Because I planned to be a high school teacher, I took public speaking in high school and college. I was on the debate team in high school, which meant putting speeches together on the fly. When our daughter was born, I read to her every night before bed and often during the day.
All this turned out to be good training for the public speaking I do now: author’s readings.
At an author’s reading, the author of the book being presented is expected to talk a little about the story or the writing process or writing life, to read aloud from the work and to answer questions from the audience.
If you’re ever called to do this, here are some pointers:
First, figure out how much time you have. That sounds simple, but an event that lasts two hours is not a reading that lasts two hours. A book store might start with an announcement of up-coming events. A book club might have club business to address before you begin. You might not be the only author presenting. At the very least, there will be a brief introduction and, if you’re permitted or invited to sell and sign your book, you’ll need to leave some time for that.
Having estimated how long your actual presentation will probably take, you subtract fifteen minutes for questions and answers. You also have a handful of questions ready to ask yourself, to prime the pump. To get these questions, you can ask other authors, in person or by reading blogs or public email groups, what some frequently asked questions are, and hold those in reserve, in case nobody volunteers a question at your event.
Now you have some idea how much time you have for the reading. If you’re presenting a full-length book, you’ll need to choose an excerpt. If you write articles or short stories, you might be able to read entire stories–if you want to. Ten minutes at a time is a nice length. Set a timer for ten minutes and read aloud from your book or manuscript until the timer goes off, then see how many pages you got through. Now you can decide what piece or pieces of about that length to read.
Pick out as many ten-minute readings as you’ll need, or a longer one and a couple of shorter ones, allowing a few minutes’ set-up or capper for each piece. I like to begin with a few words about the publication where a story appeared, then I read, then I talk a little about the writing of the story. A note jotted in the book’s margin to remind me of a point I could make or an anecdote I’d like to share is all the preparation that’s needed beyond practicing the reading.
As with any other public speaking, courtesy is key: Know what your hosts want of you. Know how much time they need you to fill. Be prepared with your material and with questions and answers to get the audience participation started. If there are other speakers or readers on the program, stay within your time limit so the others have their fair share of time.
For as long as Marian Allen can remember, she’s loved telling and being told stories. She enjoys connecting and reconnecting with people, meeting new friends and keeping in touch with the friends she already has. Her writing reflects this love of network. No one exists in total isolation, but in a web of connections to family, friends, colleagues, self at former stages of maturity, perceptions and self-images. Most of her work is fantasy, science fiction and/or mystery, though she writes horror, humor, romance, mainstream or anything else that suits the story and character. Professionally, she’s a member of Southern Indiana Writers, Writing and Promotion (WRaP), and Green River Writers.
- Free copy of EEL’S REVERENCE or FORCE OF HABIT, Marian’s upcoming sf/farce. (2 separate prizes-1 of each)
- Free softback copy of SWORD AND SORCERESS XXIII, with Marian’s story “Undivided” in it.
- Free softback copy of DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND, with Marian’s story “Team Player” in it.
- Your name in the story Marian plans to write to promote FORCE OF HABIT.