Hello, word workers!
We need to talk. We need to have the talk…
Nobody wants to talk about this with other writers, but the best form of communication is honesty. Writers, when you read your work to other people, make sure to make it good. I know, I know, this is the hardest part of writing, being asked to turn around and PERFORM it.
Awkward does not even cover it.
We toil in obscurity…
We do our best work alone…
We are the observers, not the observed…
How do you kill it?
Let me tell you a fact: I have been to many, many readings. I have been to big readings. I have been to small readings. I’ve been to readings in doughnut shops and I’ve been to readings on boats. I can count on one hand the number of awesome readings that I have gone to. They all have one thing in common, the reader/author acknowledges the audience.
Before I talk about what makes a good reading, lets talk about what makes a BAD reading, because we are all guilty of this so we should just be honest and get it out in the open:
1. You only look at the paper in front of you.
2. You mumble while you’re up there
(I’ve never really been able to understand what Dylan is talking about and for the longest time I thought it was me, turns out he just mumbles all the time.)
3. If you’re not mumbling, you’re talking too fast and can hardly understand yourself.
The more we do these things in combination with excessive sweating and standing in one position the entire time, the more awkward the audience will feel and the less they will listen to your words.
FYI, David Foster Wallace had a terrible sweating problem so he used to wear a bandana to readings and now the bandana is iconic. So, it helps to think practically about your sweat problem.
I really do know!
Public speaking is hard and hateful to someone used to being in the wings rather than in the spotlight.
I’m here to help you, and so are these guys:
From left to right; Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Chuck Palahnuick. These guys know how to do it right. When I first started writing I went and saw Chuck read at a local venue in Eugene, OR that held a couple hundred people and it was full. Chuck came out, explained that he had gotten Mono by accidentally drinking from Quentin Tarantino’s water mug on The Late Show with Jay Leno. Even though he prefaced the whole performance with the fact that he had been sick, he still entertained us. The way he did it was very simple.
I usually start a reading with “Hello. How is everyone?” This allows you to break the ice and allows your audience, even if it is just your mom, the feeling that they are participating in the reading.
Anyway. Back to the secrets to a good reading.
Lidia here models one of the secrets: Wear a costume.
Lidia is in a swim suit because her book The Chronology of Water is about how she found herself, and one of the ways she does that is through swimming. As a member of the audience you are much more likely to pay attention if the author is in something out of the ordinary.
The next secret to a good reading: Party favors.
This is Chelsae Cain and her daughter passing out finger puppet monsters at a book signing. Chelsae does not necessarily need to do this since she is an author whose Heartsick series about Gretchen Lowell, a very nasty serial killer, is regularly in the NYT bestseller list. She gives away little baubles because her fans are important to her, and she remembers when she went on her first book tour and no one came to the readings.
Chuck really goes above and beyond when it comes to party favors:
Here is Chuck with an autographed blowup doll that he used to give away to people who asked him a question when he was touring with Choke, which is about a sex addict.
The added benefit of these party favors is that your audience will go home and blog about what a good time he or she had at your reading, as is the case with the lady with the autographed bloody stump.
Here is another tip: Practice your piece until you don’t have to look at a piece of paper.
If you do need to look at your work, make the font
this big so
that you barely have to glance down. This is a size
All of this is about audience participation. If people leave your reading having had a good time, they are more likely to remember what you said, buy your book, and talk about you on their blogs.
It’s all about creating an awesome atmosphere.
Last, but not least, think long and hard about how much liquid courage you need to make it through your reading. It is only very rarely that people will remember your words and not your actions.
The trick to a good reading is to be as awesome as your words. If you realize that you have to get people to pay attention to you in this day and age, you will have a head start over other authors who don’t. It doesn’t have to be an awkward experience: it could, if you want, be pretty amazing.