Throwback

A lot surrounds the life of a writer, and most of it doesn’t have anything to do with writing.

One of those things is “the reading.”

A friend of mine, about to have his debut novel published, contacted me recently to ask if I wanted to do some readings with him. It was kind of him to consider me, but he was a little surprised when I wrote back saying while I would help him in any way get his book out there, I wasn’t interested in doing readings.

What? What author today doesn’t do readings? Well, this one.

Readings are obstensibly author-events where passages from books are read aloud in order to sell books. But readings don’t sell books. Unless you’re one of those Big Time Authors–a reading is a chance for fans to hear their favorite author’s voice, have their book signed, get a Selfie, be in the room with the author, etc. And that’s one of my issues with author readings, this idea that somehow if I read my book out loud to you this magically entices you to buy the book. It works if you know me, or are family, but reading my book to a complete stranger is hardly going to result in a purchase; more likely not. Especially for small press literary authors, readings don’t produce buyers. If I might borrow a term: the profit margin is slim. 

So why do public readings. Again, if the book is authored by a biggie or a newcomer with a big time publisher, a reading is required and usually advantageous. Poetry/poets is an entirely different kettle of fish. For authors like me, come on. Whose kidding who? Readings are a bore, odd and uncondusive to having your work before new eyes. The reading is an ego booster for the author without an ability to imagine their readership. It’s like an unstated agreement between the author and their friends: I am going to read to you and you will pretend to enjoy it, and pretend that I have readers, a following. Why having an adult read aloud to another adult came to be some form of commerce I’ll never understand. And that’s the rub for me.

Readings are public begging by an author. I won’t do it.

I’ll read to start a conversation. I’ll read to celebrate. I’ll read to honor someone (well, isn’t reading with a friend whose book is coming out a way to honor him, true, but I’d have to preface my reading by stating this very intention and it would be just too weird to do so). I won’t read in order to sell a book. There are other ways. (Word of mouth. Radio interviews. TV interviews. Book reviews. Newspaper articles???) 

Have you been to a good reading? I’ve been a member of the writing community for decades, and I can recall perhaps one or two readings that I actually enjoyed. Most were these horrendous bores, overlong sessions of gibberish where an author at a microphone, book open to a page marked with a Post-It, head down, wearing glasses, drinking water, turns pages, offers pregnant pauses, affects stutters….ugh….reads. Meanwhile the audience coughs, gets a sore ass and allows their minds to wander over hill and dale.

My dislike for readings was the reason why I started the Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices Literary Salon in Columbia, Missouri, which was designed to have writers read their work for less than fifteen minutes, but be a part of a conversation for a longer period of time. In every way, the conversation afterwards was far more enticing and engaging than the actual reading. Readings are off-putting unless it’s highly performed, a narrative with a plot or offered by Benedict Cumberbach or Sappho (to overstate matters). 

Readings don’t sell books. Good writing does.

But how to get the word out?

Author signings? Even more idiotic than readings, if that were possible. 

So how?

Really, I haven’t a clue. 

Other than good writing.

What did you expect? I’m a writer, not a marketer. 

I’m a throwback. I’m a throwback to a time when writers wrote and sellers sold. Today, a writer has to be both. I understand, and I still don’t care.

I write. 

Someone else can do the selling.