This is a gust post by Caleb J Ross as part of his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. His goal is to post at a different blog every few days beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin in November 2011. If you have connections to a lit blog of any type, professional journal or personal site, please contact him. He would love to compromise your integrity for a day. To be a groupie and follow this tour, subscribe to the Caleb J Ross blog RSS feed. Follow him on Twitter: @calebjross.com. Friend him on Facebook: Facebook.com/rosscaleb.
A couple months ago I was invited to be part of a live author reading at Method, a hip clothing boutique/art gallery/dance room/lots-of-other-things-that-confused-me place, in downtown Kansas City. Writers and friends, Brandon Tietz and Michael Sonbert filled out the evening with readings from their current novels. All around, a great night, I thought. The next morning, when I took a look at the video recording, I would be forced to partially qualify that description and say “all around, a socially great night with a side of adequate Caleb reading.”
Critical self-examination is important for an author, not only for obvious manuscript editing reasons but because the role of the author in our increasingly multi-media-obsessed culture is becoming more and more focused on visuals. The live author reading represents a rare intersection of public performance between author and reader and quiet conversation between the same. And like all public performance, it can be done well, it can be done terribly, and more often, it can be done adequately.
Though I’ve done many live readings, I am definitely not immune to mediocrity. Below is the video of my reading. Further down the page you will find a detailed commentary timeline critiquing my reading, both the good and the bad, in a way that I hope makes other authors conscious of their performance and other future audience members conscious of…me and my new book, Stranger Will.
Summary: A few things immediately stick out. My volume is too low and my speech too fast. Something authors need to keep in mind is that because you know your own words it is easy to read through them quickly, assuming that your comprehensive equates everyone else’s comprehension. Remember, you are reading to a group of people who may have never read your work. Additionally, you are competing against other visual stimuli (in the case of Method, attractive women made more attractive by tight-fitting clothing). The audience doesn’t have the luxury of a quiet couch and soft blanket. Be slow and loud.
And not to lessen the importance of this point by putting it at the end here, but authors, take an acting class. I need to.
00:34 | The Good: Notice the intro music? Play into the context of the event. This particular reading had a DJ and was full of people who enjoy a crowded club. So, fittingly, author Brandon Tietz picked a winner of a song for me.
00:40 | The Bad: Wait until the crowd stops clapping before you speak. Though my “how did you know that was my jam” comment wasn’t that funny, it still could have been better heard to help break the ice with the audience (though I suppose the lyrics “Sucking on my titties like you wanted me,” probably broke the ice enough, all the way down to the water.
00:47 | The Good: If pertinent, give a bit of history as to why you are at the reading as well as some personality regarding your thoughts on the environment. Basically, be a human up there, not an author.
00:57 | The Good: Should you have people fronting the bill for the reading, give them the proper thanks. In this case, PBR and the not-quite-released and deliciously racist grape flavored Colt 45 Blast.
01:10 | The Good: If not too many people in the audience know you, then be sure to promote your currently available as well as your upcoming titles. If you don’t have anything in print, be sure to mention any of your online publications or even your blog. Don’t ever feel as though you have nothing to contribute; remember you are standing in front of that microphone for a reason.
01:30 | The Bad: If it can be avoided, don’t promote something that doesn’t come out for many years. I had to in this case as I was desperate for something to read. It is my personal goal to read something new at every live reading, and I did one of my only unused short/funny pieces the night before at the Slap n’ Tickle reading. If this had been a more intimate event—in a library or bookstore—I may have been able to get away with a more serious piece, which would have open the possibilities incredibly.
01:43 | The Good: Briefly promote your other upcoming events.
02:26 | The Good: Set the story up if necessary. Even with a stand-alone piece, pulling away from the paper for a moment to help the audience anchor themselves in the story goes a long way to build trust; help your audience believe that they are using their Saturday night wisely.
03:42 | The Bad: Overall, I should have slowed down this reading. But here, where a dramatic pause is necessary, slowing down is all the more important. Should be “The magnets rarely reflect…a hit…”
03:48 | The Good(ish): set character narration off with a subtle change in vocal tone. Sometimes even a full voice change is warranted.
04:12 | The Bad: At this point I realize I haven’t looked up from the paper in about a full minute. That’s a lifetime in your-audience-is-falling-asleep-so-make-some-damn-eye-contact years.
04:24 | The Bad: It is never acceptable to fumble over a word. In fact, the author should try to have certain passages memorized, enough so that the rest of the reading can sneak by on the confidence of those memorized words.
04:42 | The Good: Throw your papers on the ground like some kinda freakin rockstar.