8 Essentials Tips for a Successful Book Reading by a Self-Published Author

by | May 30, 2014

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 CroomeJudy 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.)

Visit Judy at www.judycroome.com or on Twitter @judy_croome and Facebook.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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  1. Ama Duncan

    I just want to say thank you! And I’m sending you virtual hugs from Ghana! Thank you for being brutally honest with your story.

  2. Joyce

    The advice in this article was easy to incorporate. I have been an inspirational writer for several years… I’ve co-authored a series of devotionals (over 100 published articles), a cancer anthology, and as an Anthology Specialist spearheaded three book projects giving PhD candidates/graduates the opportunity to share their experiences, but this was my FIRST invitation to do a book reading. It was amazing! It was a small group. I left them wanting more. My most heart felt comment, “it is obvious that you enjoy what you are doing”. Thank you so much!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Joyce, thanks so much for telling this story. And congratulations, I hope this leads to many more enjoyable readings!

      • Joyce

        Thank you!

  3. Deb/Leta

    Thanks for an informative, entertaining post. My first author reading is next week, and I’m somewhere between elated at the chance and paralyzed with trepidation. I’ve been promoting and practicing different excerpts, and just hoping everything goes well.

    • Judy Croome

      Glad you found the post useful Deb/Leta! And good luck with your first author reading next week. It’s such a thrill and before you know it you’ll for get the trepidation and remember only the elation!! Once you start … you’ll relax and do just fine!!!

      Enjoy and good luck
      Judy Croome
      South Africa

  4. Kusum

    Hi, I’d like to share my last experience with a read meet. in 2012, my hi storical novel, MASTANI that turned Peshwa history on its head, was released into the market by my publishers and I learnt about it much later. a long time elapsed before I was able to anything beyond a press conference at Pune, which was the major scene of the novel.
    The chance came for a Reading at the Author Corner at the Ahmedabad Book Fair in May 2014. Since the story was controversial and would require some explanations, instead of having a straight Reading, I persuaded four of my close friends to reach a passage each from the four crucial stages of the story as it developed; they interspersed my conversation with the audience present, visitors as well as invitees, during which I explained the general myths that surrounded the heroine of the book and where my 25 years of research had thrown up a totally different story altogether.
    Mastani is the story of a princess from central India who was married to one of the leading figures in Indian History in the early 1700s. She was his second wife and being intelligent, well trained in statecraft and warfare as well as the feminine arts, she captured his heart; that drove the nails of envy, jealousy and fear into his first wife who feared for her own eldest son as heir to the premiership of what is today the state of Maharashtra.
    More so because Mastani belonged to a very wealthy royal family which had equipped her with a dowry that included, amongst other things, a share in diamond and emerald mines in central India as well as a huge estate that held the keys to the approach to the imperial capital at Delhi. exhausted by the intercine battles and an incest attempt, Mastani died. hearing of her death, her husband, the statesman-cum-warrior renowned as the Napoleon Bonaparte of India for never having lost an engagement in the field, Peshwa Baji Rao I collapsed and died.
    This story turns on its head the traditional myths that hold Mastani to be a dancing girl who captured Baji Rao’s heart and that she died when she heard that he was dead.
    the passages read by my friends that highlighted the story as I was telling it appealed tremendously to the audience so that there were lots of questions at the end of the reading. That made it a truly memorial reading event for me and my audience.
    The only sour point was that there weren’t enough copies for all the interested to snap up at the end of the event.

    • Judy Croome

      Congratulations on a successful book reading event, Kusum! Getting your friends to read parts of your book is an excellent idea – thanks for sharing. :)

  5. Jema K Hill Cook

    I have my fire book signing coming up this month. My book has been out since April. I had planned on using social media to get the word out and I had mentioned to my husband that I needed him to tweet and put out pictures! It seems like I am on the right track! Thanks a bunch for your insight!

    • Judy Croome

      Social media is a great way to get the word out about writerly events Jema! Good luck with your upcoming book signing!

  6. Judy Croome

    Otis, that is SO true!! The more we try to remember the greater the chance of forgetting something. Your first book signing sounds like a real blast – nothing nicer then having a friendly audience of people who’ve actually read your book. There must have been a great convestaion going on!

  7. Otis G. Sanders

    Judy: Great article, I can relate! We can never remember everything while attempting not to forget anything. My very first book signing was pretty much a brainstorming idea with myself. Just after I picked up my first published book I had to travel to Atlanta. I took a case of books with me. I asked a photographer friend of mine to host a book signing at his studio. He agreed. I burned the phone lines up, calling everyone I knew there, (I attended Art School there) friends from college and anyone I thought would be interested in hearing me talk about successful marriages. I had a great turn out, about 20 people were in attendance, a lot of them had purchased the book before it was printed because of a campaign I started. It went well, the only thing I forgot to do was take out my digital recorder to document my speaking to listen to and critique later. I’m no stranger in front of groups, but since a lot of the people there were friends it felt more intimate. That first book signing was and still is the best I’ve had thus far!

  8. Christine Osborne

    I was at first terrified of giving a talk and reading, but after each one, people have said they loved it. Biggest compliment was from a woman who said it made her week. So my nerves are 100% improved and best part, I’ve sold a number of books solely based on my talk/reading as no one had heard of me beforehand.

    Thank you for your useful tips.

    • Judy Croome

      How fabulous that you’ve become so confident talking that you’re getting positive feedback. Speaking confidence is like a snowball, isn’t it? Every little compliment added and it gets bigger and better! Good luck with your book sales and your future talks.

  9. Helen Ginger

    Very good advice, Judy. You’ve shown that no matter how many books you sell or how many people show up, keep moving forward.

    • Judy Croome

      Hi Helen, so great to see you here as well! Hope your talk at the conference next month goes off very well (or is it already this month – can’t believe today is the last day of May already!) And, I know it’s a cliche, but the longest journey is completed one step at a time … the writing journey one book at a time!

  10. Anne R. Allen

    Fantastic tips, Judy! Great post. I’ll link to it from my blog on Sunday. I do readings pretty often, but I admit I’d never thought of taking a picture and using it for further publicity. Even if your family isn’t around or available, bringing a “cheerleader” or two along really helps.

    • Judy Croome

      Good morning from a sunny and warm winter’s day in Joburg, Anne! Thanks for linking this article to your blog on Sunday – I’ll make sure to pop over and visit there as well. The only negative about having a cheerleader take photos of author events is that (for me, anyway!) I’m always caught with my mouth open, talking away!

  11. Carol Fragale Brill

    I have an advantage with readings because I’m an educator and coach with lots of experience presenting to large and small groups. For me, the more interactive readings and book talks are, the more fun.
    One of my favorite parts is questions from readers. Sometimes their insights surprise me. For instance, at my first reading for Peace By Piece, I was touched by concern for the main character’s husband, an important, but minor character.

    • Judy Croome

      Hello Carol, any speaking experience is a definite advantage as an author. And, yes, the questions from the readers do surprise one and give a different perspective. At my event, one reader commented on a story in a way that gave me (the author!!) a completely different understanding of the story. That felt odd to me, because I thought I knew my stories. “Peace by Piece” is an interesting title.

  12. Wendy Ewurum

    I really enjoyed reading this and while I am not a writer I like to send such information out because I work with many talented online writers. and this is one of the areas that many of them struggle with. Its approach people and create relationships online as we hide behind cyberspace…its another thing asking an indie author to go face to face and create interest. This is really valuable.

    • Judy Croome

      Hi Wendy, always great to have readers join in the conversation – it’s important as writers that we hear the voices from the other side of our books! You’ve made such a good point – that in our increasingly on-line world, we have a tendency to “hide behind cyberspace”. Meeting readers face-to-face is vital to keep us as authors real and grounded.

  13. Laura Roberts

    Great tips here. The hardest part nowadays seems to be finding a good venue for a reading, since a lot of independent bookstores don’t care much for hosting unknown authors. This is where it comes in handy to make friends with other local authors, as you can round up a group of them to give a joint reading on the same night to pull in some extra attention.

    • Judy Croome

      Hi Laura, glad you found some of the tips useful. I was so lucky to have Mandi from Indulgence Cafe and Marcia from Skoobs set up this reading for my book – they are both passionate supporters of local (South African) artists and that’s a quality like hen’s teeth – rare! Not sure, though, if I’d be comfortable at a joint event – look at Paula’s experience above (most of her audience left in the previous author’s reading). But I suppose each event is different and joint readings can also work very well.

  14. Jason Matthews

    Great tips, Judy. You’re not the first author to forget her pen. I recommend getting a good one beforehand that’s not black ink to stand out from the title. Make sure it’s smear resistant so it doesn’t get ruined seconds later. Archival safe and acid free is a bonus too.

    • Judy Croome

      Hi Jason, great to have you comment on the article – especially your tip about not using a pen with black ink! (I always a pen with black ink but that is changing as of today – of course a different coloured ink would show up more against the title page!) I wonder how Jane Austen, Will Shakespeare et al signed their books? A quill pen must have been awfully messy!!

  15. Paula Cappa

    Hi Judy: All great suggestions. I had my first book reading a few months ago and a second one is coming in June. I write novels. Reading aloud is terrifying, especially fiction. I couldn’t find anyone to coach me on it. But Librivox online has audio recordings for classic novels and short stories and I listen to them and read along to follow the reader’s inflections and pauses. Dramatic readings are a real skill and I don’t have it, but the more practice you do, the better. My first reading went pretty well and sales happened so that was good. I also bring props that show off the novel to put on my book table … and candy!

    • Judy Croome

      Hi Paula, thanks for stopping by to chat. And I agree!!! Reading aloud is so scary – I’m used to public speaking but reading aloud is somehow different and quite challenging! The worst is because it was my own words I was reading and that felt weird. Thanks for the tip about Librivox – definitely heading over there to bookmark and learn for the net reading event. Good luck with your second reading in June. Hope the props are easy to carry.

  16. Fiona Ingram

    Hi Judy,
    I really enjoyed your article. I write MG adventure so it’s hard to have anything really go wrong. My book is set in Egypt so the minute you mention getting the young explorers/adventurers to have a dress-up contest (with sooooo many Cleopatras and Imhoteps it’s hard to choose a winner when so many moms sacrificed white sheets!) and that there will be a quiz on Egypt, including spelling tests on big Egyptian words, kids, teachers and parents jump in boots and all. However, there are those times when you wonder why you are there… A school (no names) had a book fair and somehow I got shoved to the graveyard shift of 4.30 on a very cold winter’s afternoon. The author before me had a book on wildlife but the themes were so advanced it went right over the kids’ heads. By the time I got to them, most had left, and the remaining mites were cold, tired and hungry. Thankfully, their parents loved the idea of showing off their general knowledge on Egypt and woke everyone up by competing fiercely for prizes of bookmarks and postcards. In fact the mums and dads worked so hard they all got one. PS: I am a fellow South African and Joburgite!

    • Judy Croome

      Sawubona Fiona! Fantastic to meet a compatriot here! :) I love Ancient Egypt so your ideas (spelling test – in heiroglyphics??) for the book readings sound fantastic. Your Moms & Dads sound wonderful too. I’ve been toying with getting bookmarks done, but will have to wait until the budget allows that. I was also wondering if pens or magnets wouldn’t be a good idea too – perhaps longer lasting than bookmarks? Good luck with your book and hope you get plenty of sales from your readings.

  17. Judy Croome

    It’s great to be back, Joel – thanks for having me over again! :)

    If anyone would like to know more about a live author event, feel free to join in the conversation! I’ll be popping in to answer your questions as soon as I can (living in South Africa, I may be asleep when you visit, but I’ll be checking regularly to join in the chat!)




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