I'm still on a high from my second reading-- the big one, followed by a party. It was tonight, and seemed to be a big success.
I think readings are an important way of connecting with your audience. I love to go to readings myself, because I want to hear the author's voice, which then stays in my head as I read the book. I've gone to great readings, and I've gone to terrible ones, and I've tried to put everything I've learned together to create my own.
The first thing to do is to start scheduling your readings. You need to do that at least two months in advance, to ensure that the store has enough time to publicize the event. Many stores publish printed calendars, and now many send emails out as well. Since other authors are scheduling in advance, you need to do so as well.
My first call was to our local independent store, Books & Books, which has four branches. The main store is in Coral Gables, an elegant suburb on the south side of Miami. That store has the largest space for readings. But I'd already been invited to participate in a joint reading of alumni of Florida International University's MFA program in creative writing at that store, which will take place on Sunday, September 25.
So I asked to give a reading at the branch on Miami Beach's Lincoln Road. That's a big gay neighborhood, and I didn't want to go to the same branch twice.
I invited my friend Hannah Lasky, who is a talented painter and poet, to bring some of her art work to serve as a backdrop for me. I brought a CD of Hawaiian music for the store to play as we were setting up, a fake grass-skirt banner that reads "ALOHA," and some other small props to set the scene.
The readings I've enjoyed the most have given a sense of the author and the process of writing-- so I tried to do that. I began with about ten minutes on the Hawaiian language and culture, and how I came to write the book and get it published.
Then I read the first page of the book-- to establish the voice-- and jumped to about halfway through the first chapter, which I then read through to conclusion. After I finished, I asked for questions.
The whole process took about forty-five minutes, and I enjoyed riffing off the questions I was asked. There were about twenty people in the audience, and after the reading I signed about ten books-- one couple, my friends Eliot and Lois, had flown in from New York and bought four copies. (They are now officially my VERY best friends.)
I duplicated the process tonight, at a big Borders store in a gay neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale. The store had printed up posters for the reading, including one on the front door, and I got some great press-- nice announcements in the alternative weekly, the New Times, and in a couple of local gay papers; one, the Express Gay News, did a huge feature on me, with a teaser on the front cover and a big photo inside.
We had a capacity crowd-- thirty people sitting, and probably another dozen standing or hovering around in the background. And there were many men I didn't even know! Lots of them even bought books! I was more than thrilled.
It's wonderful to sign books for friends, colleagues, and neighbors-- but it was really terrific to feel that people I didn't know were touched and motivated to dish out $19.95 (plus tax.)
I was also helped in promotion by networking with local groups; Karen Dale Wolman, who organizes gay and lesbian writers' workshops, sent out a press release for me, and I think her credibility helped me get noticed.
In the end, both readings were great events, and I think at least part of that comes from doing my homework-- going to lots of readings myself and listening to what I liked and what I didn't, and doing as much groundwork as I could to let people-- both friends and strangers-- know about the book and the reading.