Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Importance of Readings and Other Literary Events

As I’ve been getting ready to leave for some New York readings and the Brooklyn Book Festival (if you live in NYC, come hear my panel on September 22 at 10 am at Francis McArdle Hall or catch my readings at the Las Comadres/La Casa Azul Bookstore booth afterward or at the Hudson Valley Writers Center at 4:30 pm), my husband and I have spent a couple of weeks attending a full round of literary events. So many readings and talks crammed into a short space of time made these weeks rather hectic, but since we each are often putting on such events and we were only attending these, they were also a lot of fun.

When you’re always setting up readings and other literary events for yourself and other writers, you can get so caught up in all the work of it—and it is a huge amount of work—that you don’t really enjoy them as you ought. It’s a lovely change to be able to simply show up while someone else does all that work and enjoy the reading or talk, the questions and discussion afterward, and the gathering of likeminded people who care about books and writers.

These recent events have reminded me of some truths about literary events, whether they are readings, lectures, presentations, panels, public interviews, or conversations between two authors in front of an audience.
First of all, these events are the foundations of a literary and writing community, so show up at them, even when they’re not yours. I often tell students, “You want to have readings of your work, to have people attend and perhaps even buy your work? Then, show up ahead of time to other writers’ events, attend and maybe even buy the book, if you like it. It’s called paying your dues and building the community you want to have when it’s your turn.” I’m always amazed at how many don’t want to take the time to show up for anyone else’s event, but want others to take the time to show up for theirs.

Does it take time? Yes, it does. It’s like writing. You have to make time to write, or it won’t happen. You have to make time to build the literary community that you want to support you when it’s your turn, or it won’t happen. Whether it’s simply attending local events or putting in more effort in order to organize such events or reading series or conferences.

In the mystery community, all of the major conferences—the Edgars, Malice, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and all the others—are organized by volunteers. All of these great opportunities to speak on panels and sign your books are made possible by people who give up their free time—in large quantities—to make them happen. Pitch in and give back when you can.

Secondly, you can learn a lot from any event, even a bad one. So the writer read his work in a monotone without lifting his eyes from the page once? You’ve learned something that you never want to do, haven’t you? You’ve seen firsthand the importance of varying your tone of voice and making eye contact with your audience. And the panelist who arrogantly monopolized the whole panel and drowned out the other writers you wanted to hear? So annoying! But now, you know better than to do anything like that yourself, don’t you? And when a writer is an excellent speaker or reader, pay close attention and pick up tips that will improve your own reading or speaking skills. If the event is poorly organized, what exactly is the problem? Note it down as something you’ll want to double-check ahead of time with your own events when the time comes. Smart people learn from everything and everyone.

Thirdly, when you’re not in the spotlight or working behind the scenes, it can be wonderful to sit and just enjoy someone who reads beautifully their powerful poetry or fiction or speaks with humor or passion about their subject and their work. Afterward, it can be great fun to chat with others who were also blown away by the great reading or talk you’ve both just listened to. It can be a real joy to meet the gifted writer and make a heartfelt connection that may even turn into a long-term friendship.

I’m fortunate to live in a city with one of the biggest, most active literary communities in the country. (Yes, Kansas City, Missouri, folks.) If you don’t, however, don’t despair. Find out what’s going on in your city or town and become a part of it. If there’s absolutely nothing going on—and that’s unlikely—start something yourself. Pull together a group of writer and reader friends and start giving impromptu readings or holding open mics. If you put out small amounts of energy into building a literary community, you’ll find new people joining in and your tiny reading series or open mic growing and developing. Every literary community started somewhere with someone. Partner with your local libraries—that’s an excellent way to begin.

In the end, we get out of life, a writing career, and a literary community what we put into it. I’ve been actively involved in doing this—putting on reading series, writing grants to bring in writers and teachers, building a stand-alone writer’s center, and more—for over thirty years, and I have wonderful friends, knowledge, experience, and memories to show for it. And when I give a reading, people show up in droves. I’d like to think it’s because I’m so good at writing and reading—and I certainly strive to be good at both—but it’s probably mostly because I show for their readings and even gave many of them their first readings or put on their first important event. We build the community we want to have when it’s our turn.

What readings and other literary events are available in your community? Do you attend? Do you take part in some way in putting things on?


Jim Jackson said...

I wholeheartedly agree in paying up front and giving back. And in thanking those whose efforts went into making something I was part of happen.

In the summer I live miles away from ANYTHING, which is how I like it. In the winter we are just getting to know our new community. Not being around long enough to build community is a disadvantage of having multiple residences and moving a lot after graduating college.

I have to make up for it by doing things remotely, like being the website liaison for the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime and offering to write blurbs for authors newer in the game than I.

Also when I am on panels with other authors I try to read some of their work so I can be more knowledgeable as a panelist. Using someone else's book to make a point sounds less like selling your book and more like informing the audience.

Even if there is no actual payback for those things I do. I know in my heart I’ve done them and I sleep well at night.

~ Jim

Paula Gail Benson said...

Being part of a literary community is giving as well as receiving. Thanks for reminding us, Linda. Jim, I like what you said, too. Online is a community to nurture. Great message!

Sarah Henning said...

I love the literary community I've fallen into over the past few years, both in person and online. Writing is such a solitary activity, but it's so nice to discuss craft and learn from others or just plain enjoy a good reading. So glad you give back so readily, Linda! I hope to get to your level someday.

Gloria Alden said...

I enjoy my writing communities both local and online. I try to go to every book signing by those in my chapter of Sinc and buying their books.

And since reading this blog, Linda, I think I'll try to get to the readings and/or book signings of local authors I neither know nor think I'd like their books. Just being an extra person listening to what they have to say would be supportive, I think. Or would they be disappointed if I was one of the few there and didn't buy their book?

E. B. Davis said...

You are so right, Linda, and I try, but most readings are at night. The construction business requires rising at 4 a.m., which blends nicely with writing, but not with going out at night to attend readings or meetings. Perhaps when my husband retires, I can sleep in and attend readings that are late at night. Paybacks are required, and I will do the best I can to pay others in full.

Shari Randall said...

The writing community is so giving and supportive. The Sisters in Crime group has been especially wonderful and I am so happy when I have the opportunity to recommend them to others.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Had workmen in the neighborhood today and phone and internet kept going out all day, so I haven't been able to get on here until now.

Jim, you're still working hard to build your literary community, even if it's not one where you're residing at the moment. That definitely counts.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Pauls, I think you and JIm are right. I know the online literary community has become as important to me as the physical one in my city.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Sarah, you're being too modest! Sarah is actually an active member of our local chapter of SinC, Border Crimes. In fact, she's our membership chair.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gloria, believe me, if you bought their books, you'd be one of the few who does. Book sales are not usually big at readings and events unless it's a big name from out of town or a book launch or something like that. It's not unusual to have 25-30 people and only sell one or two books. I'm always just glad they came, and so are most writers. Often these same people buy the book later.

Linda Rodriguez said...

E.B., you already are with your involvement with online groups like Guppies and this blog. The point I wanted to make is that too often people want the benefits, but they'd rather have others do the work so they can have the benefits. I think we all get more benefits when we all do the work, but then I have a decidedly odd mind--or so I've been told. :-)

Linda Rodriguez said...

Shari, you're absolutely right about SinC! Actually, I think the mystery community as a whole is pretty fabulous and helpful to others.

I started many years ago in the "literary" community as a poet and am still involved there and still writing poetry. One thing I quickly discovered about the mystery community, however, was the warmth and generosity of most of the people involved in it. Highly unusual!