Nine Ways To Give A Better Book Reading
We’ve all been to that book reading – the one where the book’s author is so dull that you decide to return the book to the store shelf and buy something else instead.
I’ve been to many book readings through the years, and only a couple stand out as exceptional (Dave Eggers’ reading for “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” was a rare gem).
The good news is that it’s not hard for authors to improve their readings. In this article, I’ll offer nine tips writers can implement immediately to inspire audience members to buy at least one copy at the store – and sell many more through word of mouth.
1. Test The Microphone and Logistics in Advance: This is an easy one, but too many authors approach the lectern for the first time when they’re about to begin their reading. Inevitably, they have to adjust the microphone, figure out where to place their water, and arrange their papers. Avoid that lousy first impression by arriving early, taking in your surroundings, and testing the microphone before the first person arrives.
2. Don’t Begin With Thank You: Book readings represent the culmination of a years-long writing and publishing process, and authors are understandably grateful to those who have helped them reach that moment. But authors who begin by thanking their publisher, editor, cover artist, publicity staff, and spouse risk putting their audiences to sleep.
Remember – a book reading is an opportunity to sell your book. If you begin your speech with a soporific or redundant opening, you’re less likely to achieve your goal. Begin with something that grabs the audience’s attention first – then go back, if necessary, and deliver your thank yous.
3. Don’t Read The Book to The Audience: Your audience can read your book themselves. Little is more monotonous than hearing someone else reading words aloud. Great authors elevate the text by using a compelling vocal delivery to emphasize key phrases, increasing the tempo to build suspense, and modulating their volume to match the content. Listen to a bestselling book on tape to get a sense of how the pros do it.
4. Match the Talk to Your Strengths: Are you a great extemporaneous storyteller? Why kill that part of your personality by merely reading from your book? Instead, consider reading a small excerpt of the book, then telling an extemporaneous story (you can alternate between the two throughout your talk).
5. Err on the Side of Too Little: How long should your talk be? Just long enough to sell your book, and not a moment longer. That’s a hard balance to strike, but my bias is to be on the slightly too short side (perhaps that’s because I’m 5’5″. But I digress.) It’s better to leave your audience wanting more than to wear them down – so keep the reading to about half an hour (experienced speakers can go a bit longer), plus 15-20 minutes for questions. Stick around afterwards to answer remaining questions from audience members who approach you.
6. Set Up the Questions and Answers: Before you begin taking questions, tell the audience how long you plan to answer questions. Twenty minutes might feel like an eternity if they have no clue how long you’re planning on going, but it’s fine if they can anticipate when the ending point will arrive. Keep your answers short – five-minute answers tend to bog down the question and answer portion of the talk.
7. Prepare for the Obvious Questions: A surprising number of writers fumble through their answers to basic questions. Think through the answers to the most obvious questions in advance, such as:
- “What does the title mean?”
- “What did you learn when writing the book?”
- “What was the biggest surprise along the way?”
- “What did the subject(s) of the book think of it?”
- “What are the subject(s) doing now?
- “Was the character inspired by a real person?”
8. Repeat Questions for the Audience: Since many book readings are recorded, this is important even in small groups when everybody can hear the question.
9. Don’t Limp to the Finish Line: Great books have a great closing, and so do great book readings. Instead of ending your talk the moment you finish answering your last question, provide a quick wrap-up. Your official closing doesn’t have to last long – 30- 60 seconds is fine – but even those few seconds allow you to leave the audience remembering exactly what you want them to.
If you’re stumped, try adding a very short anecdote at the end. Choose one that is emblematic of your book’s theme and that helps reinforce one of your book’s main takeaway points.
Related: Click here to see see the 21 Most Essential Media Training Links.
Great tips and advice. This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing it!
Author of the novel All Different Kinds of Free
Great tips! Thanks for the post.
Jessica and Dina – Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you found the post useful and hope you’ll visit the blog again.
Excellent advice. I’m planning already for my book release in the winter, and this is going in my reference file. Common sense, but suggestions often forgotten once behind the mike. Thanks.
I have been to all kinds of book reads. Like you, I found some good and some so bad I had to leave befor the ended(if it ever ended). I try to keep my audience alive and awake with short stories from the book or about the characters who inspired the book. Getting the audience laughing is good, too. I don’t tell jokes, but I do use humor; there are a lot of funny stories in my recent parenting book, “Messengers in Denim”, and parents listening enjoy relating to them. What parent doesn’t have funny parenting stories to tell?
Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it. If you like, check my blog at http://www.messengersindenim.org. Par
Love the article! I would only say that Neil Gaiman is someone who excels at doing readings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UnfyoTSZZw is an example I found.
very helpful. I am about to do some book signings and had no idea what to do. Great article. Thanks.
Caught a T.C. Boyle reading a while back. Outstanding. He prefers to call them performances instead of readings. And it definitely came across as such. Thanks for the tips.
I just caught T.C. Boyle on Bill Maher’s HBO program last Friday, and can see why he’s a captivating speaker. Authentic, well-spoken, and a bit eccentric. Good stuff, indeed.
Thank you for leaving a comment!
I haven’t been to a lot of book readings, but your article has convinced me that I need to attend some before I even try to give one of my own. LOL, the idea of going on for half an hour has me quaking in my sneakers.
One of the greatest fears people have is the fear of public speaking — you’re far from alone! You’d be surprised how fast 30 minutes go when you’re the speaker. Don’t be discouraged — just keep learning more about public speaking, and get out there!
June 14, 2011
Just what I need for my presentations.
I appreciate your sharing.
Author of Power And Tender
a.k.a. Margret B. Richard
I have looked for an article or book on this topic forever. I have a brand new book out that made it into the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program and I’m being asked to read more than ever. Why on earth big publishers don’t give their authors a one page instructional is beyond me. Well, here it is.
Ian – Thank you for your comment – I’m delighted my article helped. I wish you the best with your new book, and hope you deliver the most captivating book reading your audiences have ever seen!
Thanks for the post. I just finished writing a book and did a reading with 10 other writers but my first one alone is coming up really soon and I am really nervous about it. I don’t want to stay on too long but I do want to give the listeners something worthwhile.
Tracey – Thanks for your comment. I’m a big fan of “leave ’em wanting more,” so if you have to err on the side of going too short or too long, go short. Best wishes for a successful reading!
Thanks for this Brad, it’s really helpful. I had a reading for my first book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, on Saturday. It went really well, thankfully – in fact I enjoyed it! It was in a pub, which I think helped as the atmosphere was relaxed and not too intimidating for me or my audience. Will definitely be using some of your advice to hone the next one!
I’m so glad to hear the book reading went well! Was there a piece of advice that worked particularly well for you?
And congratulations on your new book. Please feel free to leave a link to your book page (or Amazon page) so other readers can check it out.
Where are all the places you typically see book readings? What are the mainstream avenues and how popular would you say this is today?
I didn’t do book readings for my book, The Media Training Bible. I chose to promote the book through bloggers I’ve gotten to know through the years – and I suspect many other authors are choosing a similar path.
I’ve seen book readings at large book retailers, small independent bookstores, libraries, and restaurants.
How about you, readers? Where have you seen book readings?
Thanks for writing,
I have not seen any book readings to this day. I have noticed, as you said, through my research that Blog Ad Campaigns are the primary focus of authors these days to promote their work. If not in blogs, they are promoting digital copies through powerhouse companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Nobles.
I am doing research on Book Readings in general right now and would love to talk to you some time to pick your brain. I think your post does a great job of describing what a Book Reading should entail, but I am looking more into the whole process. From start to finish, what are the best places to consider, time of year/day, length of the reading, things to include or make more suspenseful by eluding, and impact of each. Are there typical sales impact (variance), local fame, interest in other cities, and how frequently should authors do these? Are there positive profit/recognition patterns which correlate from doing more readings in a consecutive manner versus waiting months until the next one?
As I do not assume you will know the answers to each of these questions directly, I think you would provide some great insight into this industry.
If you are interested in discussing any of these things further, please reach out to me via email so we can set up a time to talk.
Thank you for the informative article. I have been speaking and performing for many years now, but reading as an author is new to me. I am wondering how you decide what passages or chapters to read from your book. For some reason I am overwhelmed by this decision.