How to have a great book reading
Last Tuesday, I read from my mother’s memoir, We Were Not Spoiled, to a group of Senior College people. Since the program was offered in Lewiston, Maine, where my family is from, I looked forward to the event because I knew that the space would have many individuals who had known my mother, me or many people in my family.
The book reading did not disappoint.
At some point or other in the program, one woman announced she had dated my uncle Roger and another said she had gone to grade school with my aunt Thérèse and uncle Gene. Still another had a daughter who took care of my mother at the assisted living facility where my mother lives. This woman already had a copy of the book which she had received for Christmas and which she wanted me to sign now that I was there. A woman in the back had a copy of my first book, a collection of short stories called What Became of Them, which she had had for 25 years without an autograph—horrors! Well, I could take care of that. While I was signing, she picked up a copy of We Were Not Spoiled and passed in on to me to sign. My classic how-to Turning Memories Into Memoirs also found its way into the hands of several buyers.
What did I do—and you can do, too—to create a great book reading?
There are several things which I did to promote a great book reading that are somewhat natural for me now but which were originally studied and rehearsed. I would call them best practices of public reading. While some readings I presented have been necessarily more formal as they were in front of hundreds of people who needed me to wear a microphone and stand on a stage, most have been informal. They take place in a library meeting room or in a classroom (as was the Senior College group) or in a function room. The following notes are for such a reading.
- Stand on the same level as the group. Get off the pedestal or stage. People will warm up to you more if you are at their level.
- Use your voice alone rather than with a microphone. (I know this is not always possible if your voice is soft or high pitched.)
- Start with a friendly story that the group can relate to. Something either humorous or “human interest” in content. I said how when I started to do memoir work I was the age of my students’ children and now here I am the age of the people I had thought old! People could relate to this. (We were on our way to a great book reading with this note.)
- Read short pieces of text and then chat with the group. Ask questions. “Anybody remember the war coupons my mother mentions?”
- Show the group photos from the book. Most will not be able to see but this gestures emphasizes that your book is interesting and they ought to take a closer look at it.
- Talk about how you wrote the book. People love this human interest angle. You can even interrupt yourself. “As I was interviewing my mother for this vignette, she interrupted me with ‘Who will want to read this story?’ ” This was my cue to give the audience a spiel on the everywoman aspect of We Were Not Spoiled. I added, “So many people have told me that my mother’s story reminds them of their mother’s —only in more detail.”
- Engage the audience for 30-40 minutes (as a rule unless otherwise instructed) and then open the floor up for their questions.
- Always prepare three questions to seed the discussion. “You are probably wondering how my mother felt about marrying a man who was off to war.” You will often find the first questions you get asked are varieties of your seed questions—and sometimes the questions are word for word what you seeded!
- Always have the person who introduced you mention that you have books available for sale and have the availability repeated at the end of the presentation.
- Collect names for a mailing list if you plan to write a second book or are offering a memoir-writing workshop. Have material to distribute that contains your name, email and telephone number.
- Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to chat with people after the presentation.
It is my strong belief that a writer writes to establish a community to engage with. That community is called an “audience.” Every piece of writing has an audience. Even a journal has an audience—the self of the future who will be reading what the self of the present had to say.
The Memoir Master Writer membership program has an entire report on audience. If you are not a Memoir Master Writer stay patient and I will be writing more blog posts on audience.
Your writing deserves a readership beyond family and friends. Do you have any suggestions for your fellow writer? Please leave them on the comment section below. And if you know someone who is doing—or about to do—book readings as part of a book launch, forward the link to this post to them.
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