I’m not a fan of readings. Not a fan of sitting through them, and not a fan of reading myself.
I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it. I’ve given readings large and small, and I’ve had folks listening close. I’ve also had one or two where I could tell I lost the crowd. Problem is, the work can’t carry it’s own; the writer has to carry the work. It’s as much performance as it is writing skill, which is why readings are a lot more difficult than most writers realize.
This morning, Anthony Neil Smith pointed out another complication:
Let’s face it. What is the writer’s #1 obstacle at a reading? Smart phone. Be interesting enough to make them ignore texts/games/browsing.
— Anthony Neil Smith (@Prof_Neil_Smith) May 2, 2013
A writer versus that reflex to check the phone every time it pings or vibrates? Competing with that urge to multitask and knock towers over onto cartoon pigs? Good luck.
It’s more than just that, though. To me, why should I listen to something the reader can read for himself? Why should I read something from the middle of a book, when the audience will have no clue what’s happening or who the characters are? Two more reasons for the audience to tune out.
For my money—as in, the money I’d spend to travel out to a bookstore, crash at a hotel, down a drink or two—the writer’s better off selling himself than selling books. Call it a talk, a Q&A, or a panel discussion, now the writer is directly engaging the audience. Even if he’s just giving a speech, he’s able to maintain eye contact and monitor the crowd, not just keep his nose in a book, and the performance pressure is off.
On the audience side, one of my more memorable readings was given by Andrew Vachss. First thing he did? He told us readings are boring and we’d be having a conversation instead. That hour went by in a flash because the whole room stayed focused. Then he signed a bunch of books for us and off we went. It’s gotta be eight years ago now, but it’s still the first one I think of.
Now, if you’re the type of writer who has that performance side nailed, by all means, keep it up. I have yet to see Brian Keene flub a reading, for example, but we’re not all former radio DJs. His readers expect it.
The rest of us? Sell what you’ve got, folks. Better sell yourself and all of your work than to read one chapter and hope the crowd buys one book.