On June 11, thirteen authors participated in an "Author Read-In" sponsored by Friends of the Franklin Library.
I was fortunate to be one of the readers.
By fortunate I mean, I was able to learn what not to do during an author reading as I fumbled through two chapters of my novel in front of a kind and supportive audience.
This was the first time I'd read my fiction in public other than in class workshops and critique groups. All went fairly well, I suppose. I could have tripped on the way to the podium, lost my voice, or passed out from fright. But if I had known the following five dos and don'ts, the experience would have been a more positive one for me--and for my audience.
I'll start with the don'ts since they still stand so vividly in my mind.
- Don't read for too long. Five to ten minutes is ideal, longer will have your listeners' eyes glazing over, no matter how awesome your work. That means one chapter or short story max. Unless, you're reading a picture book, of course. Picture books are meant to be read out loud--in their entirety, with breaks to show illustrations. It doesn't take more than a few pages for potential readers to figure out if they like your work and your style. You don't have to resort to torture.
- Don't read too fast. SLOW DOWN. You want listeners to be able to savor the words, sentences, and paragraphs you have so painstakingly put together. Let them enjoy the cadence of your sentences, the sensory details, the clever twists and turns, and the exquisite build up of suspense. This isn't the Indy 500. The hosts are serving coffee and cookies, not hot dogs and beer.
Now for the dos.
- Do introduce yourself. Warm up to your audience, thank them for coming. You're here to connect with readers, after all, to communicate who you are. Otherwise, they could just as well stay home and Google you on the Internet.
- Do give a short synopsis of your story. You're only reading one chapter, not nearly enough for your audience to ground themselves in your work's setting and mood. Don't let them discover later that you were reading the opening to a murder mystery when they thought they were listening to inspirational fiction.
- Do spend a few minutes after the reading with questions and answers. I know, I know, you're so relieved that the reading is over that you want to cut and run. Be strong. Don't show weakness. You made it this far. Why not stick around to discover what the listeners thought about your precious creation? Who knows, you may have gained a few fans.
How I wish I had known these five dos and don'ts before my reading.
The good news is, I'm ready for next time.