I'll make two confessions. I have walked out of readings (my time and my blood pressure really did have more important avenues of existence). I have also had people refuse to sit with me at author readings, as my comments could disturb their concentration. However, I have sat through dozens of poor readings. So, here's a heads up if you are going to give a public reading. Practise before you give a reading. Read aloud three or four times. Put some life into it. Even *very famous author* has improved over the last twenty years. And - this will make them love you regardless - no more that forty-five minutes. No more than twenty minutes if you are reading with others. And - if possible - make 'em laugh. You are there for entertainment - act accordingly.
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No One Cares About Your ReadingBy Michael H. Mille
A FEW MONTHS back, The Observer was at a reading on the Lower East Side that would not end. The reader, a prominent magazine editor, had been staring at a stack of computer paper and talking softly for 30 minutes. He was the last reader. The night had begun at 8:00 and it was already well past 10:00. The room was crowded and hot. The bar was unreachable. The audience, following protocol and remaining silent, exchanged restive looks that suggested mutiny, checking the time every minute in disbelief. Forty-five minutes passed. The reading continued.
Is it a coincidence that this is how parents get their children to go to sleep? It is a dark fate, indeed, the reading that drags on and on, where the only person who has lost interest more than the audience is the author, the room lost in a purgatory of pauses for laughter, met by awkward silences.
“What really drives me crazy is that kind of readers’ cadence that everyone adapts,” said Andy Hunter, one of the editors of Electric Literature, which throws some of New York’s better literary events. “It’s like two beats down and then one beat up. It’s like some kind of profound way that—I’m gonna try to do it,” and here the inflection in his voice began to change: “People think this will make people understand that they mean this so much. Writers aren’t performers. Most writers are introverted people who didn’t have friends in high school and ended up writing books.” While these turgid, awkward, too-often sexless events are an evil necessity, not enough people enjoy them to justify their existence.
Authors attend readings in the hope that people will in turn show up for theirs. Bookstores organize them so that potential customers might linger and, you know, buy books. This isn’t always what happens, though. Sarah McNally, owner of McNally Jackson Books on Prince Street, recalled the time the store held a Harry Potter event and no one was buying books. They’d already purchased them on Amazon.
“But now they were in our store having fun,” she said. “I thought, ‘I must be doing something wrong.’ We haven’t been able to monetize events by book sales. I mean, we get listings, we get exposure for the store, but that’s a very, very inexact science.”
Recently, the store has decided it will start charging in the future for “top notch” events. But even Ms. McNally, whose store has a packed schedule of programming each month, isn’t too keen on readings.
“We’re increasingly moving away from the reading model,” she said. “We have authors in conversation, Q&A sessions. I’ve been saying this since I opened the store: the traditional reading format is broken. There’s no reason to pay for it. I think you have to have a great events programming and charge later. I don’t think it’s there yet, but it’s getting there.”