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Thread: Reading Aloud
September 9th, 2004, 07:48 AM #16
Readings I have been to in bookstores which have sometimes up to 2 hours are more freeform. In that time you can: read, do a little talk, answer questions and sign books. It is a good thing to have a mix of options because you may get a less committed audience, those who stop on the spur of the moment.
Readings at literary cons are a different matter. Your audience is much more interested in hearing you read, and may actually be interested in your work personally. Readings are scheduled for either half an hour or one hour, and you are expected to read for all but about 10 minutes. In the time leftover you can talk or answer questions, but that is peripheral to why you are there. Sometimes the reading will go the full length of time. Author and audience have been known to move en-mass to other accomodations to continue (if the author wanted an hour and was only given a half hour, or if the author is looking for a good place to stop).
The bigger names: Gaiman, Bujold, Martin are scheduled for the hour readings, and people never lose interest. Those authors are also given the biggest rooms, and they still are SRO - and you will have people hanging into the hall (standing), where they can't even see the author and can barely hear for the entire hour. So if you think the audience is going to 'lose interest' then you probably shouldn't be reading in the first place.
I agree with the advice about practicing. One of the readings I went to was by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. It was very good, but he was extremely nervous and skipped around a lot. He noted that in the UK he was only used to reading for 10 minutes and was really not comfortable with the half hour he was expected to read. He is just now being published in the US, so he didn't have people in the audience who knew enough about him, or his books to ask questions. So if you are trying to break-in (as a new author, or in a new market) don't expect to be rescued by questions from the audience, especially at a con - they have heard all the blather about how or why you write and are there to listen to your work. If you do a good solid reading there may be questions afterward about what you read, but there has to be enough of a whole in the audience's mind to come up with them.
September 9th, 2004, 09:51 AM #17Hands are horrible things if left to their own devices when talking.
I'd like to add that there are people like me who are such visual readers that they cannot process being read to. We are likely to attend a reading event in order to get to know the author, rather than hear the work - so we will be listening to your voice, observing you, getting a sense of who you are. I want to reassure you that it isn't boredom that keeps us from getting caught up in the reading itself.
September 9th, 2004, 12:10 PM #18
Wow, yes, how could I have forgotten the water thing! The last talk I gave was in a room so incredibly warm, I had to strip off my blazer and they had to bring me a whole pitcher of water so I could keep my throat from drying up. If you see stand-up comedians working under hot lights, they always have one bottle of water per half-hour of talking. My husband also advises not drinking soda or coffee before the talk.
I cannot imagine sitting and listening to even my favorite author read for an hour. Of course, I'm the one who is not into listening to audio books in the car. I suppose if the author danced about, did funny voices and wore some costume hats, I'd enjoy it, but that seems rather a lot to demand from people who are not always natural performers. (Mr. Gaiman, I would suspect, is a natural performer.) I like to hear bits from the book, not whole chapters unless they are whole scenes. I also like to hear annecdotes, info about how the author works, came up with the characters or the world of the story, and listen to the author do give and take with the audience with questions, which is a lot easier for most authors to handle, more relaxed, and often very interesting unless you get some blowhard asking a question, which at a convention would hopefully be squashed by the moderator. For the words of the book, I can buy the book. I'm seeing the author to see the author.
That's at a convention or conference. At a reading, I would expect more reading to go on, but also the author connecting with the audience. Even if you read for two hours straight, you are not going to be able to communicate the whole book, which is why talking about the novel, its plot and its main characters, is also a way to get people interested in and willing to buy the book. If the reading is not chiefly to sell books but to be some sort of literary event, then obviously more reading will be expected and there might not be any q&a, but the authors I've known or seen who are really good at these things always do a mix of introduction and explanation about the works being read, actual reading, q&a, and entertaining anecdotes. Of course, if World Com has a format, I guess you have to go along with it, but if I ever get to that point, I can tell you right now, I'm not reading for an hour.
September 9th, 2004, 01:42 PM #19
I don't recall any readings at World Fantasy to have been an hour long. They were all 30 minute blocks. The audiences seemed to prefer to listen rather than ask questions, except when the author was a very well known person. Then, unfortunately, the questions rarely dealt with the books themselves. I enjoy answering questions about my books. I like to do the reading first, 20 minutes or so, and then open it up for questions or comments.
You want to always give a fair impression of what you really write. It would be unfortunate if you read a fantastic battle scene that caused people to run out and buy the book, when in fact it was a very uncharacteristic part of what you do.
The final problem that I grapple with regularly whenever I plan a reading is trying to be objective. I cannot possibly read any chapter as if I didn't know what came before it and what follows. So I can't even hear the words when I read them. They mean so much more to me than they could possibly mean to someone listening to them for the first time.
I would like a stranger to read three of my choice chapters and get their opinion! That way at least the chapters in question would be read in isolation.
but even then, it's just one person's opinion.
I am pretty sure of what I am reading this year, and still I have doubts. I keep searching for that elusive better chapter that I know is there but I cannot seem to locate.
September 9th, 2004, 06:01 PM #20
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The readings I have seen at Worldcon
have been in an hour slot - HOWEVER the authors have not read for an hour. G Kay read for about half an hour. GRR Martin probably did 40 mins. I guess the notable thing was that they read a decent chunk of their current works - a chapter in fact - GRR Martin read a WHOLE Jon Snow section! Joy!
FicusF I think you make a good point about the differences between reading in a bookshop type venue or reading at a Con - at a Con I guess you really are 'preaching to the converted' as they say! I've been told I do good interesting readings - all comes down to my years of training as a Mum. I can do a REALLY good Gollum voice...
It can be a nerve wracking process though - in Edinburgh there are a group of ladies who are 'infamous' for going to every reading there is on at the bookshops (they also do gallery openings etc!) They don't care what the subject is - they only go for the free refreshments and an evening out! LOL! They are very daunting as they wear big hats and stare right through you!!! I went to a friend's launch a couple of weeks ago and they only stayed and drank the wine & then left - in the middle of the reading! Scary women...
September 9th, 2004, 09:00 PM #21
I just came from Worldcon. GRRM read for almost the entire hour. He spoke for about 5 minutes at the start and another 5 at the end.
Fans do want more than just the story - but they want both not one or the other. They will often come up to the table at the end to talk to the author and then they will ask: is that out yet, if not when will it come out, is X out yet, and other topics some about 'business' and some about personal stuff.
I was at a WorldFantasy reading ( may have only done one reading) and it was scheduled for half an hour. Laurell K. Hamilton said she normally read for an hour, and asked if we wanted her to keep reading when the time was up. We said yes and all of us found an open room and she read for the next half hour. She had an hour scheduled at Windycon.
That was several years ago and I wasn't doing all that many readings, so it is possible that WorldFantasy only does half an hour, but WorldCon and the regional cons do have hour long readings.
KatG the kind of thing you are talking about is not a reading at a Con. It is called a panel and you can fill the time as you want - though usually you don't read, and there are often others on the panel with you. If you are not the topic, or your book or your personal writing process then they might get pissed for being off topic Sometimes the GOH or someone with a lot of work will get a panel about themselves and can do the talking, the reading and the answering of questions. There is no moderator for a GOH panel or for a reading - it is just you and the audience.
I have never been to a reading where the author jumps around. The key word is professionalism - even Neil Gaiman doesn't lose sight of that. The funniest reading I have been to was just at Worldcon - for The Thackery T. Lambshead Guide to Discredited Diseases, and there were about 6 authors and sometimes they laughed so hard they could hardly speak but they never became the joke, they let the words generate the laughs. I suppose if you are reading for children you can get away with it, but I would be leery of it with adults.
You don't want to read in a droning monotone, but if they are there to hear your words, rather than just meet you, then you don't want to do things to distract from that. I suppose you need to tailor your presentation to your audience to be successful. I have been to a reading where the author asked if the audience wanted her to talk and then answer questions or for her to read, there were too many there for her to talk, read, and sign. (Though Orson Scott Card will do all 3 no matter how long it takes and has been known to leave a store after midnight.) The vote that time was not to read and there was just talk and questions.
And I can't imagine what would be the purpose of a reading if not to sell books ? Even getting to know the author has the ultimate purpose of selling books.
By the way Funky - you were mentioned on the UK books panel, where UK authors were suggesting good books/authors in the UK. It was SRO. Sorry I forget who it was.
September 10th, 2004, 04:24 AM #22
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Ah, metioned in dispatches! Cool beans!
I imagine it might have been Liz Williams or Jay Caselberg? They were both there I know...
The Thackery Lambshead readings are brilliant - so funny. Did they do it all 'in character' again? I saw some of the authors do it at Eastercon last year - their acting skills were pretty good too! Def. the funniest panel I've seen!
I guess the bottom line is always selling books but it's good if everyone enjoys themselves along the way. I think asking the audience what they prefer during an hour session is probably the way to go - and be prepared for any option they choose. I'm in just such a situation next week when I will be going to the Edinburgh Uni Freshers Week SFF Event - no one has actually told me if I'm reading or not - so I'll just have to go in a state of preparedness!
September 10th, 2004, 07:52 AM #23
It could have been one of them, but they were sitting on the opposite end of the panel, and it seems to me the person was either on the end nearest me or towards the middle. Someone mentioned your name, (and that you were in Scotland) and then others agreed with your selection. I keep thinking it was Charles Stross, but I could be mistaken. He was on the end and nearest to me and it may be that I just remember him the most vividly, and am attributing everything I remember to him.
September 10th, 2004, 11:34 AM #24
Hey Ficus - I think Kat was joking about the jumping around
Made me LOL btw.
And yeah - avoid caffeine before had! Can you imagine being half-way though your reading and realising that you just have to go empty your bladder?!
September 10th, 2004, 11:48 AM #25
I imagine GRRM is trying to placate the more violent of his fans at this point.
I know what a panel is. They don't usually have readings. When it's one author speaking, though, it's usually been a mix of reading, personal annecdote, and info about the subject project. But if WorldCon has a habit of giving writers one hour blocks and asking them to read expressly, then I suppose it's fine if the conventioneers are happy. But I would find it deadly boring and sneak out the back after twenty minutes. Even if it's George or Neil or Tim Powers or Glen Cook. Even if it's Terry Pratchett and he's being deathly funny. Of course, the fact that I've had to listen to folk read their stuff at writers conferences and then critique it might have something to do with that.
The jumping around comment was a joke. I do not require authors to perform like circus clowns. However, I have encountered some who do -- they are professional oral storytellers as well as writers. The author of the Carl the Cow Dog children's series does a great show with music and story-telling and chatting away about his writing, for instance. As adults I suppose we must be more serious, but the better a writer is at simulating a radio/audio performer, the better for the reading, I believe.
All readings are promotional, obviously, but there are readings that are put on not to sell books directly. I don't know that they bother to do it in sf/f, but in contemporary fiction, they have events at which no books are available for sale. I went to one with three authors, including Michael Chabon, back when he was a young wonderkund. He read three short bits from two short stories and what would be his next novel, with introductions for each piece.
I don't think, Gary, that you have to worry too much. If you've done a combo of 20 minutes and chat and questions before and it's worked, then there will be the advantage of it being familiar and easier for you to do in front of another audience. You will not, as has been clearly seen here, please everyone, especially the ladies with the big hats, so the best thing is to come up with an arrangement that makes you feel as confident and communicative as possible.
Now I've got to go come up with a story idea for the ladies with the hats. Thanks Funky!
September 10th, 2004, 03:57 PM #26
I hope to please those ladies in the big hats with my blonde hair and blue eyes!!! Forget about what I am going to read! The only problem is that World Fantasy falls always on Haloween, so there may be more than ladies wearing those things on their heads!!
September 10th, 2004, 10:15 PM #27Originally Posted by KatG
Originally Posted by KatG
WorldCon also had some panels that only had 2 authors and were labeled as 'dialogs' in which they talked about the subject listed. Other than a GOH event or a Chautauqua I have never really been to a one author event (at a con). But then I also tend to avoid the discussion track at Readercon, so who knows they may have authors in discussion with the audience.
I think that the schedule of time for readings is probably at the author's request. I can't imagine they would force someone to read for an hour. I know that they also had other types of panels that were only scheduled for half an hour, and many went over as there really isn't enough time in a half an hour for a panel. Even the half an hour readings can be tight if the previous group in the room goes long.
Originally Posted by KatG
There is nothing more painful than watching, or having to listen to, someone who thinks they will 'liven up' the reading experience with their talent for performance. Sure when it works it is great, but it is pretty rare - mostly you just get people who think they are great, and are too loud, off the beat, or just weird and annoying.
They say that radio is a hot medium, and TV is a cool one. Small gatherings are like TV in that it is a very intimate setting. If you are too hot you will make the audience uncomfortable, and ovewhelm them.
I also think that the audience for a reading isn't expecting a slick show, they will respond better to you if you are being honest and authentic, rather than coming across as too plastic or pre-packaged.
September 10th, 2004, 10:57 PM #28
I suppose its too late to seek the help of a professional voice coach or find an actor who won't mind pretending to be you.
September 10th, 2004, 11:47 PM #29
I"m hoping to come watch you read
You can choose one of the following:
a) I can sit in the front row and smile at you the entire time
b) I can make a point of *not* sitting in the front row and smiling at you the entire time
Just relax and tell your story, you'll be fine
September 12th, 2004, 02:20 PM #30
Just a warning - since I am not a particularly funny person, if you smile too much, people might think you are pretty strange! That's fine with me if it's fine with you. I'll know that you're not.
I might not be able to do everything that people suggested here, and I may do some things that some people specifically warned against, but I have to go with my instincts every once in a while. But it's been very interesting to hear what the likes and dislikes are, and it's even more interesting to find that I agree with most of them.
An author always hopes that when he/she does a reading that the audience is able to feel the chapter as deeply as it was intended when it was written. But, out of context, one chapter from an Epic Fantasy series that is thousands of pages long, despite the best of intentions, may leave the listener with an unexpected impression. All that one can hope for is that the people in the audience like the style of writing and find the words descriptive enough to allow them to enter the author's world for that brief period of time. If they enter it and find it compelling, then maybe they will want to read more themselves.