Ever since the launch of Mobile Libris in 2005, Sharon Preiss's traveling bookstore has sold thousands of books at hundreds of readings in and around New York City. Mobile Libris is our go-to bookseller when we hold readings in bars, churches, classrooms, libraries, and other locations that don't ordinarily sell books. Preiss (above) or one of her twenty or so employees arrives on time with an attractive book display and, most importantly, a good supply of the author's books for sale. With the fall reading season upon us, Sharon agreed to share her observations about readings: What makes them succeed? What can those who give readings do better? Post your questions for Sharon in the comment section and she’ll answer them.
1. Can you identify the key ingredients that make for a successful reading? That is, what can a reader do that will give his or her audience pleasure and make it more likely that they will want to read (and buy) the author's book?
There are so many variables that can affect a reading, it's just about impossible to guarantee a great one. Even things like technical problems, weather, and the temperature of the room make an impression on the audience. The best thing authors can do, though, is concentrate on thing that matters most — their presentation. Rehearse, know your material, time your talk. The better prepared you are, the more likely it is that you will come across as authoritative and confident. If you're feeling good about what you're about to say, you'll speak clearer, slower, louder, with more ease — you'll be taking care of some of the little things that can turn an audience off. You may not be able to stop the snowplows grinding by the window battling the worst blizzard of the year, but you're going to make sure the people who braved the storm to show up will be glad they did.
Also, some of the best events I've been to are those where authors limit their amount of actual reading from the book but talk about the book instead — some background on the subject, what brought them to it, how they researched, what the writing process was. This background stuff really engages and intrigues the audience, piques their interest in the book and doesn't give too much of it away. But that probably applies more to fiction and non-fiction than poetry. With poetry it's always the poems that matter most. A little bit of between-poem chat is good but I've seen audiences get restless and embarrassed for the poet when the talk becomes too revealing or personal. I recommend that if you're in doubt about what to say between poems, just read the poems.
It helps if the audience knows that books will be for sale. If there’s advance publicity, be sure to mention that books will be available for purchase and that the author will sign them. The event host should make such an announcement at the beginning of the event and at its close. And readers: your audience likes it when you sign their books so plan to stick around.
2. What are some of the most common mistakes you have seen authors make, things one might do to turn the audience off or make them lose interest in an otherwise great book?
Rule # 1-10: DON'T GO ON TOO LONG. Really, it's the worst thing you can do. Even if you're absolutely sure your audience