I go to a lot of author events. I’m very lucky to live in Los Angeles, where my options are many and varied. We have wonderful bookstores, many of them independent. We also have a fantastic library (shout out to librarian Mary!). Many authors live locally, and many more are willing to travel here. (I mean, come on. If you plan right, you can spend the day at Disneyland. OR HOGWARTS.)
Some events that I’ve been to were just better than others, and it’s no one’s fault! They were all wonderful in their own way. But I have a few suggestions for authors, from an audience perspective.
1. You don’t have to read an excerpt. It’s fine if you do, but it’s also fine to just talk about your book! Your guests can read the text, but hearing you talk is special.
2. If you do read an excerpt, choose wisely.
Don’t read a passage that requires too much explanation. If it takes you five minutes to tell us who the characters are in the scene, it might be better to use your time to talk about the characters instead of reading this passage.
The first page(s) is a safe bet, because it won’t require any explanation. However, much of the audience may have already read it! Even if your book is not out yet or just came out, the first chapter is almost always a marketing tool. So if you’re going to read the first page(s), prepare something to say about them afterward. First sentences and first paragraphs are an engaging topic. Maybe talk about where you originally started the story (if it was somewhere else), or rejected first sentences.
3. A conversation is more enticing than a speech. The best author events I’ve been to have a moderator, and many have included more than one author (sometimes one of the authors also acts as moderator, steering the conversation).
4. Make time for a Q&A! Readers have a lot of questions they are dying to ask you. And yeah, some of them might be questions about how they can get published, too, but most of them will be about your writing process and your book(s)!
Always always ALWAYS repeat the question before you answer it. The rest of the audience probably didn’t hear it. I guess if there is a super good PA system with an audience mic you can MAYBE get away with not repeating the question, but I think you should do it anyway. Otherwise you risk your answer sounding like a non sequitur.
5. Do what you’re comfortable with, even if that is totally different and out there! For the release of Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay invited over a dozen other writers to come read their own work at The Last Bookstore, which was packed to its non-air-conditioned gills on one of the hottest summer nights. It was GREAT. And how feminist is that–sharing the event with her favorite feminist writers!
6. Do what you’re comfortable with, even if that is totally straightforward and the usual fare. Readers are there to meet you. We will be happy with a quick reading and a Q&A.
Please keep in mind that I’m just one person! I’d love to hear from other readers.