10 Tips for Authors Making Book Appearances

This article first appeared in The National Book Review.

Q: What advice do you have for authors when they do public talks about their books?

We posed this question to Rae Dubow, who works with authors on just such things. Her advice:

1. BREATHE: Simple, yes? Not so much. If your heart is racing nonstop and your shoulders look like you have had a recent brush with paralysis, you probably are not breathing. Discreetly place your hands on your waist and try to feel them move. If there is no movement, you're not breathing. And as a speaker, you have a definite problem, because of the very close connection between air and words coming out of one's mouth. Take a moment. Inhale. Exhale.

2. LOOK AS IF YOU CARE: Even if you live in your bathrobe (a definite perk of the writing life), when appearing in public, please make an effort. There are clothing options that go beyond sweat pants and spandex -- and there are makeup and brushes and combs and razors conveniently for sale online and near where you live. Most people have no idea what writers generally look like -- and it is best to keep it that way.

3. BRING SNACKS AND BEVERAGES: Your audience has of course turned out because they hang on your every word and want to bask in the glow of your writerly brilliance. But it never hurts to sweeten the pot by offering them a little nosh. The bar for literary food is shockingly low: cheese sticks, cookies, some Trader Joe's wine -- even water -- will go a long way. Any leftovers should be left with the venue staff.

4. BE KIND: It might seem like it's all about you -- whose name is on the poster, after all? But it isn't, and Thank You's are always in order. Here are some people who will certainly deserve them: the bookstore and its staff, the event organizers, your friends, your family, your publisher, and your agent. And in this age of Netflix and large-screen televisions, you should be sure to thank your audience for turning out.

5. SET IT UP: You know your book so well -- and you've now read so many edits and copy edits and galleys -- that you might think everyone does. But they don't. Let your audience know who the characters are and their relationship to one another. Tell them when it takes place, and where. Talk to them as if they don't know a thing about your book -- which they very well may not.

6. PLEASE, NO SPOILERS: Don't give away the surprises in your book. A few calculated references to not wanting to give important plot twists away can pique the audience's interest and make them want to buy the book. Give away those twists, or the ending, and they are likely to decide there is no reason to.

7. DO NOT RACE TO THE FINISH: Most writers, when asked to read in public, just want to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible. But think of your readers. They've shown up to see you. Yes, you. And to hear you speak. They did not come to see how fast you can string words and sentences together without pausing for oxygen.

8. MAKE EYE CONTACT: Look up from your prepared text from time to time. The audience wants to see more than the top of your head. Try to find some natural breaks in your remarks that might allow you to pause and look at the people you are talking to. And one more thing -- which does not come easily to many writers: an occasional smile.

9. LEAVE 'EM WANTING MORE: Even if your work is a modern classic -- written by one of the great voices of our generation -- we don't want to hear ALL of it. Give the audience a taste and they can read the rest. Leave them some time to eat that food that you brought.

10. HAVE FUN: Your book has been published -- which is pretty great. People have come to celebrate you and your work -- also great. It is a book reading -- not a medical appointment. Enjoy the moment

Rae Dubow is the director of Talking Out Loud. She has worked with writers individually and in Masters Programs at UC-Riverside, Antioch University, and the University of Southern California. Her website is www.talkingoutloud.net. She is available in person or via skype and can be reached at rae@talkingoutloud.net.