A book reading that looked painful

A guy was in town the other night to read from his first novel. I’ve been seeing it praised everywhere, so I decided to go. There was a good turnout, probably 30 people. He had been written up in the paper that day. As far as I could tell, there was no big contingent of friends - just people who wanted to hear more about his book.

He began by saying, “I’m going to read from Chapter 12.” And that’s just what he did. He didn’t set the scene at all. You had no idea who the characters were. The chapter was made up of two scenes of two people talking. I thought the first two had once been in a relationship, but I think they might have been brother and sister. Sometimes there would be four or five exchanges with no dialog tags or “He set down his coffee,” and the author didn’t vary the pitch of his voice, so it was a little hard to follow who was speaking.

Still, it was well-written.

When he was done, he looked up and said, “Does anyone have any questions?” He let about a second go by and said, “Well, since no one does I guess I’ll...” Then someone raised a hand. He tried to call it good three or four more times. By this time the whole audience had realized he was intensely nervous. A few of his answers were fascinating, but I think he was so anxious he just had trouble letting his real self shine through.

I looked on his Web site and Portland was only his second reading. The first had been in his home town. Should you ever find yourself in similar situation:
- Tell the listeners what the book is about.
- Share some interesting stories about how you came to write it.
- Seriously consider reading the first chapter or part of the first chapter, which doesn't require any set-up.
- Although this guy didn't, I think reading for longer than five or ten minutes is probably too long.
- Think about starting the question and answer period - if no one has any initially - with “One question people have asked me is...” to prime the pump. Remember that it might take folks a minute to raise their hands.
- It might help just to begin by admitting that you are very nervous.

I still bought a book, and just today I saw another outpouring of praise for it.

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You have an uncanny way of posting very helpful things at just the right time (I have a reading on Sunday). Thank you! :-)
He had the guts to get up there and hopefully it will get easier as he continues to do readings. (I myself get flustered speaking in front of people, which I have to do from time to time at work)

Great advice! This is one of those posts I copy and file, for when I find myself in that situation (hopefully sooner than later)
I got the feeling he thought he was bragging or something similar - he clearly hated being the center of attention. But at some point you just have to relax about that.
The thought of ever doing one of these terrifies me- as does the image of myself sitting behind a card table stacked with my books- hopeful, frozen smile in place *shudders*
Thanks for the sensible tips!
The secret to card-table signings (where you don't speak) is to have candy. Also, if you have a book trailer and a little TV/DVD player, you could loop it over and over.
Great post!

If someone's nervous about talking in front of people, I'd say the best thing to do is to say so at the outset. Most folks will empathize :)
Thanks for these tips! I can so picture myself being like him. (Hopefully I'll actually be able to use them one day...)
At my very first signing, I seriously thought I was going to pass out. I was aware that I was hyperventilating and I felt lightheaded.

I've heard from a lot of people that they saw none of my turmoil.
Agh, was that what I was supposed to do at my first signing? No wonder everyone was giving me blank stares when I finished reading. I, too, was so nervous I thought I might die. Maybe my second one won't be as bad now; thanks!
One of my friends who works at Powells said that when he told a first-time author he might want to aim for 45 minutes for the whole thing, the author said, "Great! I have a passage that takes exactly 45 minutes to read."

And he could not be dissuaded.
I am so grateful that you posted some helpful hints and advice for book readings/signings. I'm 19, and my first book reading is coming up in March. It's also at my old high school, so I am truly terrified. Your advice already has me a bit calmer. Now at least I know what to do. Thanks :)
"Talli's Tale". I finished it my sophomore year of high school. I just finished a totally new book called "Hollow: The Alliance". It's the first in a four book series, and I'm editing it right now. Almost finished. But thank you again for all those helpful words of advice. I'm half excited, half terrified, but I think it'll be okay. I hope :)
Poor man! Practice is important. maryrobinette does a great session on reading aloud if you're ever at a con where's she's giving it. She reads other authors' works professionally, for audiobooks, and she has put advice about it on her blog. Most important thing she said in that session -- Slow down! Read about half as fast as you think you should.
Boy, that's pretty thorough advice!

The one thing he did do right was that he didn't read too quickly.