One thing about being a Real Published Author that I most dreaded was being asked to do public readings. I know, I know, that’s beyond obnoxious: Someone who liked my book wants me to come to their store or library and talk about it—poor me!
Obviously, I was grateful for any chance at publicity. But as I geared up for my first book-promotion events, I couldn’t help feeling nauseous. Partially because of stage fright, but also because I was terrified no-one would show up and I’d be revealed as a fraud and be so shattered that I’d never find the courage to write anything ever again.
The good news is that didn’t happen. In the six or so appearances I’ve made so far, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea about what works for me and what doesn’t. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Start yourself off easy: My first-ever appearance as a professional author was at an independent bookstore in a nearby suburb. I invited everyone I knew and basically begged my closest friends to promise they’d show up. Though I was a bundle of nerves that night, the room wasn’t empty, and I knew the audience was rooting for me. That was a huge help.
2. Enlist a partner: I knew hardly any other fiction writers when I began this “author journey,” but since then I’ve found I really enjoy doing events alongside other people. If you get nervous being the center of attention, doing a reading with another author takes some of the focus off you. (Bonus: you can also make new writer-friends!)
3. Expect and accept failure: Rejection is part of the writer’s life, right? I had a classic reading fail a few months ago, as part of a larger literary event. I was definitely not the main draw, and my reading attracted a grand total of two people (neither of whom was particularly interested in my book). I was mortified and spent way too long rummaging around in my purse while I waited to see if anyone else would show up. In the end, I decided it was ridiculous to keep sitting behind a table, so I sat down in the audience with my two brave listeners and just chatted—mostly about other people’s books. Sure, I left feeling kind-of foolish, but also relieved. The experience wasn’t as crushing as I’d feared.
4. Make the event fit you: There’s no one “right” way to plan an event. If you’re super nervous and hate public speaking, read two or three excerpts and plan out a specific list of topics to discuss. If you’re more social, make your reading more like a conversation, where you’re asking questions as much as answering them. For inspiration, get out and see other writers in action (as I wrote about in a previous post).
I’ve got another reading coming up next week, so I’ll be putting this advice to the test soon. If no-one shows up, I’ll head to a coffeeshop and spend the time reading instead. Win-win, right? And if anyone wants to commiserate with their own story of authory public humiliation, I'd love to hear about it in the Comments.