One year ago this week I proudly debuted my first novel at the bookstore in my hometown. Yes, Durham is 3,500 miles away from where I live now, so The Regulator didn’t figure to loom large in my new author “career.” But this week, as The Regulator hosted an event for my second book, I realized it had taught me a lesson.
Author readings are not about the author. They’re not even entirely about the work. They’re about community.
Think about it. You’re a busy person. What would make you take time out of your week to sit and hear an author read? You might be enamored of that particular author and happy to get a close-up view. You might wish to ask questions, or get an autograph. But for an author like me, I know you’re there mainly to support the idea of authorship. You are accepting a role in the literary community. Authors need to honor that role.
So here are three new tenets I’ve adopted:
1) Involve community members, especially kids, if possible. I’m a very good reader, having practiced with my two sons and 20 years of students, but still–just my voice, my presence? After my debut reading, I decided I could do better. Now, if I can, I stage dramatic readings with myself as narrator.
2) The beginning is not always the best place to start. I’d thought starting anywhere else would require too much explanation, but audiences catch on quickly. And in the case of my first book, the Prologue is one of the saddest sections. It took me most of the way through Chapter One to cheer the group up again. Since then, I think about it from their point of view and try to choose the most entertaining part. Duh.
3) Offer cookies afterward. Hey, these nice people are giving up an hour of their busy lives to support me. The least I can do is say “thanks” the most tangible way I know, with butter and chocolate.
I have a big reading coming up next month in Seattle, and I have some more ideas for that one. What other Lessons in the Obvious have I to learn?
So I’d love to hear what else folks might have experienced. What makes an author reading stand out for you–other than, of course, the written work itself?