Sydney Avey

Dynamic Women — Changing Times

Author Readings: Need courage? Don a costume!

Jul 10, 2018 | Fun, Learning curve, Writing life | 0 comments

author readingsI get nervous before author readings. From the invitation, through the preparation and practice, right up to the minute I stand in front of a microphone, I fret. When super-talented, highly enthusiastic Jill Klajic-Ryan (facilitator of the Sonora Writers’ Group) signed me up for “Hoopla, A Wine & Read Event.” featuring fine wines, great books, and music, she added, “They want us to wear costumes.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It adds to the fun,” she answered.

No pressure there. Find an early 1900’s professional female’s costume and then find a passage to read that can compete with background music and people clinking wine glasses over an animated conversation. But everything is a learning experience, right?

The costume

Googling costumes for women almost always turns up clothing suitable for the “oldest profession.” A period ensemble is going to involve a costume or Etsy shop. And $$$. Ideally, I wanted a long flared black sateen skirt, a white mutton-sleeved blouse, and a cloche hat. I went shopping in my closet and found “close enough” to hint at the Victorian style of the day.

Choosing author readings

I chose a story about Nellie as a young girl and practiced until I felt comfortable and then it hit me. I would be reading to a group of people who came to enjoy the wine. A young girl riding her horse across the Kansas plain in search of a missing book wasn’t going to cut it. Best to save this selection for a library reading. Instead, I read from the chapter “Last Chance Romance” where a judge wines and dines Nellie and surprises her with a proposal.

Negotiating space

The proprietor, the musician, and the readers worked together to optimize the small space. We set up our microphone and podium on the patio adjacent to the tasting room, and the guitar player shared his speaker with us.  Breaking up our readings with musical interludes had a magical effect. The music provided just the right level of background for the tasting room and a relaxed atmosphere for those on the patio. Some folks drifted outside with their wine glasses, sat down, and gave us their full attention.

My takeaway

Stepping into Nellie’s persona freed me to be more expressive, which was entirely appropriate to the venue. I felt like a kid in a Halloween costume emboldened to ask for candy from complete strangers! It was so much easier for me as Nellie to ask for an audience’s attention for her story than for me as an author to ask for attention for my book.

Pros know these tricks, I’m sure.  But if, like me, you aren’t a professional speaker here are some ways to make author talks more fun for you and more engaging for your audience.

  • Consider delivering your reading as if you are the main character, not the author writing about the main character. Wearing a costume that suggests something about your MC (the time period, your MC’s occupation) adds entertainment value.
  • Tailor your reading selection to your audience. What is the common interest that brought people to your event? Find a way to play into that.
  • Be part of the event. A function with multiple activities often doesn’t afford much opportunity to sell books. That doesn’t mean it’s a failure. I met a retired editor of a major publication who encouraged me greatly. And a jazz singer walked out of the tasting room holding my novel, cash, and a fistful of my postcards that she said sold her on the book. She asked for more to pass out to her friends.

If you are ever in Twain Harte, CA, visit Sierra Cellars. They have a variety of excellent wines, a cozy tasting room, and patio ringed with trailing roses.

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