In my earlier post about my trip to the Midwest Booksellers’ Association in Minneapolis, I mentioned that at the dinner hosted by Penguin on the Thursday night, there had been some spirited discussion between booksellers about what made for the best author events. Certain booksellers felt that, as a general rule, authors should never read from their books at book signings. It sounds counter-intuitive, but when you think about it, the idea makes a lot of sense.
For a start, listening to most writers (or indeed anyone) read out loud from a book is usually rather boring. Secondly, people who make the effort to go out to an author event at a bookshop are looking for an experience that can’t be replicated (or bettered) simply by sitting at home on the sofa. So instead of just reading what they’ve already written, writers need to provide insight, anecdotes, background… all these things can enhance a reader’s enjoyment of a book more than simply listening to the author declaim his or her own words. Speaking for myself, I always enjoy answering questions during the Q & A session far more than the reading itself.
But don’t take it from me. The most vocal proponent of this idea in Minneapolis was Geoffrey Jennings, who works at the wonderful Rainy Day Books in Kansas City. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey’s mother Vivien, founder of the store, weighed in, echoing his opinion. Rainy Day are renowned in the industry for the quality of their author events, so they really do know what they’re talking about.
One of the best author events I’ve been to recently was by Eleanor Brown, whose best-selling novel, The Weird Sisters, I have raved about on this blog before. Eleanor did read a small extract from her novel (actually “perform” would be a better description), but most of the evening was Eleanor chatting about the book, giving insights into her creative process, and answering a ton of questions from the audience. It was both stimulating and highly entertaining. Of course, when it comes to pulling something like this off, it helps if you’re, well, Eleanor Brown, who is one of the warmest and most engaging people on the planet. And this is one of the key points here: writers these days need to be able to speak eloquently and entertainingly about their work. We can’t hide behind the words on the page any more.
I’m going to be doing an author event for A GOOD AMERICAN at Rainy Day Books on Thursday, February 23 next year. At least I have plenty of time to work out what I’m going to say!
I should note that not everyone at the dinner agreed with Geoffrey’s opinion. And indeed, in the WSJ piece, some event-planners do like authors to read something. What do you think? Do you like to hear an author read from their work at events, or do you prefer just to listen to them speak?