Article 4: Public Reading – Guest Post by Phillip T. Stephens…

Public reading to promote your book

Photo credit: Michael Shellenberger

Last month, I attended my first book fair since knee surgery to recover for twenty years of crippling osteoporosis. My first observation was the difference in marketing taken by the authors in attendance. They littered their tables with swag—candy, book marks, do it your self stamped book marks, flyers and book sheets. A far cry from the days when small press writers sat at a table with their books, praying someone would wander by with their checkbook.

The second thing I noticed was that writers still suck at reading their books.

Suck badly. Like black holes taking the wind out of the room. They still meet an appreciative response from audience members who believe in positive reinforcement. But they don’t sell books.

Ironically, reading your work is your best marketing tool. If people hear a well-read story they will buy a book they weren’t otherwise inclined to buy. I recall many fairs where people passed my table before my reading and dropped by with checkbooks open after.

One blog post won’t turn you into an accomplished reader. But I can offer a few tips:

More than anything else, you need to remember that your books are competing with the books on every other table. Readers don’t have a bottomless bank account. Not only do you want to give readers reasons to buy your book, you don’t want to give them reasons to move to a different table.

  1. Don’t introduce yourself, explain why you wrote the book, or share any cute anecdotes about your skills as a writer. We can read your bio on the book. Some people in the audience are interested in process but everyone is present to hear the storyPeople want to buy your story, if it’s good. Show them it’s good by sharing the sample, not extraneous marginalia.
  2. Don’t spend more than two sentences summarizing your book. They can read the description on the back cover. You’re pitching to your buyers just like you would a publisher. The more extraneous details you toss in the more reason you give the buyer to say, “No, that doesn’t interest me.” I used this introduction to my book at a recent book fair:

Dodd breaks up a gas station robbery on his way through a Texas border town. Before he can leave, the residents involve him in a search for lost bank loot and the remains of the second UFO crash. The one after Roswell.

  1. Set up the reading passage for the reader. No more than a paragraph. Don’t go into back story, don’t introduce every character. Only details needed to make this scene understandable. For instance:

The novel opens with Dodd stopping for gas while passing through town. He breaks up a robbery inside the store. When the town sheriff learns Dodd earned a law degree in prison, he demands that he stay as the teen defendant’s lawyer. The gas station’s owner, the sheriff’s brother, is so impressed he hires Dodd to manage his businesses. This leads to a showdown between Dodd and the sheriff, who just happens to be the store owner’s brother

This description doesn’t explain why Dodd is passing through town, leaves out the reason Dodd needs gas (his gas tank has a leak) or that fact that he takes the job because his car won’t be fixed for more than a week. It doesn’t provide any additional details about Dodd, or the two brothers, even though they’re the main focus of the novel. It leaves out how Dodd broke up the robbery and the fact that the gas station owner was about to kill the teenaged thief. It doesn’t even provide the brothers’ names. Or the fact that all three of Dodd’s names are Dodd. Why? Because none of those details are relevant to the passage being read. They only distract the reader from the story you want to sell.

  1. Don’t read from your book (or the magazine). Edit the story to eliminate phrases that interrupt the flow of reading, including elements you included to set up later events, back story that doesn’t illuminate the passage, and dialogue tags (they shouldn’t be necessary during the reading). Carry the book with you to the podium for display, or, if you really think people should see you read from the book, tape your revised pages inside.
  2. Practice reading before hand. Tape your reading. Listen for elements of distraction. Eliminate them. And never read longer than your allotted time. Better if you can keep it short. Leave your audience wanting more so they’ll drop by your table to look at the book.

Remember, you want to bring the people at your reading to your table. The only thing that will bring them is your story. That’s what you deliver and nothing else.

Phillip T. Stephens

Barnes & Noble


USA  –  UK  –  CA  –  AUS  – IN


10 thoughts on “Article 4: Public Reading – Guest Post by Phillip T. Stephens…

  1. Good tips. I had the chance to read the same passage to two different groups within a couple of hours recently – I edited the second reading on the fly. Actually, I’d do a big overhaul of this book (first in the series) if I could find the time 🙂 I’ve learned so much more about editing (and writing) since 2008!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is timely advice for me. Next year I’m speaking at least once about my writing. I had planned to read a few passages. I won’t do that now, I’ll take the advice and tell the story of why I write. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes. I think that is a great idea and I have watched authors read their books in London a number of years ago when I lived in London. They really new how to read their work. I was wonderful. Thanks for Sharing, Chris. Karen 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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