Author Events–What Kind do You Like?

SaraVillageBooksEvent2015Author events can take different forms:

  • Author reads prose or poetry for an hour or so.
  • Author presents a slideshow about research or the process of writing a book.
  • An interview or Q&A with the audience.
  • A mini-workshop imparting a skill related to the author’s writing.
  • A multi-author shared reading, sometimes with a linking theme.
  • A combination of some of the above.
  • Some other manifestation of “the author presents….”

I’ve been involved in many such events, both as author and as audience, most of such events entertaining and enlightening, some not so much. On the recent occasion of planning a local book-launch event for my latest novel, I was pondering the question of what made for a successful event, and I’m curious to hear from others—both authors and readers—what types of events you enjoy. And what were especially memorable events for you?

joy harjoThe traditional author reading is just that—a writer reads from his or her work, while the audience listens. In academic and literary circles, this model remains the standard. Especially if the author’s work is well-known to the listener, it’s a precious opportunity to hear a piece in the original voice and interpretation of the creator. I was excited last year, at the Associated Writing Programs Conference in Seattle, to hear Joy Harjo, a poet I admire, perform her poetry. And I do mean “perform.” Harjo, also a musician, literally sang one of her poems, an amazing unfolding of the writing. It felt to me like I was privy to her personal muse singing that poem to her in the original inspiration.

tobias wolffI was disappointed recently when I missed a local event where Tobias Wolff read his “Bullet in the Brain” story, one of my favorites that I use in my creative writing classes. How would he have inflected the story through his voice and presentation? Would it have added or detracted from the vivid pictures in my imagination?

And at Western Washington University, where I teach, we have annual group readings by creative-writing faculty. These are short, 5-8 minute pieces, and the variety of voices in prose and poetry keeps it moving along. (It’s best to keep these events to a time limit of not much over an hour, or people do get restless.)

Alas, some authors are not the best readers of their own work. I’ve sat through some halting, monotone, or overly “poetically-voiced” hour-long readings to a glazed-over audience, and it can be a painful experience for everyone. I suppose that’s why most audiobooks aren’t performed by the authors, but by professional voice actors.

ursulakleguin-200Author interviews can be terrific, but much depends on the interviewer, the questions, and the stage presence of the author. Again at AWP last year, I had the good fortune to watch an interview with Ursula K. LeGuin, one of our founders here at Book View Café. (And I finally got to meet her, one of my early writing inspirations!) Witty and pithy and full of fire, she kept the audience riveted with stories of her writing and comments on the state of literature and the world. I think the interview option is best reserved for well-known authors with an established body of work and an energetic personality.

Some authors offer mini-workshops to share a skill related to their writing, and I’ve presented a few of these at nearby bookstores, but these events need to be targeted carefully. Of course, how-to books would be a natural match for a demonstration to involve readers and supply “added value” to the book.

My own recent choice for my book launch was to present a slideshow, after enjoying such presentations by author William Dietrich—discussing Napoleonic-era history related to his historical adventure novels—and biologist Thor Hanson—discussing his research for his book Feathers. (BTW, author Thor Hanson, biologist, is not my husband Thor Hansen, paleontologist, but through a strange quirk of fate the biologist Thor was a former neighbor of mine.)

Anyway, I decided to give a slideshow and talk about my Greek travels and research for my near-future thriller set in the Greek islands during the start of a geomagnetic reversal possibly connected to a new pandemic. It was fun pulling up old photos of my travels, remembering the inspiration for scenes and characters, and adding some visuals and information about geomagnetism, bioelectricity, and mythology. Maybe I’m used to this slideshow/PowerPoint format in teaching, but it was a relaxed and enjoyable way to structure the talk. The venue at our indie Village Books in Bellingham (Thank you, Chuck and Dee Robinson, for your terrific support to authors!) was filled with people who participated in a lively question and answer period after the slideshow. They also demanded that I give a quick, off-the-cuff reading of a few pages from the novel, so I guess I ended up doing a combo event after all!

I’d love to hear about your favorite author events, so fire away….

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Sara’s newest from Book View Cafe was just released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction.

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Author Events–What Kind do You Like? — 8 Comments

    • Thanks, Vonda, for this resource. I clicked on her remarks about Hemingway and got some chuckles; good timing after my riff on “My Hemingway Complex.”

  1. I like to do interviews — twenty minutes or so answering questions from the interviewer, then throw open the dialogue and include the audience.

    An hour’s reading is too much to ask any audience to sit through, unless the author is an extraordinary reader (and, alas, most of us aren’t).

    I had the useful experience, right before I did my very first public reading, of sitting through an excruciating reading in which the author held his manuscript right in front of his face and mumbled. He couldn’t be heard past about the third row. And I had the revelation that if I read loud enough to be heard, I had maybe a 50% chance of not boring my audience to death. If I didn’t read loud enough to be heard, I had a 100% chance of boring them to death.

  2. Some of the best writers going were awful speakers. J.R.R. Tolkien was a terrible college lecturer. He was famous for speaking in a fast mumble addressed to the knot of his necktie. C.S. Lewis was popular, but argumentative — if he had had access to the internet he would have been in flamewars all day long.
    We have to accept that these are totally separate skills. It is no more reasonable to expect a great author to be able to speak or read aloud well, that it is to expect him to be able to cast on and knit ten rows in garter stitch.

    • Exactly, good writer does not equal good speaker. When they do combine both gifts, it can be thrilling, but I usually find it more interesting to hear an author’s thoughts to add to their work. In whatever form of event, it’s a gift to meet an admired author–and of course to support that author by buying a book and getting it autographed to add to your collection!