I’m happy to report that I not only survived my first two book events, I actually really enjoyed them. (Good thing, because I have two more this week!) Here’s what I learned:
Have a dress at the ready. I wanted to get a new dress for my first book reading. (Go ahead, laugh.) No surprise, between all of the guest posts I was writing, my regular deadlines and the fact that my sitter had to take time off of work, that never happened. So I shopped my closet and ended up wearing a wrap dress I’ve had for almost a decade. Has my entire family seen me in it a dozen times? Yep. But I felt comfortable and it was such a relief to know that one thing I didn’t have to worry about was what to wear.
Don’t just read. I have my stellar publicist at Dutton to thank for this tip. The truth is, people can read your novel for themselves, so unless you’re a trained stage actor or voiceover artist, it’s usually not that exciting for the audience to listen to you read a super long section of your book. With this in mind, I talked about the brain injury research that gave me the idea for Forgetting, and read a page and a half about brain injury. Then I spoke about a specific aspect of the novel (in Ann Arbor, it was friendship; in Brooklyn, memory) and read another few pages relating to that topic. Afterward, I took questions (which, in my opinion, is always the best part of any reading; I’ve learned so much from other authors’s Q&A sessions). It was fast and fun—both events were over before I knew it.
You can’t be too prepared. I’ve done my fair share of public speaking—mostly about freelancing and journalism—so I knew how important it was to practice ahead of time. (A few years ago, I was giving a talk about health research and I didn’t prepare enough—and I bombed my presentation. Lesson learned.) This time, I typed out notes and practiced them alone; in front of my family; even to my cat. When it came time to get up in front of the crowd, I knew my material so well that I barely needed to glance at my notes. Whew.
It’s your job to enjoy yourself. You know the old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” Ditto for authors. Seriously, unless you’re Ann Coulter, chances are that people have come to your event to support you. If you’re happy and excited, they will be too. Forget picturing the audience naked; knowing that the audience will mirror my emotions is the one thing that helps me shake off the jitters and have a good time.
Make it easy. I didn’t bring my kids to either reading, knowing that I’d end up glancing around the bookstore to see if they were wreaking havoc. But I told people they were welcome to bring their children, because you know what? It’s a pain to find a sitter on a weeknight, and I didn’t want that to stop anyone from showing up. I also provided wine at the Brooklyn reading (seriously, what could be better than wine and books?), and let everyone I invited know that I’d be thrilled even if they swung by the bookstore for a few minutes. Several people took me up on this—and bought books, too.
What do you think makes a book event better?
PS Speaking of readings, I’m reading at The Book Cellar in Chicago on Thursday night; join me!