(c) by Mary Griggs

stack of booksI had a reading and signing at Laurel Book Store on Valentine’s Day with the Queen of Romance, Karin Kallmaker. Prior to the event, we got into a conversation with Linda Kay Silva about the importance of authors being able and willing to read in public.

Writing can be an intensively personal process. As Robert A. Heinlein wrote, “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”

However, these days authors have need to become performers, too. Reading from your books in public, answering questions about the creative process and giving people an opportunity to purchase a signed copy can be nerve wracking for introverted and difficult for the shy. For those who aren’t practiced as public speakers, it can be painful for the audience as well.

While I’ve only published two books, I also do trainings and presentations in my non-author, professional life. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned.

Know your material – this may seem crazy because you obviously wrote it but reading over your selection aloud in front of a mirror or your pets or partner really does help you work on your pacing and to remind you when to take a breath. It also helps for you to remember each character so you can start by telling your audience who is appearing in the passage and their significance to the story.

See what you’re doing – plenty of authors just grab a copy of their book and read from that. The one problem is that the font is small on the page and it is easy to lose your place when you look up. Consider printing out your material in a large font and making notes on the page of where to stop and pause and what to emphasize.

Personally connect with the audience by making eye contact with them. You don’t need to completely memorize your reading and stare at them like a serial killer but do glance around the room every couple of paragraphs. For the shy, it really helps if you choose one audience member to talk to and imagine you’re having a one-on-one conversation with them. After a bit, choose another person to speak to and so on.

Use a friendly tone of voice. There is nothing more dull than listening to someone read in a monotone. Remember the emphasis and accents that adults did when reading to you as a kid? Try giving voice to your characters and their personalities and the emotions of the scene you’re reading.

Practice reading with a microphone – reading too close to the pickup or speaking too loud can cause feedback and positioning a lapel mic too close to the face can pick up heavy breathing. By the same token, don’t assume there is going to be a microphone. You need to practice projecting your voice – you don’t want to shout at your audience but they do need to hear you. Remember that your voice is carried on your breath so experiment with your breathing – breathe from your diaphragm (put your hand on your tummy to feel) and see how your voice sounds to someone standing far away from you. Also, lower registers carry farther than higher, so try and relax so your throat isn’t tight.

Of course, telling yourself to relax can be counterproductive but there are tricks for that, too. Stretch your neck up and down and from side to side, make a funny face or smile, or, better yet, laugh. Take a few deep breaths and let them out slowly. Drink a little water (which will also help with a dry mouth).

Finally, respect your audience and the venue by being timely. This means arriving early, so the event coordinators aren’t stressing out and you have a chance to meet people, but also for you to stick to the allotted time. While this is especially true when multiple people are reading, it is important when it is just you, too. Your selection should leave the audience wanting more – five minutes or so is usually enough to hook them good.

I hope these tips are a help. Just remember you’re doing all this to sell them your work, so gird your loins and git ‘er done!

Please let me know if I’ve left anything out or if you have your own tricks to share.