By Judy Croome
I’m pleased to once again welcome South African author Judy Croome. Judy’s last post for The Book Designer was Playing Tag the Self-Publisher Way. Today Judy shares some great tips with us about holding live author events.
As an independently published author who mainly occupies on-line territory, I’ve always watched author live events with admiration, tinged with a touch of melancholy that I’d never have that face-to-face author/reader live experience. A touch of melancholy sounds better than a tinge of envy, right?
When I was approached and asked to do an author reading from my new book The Weight of a Feather and Other Stories at a local art café called Indulgence Café—a funky, fabulous street café decorated with large orange flowers, the walls lined with art as bold and bright as its color—I was thrilled. My writer’s ego was tickled pink at the thought of holding a live author event. Visions of hordes of adoring fans or, at the very least, visions of hordes of lunch-time diners who would become adoring fans—filled my mind and fired my enthusiasm for the event.
The reality, of course, wasn’t quite like that.
So, what was my first author reading like? What can you expect from your first author reading? And, in this age of electronic book marketing, are old-fashioned face-to-face book readings worth the effort?
Here are 8 essential lessons I learned from my first live author event:
- Grab every opportunity
After a busy start to the year—leaving me with little time for actual writing on my new novel—I’d made the decision to go into my writing cave and just write. Then up popped a direct message in my Facebook inbox from someone I’d never met in real life. Would I, she asked, be interested in doing a book reading from my latest book? I nearly said “Sorry, I’m too busy writing my next book.” Instead, I thought, “Why not?” I’m so glad I said yes, instead of no, because the experience was wonderful!
Bonus tip: Recognise (and silence) the inner voice that says you’re too busy, you don’t have time, you should be writing. Once you commit to the event, you’ll find the time, because you’ll be fired up with writing enthusiasm.
- Calling up the troops
As soon as the date was confirmed, I put the word out. I boosted the Facebook post with the event details; I emailed writing friends and all my relatives and friends. I tweeted, google+’d, blogged and sent out an email newsletter about it. All helped a great deal, I thought. In the days preceding the reading, I was excited by all the extra page likes and numerous event acceptances from Facebook friends … I ended up reading to two friends (who arrived unexpectedly), a handful of regular patrons of Indulgence Café and relatives. The relatives (three of whom spent the whole reading taking photographs and videos—see point 6) outnumbered everyone else.
Bonus tip: Don’t try and bring your cat to increase the audience size. Relatives and friends are enough and they, at least, show real interest in what you’re reading. Cats, on the other hand, yawn and fall asleep at critical points in the story. Ask my lucky black cat Shadow. She knows.
- Preparing the Reading
Be professional. You are a professional author and, whether you have one or 1000 readers in your audience, your book reading event must reflect that professionalism.
- Do research on reading events.
- Practice reading your excerpt into your smart phone or tablet.
- Remember to thank everyone for attending.
At the same time, don’t take it too seriously. While an author reading is an exciting occasion, ultimately it’s your writing that they’ll remember. All the rest is just a delicious stroking of your writer’s ego.
Bonus tip: If you’re afraid of public speaking:
- join a Toastmasters’ Club or,
- invest in a once-off training course for speakers in your area or
- practice reading aloud to your cat.
- Be prepared for anything
I thought I’d thought of everything. I’d browsed YouTube for other book readings. I’d practiced several excerpts of different stories, prepared to make my final choice when I saw the demographics of the audience. I’d practiced using a bottle of deodorant as a microphone.
And still things went wrong: I battled to use the actual mic, I forgot a pen to sign books afterwards. No matter how well you prepare, you’re only human and things will go wrong. Being well-prepared (see point 3) means you can handle anything: I put the mic aside and used my free hand for gestures to hold attention, and I borrowed a pen from my husband to sign the books.
Bonus tip: Practice reading more than one section. Choose excerpts of varying lengths and with varying appeal. That way, if there is an unexpected quality to your audience (for example, all geriatrics instead of tweenies) you won’t panic. You’ll simply choose to read the excerpt that would have a greater appeal to the audience present.
- Honour your commitment
If you say yes, that can never become a no. Arrive as promised, and arrive early so your host can relax (and you can suss out the venue).
If, when you arrive at the venue, there are a lot less people than you’d hoped for—even if only one person shows up—you owe it to them, to your host and, mostly, you owe it to yourself as a professional to give the best reading you can.
Bonus tip: Try to ensure that your readings are only done at venues where your family can attend. That way, you’ll always have at least one table of enthusiastic listeners.
- Get proof
On social media if you don’t have a photo or a video to prove it, it didn’t happen.
Ask someone who is a live tweeter to come along with their smart phone and send out a tweet of you in action. Promise to do the same for them at their next reading. But get that photo out into cyber space and get a (short) video up onto YouTube.
Once it’s on social media, your professional live book reading event is available for anyone to see.
Bonus tip: Use a catchy phrase to get click-throughs. Writing a tweet that says, “Hey, check out this video of me reading from my book,” will garner less click-throughs than a play on words. My blog post title for my reading event was “INDULGE!,” a play on the name of the venue—Indulgence Café.
- Be grateful
In his biography on The Book Designer, Joel Friedlander says that writers change the world one reader at a time.
I took 40 books along to sell. I sold 4. I could have sold none and I’m grateful that I have 4 more readers than I had before the event.
Bonus tip: Take books along to sell. Every book sold is another reader you didn’t have before.
- Have fun
Enjoy the event! Who knows when it’ll happen again and, if it’s clear you’re having fun, the audience will pick up that energy and create a buzz that could translate into fans and/or requests for more book readings.
Bonus tip: Always be yourself. If you’re shy and introverted, plan your event around your personality—ask your host to ask you questions rather than speaking off the cuff. Have fun your unique way, but enjoy the occasion.
Ultimately, a live author event is not an essential component of writing success. Who really knows what will make your book sell? Why a thousand people buy one book and no-one buys another book is a mystery. With so many terrific books by talented authors in dozens of genres out there in all the on-line or brick-and-mortar bookstores, how many people (other than your family) will really care about your book?
None of that matters. None of it should stop you from a must-have experience as an author: a live author reading event.
I guarantee from personal experience that, when you walk away from your first book reading, you’ll have a deeper understanding of yourself as both a person and as a writer. And that can only benefit the stories that you write and the books that you sell.
Have you had a live reading event as an author? Can you tell us what the best and worst of your book reading event was?
Judy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition, Judy’s short stories and poems have appeared in various magazines and anthologies, both local and international, such as The Huffington Post. Her books “The Weight of a Feather and other stories” (2013); “a Lamp at Midday” (2012) and “Dancing in the Shadows of Love” (2011) are currently available.
Judy loves her family, cats, exploring the meaning of life, chocolate, cats, rainy days, ancient churches with their ancient graveyards, cats, meditation and solitude. Oh, and cats. Judy loves cats (who already appear to have discovered the meaning of life.)
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