya Huff or Mary Robinette Kowal.)

Spend 10 minutes giving background, either concept, world building, or something interesting/funny about yourself. Think about the questions you always get from readers and bloggers, try and address the most common of those. For example, I might talk about my main character, Alexia, and how similar her personality is to mine. People ask me about this all the time. Blake might talk about his struggles with dyslexia.

Then read two segments from different chapters: one three and one five minutes long. The first might be a description of Alexia, if that’s what I talked about to start. The second might be an action sequence, or dialogue, or humor, emphasizing some particularly sellable aspect of the book. I have some notes from a World Con back in 2008 where Mary Robinette Kowal gave an excellent panel on tips of how to give an effective reading.

2. Get the Crowd Thinking

In addition to a Q&A, Mr. Thompson suggests pulling someone up to read with you or engaging in a debate, but that won’t really work for fiction. I suggest riffing once more on your main topic. Mine, given the example above, is clearly characterization. So I might ask audience members to think about the characters seated around them, or me, how would they describe me in a book? Then I might ask them to imagine turning those people into British high society, and our book reading into a social salon. This is the kind of thing I’ve been known to do when writing in a coffee shop. (Of course, any resemblance between my characters and any person living or dead is purely coincidental.)

3. Visuals

This is moot point for genre authors, we usually don’t have the option of PowerPoint or slides. However, I do like visual aids. Anything relevant to the book from a stuffed animal, to a vintage weapon, is nice to have sitting near you. Don’t explain it at first, this gives people something to wonder about, and look at, aside from you. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt if you put some effort into your own visual representation, see this rant.

4. Hand Out Gift Certificates

(I love this idea.) The first thing Thompson does in the host bookstore is buy two gift certificates. This is a good way of conveying appreciation to the store for hosting the event. You can pass out index cards and have people write questions on the cards. Tell them to include their names on the cards for a gift-certificate drawing at the end of the Q&A. This keeps people from leaving early and it keeps them interested. This also allows people who are too self conscious to ask a question out loud to ask it on paper. However, you’ll need an assistant to go through and sort the cards (in case people ask similar or offensive questions) and prioritize them.

5. Don’t Let the Q&A Go Long

Here I’m going to quote Thompson verbatim, “Don’t mistake a few questions for mass interest. Some blowhard or aspiring writer will always hang around asking questions until the lights are turned out. Most people get fidgety after 35 or 40 minutes. By that time, they expect to be getting their books signed and on their ways to the 20 other things they have to do before the night is out. If your mother never told you, I will: it’s always better to leave a party 30 minutes early than 30 minutes late.”

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Say Something Stupid

To which I will add (from 10 years of teaching and museum docent tours), don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. Here’s the trick: if you do say something stupid, instantly make a joke at your own expense, point it out, lamplight it. The fool is always the most endearing character. Also don’t be afraid of those three little words: “I don’t know.”

7. Slow Down

Most people read, and talk, too fast. Take the time to think things out and then slow down to say them, this may seem slow to you, but it comes off as intelligent and helps eliminate those annoying filler words (uh, er, like) and other speech disfluencies.

8. Make Eye Contact

Look up when you are reading. Look at not only the excited bright-eyed audience members, but also the spaced-out frowning ones.

[Thompson is a magazine writer and author of four books, most recently To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism (Holt).]

Some additional tips from self on what to do at writing conventions and convention necessities packing list.

Quote of the Day:
“You must learn to overcome your very natural and appropriate revulsion for your own work.”
~ William Gibson

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Posted by Gail Carriger


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