How do I have the best book reading ever?
January 18, 2016 3:41 PM   Subscribe

My novel has been out since August, and on Wednesday I am doing my first book reading / signing (!!!). It's for a local book club, not at a bookstore, so I will have to handle any sales myself. The person running the program was incredibly casual about everything - enough to make me suspect that if I want this to go well, it's all on me. What should I be ready for?

I asked what sort of turnout to expect, and the best answer I could get was "anywhere from 10-40", so of course I worry that there may even fewer. I have done some radio interviews, so I'm ready for the Q&A, if there is one. I also have a prepared question sheet I can use if it looks like they aren't actually expecting me to read (and I have a friend coming along who could ask them). I have a credit card reader and will bring change and my own pen.

What should I remember? Bring? How do I pick which chapter to read? What other unknown unknowns should I be worried about?

posted by Mchelly to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
[Link to novel deleted; congrats on the book but just link it in your profile if people want to go look at it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:47 PM on January 18, 2016

[oops - sorry about that!] [please file this under 'more proof I have no idea what I'm doing...']
posted by Mchelly at 3:55 PM on January 18, 2016

There's some advice about how to run a good signing in Booklife by Jeff Vandermeer and Shooting Yourself in the Head for Fun and Profit by Lucy A. Snyder, which is newer.
posted by wintersweet at 4:01 PM on January 18, 2016

If you haven't practiced reading the passage, do it a few times. Get the rhythm of your reading, time how long it's going to be. Also, you might catch bits in the text that just don't sound right when read out loud. Scribble them out. Read from the book itself so the audience can see your cover.

Bring a warm, soothing beverage for your voice. Tea with honey, perhaps. I blew mine out at my first reading.

If the room is big enough, borrow or buy a small PA system (like this one:

If you've got promo items like bookmarks, have 'em ready. If you don't, they're cheap and easy to make. Put the cover art and a simple URL to a website where people can buy the book and your other stuff.

And it never hurts to bring edible treats for the audience.
posted by RakDaddy at 4:07 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Has the book club already read your book? If so, you might want to skip the "reading" part and plan for more discussion, maybe share some anecdotes about you & your writing process and be prepared for whys & hows - why did this character do that, how did you come up with the story, etc.

Bring extra pens in case you run out of ink. (Check the pens to make sure the ink won't bleed through the paper?)
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 4:24 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

be real flexible about the event itself--
If there is a super-small crowd, consider joining the audience for a table or circle conversation.
Are there other folks that are also reading their work-- if so then be a good audience for them and perhaps ask them questions about their work.
Is there another friend that can handle the logistics of book sales for you?
[not the friend who might ask a question in the audience...]
Ask your friends or family for help in figuring out which passage to read.
Be able to talk about themes in your work, or even better, themes that you had in your head while you were writing.
These might be surprising--I heard a mystery writer talk about the idea of family that he felt ran through his work.
Don't worry if this event has a small turnout--even five readers who have a good time can recommend your work to others--and can recommend you as a program in the future!
posted by calgirl at 4:30 PM on January 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

In case of sales, bring change in likely denominations. If the book is for sale online or you have a general donations/tip-jar link on your website, a tablet/laptop (assuming WiFi) for folks to use would circumvent the need to figure out card processing.
posted by teremala at 4:34 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have a Square? Super easy and cheap/free to get the reader. (You used to be able to get them at Starbucks, not sure any more.) you can probably acquire one and get it set up on your phone before your reading, and that makes sales easy. (Ditto asking a friend there to help with sales, though, you may be swamped or flustered. Heck, get two Squares, just in case.)
posted by instamatic at 4:47 PM on January 18, 2016

Plan a special sort of signing/signature. I've found people like that, even if it is hokey. For a book with a hanging scene I drew a small gallows like in the spelling game Hangman. For a mystery I planted a red-ink thumb print.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:52 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've managed a lot of reading/signings. The #1 curse that makes readings a drag is that they go on too long. So observe the show business rule, "Leave 'em wanting more." Specifically, leave them wanting more of your book, so that they go buy your book. When in doubt, go short rather than long. For most audiences, peak sustained attention is about 45 minutes max, and that includes introduction, reading, Q&A and closing statement. Time yourself. It feels lightning fast to a reader or speaker, but to a listener it can feel like an eternity.

How do I pick which chapter to read?

The best readings I've seen have not been a single chapter or other long, full excerpt. Instead, they have been made up of 3 or so shorter readings, taken from different parts of the book. Begin by telling people you are going to read 3 (or so) shorter sections. They will feel happier and trust you more if you lay out the landscape before you start. That way they won't be panicking that you might go on and on and they will be less likely to stand at the back (hedging their bet in case they need a quick escape) or leave before it's over. You will also pique their interest more about how the book develops, and you won't have given away the content of a full chapter.

Pick 3 really compelling readings that set up your story but don't give it all away. In between, ask the audience a warmup, curiosity-building question ("Have you ever noticed..."), or share a personal story. People love a little bit of personal insight that they aren't going to get from a book alone. Things like: writers you admire, something you wonder about, quirky pastimes you enjoy, references to pop culture things. Pick 3 excerpts that hint at what is great about your story. Your book is a novel, so take a minute to set up the characters and scenes: who are these people, and what is it essential to know that came before the scene people are about to hear. But resist the urge to go into the plot in super-great detail. Readings are more of an impressionistic experience of a book than an outline of the book. Pick things that give a flavor of what a reader will experience, and don't worry too much that they know who married who or was descended from who.

Leave time for questions. If that means ending the reading part 5 minutes earlier, that's fine. Think of this as a tasting menu, not Thanksgiving dinner.

Have fun! What a great audience to start out on. It's worth perfecting your reading skills. Some great writers are lousy readers, and vice versa. When an author is a good reader, bookers and bookstore programmers and people like me spread the word, and that person gets more reading gigs. When a great writer is a boring reader or goes on too long, the same thing happens. Your writing career will definitely benefit by putting attention into the performance and interpersonal aspects of it - so it's great that you asked here, and I wish you luck!
posted by Miko at 5:43 PM on January 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

Vandermeer says this about choosing what to read:

Humor is important in a reading because it engages the audience and allows them to connect with you. If you can read a humorous passage, you should do so ninety percent of the time.

I agree -- I went to a reading recently with two authors. One went over well and one did not. The one who went over well
- read something with funny parts
- read at a good pace and paused between thought groups and sentences
- varied his intonation
- changed his voice for different characters
- smiled and made eye contact

The one who didn't go over well
- read something well-written but serious
- read waytooquicklywithoutpauses
- wasn't monotonous, but kind of close
- kept her eyes on her book

Huge difference. If your book is inherently unfunny, maybe channel Seanan McGuire and bring sweets.

(Also, CONGRATULATIONS on the publication and the event!)
posted by wintersweet at 6:08 PM on January 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

It might help to write notes to yourself in what you plan to read. A few that work for me: SLOW DOWN, LOOK UP, and smiley faces (so that my resting bitchface doesn't accidentally take over). If you decide to print out what you want to read instead of reading it from the book, a bigger font than usual can feel more comfortable.

Also really have to echo what's been said about short and funny. (Judging from your book's synopsis, that won't be a problem!) It might be worth looking around for videos of readings by authors with similar work or even just really narrative comedians, to get a feel for delivery.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:14 AM on January 19, 2016

Off topic, but I notice that Amazon does not give previews of your book. Not so good. Your publisher's responsibility? I'd have a word with them if I were you. (I did so when my own failed to show up at all as available on Nook. They got right on it.)

Good luck with this. Not enough funny books out there.
posted by BWA at 8:25 AM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is Ferrett Steinmetz's advice: Authors! Four Rules To Read Your Story So People Buy Your Damn Book. FWIW, when I saw him give a reading he was very engaging and entertaining.
posted by Lexica at 4:58 PM on January 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks all - it went great and I sold a bunch of copies. Just about all of you gave me something I could use, so Best Answers all around! [yes, even for you, cortex!]

The only thing I wish I had done was had my friend taking the money while I signed. I did both and I think it made the process take way longer than it should have (and possibly discouraged a buyer or two who didn't want to wait in line).

BWA thanks for the heads up - my publisher is finding out why previews aren't available (she thought they were already -- they were supposed to be).
posted by Mchelly at 7:18 AM on January 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Totally forgot to update, but in case anyone is still following, Kindle and Nook free sample chapters were finally updated and are now available - thanks again for all the help!
posted by Mchelly at 9:03 AM on April 1, 2016

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