Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Literary Mystery Presentation

Writer Naomi Hirahara (who recently won the pretigous Edgar award for her mystery writing; check her out, asked me to do a presentation for Mystery Writers of America. The presentation would be tips on doing a good reading. I host a few literary things, so I guess I made a good candidate present. I thought it might help some of you out there to see my notes.
My Presentation
Thank Naomi, for asking me to do this. I took this opportunity to do something that I’d been wanting do for a very long time: take a poll of other people who host or run readings in town and ask what they think.

I e-mailed seven colleagues some questions and asked that, if they have the time, please e-mail me back. Of the seven, five got back to me. They were Benjamin Weissman who conducts the reading series at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, Diane Leslie who has been hosting events at Dutton’s Brentwood for over twenty years, and Jawanza Dumisani who runs the reading series at the World Stage in Leimert Park. I also offered anonymity to the respondents, and two asked to remain anonymous.

Three do’s:
Your reading begins before your reading.
--Some of us are very protective of the readings. Who reads at our stores also represents our tastes. The coordinators like it when you’ve been to the reading series BEFORE you ask to do a reading. Peak your head in, see what it’s all about. Later you can say something like: Hey, I was here when Walter Mosley read and you guys did a great job. Develop those relationships with bookstores now.
--Ben Weissman said that he works very hard to keep his readings “ghoul free.”
--The coordinators have different ways about how to be contacted for a reading. Some would prefer an e-mail, others want to work directly with your publisher. Ask a store how they prefer to be contacted.
--Make sure the store has all your pertinent information: bio, photo, book description, etc.
--Do your own marketing.
Be there early, Be relaxed, Be kind, Be prepared.
--I asked my colleagues to describe a nightmare reading. Tardiness was a recurring theme. Get there early.
--One coordinator said, “I always appreciate when an author is respectful to all the staff involved, from the security to the custodian to the staff who assists with the booksigning to the curator. We really don’t appreciate diva behavior.”

--A well planned reading should be seamless,” said Jawanza Dumasani. “The reader should know what there reading and the order. They should engage the audience with eye contact as they move through the reading. They might share short comments relative to whats being read. I go through my readings in the mirror several days.”

--Don’t want to work with nervous authors who need to be comforted.

Remember Time
Some responses:
-The reading should last about 20-25 minutes with Q&A lasting another 20 or so.
--Diane Leslie alluded to the people, particularly elderly people standing. We use collapsible chair, so even when sitting it can get uncomfortable.

--Another good recipe: Solo reading 40 minutes, duos 25 each, cinco 10 min each, like that. How long should an entire event last, including Q and A? 80 sounds good, more or less.

--Many years ago, writer John Rechy gave me some good advice: tell the audience how long you’ll be reading for. The worst thing to hear at a reading: “My next poem is...”

--Last tip: Several of the coordinator said, WRITE WELL. Your work will be the foundation of your reading so, make sure your work is amazing.

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