Saturday, October 16, 2010

More thoughts on presenting yourself in public

Peter’s blog posting yesterday is certainly worthy of further discussion. This is also the first time I’ve posted on a Saturday. Gee, Type M sure is a lot emptier when the staff have gone home for the weekend!

Okay, so you’re an author faced with ultimate difficulty: reading in public (especially if you’re hoping to sell copies after). What do you do?

The article Peter referenced in his posting has some excellent ideas: get someone tough but fair to listen to you, tape and video yourself and, above all, to practise. That last one seems so obvious, but how many of us do that? I like the idea of having someone more capable doing it. But in most places, you'd have to pony up the fee yourself.

I have a few more excellent suggestions mostly courtesy of Robert J. Sawyer, dean of Canadian SF writers. Rob is also one of the best presenters I've seen.

1. You don’t have to read the passage with everything included. Most descriptive stuff can go or at least be truncated. Sidebar material should go. You can even drop bits of dialogue that aren’t necessary. Remember: it’s a performance. When a book is brought to the screen, they don’t (and can’t) put everything in.

2. Don’t read from the book! Do a printout with all the selected text, with the font size larger for ease of reading. Books are clumsy to hold and hard to read at a distance. Rob uses a handheld PDA which is smaller than most books (his type is still big) and he can really engage his audience because there’s basically nothing between him and them.

3. Get out from behind the podium if you can. Walk around. Look at the audience. Gesticulate. Try to be as much of an actor as you can manage. Let me put it this way: if I offered you $10,000 to read from your book and payment was dependent on how well you did, you’d work a lot harder to be good, wouldn’t you? Put the same effort in on your own, and maybe some day someone will pay you 10 grand to read.

Hope these few tips help you to do a better job along the way. I can tell you this from my own experience: the better you get at reading, the more you’ll like doing it. Performing is fun when you aren’t intimidated by it.

As promised: The best reading of one of my books ever: Peter Oundjian, conductor of the Toronto Symphony. He agreed to read from my novel, Cemetery of the Nameless for a Crime Writers of Canada event called “Guess Who’s Reading Canadian Mysteries”. (The idea is that celebrities read from members’ books.) I got Peter to commit and he read the part about my protagonist battling a conductor for control of a concerto during a concert. And Peter was incredible. He did all the accents (American, Welsh, British and German) and read with real panache. I offered to hire him for all my readings. He laughed and said I couldn’t afford him.

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