I did a lot of theater in high school, singing and dancing my way through South Pacific and Anything Goes, auditioning for everything I could, craving the stage. (I even considered, briefly, pursuing acting professionally. However, acting is even more difficult and brutal than writing. I wised up quickly.) This turned out to be excellent preparation for some aspects of a professional writing career. I recommend every writer get a little theater experience.
Public speaking shouldn’t be a requirement for being a writer, but it really, really is. From participating in panel discussions, speaking to classes, and one of my favorite things, public readings. I’ve managed to snag new readers through all these venues, and every time I do I thank my few years of amateur stage experience. I may get a little bit nervous, but not usually. It’s all just like being on stage, which I know I can do because I’ve done it before. I can chill out and do my job.
What I really want to talk about is public readings from our works, because I’m interested in the theory and practice of this. I’ve done a lot of readings — most science fiction and fantasy conventions I’ve been to offer numerous readings on the schedule. Theoretically, you could sit in a room and listen to different authors reading from their works all day long. Also, many book signing events include a reading. Some authors post podcasts of themselves reading excerpts as a promotional tool. If you’re a published author, chances are you’ll be asked to read aloud from your work at some point.
So what’s your take on readings, both as a member of the audience and as a reader? A couple of my favorite authors to hear read are Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis. At the World Horror Convention in 2000, I got to hear Gaiman read all of Coraline, which was amazing. Both of them have wonderful, understated reading styles. Hearing them is like hearing an engaging story told by a friend. Not overly dramatic, not at all flat. You don’t have to do the funny voices, but it’s best not to sound bored by your own words.
A question I debate a lot is what to read. Should I read from an old favorite, the most recently published work, or something that hasn’t been published yet? Audiences seem to like previews of upcoming works — I like hearing what my favorite authors have up their sleeves that I can look forward to. I also have the question of reading from a short story or novel. If I read from a novel, I almost always read from the first chapter or an early scene so I don’t have to explain what all’s been happening, but lots of authors read from later chapters — usually the most exciting cliffhanger in the book. When I have a new short story that’s the right size, I like to read it so that my audience gets an ending to go with the beginning. Connie Willis is rather notorious for ending her readings on cliffhangers, which can be agony when the book isn’t out yet.
I definitely practice my reading ahead of time so that I know what to expect. I time it so I know exactly how long it’ll take. I make sure I have all the pages of my reading on hand. I can show respect to my audience by being as prepared as I can.
Do you have certain things you love to see/hear at readings? Any pet peeves? Any recommendations? And dare I ask it — any horror stories. . .I mean, cautionary tales?