At last! A real live poetry reading! Gwynn’s local Indie Book Seller, Let’s Talk Books in Cobourg, Ontario is kicking off an in-person Fall Reading Series beginning this coming Wednesday, September 15, and she’s on the bill with her new poetry book Ten of Diamonds.
She’s thrilled with this opportunity to put her work out there. It’s a gift, she says, and now is not the time to be a shy wallflower. Here are 10 tips for a successful reading, not just poetry, but any literary form:
- Find out all the practical details about the event well in advance. Do you know when you are expected to arrive? Do you have to supply your books for sale or is that being handled? Where can you park? Can you get a drink or snack there or nearby or should you bring your own? Who else is reading? Will there be questions from the audience? Will there be a signing table? How long are you expected to read?
- Research the demographic. Find out who else is reading and what kind of audience is expected. Researching your fellow readers will arm you in pre- and post-event chit chat to sound informed and experienced. Knowing your “competition” helps you choose work to read that is different and makes you stand out (in a good way), and that suits your audience.
- Advertise the event through your own platforms and networks. Ask friends and colleagues to spread the word. The more marketing you do in your circles and their extended circles, the greater chance of an audience that will buy YOUR book and cheer YOU on.
- Remember a reading is entertainment. Yes, you want to sell books. Yes, you may be a wonderful poet/writer, but your primary job is to entertain, to intrigue, to wow, to leave the listeners energized and wanting more……of you and your book. Don’t get maudlin or depressing or worst of all – boring!
- Choose your reading piece wisely. Switch it up; show your range or your signature or why you are different. Remember your audience is listening only and auditory skills are not the general public’s greatest strength. Long pieces requiring focused listening will demand too much of your crowd. Go for shorter pieces and variety. Not only will that help with attention span, but if one excerpt/poem doesn’t appeal to a listener, maybe the next one will. Reading a novel excerpt out of context without set-up will confuse and alienate. Poetry that relies on clever line breaks or special formatting on the page will fail. Remember #4 above. Entertain. Keep it light, funny, uplifting, mysterious. Paint word pictures rather than engage in intellectual whah-whah-whah.
- Practice, practice, practice. Many writers are introverts; the very idea of speaking in front of a group is terrifying. And the only way through that is to practice and prepare. Read your piece/s out loud. Do it often. Print your pages in a large easily readable font. Don’t just practice the way you will read, but the way you will stand. Planting two feet slightly apart is best. Practice relaxing your shoulders; practice looking up to make eye-contact between lines. Practice speaking your intros without having to read them. Practice staying within the allotted time.
- Stay within your time limit. Don’t overstay your welcome. Remember that your time limit includes any introductions you make about your piece. Keep the intro short, giving just enough context for the listener to enjoy the excerpt. Not every piece needs an intro; sometimes a simple, “I’m reading from Chapter 2 where we first meet Olga” or “This poem was inspired by my grandfather who was a lumberjack” will do.
- Organize your reading pages. You never know what the lighting situation will be or if you’ll have a podium to support you. Mark the pages in your book with Post-its for easy finding or better yet have your reading printed on separate pages in a large font. Put your reading papers in order in a folder so you don’t fumble about or waste precious reading time shuffling for them. On the radio or outdoors, put individual pages in plastic sleeves so they don’t rustle or flap in the wind. Make sure you can handle and support them easily if there is no podium.
- Don’t be a pain to the organizers. Be prepared to fit in with what they have planned. Be self-sufficient. Bring an extra copy of your bio in case. Bring your own pen for signings. Have some pleasant signing phrases ready to use to help the signing process to move along. Have extra copies of your book available in your trunk in case. Help with set-up or take down if needed. Always say THANK YOU.
- Make a good impression. Pay attention to the image you project right from the way you dress, to the way you engage with others, to the “smile” in your eyes. Anticipate what people might ask you and prepare some friendly engaging answers. Arrive early and be prepared to stay late if the signing lines are moving slowly, or patrons want to chat. Remember always you are selling: yourself, your work, this book and the next book. When you get up to read, project confidence: read slowly and clearly and make eye-contact whenever you can.
Gwynn’s poetry chapbook is available at Let’s Talk Books bookstore in Cobourg. “In a series of 10 constraint poems, this beautifully designed chapbook explores human frailties and strengths with vivid imagery and a skilled understanding of form.”