To Read, or Not To Read?


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?

Comments 6

  1. Wow – thanks for the compliments! That reading was tons of fun.

    I think the problem lies in (a) the fact that most writers are not good readers, and (b) they read too long. (a) is less of a problem if they don’t do (b). I know the amount that I typically read at a signing has become smaller and smaller the more events I do.

    Interestingly, at events where I have asked the audience, “I can read, or if you have any questions I can answer those now,” they have elected the reading every time. Maybe that’s because people are nervous about asking the first question or they don’t want to hurt my feelings, but I think that’s interesting.

  2. I have listened to an author read the first two chapters of his upcoming book via Youtube videos. I find it very interesting to hear the inflection the author puts on words, pronunciations, pauses, etc. I’ve never been to a live reading but I think I would enjoy it.

  3. I attend quite a few author events each month. My favorite format is when the author gives a presentation on the inspiration or background for the novel, shares some personal information about how he became a writer, and perhaps talks about past work or WIP. A short reading from the current novel is fine. I prefer that it be from a pivotal part of the story and not just the first few pages. I also prefer a prepared presentation rather than only a Q&A with the audience.

  4. Great topic, Alex! I have been to a few signings and the ones I have loved the most is when the author shares his/her backstory, the inspiration for the novel, funny anecdotes about the road to publishing, and their writing process. Author Diana Gabaldon gave a presentation that was basically the history of how she became a published author. She also read a few paragraphs from her work-in-progress which I thought was great. Sort of a teaser for all of us Outlander fans. Then she answered some questions at the end-she sort of covered it all!

    Others I have enjoyed have been onstage interviews by Vivien Jennings with Q and A at the end. Vivien does her homework and spends some time with the authors before the book signing so there is a rapport there. It takes the pressure off the author to do all the work and the audience seems to enjoy the interview.

    I am so excited that you are coming! I am putting in my calendar and I’ll be there barring there is no kid catastrophe! You will be in good hands with Viv.

  5. Post

    Oh, it will be great to meet you finally, Hallie! I love Rainy Day Books (as you might have guessed!) and I am so excited to be doing an event with them.

  6. I’ve been to both types of author signings and events and I have enjoyed listening to some authors read. I heard Dolen Perkins-Valdez read from WENCH, and I was completely drawn in by her inflections and accents, it was lovely. I think most readers want to know what was behind an author’s idea for their novel, or their practices.
    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Eleanor, she’s a wonderful, warm person, and so much fun!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *