I have a new book coming out soon, and already I’m starting to wrestle with readings from it. So it’s good to come across an up-to-the-minute and highly critical hit list of the things that most need fixing in most author readings, by the illustrious Gabino. Under the heading “Why Most Readings Suck and How to Fix It,” the post offers ten excellent tips on how to unsuck your highest-profile interaction with your readers.
Dismissing most of the readings he saw at a recent AWP as “as interesting as watching paint dry on a muggy day. Dull. Unimaginative. Uninteresting. Incredibly monotonous. Painfully boring. Exceedingly awful,” Gabino reveals the strengths of a good reading that these fiascos underlined by so conspicuously lacking. Perhaps the key one that unlocks all the rest is Point 10 (actually the first): ” Be aware of the implicit contract of a reading … Most authors are convinced readings are all about them. They’re wrong. Readings are about everyone involved, and you should respect everyone equally.”
From that stems many of the others, like respecting time constraints, keeping your bio down to a two-line minimum, and avoiding long intros and preambles. Then there’s “a little thing called inflection.” Says Gabino, “I try to read in a way that forces people to remember it, to remember me and my voice. Let your voice take off like a rocket.” Allied to that, “your body is a tool; use it.” And if you’re getting too fixated on reading your own stuff, look up and “Learn to read the audience.” Then “Make eye contact” and “Remember why you’re there.” Finally, as these should suggest, “Passion. That’s the word you need to focus on. Be passionate about what you’re reading. If you sound like you’d rather be at the dentist than reading your work, how the hell am I supposed to feel about you and your words?”
These tips may not fix every reading. They may not make your sales spike. But they should at least make the whole reading experience more enjoyable for the audience, and who knows, even the writer. And they’ll probably mean you get invited back next time. So rather than bitch, Jonathan Franzen style, about the awful burden of demeaning showmanship and salesmanship, why not take a leaf out of Charles Dickens’s book(s), and get out there and have, and give, a rare good time.