Last week, Redwood Writers had an author launch for 18 of its authors who published over the last year, and I was lucky enough to be one of those 18. Part of the event involved my reading five minutes of my book, Anaheim Tales. I had heard tips for open mics before, so I read slowly and with verve, but now that the event is over, I have some less conventional tips to share.
1. Schedule a massage for the exact moment your reading event ends.
I didn’t think I was nervous to read. I didn’t feel nervous. I had spoken on stage many times as a band teacher and never been nervous. However, while I was walking back to my seat after reading, my left eye began to twitch. It is still twitching. The event was five days ago.
2. Don’t read a stupid passage.
When, in the weeks before your event, you are trying to find the perfect passage and you only have five minutes to read, you might suddenly realize that no five minute passage in your book contains mind-blowing, Pulitzer-worthy language. (In fact, you might want to use that five-minute measuring stick before you publish your next book.) Suddenly, as I timed myself reading various scenes, I just knew that my book was stupid. So the best I could do was look for the least stupid passage.
Part of that choice involved knowing my audience. My best guess was that they’d be middle aged, mostly non-Christian. So I didn’t choose a scene with bathroom humor, and I didn’t choose a story told by the Christian club kids. I wasn’t trying to hide anything; it’s not a Christian book. I was simply considering my audience.
Also, I didn’t read the first three chapters because I don’t think they’re the strongest chapters, and I didn’t read the ending because I didn’t want spoilers. I didn’t read any scenes that the reader needed background information to fully understand. I ended up reading the scene below.* All I said to prep the audience was that the boy from the LGBT and Friends club had just told a story about a boy from a planet of green people who was born red.
3. Stay within your allotted time. I timed my reading carefully, but many of the other readers did not. Yes, they got to read a few extra seconds of their book, but what happened as I was listening was that my mind went from “Wow, this is nice writing,” to “Uh oh, here comes the event host. She’s inching closer! Will she blow a whistle? Ring a bell? A gong? Get an actual hook? How many extra seconds will she give them? The suspense is killing me!” I totally lost track of what I was listening to.
Should I be able to focus on the story with this distraction? It’s a moot point. Your audience won’t.
4. Sit at your sales table like a lemonade stand kid who hasn’t yet sold a cup of lemonade.
I had never sold my books “in real life.” Only through Amazon. So I didn’t know whether to sit confidently at my little table afterwards — or pathetically. I went with pathetic. I figured people would see right through my fake confidence anyway. When they bought Malena’s (fabulous) play script next to me, I looked up with sad eyes that said, “Please, Sir, I’ve had naught but a small bowl of porridge this week. Buy mine, too.”
I sold six copies! Plus the ones my sister bought. Considering the size of the audience and the fact that 18 people were selling their books, I was only expecting to sell one or two. Now, I don’t plan to sell my books in real life again, so I won’t be able to compare that to sitting confidently, but maybe you can try the two options and report back to me.
I’m no expert, but I hope that the lessons I learned at my first author launch can help or at least entertain you. Excerpt from Anaheim Tales chapter 26 below!
*”Well, that’s not where I thought that was going,” says Drama Girl. “Where was the conflict? If you were trying to draw a parallel, paint a picture of what it’s like to be born different in this world, you’re glossing over the ugly reality. I should know.”
LGBT&F boy responds. “I actually had a different story in mind at first, where the red boy was shunned by some and accepted by some and patronized by some, but you know what? During that last story, the one about Fiona and her computer-programmed friend, I decided I was sick of conflict. I wished her story could have just stayed happy, like it started, and like I think its author wanted it to be. The girl has a cool computer friend and she’s happy and good for her. Ugh, how many years have they been making movies about bullying, and accepting others, and has anything changed? I’ve had it pretty good, but I know lots of people who haven’t, even though we’ve all been raised with movies and articles and shows telling us to accept each other, even celebrate each other’s differences. I just started thinking, during that last story, why can’t we have a few stories about the way things should be, just for a good example. Why do we have to work through the bad stuff in every single story?”
“Because otherwise it’s not a story,” says Debate Girl.
Debate Boy makes a frustrated growling sound. “Yes. It. Is. Maybe not your kind of story, but still a valid story. Just because no one wants to kill themself or anything…”
“But that’s how real life is,” says Debate Girl.
“Not always,” says Debate Boy.
“And,” says a quiet little voice, “Even if it were, it would be nice to have a story about how it could be.”
Go Chess Girl!
Debate Girl holds her tongue.
“And,” says LGBT&F Boy, “consider everyone who’s on this trip. Nobody here needs an anti-bullying message. We might have our little problems, but we were chosen for leadership for a reason.”
Now he looks again at Debate Girl. “And weren’t you the one saying you didn’t want moralizing in stories?”
She says calmly, “You can have dissonance, and by that I mean real life, without moralizing.”
LGBT&F Boy resituates himself face-forward in his seat. “Well it was my story, and I wanted it happy. The end.”
But LGBT&F Girl, who it seems is paying attention again, says, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those happy stories, but I, for one, need to hear the stories about struggles. If everything’s all nice and perfect, it makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me, because I’m not like that. I wouldn’t feel like I could ever fit in in that world. Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough for this world, even though it’s pretty effed up, sorry Mr. Tabard.”
Mr. Tabard says, “I’m more concerned about the state of your spirit than your language. You are good enough. You are of infinite value.”
LGBT&F Girl looks like she might cry.
“If it makes you feel any better, says Allison, “I’ve felt like that too.”
I whip my head to face Allison. Was she just saying it to be nice? I try to think back to anything she might have said or done to indicate that she felt bad about herself. I’ve never seen her cry, and I’ve seen her stand up for herself. A teacher accused her of lying about having turned in a report in English last year, and she said, “Mr. Blake, everyone in this room knows that I would never say I had sent you a report if I hadn’t.” We all agreed, and Mr. Blake let her resend it. And then there was the time she led a boycott of a golf club that had a suspiciously white clientele. Yes, Allison seems perfectly well adjusted. Sure of herself. I’ll have to ask her whether she meant it later. On a happier note, LGBT&F Girl definitely needs a shoulder to cry on, and girls often say I’m good at listening. Maybe Allison won’t mind if the three of us hang out together. Now where’s the most romantic place in Disneyland? The castle? Pirates of the Caribbean has a cool kind of ambience. There’s always the fireworks, but I want to start working my magic before dark. Maybe Tower of Terror would work. She could cling to me for reassurance. I’ll even go in Small World if that’s what it takes.