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a: How to Give a Literary Reading


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Posted 15 July 2017 - 11:00 AM

Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Wow, you’ve been asked to read a piece of your writing! In PUBLIC! This is a great opportunity to connect with new readers and your fellow authors, to say nothing of stroking your fragile ego and emotional neediness. Here’s how you can wow your audience and win new readers and maybe even get laid.

Before the Reading

  • Eat a healthy and delicious breakfast that morning. Choose wisely, as this is what you’ll be throwing up later due to your crippling stage fright.
  • Set the stage. Arrive at the venue early and get a lay of the land. Check if there will be a microphone or lectern or what-have-you. Look for opportunities for cool visuals, such as a blown-up picture of your book cover, or a big poster of your face like in Citizen Kane. Queue up some entrance music. Walking up to the mic through misty clouds from your smoke machine to the tune of “Rock You Like a Hurricane” will let your audience know that a serious author is taking the stage.
  • Choose the right piece to read. You’ll want something people can follow without you having to explain a bunch of backstory beforehand. The beginning of your book is a good choice. An exception to this rule is if you’re reading the first chapter of a sequel–to make sure people know what’s going on, be sure to read the climax of your previous book first.

Take the Stage

  • Own the room. This is your time. Remind people to turn off the ringers on their phones. Block the exits–nobody gets out of here until you say so.
  • Remember to breathe. Big, deep breaths will keep you calm. Think of your lungs like a set of bagpipes–just a big ol’ sack of air that you need to keep inflated in order to make a droning, atonal cacophony.
  • Slow down. Adrenaline can make you rush through a reading like a TV voiceover listing the side effects of a new weight-loss drug. Count to one-Mississippi at the end of each sentence. Count to two-Mississippi at the end of each paragraph. Three-Mississippi is for scene changes. Four-Mississippi is an experimental count that authors have not yet perfected. This is a lot of Mississippis to keep track of, so no one will judge you if you say them out loud.
  • Remember to project. Speak with your diaphragm. Maintain good posture. Attribute your own flaws and insecurities to members of the audience. Can you believe you were intimidated by these anxious, conceited nimrods?
  • Eye contact. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Basically, by making eye contact with your audience, you’re peeking into their house like a creep, so avoid doing so at all costs.

  • Name drop the city/bookstore/establishment you’re reading in.
    photo by Pip R. Lagenta

    This will cause an instant pop from the crowd, according to arena-rock bands and pro wrestlers. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you Writer Unboxed?

  • Pause for thunderous applause from the aforementioned name drop.
  • Leave pauses for all audience reactions. Laughter is the most common. Gasps are also great. Be ready to give the audience cues by arching your eyebrows or having one of those APPLAUSE signs that old-time TV shows used. Consider a laugh track, like on a sitcom. Don’t tell me it’s out of place; The Flintstones had a laugh track, and it was a damn cartoon.
  • Enjoy yourself. Remember, the audience is there to have FUN. Encourage them to do The Wave. Bring a beach ball for them to bat around. During a scene break, lead the audience in a chorus of “Sweet Caroline,” bum bum BAAAAH!

Exit

  • Give the signal. This is to let your friend in the audience know if they should call you with an “emergency” to get you out of there after things start to go south.
  • Leave them wanting more. Stop reading in the middle of the last paragraph. Don’t even finish your sentence. It’s better to deci

What tips do you have for giving a literary reading? Share your ideas in the comments!

About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.



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