Readings are exceedingly important to an author – and not just financially, as many authors earn more from their appearances than they do from selling their books.
Readings are, above all, a way to connect with your readers in person. As an author, you should make the most of this opportunity!
Author Ruben Wickenhauser has read at a wide variety of venues and offers tips for beginners and professionals on how to make a reading successful.
Before the reading
- Pack fresh ginger. Sounds strange? A fingernail-sized piece of fresh ginger is a lifesaver when your throat goes on strike!
- A reading is precious. Confidently negotiate a fee. It will only be an acknowledgement the first time. But later it will rise. Because this fee is not an inflated "hourly rate", in fact it will be a significant part of the payment for your daily writing work, unless you win the lottery of a best-selling book. And forget the "publicity effect" for their book that some organizers cite in fee negotiations. This one is more wishful thinking.
- Make a reading contract. Especially if you don’t like to talk about money: a contract eliminates any misunderstandings about fees or covering travel and, if necessary, expenses from the start. Overnight expenses out of the way. It makes a professional impression and also gives the organizer peace of mind.
- Phone the organizer. Should the chairs be like in the cinema? What space is available? How many listeners are invited? Will you read with or without a mic? How much earlier should you be there? Where are you staying if an overnight stay is required? Be picked up? All questions that are easiest to clarify in conversation, especially in the beginning. This protects against surprises. On site it may be too late.
- After reading. Address how to continue after the reading. You will rarely be courted as the great author, and otherwise may well be left out in the cold, especially after school readings.
- Photos! Bring your own camera or ask the event organizer to bring one. This has nothing to do with vanity, but is simply practical for later reports and press work – and as a reminder.
- Plan the flow. Want to read only? Or have a supporting program? Then inform the organizer of course also about needed technology. Not all schools have slide projectors (especially not working ones) or beamers anymore.
- Plan reading pieces. Do not read fifty pages at a time. Divide the reading into many reading sections, which are perhaps loosened up by factual parts or by a conversation with the audience. Plus, you can then better control the length of the reading, you don’t overly strain the audience’s concentration even at 90 minutes, and you have much needed breaks due to the distraction.
- Make it easy. Take a book as a reading copy, lard it with different colored bookmarks and draw instructions in it to your heart’s content! Be it where reading is to be done louder or slower, be it where a factual part follows … If stage fright should grip you or the unexpected happens, you will be grateful for every support. My first book I had also just re-edited stylistically for the readings. No inhibitions! No one will match the wording of what is written with what is read. And if … it’s his own fault.
- Personal baggage. If you’re going on a multi-day or week-long reading trip, take along personal items you can use to make your hotel room more homey – a picture of family, favorite pieces, your favorite beverage and, of course, your work, even though you often won’t have energy for it anymore. Hotel rooms and frequent hotel changes are only nice in the beginning. Don’t forget your earplugs.
- Ginger not forgotten. This helps. Really.
- Breakfast! Before morning readings: Allow yourself enough time for a hearty and filling breakfast, even if you think you can barely down anything from excitement. If you have multiple events, an empty stomach won’t help your peace of mind.
- Come earlier. Arrive fifteen minutes before the event begins, at the latest. A rushed author or a stressed author does neither himself nor the audience any favors. And if something is missing, at least you have some time to fix it.
- Set up without an audience. If possible, set up and discuss final items before audience is let in. You can use the silence well to collect yourself.
- A glass of water. A water – without carbonic acid – is the best drink for a reading. Coffee or tea can stimulate salivation under certain circumstances. A mouth full of saliva is really annoying.
- Stylish ambience. I forget it myself regularly: Maybe take a discreet tablecloth with you. This works wonders on sterile school and office desks. Having your own mug or glass can work just as well. Nothing looks more unromantic than a half-full plastic mineral water bottle next to your book. Depending on the topic, a candlestick may be appropriate. But be sure to check the light. Bad light on your text does only one thing: cast a bad light on you.
The reading is in progress!
- Of course remain. Do not be the great artist. The audience expects you to deliver a good event, and the audience pays you. Pride is not appropriate there.
- Switch on radar. Try to get a rough impression of how your audience feels during the reading as well. If something seems odd, feel free to bring it up after the reading part – maybe the acoustics are just too bad in the back rows? Or it pulls someone?
- Don’t let it throw you off your game. When you want to start, a listener begins to annoy you with constant questions or comments. Stay calm. Keep control and point out to the person in question in a friendly but firm manner that you have to start the reading, otherwise you will run out of time. The other listeners came because of you, not because of that person.
- Restless class = teacher issue. Teachers are responsible for keeping the class quiet. Not you. If the teachers themselves get the idea that they want to talk or rustle with homework corrections (everything has already happened), point out to them in a friendly but firm manner that this is disturbing. Teachers have to stay in class during the event, of course.
- Observe yourself. While you are reading, try to observe yourself: Don’t talk too fast? Speak clearly, but not too clearly? Do not speed up either? Constantly check yourself and adjust your voice accordingly. And still concentrate fully on what you are reading. If you are lucky, you will feel your text begin to carry you away – enjoy it, but don’t let it wash you away.
- Art of the break. Make pauses at the right places in the text. Often the pauses seem longer for the reader than for the audience. Better a slightly longer pause than a rant. The same applies to reading speed: Better take it down a gear.
- Few gestures. Be sparing with gesticulation. Your text should be effective through yourself and your voice, not by fidgeting wildly. Unless, of course, you really know exactly what you’re doing …
- Read ahead. Try to understand the next part of the sentence while reading the previous one. Then you can be prepared for unexpected twists and turns – and these twists and turns will suddenly appear in your own texts, too.
- Talk to the photographer. It is great when the press is present and even a photographer comes. However, the teacher can be very annoying to both you and the audience if he or she is constantly walking around in front of the audience and taking pictures, possibly with a flash. Ask the photographer to take the pictures right at the beginning, before you read and while you are still chatting with the audience. Use conscious gestures for the photos, adopt a relaxed but deliberate posture and joke a bit with the photographer and the audience. This creates a relaxed atmosphere and makes for good pictures.
- Answer questions at eye level. When answering questions, remain humorous, serious and friendly, and don’t make the mistake of appearing condescending. There are stupid questions, but you don’t have to let the questioner feel that too … You are the author, but nothing justifies rising above the audience. Are you a better person than a housewife? A professor? A teacher or student? Hardly.
Do not react to standard questions in an annoyed way because you have already answered them countless times, because the questioner is hearing your answer for the first time.
- Give yourself applause. At the end, thank the audience for their attention without appearing submissive (anyone who hopes the audience has survived these horrible hours well belongs on the scaffold). And then ask for an echo if it doesn’t come naturally: applause if you liked it! With schools, I ask for a moment of complete silence without a peep, and it really works. Even with teenage students. All the louder is then their subsequent clapping. Calmly enjoy the moment of success. You’ve earned it.
- If a Report in the newspaper or on a website, possibly even with a photo, that’s wonderful. But remember that both the text and the image are copyrighted. You are also not allowed to publish quotes from it (outside the narrow limits of the right to quote) on your website without the express permission of the newspaper. So ask for permission or link to the report if it can be found online.
About the author of this article
Since 1996, Ruben Wickenhauser has published numerous novels, technical and non-fiction books, as well as journalistic articles and short stories (most recently: "Und Austinat konnte fliegen", in: jungeWelt). Just published his manual on his favorite sport: "Jugger. The practice book, basics – training – teambuilding". Ruben Wickenhauser lives in Sweden.
More information at uhusnest.de
Ruben Wickenhauser provides a digital reading information folder as a PDF file (3.7 MByte) for his readings, so that organizers and interested parties know what to expect. Another good tip.
The reading tips can also be found on Ruben Wickenhauser’s website. They have been added to and slightly revised for this post.