Thursday, September 4, 2014

Key Musts and Must-Nots for Readings

Zestful Blog Post #69

Last Thursday I wrote about how to do a successful reading, with a note on how to be a good audience member. That evening I gave a reading using those principles, and from what I heard (attentive silence punctuated by laughter), it went well. A flurry of folks bought You've Got a Book in You, which I briefly plugged before reading from my Lillian Byrd novel-in-progress, Left Field. I might add that Lynn Waddell did a marvelous job reading a provocative chapter from her book, Fringe Florida, which also sold some copies, one of which is on Marcia's and my on-deck circle. (

I was mistaken in thinking the evening was going to be recorded, so my apologies for not having a link to share. But when it was over, I realized I have a few more bits of key advice for writers facing a reading, the first quite essential.

[photo by Tiffany Razzano of Wordier Than Thou]

1) Apart from doing your 'my book in a nutshell' spiel, tell your audience why your book will change their life. That's what somebody really wants to know before they shell out their twenty bucks or whatever. Samples, which feel free to adopt verbatim:

"This book will give you a new perspective on why families break down."
"This book will show you how to do X better / cheaper / faster."
"If you've ever had a burning desire to learn the meaning of life, look no further than [my title]."

2) If there's a time clock, obey it. This particular evening had an open-mic part, which writers / storytellers signed up for on a clipboard. The MC kept time (ten minutes apiece), and it was uncomfortable for her and everybody else when she had to interrupt a writer for time.

One fellow simply stood in place and said firmly, "I'd like to finish." Well, yeah, buddy, everybody does. What was the MC to do, go up and throw him off the stage? He did in fact finish.

A woman, who when informed that her ten minutes were up, simply stopped midstream. That was considerate, but it was also awkward, as the audience wondered how her piece ended, and she had deprived herself of giving a complete show. (As to the contrast between the two writers and how they handled the time issue, I will refrain from making the first sexist generalization that springs to mind.)

Keeping to one's time limit simply requires an out-loud rehearsal at home, with according adjustments. Such practice promotes good karma.

3) What about a situation where nobody has thought about timekeeping? Keep it brief anyway, and when you come to the end of your selected passage, never under any circumstances ask your audience, "Shall I go on?"

4) I wrote about this in an article WD some time ago, but it bears mention here too. I've noticed that some writers, when they come to a funny passage, will do this thing of barely suppressing laughter at the wittiness of their own material. It is shameless, manipulative, and disrespectful. Eschew it.

5) For best visibility, which matters, wear a light-colored top. I opt for cream (first choice, as in the photo), white, pale blue, or pale pink. White can tend to be too vibrant under lights, but it's better than a dark color.

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  1. Thank you for such practical advice. In the office world, they teach ways to "control the room" for presentations, and these ideas are excellent for how to do that in a different setting. And the reminder to be considerate of the other readers and the MC is very much appreciated.

    I've added 'Fringe Florida" to my list of gift ideas. I have some friends who will be tickled to find it in their stocking this year.

    1. Hey Vicki, glad you stopped in! If you get hold of FRINGE FLORIDA, be sure to let Lynn Waddell know what you think of it, OK?


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