|Image courtesy: Theatre Press – Australia|
With a new book out, I face the prospect of reading from my work, searching for venues where I can add voice to my novel. The idea is to find and engage audiences, entice them to buy the book.
If the reading is well done, well . . . maybe would-be readers will buy the book and recommend it to others. Then interest in the story will grow in concentric circles like when a stone is thrown into a still pond. That’s the theory.
This time-honored approach to connecting with readers at book stores and literary events is, however, undergoing changes. Authors and book buyers are rethinking how they come together in the marketplace. Public author readings aren’t the marketing mainstay they used to be, according to a BookPregnant blog post by author Sophie Perinot. Her new book is Sister Queens.
“Once upon a time, when a writer sold a book, author appearances were pretty much a given,” Perinot says. “Writers, from newbie to veteran, gamely piled into their cars (or got on planes if their publishers would spring for airfare) and traveled through a wide swath of bookstore-land, giving readings and signing novels. Nobody questioned the wisdom of the live-author appearance as a way to sell books and generate buzz.”
Perinot says there probably are as many opinions on these questions as there are authors. In her view—public readings aren’t very important. The online world provides plenty of ways to connect with potential readers without changing out of your pajamas.
|Anne Buelteman, AEA|
She says, “If your budget or your ‘real life’ don’t lend themselves to a fifty-store swing through your home state, no sweat.”
I read this advice before I headed out the door last week to meet actor, voice coach and writer Anne Buelteman in San Francisco at the Writer’s Grotto. It’s a pioneering work center where narrative artists–writers, filmmakers and the like–keep offices, teach classes, build community. Buelteman offers a workshop on reading your writing aloud and says public presentations aren’t a vanity exercise or a waste of time.
The workshop wasn’t an acting lesson. It was an introduction to reading before an audience—how to prepare physically, mentally and creatively to deliver a meaningful performance of your work and create the desired impression.
Buelteman seized on this paragraph from my new book Adrift in the Sound and made these suggestions for pacing: “The poet Toulouse showed up in the seventh inning, flourishing his cape. He walked to the pitcher’s mound and took the ball from Gizzard’s hand, (pause, count 1, 2) turned it in the light as if studying the facets of a jewel. (pause, count 1, 2) He faced the dugouts, gathered himself. (pause 1,2,3) The Tuggers complained about delay of game, but settled down when somebody said they were doing a tribute to a fallen player.”
Once you’re at the reading event, Buelteman recommends: Remember to breathe, loosen your facial muscles and tongue before you begin, do not rush your words, enunciate and speak up. In my case, I did these things, but perhaps over-acted, making my presentation not only fast, but phony and histrionic.
Buelteman will be offering coaching workshops on public reading skills in the fall through the SF Writers Grotto. Check out the site for more classes and sign up for email updates.
So, if a public reading is on your calendar—there are ways to improve your delivery and new ways to present your material. The best way to build audience and book sales is to prepare. There are resources to help you put your best theatrical foot forward and there are new ways to think about author events and public readings that add value to the experience for the audience you hope to build.