7 Tips for a Fabulous Book Reading

School-person-literature-15648-lI did my first in-person reading of Emma Jean's Bad Behavior last night (I did one on the telephone, which was a bit trippy, for the virtual release party).  It was at at local coffee shop and I'm happy to report that it went really well.   People laughed in all the right places and after the initial rush you get when you stand up in front of a group, I relaxed and settled into it.

I've done a lot of public speaking, presenting workshops on various aspects of writing, and yet reading my own work is a bit of a different beast.  While I've read pieces in manuscript form through the years, now I'm getting used to reading from an actual book.  I thought you might like a few tips.  (I'm probably writing these nearly as much for myself, as a reminder, as for you.)  Because once you are published, and maybe even before, you will get asked to read.

1.  Plan your reading.  Figure out what you are going to read.  I've gone to lovely readings where the author read in an organized flow, segueing from a piece of chapter one, to chapter three and further in, which can give a good idea of a book.  When I tried to do this, it was a disaster–I got confused, and I wrote the book.  So I settled with several passages with chapter one and that worked great.  If you are reading in chunks, be sure to provide connecting information to your audience–and plan it out ahead of time.

2.  Plan your attire.  This sounds vain, but it isn't, really, because you are going to have a roomful of eyes on you and you don't want to be fussing with pulling your shirt down while they watch.  Last night I chose one of those cardigans with long tails in the front precisely so that I didn't have to worry if my stomach was hanging out.  (I thought if I wore my Spanx I wouldn't be able to breathe.  See #5.)

3.  Suss out the location.  Check it out ahead of time.  The coffee shop where I read has a regular Thursday evening reading series and I'd been there a couple times to hear friends read.  I knew there was no podium and that I'd be speaking into a standing microphone.  And I knew this meant that I was going to have do practice reading with my book held in front of my face.   See next tip.

4.  Practice, practice, practice.  This is far and away my most important advice.  Practicing will give you confidence, the confidence that comes from familiarity with your material. It will alert you to potential minefields–the word you've never been sure exactly how to pronounce, the swear word that might not be appropriate for your audience, the sex scene you might want to save for another venue.  Your work sounds different when you read it aloud–do it ahead of time to find potential problems.

5.  Breathe.  Once you've walked onstage, try to remember to take a deep breath.  As mentioned early, there is a rush of energy that comes in the act of getting yourself up in front of others and it can make it hard to catch your breath.  Nerves make you breathe faster, too.  This didn't happen to me last night, but it has in the past, and then I struggled to overcome my shallow breathing.

6.  Make eye contact.  Look up at your audience once in awhile, instead of keeping your nose buried in the book or manuscript.  This was something I could have done better last night, but since I was reading from my book with no podium, I had to wear reading glasses and it was awkward to peer over them.

7.  Enjoy.  You might not be able to actually utilize this tip until you've done a few readings and gotten used to them.  But you will feel the rush of relief when you are done, and people are applauding.  Soak it in!

 Your turn.  Do you have any tips for readings?  Do you enjoy them, or dread them?

(And by the way, if you feel so moved to buy a copy of Emma Jean you can find info on online outlets here.)

 Photo by svilen001.

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10 Responses to 7 Tips for a Fabulous Book Reading

  1. Patty 03/22/2013 at 13:05 #

    Congrats on the reading, Charlotte. I just know your energy and enthusiasm and awesome novel can’t help but draw your audience in. Love your list, too. I think it’s great for any kind of speaking. I’ve done a lot of that too and the only thing I would add is that I’ve learned to just take a pause and admit to the audience when I’m nervous, especially when I’ve got the shallow breath thing going on. I always calm down after that, and I think it maybe calms the listeners down too!

  2. Charlotte Dixon 03/22/2013 at 13:20 #

    Thank you for your enthusiasm, Patty!  And that's a great tip about admitting your nervous.  Come to think of it, I did do that last night–I made a comment about how wearing my reading glasses was good because I couldn't see the audience and thus wouldn't me nervous.  People laughed, but most importantly, I laughed and that cut my nerves.  Thank you so much for coming by!

  3. Jessica Baverstock 03/22/2013 at 20:26 #

    I love these tips! I used most of these this week when recording a video for my website and boy do they work (especially choosing your outfit.)

    My tip would be ‘Read slowly and pause.’

    You naturally speak faster when you’re nervous, and because you’re already familiar with your work you can tend to read the information faster than you would if it were your first time.

    If done right, pausing can make some things funnier and some things sweeter. It’s usually the last thing you feel like doing, but it helps with the breathing too.

    I’m so glad your reading went well! Sounds like it was a lot of fun. :)

  4. Charlotte Dixon 03/23/2013 at 08:40 #

    It was fun, Jessica, thanks!  And reading slowly is a good idea, too.  I tend to speak fast when I'm doing teleclasses because I can't see the audience to gauge their reaction.  I've learned I really need to slow down in that situation.  It's so cool that you recorded a video for your website!

  5. Vishnu 03/23/2013 at 13:05 #

    Glad to hear you had a good reading Charlotte. I think the couple readings I’ve been to have been a lot of fun because I’ve heard authors who tailor their message to the audience they’re speaking to. Also, the authors I’ve heard have come off so naturally that I’m certain they must have practiced a lot. And while I’ve only been readings to listen, I hope to be able to do readings myself one of these days:)

  6. Charlotte Dixon 03/23/2013 at 16:31 #

    Yes, I think the key to coming off sounding natural is to practice a lot!  Oh, the irony!  And I feel certain that you will indeed be reading in front of an audience very soon, Vishnu.

  7. Suzanne Craig Robertson 03/24/2013 at 15:03 #

    I got to hear the virtual release party reading and that was so fun. You did great. Hearing Emma Jean in your voice made it all the more real and then when I read the book myself, that’s the voice I heard. And it is a GOOD voice. :-)


  8. Charlotte Dixon 03/24/2013 at 15:17 #

    Thank you!  I was semi-nervous at the virtual release party so I wasn't sure how it went.  Good to hear you enjoyed it!

  9. J.D. 03/25/2013 at 06:32 #

    I’ve struggled with the use of swear words in my work, though I use them liberally day to day. People read them in my writer’s group. My genre is mystery and, of course, most mysteries have more swear words than park statues have pigeon droppings. Even masters of the genre sometimes overdo it, author bravado if you will. As you said, some of it may not be appropriate for your audience. The guy in the front of the restaurant may not want to hear the word “shit” while he is eating his tapioca pudding. When I’ve read in the writers group and edited those words out, it is surprising how little they are missed. Sex–that’s another story.
    Good tips, but the way.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 03/25/2013 at 07:11 #

    You make a good point, J.D.  I agree with you that its probably a good idea to go easy on the swear words.  When you use fewer of them, they have a stronger impact.  And I have resolved to avoid sex scenes.  I actually wouldn't dream of reading one aloud but there are several places in my novel that reference them and may be considered racy by some people.  I think its easier just to avoid them.

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