Performing a reading from your novel is a great way to get an audience interested in buying your book. How do you choose an excerpt to read and what should you watch out for?
1..A reading from your book should be entertaining, but it should also be a promotional tool. You’re giving your audience a sample because you want to intrigue them and make them want to buy the book. Choose an engaging excerpt with some action, some humor, and some drama. Show them that you can do all three.
2..Choose a section that more or less stands alone. Something that requires minimal set-up and minimal knowledge of the story is best. By minimal, I mean something like, “This is our protagonist, this is his passenger. We’re joining them just as they’re about to land on the asteroid.” More than that will make your listeners feel overburdened with facts and relationships to keep straight before the reading even starts. Listeners will be able to figure out a certain amount of backstory just from context, and those context clues help to intrigue them. Instead of picking a section that requires that you explain why they’re on the asteroid, pick a section that your audience can follow along with even if they don’t know all the background, and one that makes them curious about the background. The best reading is one that intrigues them to pick up the book and learn for themselves.
3..Choose a section that involves your main character. It might be easier to find a sampling to fulfill the “stands alone” requirement by focusing on a side plot or a minor character, but remember that your goal is to draw your audience in and make them want to read the book. Focusing your reading on a minor character, if it succeeds at that goal, will get them interested in someone with relatively little “screen-time,” and doesn’t necessarily present an accurate picture of what the book is like or what it focuses on.
4..End your reading on a cliffhanger. Draw your audience into your world, get them invested and make them care what happens next… and then don’t give it to them! If you build sufficient tension and drama in your reading, you’ll hook them into buying the book on the spot: they’ll be caught up in the urgency of the scene, and they’ll need to know! If you end on a resolution, they’ll walk away thinking it was a nice little story and that you’re a talented author, but they won’t feel as driven to give you that sale.
5..Choose content that translates well to the spoken word. A passage that relies on a diagram, a mathematical equation, a written measure of music, or something deliberately unpronounceable will only get in your way. If you really must choose a selection that relies on your audience’s ability to see the page, prepare a display in advance and make arrangements with your venue so that it can be of a size and form that the whole audience will be able to see clearly.
6..Time your reading. Practice it. I can’t stress the importance of this. Be comfortable with your words and be used to saying them out loud. A reading is a performance, and your ability as a performer affects your audience’s interest, too. Don’t just start at page one and go until your timekeeper cuts you off. Make sure that your reading fits your time slot so that you can end on that perfect note.
(originally posted August 2009)