Promoting your books can take any number of forms as you explore all the options available to readers. But if you’re looking for a way to attract a local audience to your story or meet readers at an in-person event, one option is to do an author reading. You get to read an excerpt of your book the way you intended it to be heard, and if you do it right, you’ll leave the audience dying to read the rest.
Author reading opportunities, including genre-specific ones, are easy to find if you know where to look. But before you step up to the mic, let’s explore how you can make the most of reading events. And if stage fright is holding you back, don’t worry—we’ve got tips to help build your confidence before the big day.
Setting Up Author Readings
Some signings, conferences, and workshops allow time for author readings, but choose events that feel right for you. If you’re nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, start with a smaller audience or venue, then ease your way into larger events as you feel comfortable.
Try searching for open mic nights or cabaret-style events that are open to all. You can often find these in your area by looking through the local newspaper or online listings. Check if your local government has any groups or events to support the creative industries. Sites like Meetup.com may also have groups you can join that organize events for local creatives, or you can organize your own event at a local bookstore or library.
You could even take it online with a live reading on Facebook or YouTube, directly to your own audience. Be aware that you’re going to have to market your event, whatever you choose to do. You can spread the word using your newsletter and social media, but you may also need to use more local marketing, such as contacting the local newspaper and advertising around the area to bring in an audience.
As you search, it can be helpful to find genre-specific readings, so every audience member is a potential new reader for you. Ask other authors in your genre, and visit genre-specific groups on Facebook for ideas. Some conferences are also genre-specific and may allow readings. Talk to the organizer about guidelines for your reading. Ask about any content restrictions that may be in place related to violence, swearing, or heat level in your novel, so you can choose something appropriate for your audience.
Check how long you’ve got for your reading, and stick to it. Plan your excerpt ahead of time, and practice with a stopwatch if you’ve been given a set amount of time. Find out if you’re allowed to sell your books or any merchandise at the event. It isn’t a deal breaker if you can’t; instead, print bookmarks or cards with a QR code and link straight to your Amazon page or web store to hand out.
What to Feature
When choosing what to read, think about which books you want to sell at the event and which excerpt will have the most impact on the audience.
Which book do you want to promote?
What you choose to read depends on where you are with your book launches. Do you have a book coming out around the time of your reading that you want to promote? Should you read from the previous book in the series to whet readers’ appetites? Do you want to promote a book from your backlist? Consider your upcoming releases, the time of year, or the theme of your event and whether you have writing that will fit.
Choose your best section to read
It doesn’t matter where in the book your passage takes place as long as what you’re reading is entertaining, with enough tension and conflict in it to grab your audience. You want them to want more and buy the book.
You’ll usually be able to give a short introduction before the timer starts on your reading to introduce your story and what’s taking place as your excerpt begins.
You can read from anywhere in the book, but try to choose a section that doesn’t include any spoilers. You don’t want to give away too much of the plot.
Pick a good ending
You want to intrigue your audience and leave them wanting more, so choose a great line to finish on, or end with a cliffhanger, so people have to know what happens next. You want them to buy the book, and this is the best way to make that happen.
Pro Tip: Rather than read from a book that’s already out, consider testing material you’re working on to see your audience’s reaction. Want to know if your funny lines are funny, or if your words hit the audience in the feels? Here’s the trick: Practice what you’re reading beforehand until it’s almost second nature. Then, as you’re reading, note your audience’s reactions. You might also decide to improvise a line or add in a great idea that came up on the fly as you read. Don’t be afraid to try new things if you have the confidence for it.
Scaring Away Stage Fright
Especially for your first reading, don’t pick a complicated passage with multiple characters and deep emotions to perform. Choose an excerpt without difficult words you may trip over or potentially sensitive language, like steamy scenes or cursing.
If you’re planning to do a lot of readings and speaking engagements, then it may be worth the time to take a course or two to improve your speaking voice. Working on your voice will give you a confidence boost and give you additional practice at public speaking outside of the events. Some people can open a book at any point and read from it with confidence without any practice. But if that’s not you, don’t be shy about practicing. You’ll feel more nervous if you’re underprepared.
While no one expects you to be flawless in front of the microphone, you can still learn some tricks from the professionals to help as well. Listen to an audiobook to see how professional narrators adjust their voices to portray different characters and convey different emotions. You know best what your characters feel in a given moment; let yourself feel those emotions too, and they’ll come across in your voice as you read.
Pro Tip: If you’re reading from a work in progress, you may discover new layers and emotional depth to add to your writing.
If you have the confidence, it’s great to glance up at your audience while you’re reading and connect with them. If you’re new, however, meeting someone’s eyes in the audience could put you off completely. If that’s the case, look just above the heads of the audience, at the back of the room. No one will be able to tell that you aren’t meeting anyone’s eyes, and you’ll be able to keep your nerves in check.
The Day of the Event
When it’s time for the big day, before you set off for your event, check that you’ve got your excerpt in whatever format is most comfortable for you: printed pages, a print copy of your book, on your Kindle, or even on your phone. If you’re worried about your voice, take a pack of lozenges—pastilles, for our UK friends—with you to soothe your throat. Beyond that, you need yourself, your nerve, and perhaps a bottle of water, though most events will have somewhere you can buy a drink.
.About ten minutes before your reading, do simple exercises to relax your body. Roll your shoulders, soften your knees, and massage your cheeks and jaw to warm your face and relax yourself. Any tension in your shoulders, knees, and face can affect your voice, so do what you can to get rid of it. Slow breathing exercises can also help, especially if you breathe from your diaphragm.
When you’re about to start reading, make sure you’re still relaxed with soft knees. Continue breathing from your diaphragm as you read. You’ll have a lot more power and depth to your voice. If your shoulders are moving as you breathe, then you’re breathing from too high up. Keep your shoulders down, take a good breath, and project your voice to the back of the room to ensure you’re speaking loudly enough for everyone to hear.
You’ve practiced this—now it’s time to enjoy the moment!
A few more tips:
- Don’t rush your reading. If you’re nervous, you’ll naturally speak faster than usual, so take your time.
- Pauses are never as long as you think they are. Use them to think about what you are saying and how your character feels.
- Give your audience space to react. If you’re reading humor and the audience laughs, for example, what you say next could be lost if you continue reading.
Handling Those Words
If you have trouble with reading certain body parts, swear words, or sexy descriptions in your book, then you’ll have to decide whether to read a part of your story without them or practice saying them aloud until they’re no longer a problem. Depending on your genre, however, your audience may anticipate something more scandalous. Weigh your audience’s expectations as you make your decision.
If you decide on a passage that includes more mature language, remember these words are just words—and hopefully the right words for the story you wanted to tell. Getting comfortable saying them will ensure you can present that part of your story authentically during your event.
In these cases, the best way to desensitize yourself to uncomfortable words or phrases may be simple repetition. Start in a quiet room of your home, and write a list of the words you struggle with the most. Read the words aloud to yourself in a variety of voices and intonations. Don’t worry if you get embarrassed or start laughing here. It can be funny, and in some situations, the humor will help. It can also be a unique stress reliever, so have fun. Keep repeating your words until you get comfortable hearing them in your own voice. Next, either sit in front of a mirror and repeat them or ask a friend to listen to you read them, so you get comfortable saying them in front of someone.
Once you’re comfortable with the words on their own, practice your whole reading out loud until you’re happy with it. If you need to, enlist the help of a friend, so you’ve had the experience of saying the whole thing to someone else before you face a full audience. Even if your book’s excerpt is steam-free, practicing any words or phrases that feel awkward or embarrassing ahead of time can be a great way to prepare for your reading and lessen your nerves.
Performing author readings can give your audience a great idea of what your author voice is like and what they can expect from your books. You can connect with readers on a more personal level, and when it’s over, you might even have a few more devoted fans than when you started.