View Full Version : Giving a reading - any tips?

09-25-2015, 11:24 PM
My debut is coming out in trade publication in January and in a few weeks time I'm attending my very first con (BFS FantasyCon, Nottingham UK).

I'm already booked on a discussion panel at the con, which is cool, and now I've been invited to give a reading as well. Naturally I've jumped at the chance but having never been to a con before I've never even heard a public reading, much less given one.

I'm not scared of public speaking (I give a lot of corporate business presentations in my day job) but this is obviously going to be a bit different so I'm hoping some of the more experienced folks on here could offer me some basic advice about how it's supposed to work.

Do I just read from the start of chapter one and hope to pull my listeners in, or pick a good bit in the middle which may not make as much sense without the context but is more action-ish, or what? Should I try to act the character voices (sort of), or read it all like a narrator?

I've got a 15 minute slot to read, with 5 mins for Q&A afterwards. 15 minutes sounds like a *long* time to stand there and read a story out loud!

Any advice very gratefully accepted.

09-25-2015, 11:42 PM
I had a reading slot at last year's Fantasycon and I have a reading slot at this year's.

What you read is up to you. If it's the beginning of a work that's okay. If it's from somewhere else in the work, also fine, but you might want to say a few words to put it in context. If you can do character voices, fine - but if not, I'd just read it normally, obviously not in a monotone. The other thing to avoid is reading too fast - give the listener time to take in what you're reading.

15 minutes isn't very long. You can reckon on about 2000 to 2500 words in that time. Last year, I did read a 3100-word story in 18 minutes but that may have been a bit fast. (There's an audiobook version of that particular story, not read by me, which runs just over 19 minutes.)

09-25-2015, 11:44 PM
15 minutes isn't very long. You can reckon on about 2000 to 2500 words in that time.

Is that all? Oh okay, that's not so bad then! Thanks mate.

Maggie Maxwell
09-25-2015, 11:49 PM
Is that all? Oh okay, that's not so bad then! Thanks mate.

Yep. My critique group does readings in 15 minute batches, and that does average to around 2250 to 3000 words depending on speed of the reader. Congratulations on the reading, and good luck!

09-26-2015, 12:18 AM
I'll see you there. I'm doing one too. What time are you on?

09-26-2015, 12:39 AM
Saturday at 6:20 pm - be good to meet you mate!

09-26-2015, 01:12 AM
Good luck! And I've done some similar presentations, though not recently and none quite so sparkly! :) My advice is to practice the reading a few times, so you know where you might stumble, can hear yourself and choose emphasis, etc.

Hope it goes really well for you.

09-26-2015, 01:24 AM
Coming from a stage background, definitely slow your voice way down if you tend to otherwise be a fast talker. Whenever it felt like I was delivering lines in slow-mo was when the director would say, "Great! That's perfect!"

I wouldn't do voices unless you practice enough to be consistent, coherent, and confident with each one. Otherwise, a dynamic "narrator voice" will work just fine!

09-26-2015, 01:33 AM
That's really helpful, thanks. The corporate presentations I'm used to giving on techie IT stuff to tend to run to fast techno babble so slowing down is something I'm definitely going to have to practice.

I'm in two minds about trying to do voices - I can hear them in my head when I'm reading my stuff and even when I read aloud to myself, but whether I can actually carry it off in front of an audience is another matter.

09-26-2015, 01:39 AM
I'm currently scheduled for Friday @5.40

09-26-2015, 02:40 AM
Before the talk, pour two shots of good whiskey into a tall glass. Fill the rest of the glass up with air. Stir for thirty seconds. Drink.

09-26-2015, 02:40 AM
Cool, that's about half an hour after my Friday panel so I'll come and listen - what's your real name btw?

09-26-2015, 02:47 AM
I'm on at 1pm on Saturday. Looks like I'm going to have to miss yours sadly as I'm on a panel at 6pm, unless the schedule for that has changed.

Rhoda Nightingale
09-26-2015, 02:54 PM
I'm not big on public speaking either, but readings are one of my absolute favorite things! I started doing them with an old workshop, and that got me used to it. Here's a few tips that people haven't mentioned so far:

--> Practice! And time yourself. AND keep in mind that if you're like me, you'll talk faster at the actual reading than you will at home, so give yourself a couple minutes leeway.

--> Stay hydrated. Water--drink lots.

--> Paper clips are your friend. Staples are not.

--> Certain words/turns of phrase that work great on the page are really hard for me to say out loud without stammering. Make a note of those when you're practicing.

--> You know how you tend to leave out "He said/she said" on the page? Since the audience can't see the page, you might wind up doing that more often at a reading. Not all the time, but just for clarity. Mind you, if you're doing voices, that won't be an issue (I like doing voices), but it's something to keep in mind.

--> Pause for gasps/laughter when they occur. Not automatically--just when/if you hear the audience doing that.

--> Adjustable microphone stands and podiums tend to never be at the right height. Don't be afraid to fiddle with them.

GOOD LUCK! Those are just a few things that I didn't expect when I was on my first reading. And relax--readings are FUN. :)

09-26-2015, 07:48 PM
Good luck :)

Laer Carroll
09-27-2015, 11:58 PM
At one of the more enjoyable readings I attended the author began something like this.

"Writers sometimes hate the question 'where do you get your ideas.' I don't. I usually know. This book, for instance, began at about 3:00 am when I woke for some reason. As I was falling back to sleep the ocean outside my hotel window was very lulling. But I wondered: what if just under the surface near the beach...was someone or something. I began to think about its nature, and slowly the following picture grew up."

Then they began reading, with the opening words about a selkie coming to shore.

09-28-2015, 02:59 AM
Ah, so a "set the scene" intro rather than just launching into reading it? Do other people do this?

09-28-2015, 06:36 AM
A reading! How exciting! Seconding the advice on leaving room for audience reaction. I went to a reading last week where the guy rushed through the piece and while there were a few funny parts, he didn't leave us any time to enjoy them.

Laer Carroll
09-29-2015, 09:15 AM
Ah, so a "set the scene" intro rather than just launching into reading it?
Just launching is fine. But some sort of intro is fine, too. And there are many ways to do the intro. "Where I got the idea for this book" is only one.

Becky Black
09-29-2015, 12:03 PM
Re timing, something I've noticed, since I'm reading the Sherlock Holmes stories and also listening to them on audiobook. (Derek Jacobi narration. It doesn't get any better than that. :D)

On my Kindle it shows how long it will take to read the story. Most are about around 20 minutes to half an hour. On the audiobook each story is around 50 minutes to an hour long to narrate. So maybe make the assumption that the passage you choose to read out should take you around half of fifteen minutes to read silently.

Assuming you're going to print it out, make the font a nice big one, well spaced and easy to read. Personally I like Verdana font. it's big and round and clear. Use things like italics and bolding liberally to make things stand out. Make a word you want to emphasise not just bold but bigger than the surrounding text. Make different people's dialogue something like different colours, so they gives you an extra clue as you go which voice you're about to act. Feel free to put their name in big letters beside it in the margin say. Basically, do whatever you like to your printout to help you. It can look as crazy as you like. It's a working document for this reading, not for anyone else's eyes or for submitting.

Oh and number the pages and make sure they are in the right order before you start!

09-29-2015, 12:34 PM
Great tips, thank Becky!

Jo Zebedee
09-29-2015, 12:35 PM
Also, don't be afraid to go a little shorter if that scene works better - readings often run over and, by and large, people prefer to be left wanting more than bored and having to listen.

I did my first con reading last Friday and had a bad cough, so did deliberately cut mine short (I had four panels coming up the next day and knew I'd have a lot of talking to last through) and no one minded.

Also, try printing the reading out (I've tried it both ways and prefer reading from the book), good sized font. End each page at the end of a paragraph so you're not fumbling to turn over through a sentence, and number the pages. The pros do this a lot. And try to look up and make eye contact from time to time.

09-29-2015, 12:41 PM
Cheers Jo - and congrats on your first reading too!

10-29-2015, 02:52 PM
I just wanted to pop back and say thanks for all the helpful advice - my reading went really well! :greenie

10-29-2015, 03:08 PM
Glad it went well, Pete, thanks for the update.

10-29-2015, 06:52 PM
I'm the opposite. I think 15 minutes is a tad on the long side. Attention spans tend to wander after 10-12 minutes. That's why my readings are always 6-8, and if I have to fill more time, I do multiple readings to break things up.