How I Screwed Up My First Author Reading

Last weekend at Farpoint I did my very first author reading. It was… Well, it was like, ah…

I was scheduled to share a 30-minute slot on Sunday morning with another new author, Kate Mason. She recently published her first novel and, after an awkward “no, you go first,” “no, I insist,” she began and did a fine job.

I had misread the schedule a bit and thought that I had been assigned the full 30-minutes so, as Kate read, most of my brain was trying to figure out how to adjust. I had assumed that I would just start at the beginning of my 5k word short story and end wherever. Maybe read the whole thing, I don’t know. After all, I didn’t practice ahead of time.

I decided to skip the opening scene (about a page) and start with the heroine, Hanna. I read two scenes (about 4+ pages) where Hanna, suspicious of a possible murder, breaks into a compartment on a train to investigate. She uses a few gadgets (it’s steampunk), utters a few witty quips, and gets started on the adventure. It all went fine for me, although there are a few things I’d like to share.

First, I used the words compartment and corridor an awful lot in that section. I like those words but, too much of a good thing does not make it a better thing.

Second, two people showed up. One was a con friend who I don’t think knew that I was a secret writer. The second was Kate, the other author. Perhaps I should include Kate’s husband and kids but I suspect they wouldn’t have stayed if she hadn’t insisted.

Third, what made me think I didn’t need to rehearse? I practice performing my songs for hours and yet, I thought I could just print out the story and read it cold.

I don’t go to a lot of author reading because the first few I attended were crap. Good writers (maybe) but bad performers. They show up not knowing what they were going to read, not having read it aloud before, and machine gun out a monotone. I know this. I complain about this. I did this.

Also, it’s a well-worn writing tip but, before I send in the revision to my editor, I am going to read the entire story out loud and do a smoothing.

About jonahknight

Jonah writes, records, and performs songs about ghosts, monsters, steampunk, and creepy Christmas tunes. Is that geek music? Nerd music? Filk? Who knows. Find more at He also co-hosts (with Mikey Mason) the Pros and Cons podcast. A Parsec Finalist, the show is about geek music and convention culture.

8 thoughts on “How I Screwed Up My First Author Reading

  1. Last year at Bubonicon, I sat in on 4 readings – my first ever. they ran the gamut. One author pretty much read in a monotone, but it was good material. Another was a famous, famous author, the room was packed, and while he didn’t do voices, he was having fun reading to an audience. Another author only had a handful of folks listening, but he was also having a lot of fun reading to us. Then there was there 4th. Medium crowd. He did voices, gestures….. if he had puppets it would have been a full show worthy of popcorn. I remember his best because I laughed out loud and got sucked into the story.
    Being the performer you are already, I think this will come naturally to you with just a few trials.

      • Totally off topic, but wouldn’t it be fun at a Con to do a poetry reading of one of the Icelandic Eddas? Or Beowulf or some such. There’s action and story in poetry, for sure.

        Well, I think it would be fun.

  2. The worst part is that you didn’t tell me! I was there and could have supported you… oh well… I did talk to Kate. She was very excited about her book. I promised her I woud do a review once I finish reading it.

  3. I’m sure you’re being over critical of yourself and your reading was good! But, regardless it’s a learning experience and you’ve got your first reading out of the way now.
    Lynn :D

  4. James always practices what he is going to read. For his books, he has standard short and long readings and knows how long they will take. You probably don’t realize how many times I’ve heard the opening chapter of Greatshadow! In addition, his final draft is an out-loud reading of the entire manuscript. By himself… making changes. It’s only in reading out loud do you find things like repetitive words and crazy sentences. But don’t worry, the more you do this reading thing, the more like breaking into song in a hallway it will be for you!

  5. best advice I ever got for any kind of public speaking (this was from a friend who is a radio producer) is to choose a story you know and enjoy, and read a few paragraphs of it out loud every so often. Makes doing those completely unrehearsed readings a little easier, supposedly!

    the last Con I went to, I only went to 1 reading, and I wish I’d made time to go to more.

  6. Sorry I wasn’t there to hear your reading, Jonah. I look forward to hearing it soon. Like the others, I am sure that your stage presence and performance experience will serve you well here too. The voice is just another musical instrument. That doesn’t mean to exaggerate your reading. Just go with the subtle tone and cadence of your story as you do with the more overt music of a song. That advice may sound a little whacky at first, but I always ‘hear’ my writing as I go, and it really seems to help, both in the writing and the performance.

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