How to Give a Good Fiction Reading

Woman reading to a crowd from a podium
••• Blend Images - Dave and Les Jacobs/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Many writers love to read their work and many writers don’t. Reading is one way to reach and interact with your readers and to get an immediate reaction: are you actually engaging your audience, or is the sound of your voice simply hovering past a room full of glazed over eyes...?

When a reading is good, when you feel that the audience is with you - laughing at the right moments, completely silent and waiting for your next word at others - it can feel glorious.

When it is not, you will know it.

There are many things I figured I’d never be (a bicycle owner, a blogger, a divorcee (to name a few...)). Another thing I never thought I’d be is someone who is not nervous when they read. When my first book was published and I went on my book tour, I sweat and shook and stumbled. Amazingly, reading can almost be relaxing for me now.

Experience is one way to become a good reader. But to do this, you have to have the experience. So it’s a bit of a Catch 22. Here are some thoughts on how you might make your early experiences more bearable:

  1. Read to your friends, your parents. Practice.
  2. S...L...O...W    D...O...W...N. You might think that you are reading slowly, but believe me, you are not.
  3. Read something you feel comfortable reading. Many writers will read new work at readings, but I think it’s best to stick to something that you have sat with for a while. It is hard to judge something when it is so fresh, and a public space might not be the place you want to feel vulnerable (if you can help it).
  1. I’ve found that my readings go over much better when I read something humorous.  But don’t try to make too many jokes: people are probably there to hear the story you have written more than they are there to hear your banter. However, if you are famous, they probably want to hear anything.
  2. Put the paper on the podium so your shaking doesn’t show. It’s true: most people shake when they are in front of a bunch of people. It’s OK. Just use this trick.
  1. Stop to drink water. Often, your mouth will get dry mid-reading. Usually, you are supplied with a bottle of water. Use it. If you don’t, you will start to feel how dry your mouth is getting, and this will make you self-conscious and distracted. Remember: the more you are into your reading, listening to your own words and feeling them, the more the audience will respond.
  2. Pause only if people are laughing; don’t pause and wait for people to laugh. This is pretty self-explanatory.
  3. Look up every once in a while. If you keep your finger on the word you are reading, you will not lose your space. If you just keep your head down the whole time, you won’t connect (or look as comfortable).
  4. Try not to listen to your voice. It can start to sound very weird, the way it does when you hear yourself on a video or a tape recorder. Try to focus on the story, not the words.
  5. Don’t drink too much beforehand. Usually, there is free wine at these events. Often writers will want to have a drink to calm their nerves before reading. Of course, this is a personal choice. But don’t overdo it. You want to be in control.
  6. Recover quickly. If you stumble, read the few words you have stumbled upon again and keep going. Don’t reprimand yourself verbally or pause too long.
  1. Enjoy yourself! A beneficial part of a good reading is hearing from the audience members afterward. You might be surprised at what people respond to.

No matter what, you will most likely have another chance. A not-so-good reading is not the end of the world, but rather a chance to learn what not to do next time. Like everything. Almost.