How to give a bookstore reading in 9 easy steps
L. C. Scott is the founder of eFrog Press and an author. Her many years of teaching at the high school and university level and her freelance writing career have prepared her to lead a team of experts to guide both fledgling and experienced authors through the maze of indie publishing. Today on Take the Leap she reflects on what makes a great bookstore reading.
Authors can take a page from Susan Meissner’s book when planning a book talk. Yesterday her newest book, A Fall of Marigolds, was released and she spoke at a local independent bookstore, Warwick’s in La Jolla, California.
I have heard dozens of authors speak about their books. For over a decade I worked behind the scenes on large English teacher conferences and we had many amazing speakers: Isabel Allende, Gail Tsukiyama, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Kathleen Krull, Anne Lamott, Michael Chabon, and more. I have learned from some of the best what works—and what doesn’t work—in an author’s talk.
Here is what Susan Meissner did right.
1. Be approachable
Susan was very approachable before her presentation. No diva here. She mingled, hugged, and chatted.
2. Have food
Cookies! She provided cookies from the cultures represented in her book including Polish and Italian.
3. Connect with your audience
Susan spoke informally at the beginning about other book talks she had attended and what she planned to do that evening. She introduced her high school English teacher, Frank Barone, to whom the book is dedicated [Full disclosure, many moons ago, Susan was in my English class for one semester]. She honored Frank for helping her find her voice as a writer and the audience loved it.
4. Give your audience inside information
Susan elaborated on how the book took shape and let her audience in on the back story. Her title evolved from a dark, depressing one to A Fall of Marigolds and she shared the evolution with us. You could also share your writing process.
5. Act like you want to be there
Susan appeared relaxed and delighted to be with us. Of course, the local audience was filled with friends, family, and ardent readers.
6. Choose reading passages carefully
Choose reading passages that highlight your writing style and illustrate earlier remarks. The selected readings were not long but tied in beautifully with her discussion of her book and showcased her prowess with the written word. The audience was dazzled.
7. Take time to reflect as you answer questions
Susan answered questions thoughtfully and patiently. How many books has she written? 15! What does she do when she gets writers block. She backs up a chapter and writes around the wall. If that doesn’t work, she backs up further. Then she gave an example from an earlier book. Audiences love examples.
8. Give something away
Susan held a drawing. As she spoke she passed around a bowl of paper slips and we wrote our names, folded them, and passed the bowl along. No fuss, no muss. At the very end, she drew names. The prizes included marigold earrings, a $25 gift certificate to the bookstore, and a free copy of her new book if you bought one at the bookstore. She explained that she valued independent bookstores and didn’t want to undermine them in any way so it was BOGO!
9. Engage readers during book signing
Full disclosure, it was late and I did not join the long line, but Gail Tsukiyama epitomizes what an author should do. After meeting with a very long line of readers, she still smiled, looked directly at the reader, paused before signing, and engaged in brief conversation. Everyone in her very long line went home feeling special. She gained readers for life. As an author you have been writing to get readers, so when you have the opportunity to meet them, make the most of it. What’s your hurry?
1. Do not come unprepared
I attended a banquet for a bestselling author whose books I loved. I couldn’t wait to hear her speak. We had paid thousands of dollars for her to do so. Perhaps she had had too much wine with dinner, but she went up to the microphone after a beautiful introduction and just rambled on about her writing. Suddenly, she looked up and said, “I should read that passage. Does anyone have that book?” Of course, someone did. The author fumbled through the pages and finally found the passage to read.
I went home and donated all my copies of her books and have walked right by them in bookstores ever since. She lost many readers that night.
2. Don’t be nervous
Easier said than done! Remember the audience is there because they like your book or think they might like it. Who knows more about your book than you do? You are the expert on this topic. Imagine talking to one enthusiastic reader and share some of your writing process and the back story from your book.
3. Don’t skip reading
You can talk about your book and make it sound interesting but your readers need to hear you read some passages. Never speak at an event without reading at least a short passage. If you are nervous about reading aloud, practice. Be sure to flag the scenes you plan to read. When authors just tell about their book, I always think–don’t tell me, show me. So be sure you stop talking about your book in time to read it! Your writing should sell itself.
4. Don’t seem aloof—even if you’re shy
You want to create lifelong readers of your books—past, present, and future. Take every opportunity to connect with the people in the room. Mingle before, patiently answer questions, and take your time during the signings.
Want to know more about Susan Meissner and A Fall of Marigolds? Read this interview in the U-T San Diego
What have you done during book talks that worked? What has not worked?