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8 Steps to Surviving an Author Reading

I recently gave my first public reading of one of my own books. And I didn’t die! Probably largely thanks to three years of Toastmasters in my mid twenties (one of the best personal/professional development things I ever did).

But here are a few other things that really helped make the reading (I think) a success. All of them fall under the category of PREPARATION.

Shocking, I know.

There’s little I can do about that last shot of adrenaline that hits right as I’m about to speak—I guess 50 jumping jacks is out of the question—but being prepared goes a long way toward reducing nerves.

Here’s what worked for me.

1. Know your timeframe and other conditions. Our coordinator gave us each four minutes of reading time. That’s not as much as it sounds like. For my book it ended up being about 800 words/3-4 pages.

Since this was a public library event, they asked us to keep it PG/PG-13 in case there were kids present. Given that I write steamy military romantic suspense, careful selection was required. 

2. Pick a passage. My approach was to skim through looking for scenes with both main characters (since I write romance and they share the spotlight) that ended on some kind of hook and contained some action. Not necessarily suspense, just a sense of forward motion, like conflict, sexual tension, danger, a first kiss, or an important realization.

I selected five or six possibilities, restricting myself to the first quarter of the book to avoid spoilers, and then read each of them out loud with my stopwatch app. They were all too long. I chose two that came within a minute of my timeframe and sent both to a couple of friends.

Based on their feedback and my gut, I went with the one that ended with a literal bang—my heroine’s house exploding. (According to a woman who bought my book immediately after the reading, she said she had to find out what happened next, so I think this one did it’s job.)

3. Edit your excerpt. To fit within my allotted time, and—maybe more importantly—make the scene easier to understand, I edited it. I cut a couple of paragraphs of internal dialogue and description that were irrelevant to anyone who hadn’t read the previous chapters. Also, I nixed any R-rated words, per library policy.

4. Practice and Mark Up Your Words! Honestly, if nothing else, do this. A reading is a performance, so once I picked my excerpt, I did at least five read-throughs, both for timing and to practice delivery. The text did not always come out of my mouth the way it sounded in my head, so I underlined certain words to remind myself where to place emphasis for a smoother, more natural flow.

Sample from the printed excerpt I used for the reading.

Then, I practiced until my delivery was consistent and I was happy (as possible) with it.

When it came time to read for the audience, I had practiced enough that the flow was mostly solid. The underlined words helped immensely. I relaxed and fell into my rhythm instead of racing through in an unintelligible blur. I made eye contact. I was in the moment!

5. Print the text. Surprisingly, printing out exactly the portion of the book I planned to read was probably the second-best thing I did. Turns out we had to hold our own microphone, so by using printed pages, I wasn’t trying to turn the pages of a book one-handed. I could lay my printout on the lectern, and easily flip pages.

Plus, printing enabled me to have only the words on the page I wanted to read (no distracting cross-outs), and to add my own emphasis (e.g. underlining words) in a clean, readable way.

6. Prep the audience. I didn’t want to start reading cold, so I worked up a short blurb about the book, including where it fell in the series, and then added a sentence to introduce the scene.

I also held up a print copy of my book to show the cover.

7. Breathe. If you’ve done all of your homework, you’ll be in good shape. Just relax, remember that the audience is there because they like you. Or they like books. Or they wanted cookies. Whatever the reason, they’re friendly.

shelf with two plants and a wooden sign that reads "Breathe."

8. Plan for next time. What would I do differently next time?

  • Practice more. 
  • Look to books outside the first in series or most recent release for the best possible scene.
  • Mark potential live-read passages on my final revision read-through before publication so I don’t have to spend so much time searching for an excerpt.
  • If I’m invited to an event where people are giving readings but I’m not one of them, I’d prepare something anyway. Two authors were asked to fill in for no-shows and they had to read with no prep at all. Being ready for the unexpected makes it easy to say yes.
  • Put my hands on the table when getting my picture taken. 😉

Got any tips or stories of your own? Leave a comment below.

Graduation speech

I really did it!

After my post on Friday, you asked for the speech. Well, I found it on the backup drive, so here you go…

Family, friends, and faculty – thank you for coming tonight to celebrate with us.  Your support is invaluable, and we appreciate your presence for this exciting moment.

Tonight, at this long-awaited event that we’ve worked so hard for, I represent the 2005 graduates of the Master’s in Industrial and Technical Studies program.  I am honored to speak on their behalf.

As we get ready to leave Cal Poly, I know many of us have been reflecting on our time here, and wondering what the future holds for us.  But, what is it that made our time here so special?

Sure, the IT program is ranked in the top three nationwide.  And yes, we have a unique focus being attached to a business college rather than an engineering school.  And our projects with industry really bring the subject matter to life.  But there’s definitely more to it than that.

For me, one significant part of it is the faculty.  When I was applying to graduate school here, the application (for those of us coming from other schools) asked for a letter of recommendation from a former professor.  Well, at that time I had been out of school for eight years, and realized that I couldn’t really remember any of my instructors, and I’m quite certain none of them remember me.

Now, standing here, I cannot imagine ever forgetting the people at Cal Poly who taught my classes, pored over my thesis, and attended our club meetings.  And I feel confident that not only will they remember me, too, but that we’ll keep in touch.  The Industrial Technology faculty take an interest in the students, not just their education.

They care enough to form relationships, learn our names, get involved with our clubs, and keep up with our lives.  So to Drs. Labhard, Singh, Olsen, Djassemi, Barber, Sena, Abitia, Gay, Keep, Randazzo, Mr. Valdez, and to Dr. Cyndi Crother who has left Cal Poly, but continues to inspire others while living her dream: THANK YOU for leaving a bit of yourselves with us.

To the students, you above all made this journey worthwhile.  IT is like a close-knit family of caring and amazing people.  I’ve never met so many people who could come together as a team so easily.  And despite most people’s fear of public speaking, I’ll bet any one of the people with blue tassels down there would be willing to stand in my place right now.

Together we struggled to tell cedar from mahogany, and brass from bronze.  We developed new products, designed new facilities, and discovered that with Dr. Olsen, a four-hour class is really four hours long!

We survived the heat wave with no air conditioning, and we tackled Randazzo’s study guides as a team.

What really makes the Industrial Technology program special is that IT students are friends, teammates, and cheerleaders.  Thank you for welcoming me into your group, for making school fun, and for the teamwork and support.  You are friends that I’m proud to stand with on this special day.

Now, since I have the microphone all to myself, I have to mention one other group that made my experience great: MY FAMILY.  My amazing husband gave me his full support even though he, too, was working on his masters, and our awesome boys put up with both of us while we did homework, attended group meetings, and studied for exams.  I couldn’t have made it through without your patience and love – THANK YOU for sticking with me for this long!

So fellow graduates, as we all head off in separate directions, I am confident that we will make our mark on the world as we did here at school.  I expect to see every one of you on the famous alumni list someday because you all have excellence in you.

Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  Go out there and continue to make a habit of excellence.

Congratulations class of 2005!  Thank you.