Do you like public readings?

Here’s a post at Writer Unboxed: 7 Ways Public Readings Can Help Your Writing

And that made me wonder, from two different directions.

a) Do you like to read aloud? Your own work or at all?

b) Do you like to go to author readings?

I really do not. I hate doing a reading of my own work and never, ever sign up to do a reading at conventions. The only times I’ve ever done this was when the convention organizers put a reading in every author’s schedule without asking. After the convention, I said please don’t do that again, but I did do the reading.

I also don’t much like to go to readings when other authors are reading their own work. There are exceptions, however: When I’m very familiar with the author’s work, I may decide to go to a reading. In that case, perhaps oddly, I really prefer if the work is one I’m already familiar with. If the author has a particularly lyrical style, or is particularly excellent at giving a reading. But in general, I really do not like to go to readings.

I suspect I’m in the minority both ways, probably a small minority. I suspect that since I never had kids and never read out loud to children, I’m probably much more uncomfortable giving a reading than authors who are much more accustomed to reading books out loud. I’m quite certain my reluctance and discomfort with readings is a kind of performance anxiety — I would absolutely never do anything remotely resembling acting, and reading out loud does involve acting. That has nothing to do with public speaking, which is fine. It’s explicitly anything like acting that makes me recoil.

But I’ve never actually asked a bunch of people, Hey, how do you feel about readings? Do you enjoy doing them? Do you feel that you do a good job when reading a snippet of your own work? Do you like going to other people’s readings? So I don’t know. Maybe not really liking readings is fairly common.

Anyway: Seven ways public readings can help your writing. It doesn’t matter what those seven ways might be because I’m not going to sign up to do readings anyway, but I’m mildly curious to see what this post thinks I might be missing out on. The sound of the language? I don’t miss out on that. I subvocalize and hear the language in my head, complete with dramatic pauses and the other stuff you might put in when doing a reading. But let’s see …

Then she reads:

The bed was unmade, empty and cold to the touch, the suitcases gone. At the foot of the bed the rug was rolled up, and spread-eagled on the bare wooden boards lay the coveralls, neatly buttoned, arms and legs stretched wide, like an empty person. Only when he knelt to pick them up did Zeke discover the three-inch nails that skewered the collar, pinned the cuffs and ankles to the floor.

What??? Judging by the audible gasp—followed by groans when Livesey then closed her folder—I wasn’t the only one in the room who had questions.

Conclusion #1: Don’t sate the audience; readings that raise questions earn readers.

I have to agree that I too would wonder what comes next. That doesn’t make me want to do a reading, but it does sound like good advice — I mean to leave the audience with important questions.

What else?

Conclusion #2: A memorable reading can result in sales—even if the author hasn’t yet finished writing the book.

Conclusion #3: Exposure to a wide variety of public readings can help a writer identify what kind of novels they aspire to write.

Conclusion #4: Through public readings, even pre-published writers have something to offer their community, all while helping to raise that all-important awareness of their work called “platform.”

Conclusion #5: Public readings can create camaraderie and help feedback recipients focus on big story issues.

Conclusion #6: Public readings can help you get to know local bookstore owners and open doors that could advance your career—and published or not, you can organize them yourself.

Conclusion # 7: Public readings can extend a writer’s network and be a great source of insider tips. They are also awesome photo ops for social media. Mad PR skill: If you’re reading to a big audience, be sure to take a photo of them, and if applicable, holding up your book. If there are only a few people there, have a photo taken of yourself.

Okay, my basic reactions: I would be scared to do a reading from an unfinished work. What if something went wrong and I couldn’t finish it?

Reading tells you what kind of books you’d like to write.

Because I don’t usually really want to go to readings myself, #4 would never occurred to me. I’m not sure I think many people would be keen on going to readings by as-yet-unpublished authors, though.

I’m not sure what #5 means. Oh, okay, going back to the post and reading the comments, I have to say, this is a good point. The author of the post is pointing out that in a workshop or critique group, it’s easy for critiques to focus on commas and so on, while when a story or fragment of a novel is read out loud, the audience has to focus on the story itself. That really is a good point.

I don’t think readings in bookstores are likely to attract a lot of people unless you’re already famous, and if that’s the case, you don’t need to do readings. As for #7, the expectation that only a few people will show up is undoubtedly another reason I don’t want to do readings. I don’t care very much about social media, and the idea of taking a picture of myself at a reading does not appeal to me one bit.

Well, of course I didn’t expect anything here to change my mind because this is all about the emotional response (I don’t want to do readings) without regard for logic (even though they might be useful in these ways).

But I am curious. Have you done readings yourself, and if so, did you enjoy the experience? Would you want to do readings, if you were an author? Do you generally enjoy readings that other people do?

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10 thoughts on “Do you like public readings?”

  1. I’m not an author but I have no interest in readings, I prefer reading things myself (and not out loud). I also don’t do audiobooks or podcasts, though, so I don’t know how that affects things.

    I will read transcripts of readings sometimes if it’s from an unfinished work (but not if I know it’s coming out soon, because then I’d rather read the whole story).

  2. I go to readings by people I know I like the books of (and in one case, someone I knew I liked but I’d never read any of their books; good decision); and to readings by friends to support them, whether I like their books or not.

    I’m very comfortable reading aloud, but only from someone else’s work! Fortunately reading my own writing has never come up yet.

  3. I’ve gone to a few readings. The authors weren’t great at public speaking or voice acting, so it was hard to follow. If I hadn’t been pre-sold I wouldn’t have been sold by the reading.

    I notice the only confirmation supplied in the article is by the author’s own reactions during readings. Which is something, but color me dubious it makes a huge difference for most writers.

    these days, if I went it would be to support someone I knew. Otherwise I’ll pass.

  4. I enjoy hearing poetry read out loud, and do (well, did pre-pandemic) readings. I’m very much just an amateur, but I also attend readings by published poets and it’s an important way to discover new writers. But poetry is kind of it’s own thing and really benefits from being performed, slam poetry even more so. For fiction, I will attend a reading now and then, but am pretty meh on hearing excerpts from novels, especially if they end on cliffhangers or mysteries- it’s not a satisfying experience. I’ve heard a couple very memorable short story readings, though.

  5. I love all things audio (podcasts, books, etc) and I enjoy public readings, but only if it’s for something I haven’t heard before. With few exceptions I’m not really one to re-read or re-listen to media.

  6. Oh, I hadn’t thought of poetry! That IS different. I’d go to a poetry reading! I certainly wouldn’t DO a poetry reading, though, and definitely not slam poetry. (I know what that is because I read a contemporary YA that featured slam poetry; otherwise I’d have no idea.)

    I understood the imperative, Mary Catelli!

    I do like audiobooks, Camille, and podcasts. I wouldn’t be inclined to do a podcast myself, but I could do that much more easily than anything with the performance aspect of reading a novel aloud. BUT, I’m trying to imagine not re-reading and … nope. Re-reading is a big thing for me, and so is re-listening when it comes to audiobooks and even podcasts.

    Elaine, I hadn’t really noticed that the author of the post was generalizing solely from her own feelings. I have no problem with posts written about individual experiences, but I do think the author of that kind of post ought to insert, “In my experience,” and “I was surprised to feel that,” and “You too might discover that,” and so on into that kind of post.

    And yes to everyone who said they’d go to a reading to support someone they knew. So would I. I might even enjoy that somewhat, but I don’t find it especially contributes to my wanting to try the book. I specifically don’t like excerpts and almost never read teasers either.

  7. Once I went to see Brian Jacques do a reading from one of the Redwall books. I enjoyed it very much because (a) I was a kid and (b) he put on a good performance and did all the various accents that my little American imagination hadn’t been able to manage. As an adult, I don’t find the idea very appealing, unless I had reason to believe the author was fairly talented as a performer. I think would be more likely to go to a reading by a prominent audiobook narrator.

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