Monday, April 22, 2013

Guest Blogger Drew Myron with Ten Tips to Giving a Good Reading

Finding other writers who share my background in journalism and public relations is always fun. Drew Myron heads a marketing communications company and as a journalist has covered news, arts, entertainment and travel for AOL, Northwest Best Places and other publications. She is writing instructor at Seashore Family Literacy, and the creator and host of "Off the Page,” an annual reading featuring Oregon writers. Thin Skin, her collection of photos and poems, was published this month. Visit her blog.

 Please welcome Drew Myron
I never aspired to serve as literary hostess. Eager to promote the work of writer-friends, I simply organized a reading. “Don’t wait for the party,” I said, in an unusually zealous state. “Be the party.”

Admittedly, I was in over my head. I had attended enough readings — both as writer and reader — to know these events can be real snoozers. You know this is true. You’ve sat there, as I have, bored and annoyed, wondering why you chose this over an episode of Mad Men.

But it turned out to be fun turning a typically staid event into a enjoyable, lively party. My first — an ensemble reading held at an art gallery — was so much fun I orchestrated another, and another. Ten years later, I’ve produced more than a dozen literary events, at a variety of venues and for varying audiences. I’ve worked with writers of all stripes — fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry and song — and all ages, from 8 to 80.

In my transition from shy-writer to event hostess, I’ve learned a great deal. Want to shine on stage? Let me share a few insider tips:

1. The stage is for acting--even, and especially--for writers.
Not naturally stage savvy? No need to pretend. If writers were performers we’d bask in attention but instead we’re hunkered over keyboards, wearing sweatpants and day-old hair.

An actress-friend offered me this life-changing nugget: You have two selves, she said. The writer-you and the actor-you. When you create, you are deep in inner-writer world. But when you share your writing, you must go into outer-actor world. At a reading, take on a persona. Allow the actor-you to share the wonderful work of writer-you.

Sounds wacky, I know. But viewing a reading as a performance is especially helpful to introverted writers. This “performance” is not a departure from our real selves, but more of a removed perspective that allows the shy writer to step out with confidence.

2. Don’t bore us to tears.
You’ve got a time limit — stick to it. Organizers have invited you and carefully orchestrated the event’s pace and flow. Don’t assume your work is captivating enough to allow additional time (it isn’t), especially in a group event. Don’t be the guy who reads past the allotted time, then looks to the hostess and asks, “Do I have time for one more?” If you have to ask, you’re out of time. And while the host may acquiesce, she will seethe inside, and likely not invite you back, and may even talk poorly about you to others. (Yes, this is personal experience; I’m not bitter, just seasoned). Always leave the audience a bit hungry — and eager to buy your book.

3.  Give a bit of backstory.
Purists will say “the work stands on its own” — meaning there’s no need for explanation. While it’s true you don’t want to beat the life out of your work with too much preamble, the audience has turned out to hear your words, from your mouth, in a live setting. Give us a glimpse of yourself. Let us in, let us like you.

4. Smile. Everything is better with a smile. Sound Pollyanna? Try it!

Seriously, a smile breaks resistance — yours and the audience’s. When your hands tremble and your voice quakes, relax your mouth, recall your best friend, and smile. The audience, says my actress friend, wants to like you. When you relax, your ease allows others to breathe a sigh of relief, too.

5. Don’t mumble through your entire reading with eyes buried in your pages. We want to see your face, and feel a connection. In the throes of a mumbler, we wonder why we didn’t stay home and read your book in the comfort of our pjs. But now we’ve lost interest in your book. You’ve lost a sale.  

6. Be prepared.
Why do writers, who have been invited as featured guests, show up to readings hapless and frazzled? From AWP to open mic nights, I’ve seen writers stumble to the podium with a look of dazed confusion as they page through reams of paper.

News Flash to Befuddled Writers In Crowded Rooms: You’ve been invited. Don’t insult the audience with an attitude that broadcasts that you’re too busy, distracted or important to care about this event.

7. Kindness matters — give thanks.
From the multitude of writers longing to be heard, your host chose you. That’s no small thing.  Literary events require planning, marketing, and varying degrees of mental, financial and emotional investment. Want to know what makes me happy? Appreciation from featured writers (also: glowing feedback from the audience).

After the reading, talk to people. Roam the room. Take time to thank those who support your efforts and promote your work. Be genuine, gracious and kind. Write your host a thank you note. It may seem old school but gratitude is timeless. And it’s true, what you give comes back to you.

Lastly, a few things that you probably already know, though some writers clearly don’t (trust me, this really happened):

8. Don’t bring your husband and insist he have an opportunity to read from his book, too. This isn’t Thriftway, no 2-for-1 deals.

9. If attending a reading as an audience member, don’t bring your own books to sell.  Sell your books at your reading, and/or your garage sale.

10.  Wear a clean shirt. You don’t have to go glam but please don’t show up in your garden grubbies. We get the hardworking-writer-vibe but, really, a clean black sweater works wonders.


Heather T. said...

Great tips--although the voice quaking is one I think I'll never outgrow! =)

drew said...

Heather -

A quaking voice can be endearing. It shows the audience that this moment matters to you. It does help, however, to remember that the audience is pulling for you -- we want to cheer you on. : )

- Drew

Barbara McDowell Whitt said...

Lisa, thank you for inviting Drew to write her guest post on book presentations, and Drew, thank you for your good tips. One thing that makes members of an audience uncomfortable is in connection with "6. Be prepared." In addition to " they page through reams of paper," not being able to find the part or parts of their book they wanted to share is an unnecessary time waster. Post-Its were invented for a reason. On the other hand, one of the best authors I have heard began by reading the opening page and a half of her book. She didn't say it was the opening, but for her, it worked. I opened my copy so my husband and I could follow along with her.

drew said...

Hi Barbara,
Yes to post-its! How did we ever manage without them?

And you bring up an excellent point. I've heard many people say they like to follow along with the written form of the spoken words.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great tips, Drew.

I was one of 18 writers who just read at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle as part of the final presentation for the EDGE program of Artists Trust. We each had 5 minutes. Some of us worked with vocal/acting coach Kim White to help us get into that "actor" persona you talk about. Kim gave me a great piece of advice: what is your intent with the piece? Really made me think of why I'd chosen that particular section of my novel to share with strangers. And that in turned helped me edit and shape the piece.

drew said...

Lynn -
I really like this idea. Seems like a great way to focus and shape a presentation. Thanks for sharing.

drew said...

. . . and congratulations, Lynn, for being a chosen writer for EDGE. And what a great place to share your work.

Lauri Meyers said...

Great advice Drew - both as reader and organizer!

drew said...

Thanks Lauri! It's nice to have enjoyed both sides of the "experience." : )