If writing a book is the natural state for a writer, getting up in front of an audience and reading from that book feels about as far from natural as I can imagine. There are plenty of writers who are natural orators, but unfortunately I don’t fall into that category. I’m to the left in the ‘so anxious I might cry and/or pass out’ category. Hello to all of the other nervous talkers in this category with me. Welcome. May I offer you some peppermint tea?
When my publicist at Text mentioned reading from ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ at Graeme Simsion’s Brisbane launch of ‘The Rosie Result’, I jumped at the offer. I’d read and enjoyed the first two books in the Rosie series, and I knew it would be a great opportunity to get up in front of a live audience. Graeme’s books are HUGE and it was really kind of him to allow me to share the audience on his big night. It seemed like a good fit as well, two books with autistic characters from the same publisher. I love that Graeme’s books and mine are so different, because one of my favourite sayings around autism is ‘if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person’. There is no one universal experience of life on the spectrum, and I think reading from my book at Graeme’s launch was a good way to show that.
Just like my school talk, I knew I’d be terrified getting up there, but that’s kind of the thing isn’t it? To do things that terrify you if they are going to lead to experience and growth. I also treated it as a sort of test run for my launch later in the year. At least I didn’t know (almost) anyone in the crowd for this one. Now that I’m safely on the other side, here is what I learned from my first book reading:
Book people are good people
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Book people are, in my experience, some of the nicest people going around. Graeme Simsion, Cass Moriarty, Krissy Kneen and the whole team at Avid Reader were kind, welcoming, and so supportive of me, knowing I was nervous and that it was my first reading. It’s such a small industry, people want to see other people doing well. The thing I hadn’t counted on was that people who come along to book launches and events are also wonderful people. I had so many lovely interactions with people from the crowd after my reading, it really made the whole experience that much nicer. So being amongst good people talking to other good people, it’s far less scary than the hypotheticals I had concocted beforehand.
The excerpt I chose to read was a light-hearted, funny little bit of ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ that I felt matched the tone of the Rosie books. I hadn’t anticipated how much laughter could break the tension in my body and lighten the mood in the whole room. Obviously reading something funny is not possible for every person at every reading, but it certainly helped me and my bundle of nerves. Graeme’s excerpt was a bit more serious in parts, but also got plenty of laughs. He’s either a natural public speaker or had a lot of practice (or both!). It was really nice to feel the audience’s enjoyment during the reading; it made the whole thing a lot easier.
Just about everyone I spoke to who had experience in public readings gave me this advice. It’s simple and affective. Slow the F down. Put reminders in the margins of your reading if you have to. Pause to look up from the page every now and again. Deep breaths. Slow down.
Advice from more experienced writers than me:
I asked writing Twitter to give me advice before my reading as well and these were some of the responses I thought were helpful.
Emily Gale: Don’t read too long, practice that excerpt, remember that people love being read to and the room is on your side.
Graeme Simsion: Talk to your audience before. Choose a passage that doesn’t need much introduction (like the opening), take your time.
Danielle Binks (my fab agent): admit you’re nervous, give a short blurb/elevator pitch about your book and know you’ve got this
That’s about the extent of my limited wisdom on the topic. If you’ve got any secrets or spells to help writers with live readings, please leave them below.