Author public readings are a staple of book promotion. In a week I’m going to Left Coast Crime in San Diego, and one of the activities I’m doing is a five-minute reading from my latest mystery, A Death at Tippitt Pond.
I’m fortunate. This kind of promotion doesn’t worry me. For the past fifteen years, I’ve judged at the Illinois regional speech tournament since I used to coach speech contestants in high school. Adding to that, I have forty-four years of speech and communications teaching on the high school and college levels. For me, a public reading is a breeze, but I’m aware that it may not be so for other writers. Believe me, I am sympathetic. If you are planning to do a public reading in the future, I have seven tips that will help you prepare and make you less nervous.
1. Find out how much time you have for the reading. If you get to decide the length yourself, remember people’s attention spans. In my case, I have only five minutes. Yikes! That’s the length of a television commercial break. This means I’ll leave a minute for an introduction and four minutes for the reading.
How much can I read in four minutes? I read aloud from my book and timed it on my phone. Four minutes is about two and a third pages, double-spaced. Not much. By the way, don’t try to time by reading it in your head—it’s goes faster than reading aloud. So now you know the length of your reading.
2. Choose an area of your book for your reading. Pick something that will interest your audience. In my own opinion, dialogue is more compelling than description. You want your listeners to want to read your book, so the more dramatic, the better. Pick something that will make your audience think, “I want to know what happens next.” If your reading demonstrates the tone or atmosphere of your book, great! I chose a meeting between a lawyer and my protagonist which contains a huge reveal. High drama!
3. Edit your reading. You don’t have to read it exactly as it’s written. If there is description that isn’t necessary for your audience to enjoy the story, you can cut that. Cut speaker tags, and anything else that isn’t important to the effect of the reading. If your reading is a bit long, editing will also help on your time.
4. Design an introduction. Read your piece and put yourself in the place of your audience. What do they need to know to understand your reading? What happened just before the reading? Who are the speakers? When did this happen? Once you decide what to include, read it aloud and edit for smoothness and time.
5. Re-read your introduction and piece aloud and time it. If it is still too long or is very close to your time limit, consider editing more. You don’t want to be rushed. Re-read it several times, timing it to make sure you are in good shape. If you find a phrase that is a stumbling block, consider changing it for smoothness. This is YOUR book, so you can edit.
6. When you are sure you have the right length, it is time to consider how you will read the words. If you’ve ever read to a child or grandchild, you know they aren’t too interested in a monotone recitation. (That point came home to me when I listened to my son do a great Eeyore for his daughter.) Print out your final copy, double-spaced. I like to make the font larger. Print on one side only. Find places where you want to pause, emphasize, or change your voice. Mark those to remind yourself. I like to use colored pens.
7. Practice. A lot. The best advice I can give you if you are a nervous reader is to know that reading cold. Concentrate on the introduction because that is where you are most likely to be nervous. Know it well. Also, practice looking up occasionally at your pretend audience. Once you get into the reading, your nerves should calm down because you’ve really prepared, and you’ve got this.
Being prepared is most of the battle, so I hope these steps will help you be less nervous and more effective as you’re selling your books. If you’ve done readings for audiences, are there any suggestions you might add?