Monday, 10 December 2012

Reading in public? Don't panic ...

Estelle is due to give a series of book readings, which is great, but she is very nervous. She writes: Between us, my publisher and I have set up several readings and book signings in libraries, bookstores and writers’ groups. I am terrified because I’ve never done anything like this before. Do you have any advice on how to prepare? I don’t want to end up making a total fool of myself. And what do I do if no one turns up?

Let me answer the last point first. Don’t leave it up to the organisers to arrange publicity. Do everything you can to spread the word. Send a press release to the local paper. Email everyone you know within easy driving distance of the event and invite them along – tell them to bring a friend or two (three, four or five is even better). Put up fliers advertising the reading at least a week in advance.

You need to be relaxed, comfortable and prepared
The last thing you need is to arrive at the last minute, hot, flustered and out of breath! Find out how long it will take you to get to the place where the reading will take place. Is there adequate parking nearby? If not, find out where you can park safely. If going by train, how far is it from the station? If possible, go to the venue the week before at approximately the same time you’re due to read. Check how long it takes you from the time you leave home to actually being in the building ready to set up.

Have a good look around. Is the room cold and whistling with drafts? Hot and stuffy? Dark and gloomy? Massive plate-glass windows allowing the sun to shine in your eyes? Will you need a microphone? Any niggles such as these can be dealt with if you know in advance about possible problems.

Once you know what the venue is like and how much time to allow for travelling, you can decide what you’re going to wear. Don’t sacrifice comfort for glamour. There’s no way you can do justice to your reading if your feet hurt, or you’re worried that you’re showing more cleavage or leg than you intended.

Plan the reading
If you’ve been told you have an hour, only plan to read for just over half that time. Readings are often interrupted or delayed in some way, so if you’ve chosen a full hour’s reading, you’ll end up feeling panicky about not getting through it.

Rather than read one piece, I would advise picking two or three shorter sections. This will enable you to show a greater spread of the storyline and means you can vary the pace of the reading (which will help to keep the listeners alert and interested). It also gives you the opportunity to bring in more characters, conflict, tension or (if appropriate) humour. If you can make people smile, that will go down better than dry narration.

Choose the passages carefully. Go for strong scenes with not too much dialogue (unless you have a gift for taking on several personalities in speech).

Also bear in mind that the people there are not likely to have read the book, so context might need to be given showing where each scene fits in the storyline.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You might know the novel back to front in your mind, but reading it out loud is completely different. You’ll be amazed at how strange it feels at first, but the more you rehearse, the more natural it will feel. Read slowly, don’t rush the sentences. Time yourself reading – preferably into some kind of recording device so that you can listen to it afterwards. Where did you rush the words? Where should you pause for emphasis and impact? When you’re happy with how it sounds, ask a trusted friend or partner to listen to the full reading and give you some honest feedback.

Make notes on the book to remind you where to pause, or place emphasis. If there is anything you continually stumble over, leave it out, or choose a different scene. If you’re confident at home you’re far more likely to be comfortable in public, but if you get stressed in private because you know a sentence or paragraph is coming up that causes you problems, you’ll feel ten times more stressed in public.  

On the night, read exactly as you did in rehearsal. Get involved in the scenes you’re reading. Share the emotional experience with the audience.

Another good reason for choosing two or three passages, rather than one long one, is that audiences like to find out about the author and the writing process. As you move from one piece to the next you can chat to them about the next scene and why you’ve chosen it. They’ll feel involved and ready to listen.

Finally, be prepared to take questions at the end. By then, hopefully, you and your audience will be so in tune it will be like chatting to friends.

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Pauline Conolly said...

Great piece, great advice. Thank you. I have two book launches coming up next year so am feeling a bit apprehensive!

Lorraine Mace said...

Glad you found the advice useful, Pauline. Good luck with your book launches.