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Reading Your Work in Public

Today, we welcome a new member to our blogging group. Say hello to Jo Klemm. We look forward to many more posts from a librarian's point-of-view.
In the last Ask-the-Editor post, there was quite a bit of discussion about promotion and publicity of new books. Many authors may find that during the promotion process that they are called upon to give public readings from the book at book signings or author events. This can be great way to hook readers into a story but it can also become a liability if not done well. Here are some hints about readings or book talks to help you get the most out of the situation.

    * Know ahead of time what you will read. Don’t try to just open your book on the spur of the moment and find a good passage. Have the passage highlighted or, better yet, copied in larger print so it is easy to read.

    * Choose passages that set the stage for the story. Passages that describe characters or settings will help the listener quickly develop a relationship with the character or place and make them want to read (and better yet, purchase) the book.

    * Avoid spoilers. This seems like it should go without saying. However, you, as the author, have been living with the book for a very long time. You may have lost your perspective on what the reader knows at a given point in the book. Think about how the passage you are reading connects to the rest of the story and be sure it doesn’t include any vital information about “who done it” or whether the characters “lived happily ever after.”

    * Avoid dialog passages. Depending on your writing style, this may be difficult. Dialog, however is sometimes difficult for listeners to follow who is speaking. You may be tempted to create different voices for each character, but unless you are very good at it, changing voices for the different characters becomes distracting.

    * Consider taking a reader with you to appearances. If reading aloud just isn’t your forte, don’t hesitate to ask someone else to come to the signing or event with you to read. Make sure you hear the person ahead of time to know they interpret the piece the way you want them to. Having your book read well is much more important than having it read by you.

The fact that you write well does not automatically mean you read aloud well or that you are a good public speaker. Unfortunately, if you write well, you very likely will be called upon to read aloud and discuss your writing. Honing these skills will pay off for your writing in the long run.
Jo Klemm has worked as a librarian since 1985, with the exception of the eight years she raised her three girls. She has worked in public, medical school, university, and community college libraries and is currently working at Tarrant County College in Arlington, Texas as a Public Services Librarian. In her spare time, she is a professional storyteller, focusing on western and Texas stories and Arthurian legends. The written and spoken word has always fascinated her and, though she embraces technology, she worry that it is moving us away from appreciation of the power of the written word. In her teaching, storytelling, and writing, she tries to inspire and empower students to learn from great authors, old and new, and to find their own voice on the page.

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  1. Another thing that will help--just with practice--is to join Toastmasters beforehand. That way, you get to practice in front of a safe audience first, and you'll get evaluations afterward to help you improve.

  2. If you'd rather not do your own reading, you can check your local college. Speech majors can usually do a good reading (speaking as someone whose major was Speech with a specialization in Oral Interpretation).

    Straight From Hel

  3. I don't like to do readings, I much prefer talking about the book and how it came to be. Love answering questions. However, I'll do whatever a library asks for, but if they want a reading, I'll practice and make it short.


  4. There are other benefits to the reading practice - practice being the operative word. If you read your work aloud at home, you can hear the weakness in the writing before you ever go into print. Or the strength. If a passage sounds particularly good to you, mark it for lines you might want to read in public someday. May as well really wow the audience with a nice turn-of-phrase.

    That said, I nice well-written paragraph doesn't always fit into the story very well. Those are the darlings that are particularly hard to kill.

    Welcome aboard, Jo!


  5. How true about dialogue heavy passages - a rookie mistake I made at my first few readings.

  6. I will never do that ... >:)

    But I do give science presentations. I remember the very first time I had a presentation on a science conference. This was many years ago, before Powerpoint and computer-based presentations. We used old-fashioned 35mm photographic slides. To advance the slide carousel, you had to push a button. I was a little bit nervous and shaky, and by accident I double-clicked the button, advanced forward by two slides, and made a complete mess of my presentation. Then the words "Oh shit" slipped out of my mouth. A British colleague of mine told me afterwards that it was a very rude thing to say. I'm sorry about that >:)))

    Cold As Heaven

  7. This is exactly why I nag my critique group to read at least one page aloud when we meet to critique their submissions. The practice helps.

  8. Another very important thing is to read slowly, actually much slower than you think. I used to read so fast I'd get breathless. I'm better now. This is actually a very timely post for me as I have a reading tonight and Tuesdays. Thanks for the reminders.

  9. Oh I love to read aloud. I don't get to do it often enough because our local library has an excellent reader for the children's storytime. It's funny because I'm quite shy, but I really don't have a problem with public speaking or performances as long as I'm prepared and properly mic'd up.

    Welcome Jo :-)

    Blood-Red Pencil

  10. Welcome Jo, and thank you for the advice. Never had I thought of taking someone else with me to read. Quite clever.

  11. Reading your own work out loud is a lot harder than I thought. I just got back from a conference. During the read-and-critique portion, I read my first page in front of authors CJ Lyons and Jonathan Maberry. (Talk about pressure!) I caught so many little things wrong with what I was reading and as I did I got more and more nervous. Afterward, CJ came up to me and said I was hyperventilating while I was reading. How embarrassing!


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