Reading to a (small) audience

Here’s a post by Madeleine E. Robins at Book View Cafe: Crickets: The Art of Reading to an Audience

One last thing about reading to an audience: bring a big box of graceful resignation. Because sometimes, no matter how wonderful your work is, no one shows up. Or, perhaps worse, three people show up and you’re reading to a room set up with chairs for thirty, and you can’t say “I’m sorry, this is below my threshold of audience numbers, so I’m not reading today,” because that’s unfair to the three people who did show up. Even if two of them are your parents.

Look: this happens to everyone. Odds are that even the Gods of Successful Writing, early in their careers, had author appearances where the author outnumbered the audience. Don’t despair. The fact that you are not yet the sort of household name that drives audiences to leave their homes and forsake a nice walk in the sunshine, or a game of D&D, or the kid’s softball game, or a myriad of other leisure activities, means… well, just that. And you knew that coming in, right? So, how to prepare and what to do.

This post is actually good for me. I mean, it’s undoubtedly good advice for me personally.

First: if you are asked if you want to do a signing at a bookstore, ask if you can do a reading instead. There is nothing so demoralizing as sitting a table with a stack of your books and people walking by, ignoring you. If you read, there’s a good chance that your voice will draw people, that a phrase will catch the ear and bring an auditor from the Philately section.

See? I should probably see if I can arrange readings at local bookstores for November, after Winter comes out. The big issue for me is that by “local” I mean “within 100 miles” because the nearest bookstores are about that far away. And the other big issue is I really don’t like doing readings.

But I should probably try it a few times and see whether I can learn to like it better.

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3 thoughts on “Reading to a (small) audience”

  1. Try reading to some test audiences first – friends or family, but ones who’ll be honest about how you did in a specific, useful sort of way. For example, my husband is a great public speaker, so I always run my talks by him first. He points out which transitions need work, where I need to remember to orient the audience to a chart, etc.

  2. He sounds like a great asset. I’m sure you’re right about reading to friends or family first.

  3. At Loncon 2014 Madeleine probably had 6-10 people in the room for her reading and Michelle Sagara West maybe 20-25? It was the Worldcon of course and the booklet for events was almost hardcover thick (if only two columns wide for easier carrying).

    They both did an amazing job at taking us along in the story and not showing any effect of having read to a small audience. I still want to read more of the story Madeleine read from, she hasn’t published it yet, whereas the book Michelle was reading from is already published now – but the beginning was changed somewhat, so it’s fascinating to see what was there before.

    Anyway, even in a con with huge numbers there’s a good chance the readings of not-superstar writers will have a small audience only.

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