Friday, October 17, 2014

Author Milestones: The Reading

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.

Me smiling in relief that I wasn't alone at my first reading
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. 



  1. Nice post! At my first reading for my very first book, years ago, I rehearsed my entire talk—including witty "spontaneous" remarks—in the mirror for weeks in advance, that's how terrified I was. The only problem with that method is if you get off track for one second (and I'm easily distracted) and lose your place, the great yawning chasm of panic opens up before you!

    At my last reading for "Alias Hook" this summer, I took a cheat sheet of topic ideas up to the podium to keep track of where I wanted to go, but otherwise did not obsess over it—after all, you're just talking about your book, and you've probably already told these stories a hundred times to your friends. It's always good to remember, as you point out, Elizabeth, your audience is rooting for you!

    1. I love the part about practicing the witty "spontaneous" remarks! I think as writers we're used to having the chance to rewrite and revise our words, so it's scary to think of just winging it...but we have to just let go. And you're right--it helps to think of it as just telling stories to friends.

  2. Group events are the BEST! I was part of a day-long reading event at an independent bookstore here in Nashville where we only had to come in, read from a children's book, and leave. I pictured reading to the whole store, but they just had us go to a small area which was the children's area. This family was in there and, bless their hearts, they'd politely sat through the previous author's reading and they stayed for mine. They were SO sweet! The kids just sat and listened. At one point a man brought his kids in but the baby started crying and they had to leave. The whole thing worked out for the best...but I was TERRIFIED through the whole thing. Do these things ever get easier?