Friday, 24 June 2011

Tips for Authors Giving Talks: Choosing The Reading

1. Choose a piece that is self contained and doesn't need lengthy explanations to make sense.

2. If you do need an explanation for the reading to make sense, then write it out on a separate piece of paper because the last thing that will be on your mind is exactly who is who and why they're there. You're bound to miss out the vital bit of explanation.

3. Choose a piece with as little dialogue as possible. This may sound counter-intuitive, because some of your liveliest writing will be dialogue based. But it's fiendishly difficult for an audience to listen to something that was designed for reading, and keep track of who is who. Even if you are as good as Martin Jarvis at doing different voices I'd avoid too much dialogue.

4. Go for something up beat. I once heard an author read out something horribly depressing which didn't reflect the tone of his novel. I asked why he'd chosen it, and he said it was a self contained scene. This is good - see 1 - but not at the expense of giving the impression that the book was a misery fest. There weren't many sales that afternoon.

5. Don't hesitate to edit your writing to get a useable piece. You've written a novel which is to be read, so the chances of having a section that is perfect just as it is are remote. Take out the bits that won't make sense if you haven't read the book, add little bits of explanation if it helps the reading flow.

6. If you can't find a suitable section, look for two sections you could put together to make a longer reading.

7. Time your reading properly. That means, reading it out loud, including any preamble that you're giving. I think the ideal is about 3 minutes. 5 minutes is too long, unless you are very confident of your reading skills.

8. If you've got a long slot, it's almost certainly best to use two short sections, separated by your general talk. People aren't used to sitting and listening for any great length.

9. Don't feel inhibited about using a great section that doesn't reflect your book. I saw an author do the most fabulous reading which was utterly hilarious. It was the only funny bit in the book.

10. Watch out for sex. Something saucy always brightens up the audience's day, but will you be able to confidently read out a detailed sex scene in front of a bunch of strangers? Even the most confident of authors will lose their nerve.

And on Monday - heavens, I had no idea I had so much to say on the subject - I'll be doing all the things that haven't turned up already.

There are still some places on the How to Sell a Novel day course in Bath on 3rd July - click here or contact if you want more info.


Chris Stovell said...

Guess what? Yes, I also decided to read out a section with dialogue, for exactly the reasons you've described... and discovered how difficult it was to deliver! I'm beginning to wonder how anyone was left in the room by the time I'd finished!

I know I've been commenting like crazy, but this series has felt tailor-made! You've not only identified the potential pitfalls accurately, but you've offered some really practical solutions. Thank you.

Sarah Duncan said...

Dialogue is so tempting, it's such an easy mistake to make. And I'm so pleased you're finding it useful, after all, it was your casual comment on Twitter that started it off. Last one on Monday! Promise. Then it's...who knows? Not me!

CruiseBride said...

Hi Sarah, I am a big fan of yours. I discovered your books a few years ago during a trip to the UK and instantly became addicted. Only problem is, it's really hard to get your books here! Even when I tried to purchase one on audible it wouldn't allow me to! Any chance you might make it over to the US so us Americans can enjoy your work? :) Here is hoping I can somehow get your newest book sent to me!

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi, how nice to hear from you. I am published by St Martin's Press in the USA. Alternatively, try the Book Depository which delivers worldwide for free.

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