The author event I

Apologies to those of you who have been barraged with nonexistent messages from me, but it seems that Safari doesn’t like what I have to say about author events. Explorer appears to be less picky, so I shall try them for a while, beginning with the material I just posted as “Try, try again,” but in its originally intended length. And if that doesn’t go through, I’ll just go away for today.

As promised, I have not read the newspaper over the last few days, only the columns of Jon Carroll and Leah Garchik (the latter of which will appear in THE ART OF DETECTION, thanks to Ms. Garchik’e2’80’99s kind permission’e2’80’94you heard it here first!)

Where was I? Oh yes, lack of infuriating input.

This means I have been free to think calm and contemplative thoughts, based on the events I did over the past week.

And it occurs to me that perhaps there should be a track at mystery conferences such as BoucherCon on the art of doing events.

Beginning writers make mistakes. I know I did (probably still do) even though I had a fair amount of experience in public speaking from standing at the front of a classroom. And although those mistakes may or may not influence sales of books, they certainly affect the enthusiasm of the audience, and in the long run (if the beginner never gets past the beginner stage) cut down on the number of speaking requests a writer gets.

First off, KISS: Keep It Short and Sweet. My heart always sinks when I’e2’80’99m doing a group event with beginners, because invariably there will be one who goes on for forty-five minutes, despite being asked to speak for fifteen or twenty. And since the established writer is generally asked to bring up the rear, it means that someone with a dozen or more books often has to cut down her remarks below ten minutes in order to allow the library to close in time. Now, brevity is the soul of wit and keep ‘e2’80’98em asking for more and it’e2’80’99s good for our soul and over the years we’e2’80’99ve talked too much, anyway, but still, often those in the audience actually want to hear the more experienced person, just a little.

So if you’e2’80’99re reading from a book or using a prepared speech, READ IT FIRST, aloud, at normal speed, in front of a clock. By and large, no reading selection should be more than fifteen minutes, and unless you’e2’80’99re a particularly effective reader, ten is better. Reading it first also means you’e2’80’99ve run it over your tongue at least once, which can be very helpful for those odd words you use in written English, but rarely in spoken. (And if you’e2’80’99re not certain of a pronunciation, look it up.)

What to read? Don’t necessarily dive into the first page of the book. See if you can find a two or three page segment that doesn’t require more than a brief explanation of the characters or setting, preferably involving something unexpected, and without too much graphic sex or violence (unless you positively desire your audience to type you as that kind of writer, in which case, go right ahead, knock yourself out.)

But you should be careful about too much reading. Even when you have aimed at a story-tellers style, reading from a page never rings as natural and true as just telling a story. One or two tales that you’ve told before–incidents that happened during the research, things your family told you as you were immersed in the writing of the book, whatever catches your fancy–can be better than a carefully put together three-point composition. I have one, invariably accompanied with the same gestures, pauses, and changes in voice, about the agony of touring and the unlikely things that can break a person’s spirit on the road. I have another about the time I made an inadvertent dirty joke to a reader at a book fair. I’m sure some people have heard them more than once, but they are small, carefully polished gems of the storyteller’s art, and no one has yet walked out at the repetition.

Next time you’re at one of my events, ask me to tell the chicken-and-rice story or the dirty joke and we’ll see if anyone walks out.

More tomorrow on the author event, and Michael Chabon.

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  1. Becca on November 8, 2005 at 12:36 am

    I was once at an event at my college where an author (whose name I am ashamed to admit I cannot recall) gave a reading. He had obviously not rehearsed it beforehand, for although it was well read, he came upon a graphic sex scene, blushed furiously, and stumbled for a bit before moving on to another section.

  2. Anonymous on November 8, 2005 at 4:05 am

    I’ve heard several authors (not Laurie, unfortunately) and one of the best is Carl Hiassen, and he never reads a word! Just carries on a conversation with everyone. Another author named Andy Andrews read a short story and everyone was laughing so hard while he kept a straight face that we thought we should have paid for his performance!

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