Lights… Camera…. READ! How Writing Goes Live

Joyce and Beckett walked into a bar...One thing which made the transition from my business brain to my bookish brain lately was a certain trend in the music industry, which now seems to be making inroads into the book industry.

It’s all becoming more and more about live performance.

Part of what I do for a living (my actual living, which pays me actual money) involves looking at sales and (financial) performance trends in different industries. On a bad day, I’m forced to switch from the sales projections of ball-bearing manufacturers, to the financial ratios of insurance companies. On a good day, I can jump from looking at companies who make ridiculously expensive shirts, to pondering the machinations of media moguls (hence the thoughts which led me to this particular soapbox).

Reaching for mic stand

Ever since music publishing entered the murky era of music sharing, social media and bedroom record labels (which in the business is known as the “Nobody Knows What The F*** Is Going On” era), a few things have become clear, namely:

  1. Artists aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
  2. Record companies aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
  3. Record companies and (some) artists used to make obscene amounts of money from album sales. Nowadays, this is rare (unless you’re Adele, or Adele’s record company).
  4. Artists can still make a lot of money from touring, but that’s pretty much it (unless you’re Adele).
  5. Record companies without live music divisions are in trouble, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel just yet.

So, How Does This Relate To Books?

Well, since the advent of e-publishing, and self-publishing, the book industry has been undergoing the same stresses. Book pricing has changed completely; even full-price books are cheaper online, and the majority of books in shops are being discounted anyway. Readers are flooding electronic devices with free content. Online fan fiction takes a huge chunk of readership. There are a hundred other reasons why things have changed, but the upshot is that there are far more authors on the scene, and those authors are all getting less money. And publishers are petrified, because their business models are becoming obsolete.

And here’s where the author performance events come in.

ah nice bookshopWhat originally germinated from small-ish literature festivals, book clubs, dead-of-night TV arts programmes and open mic nights has now become a whole new and important part of the entertainment industry, not to mention a major driver of books sales.

Big-name authors can now sell out concert halls for readings, signings and interviews. Some authors are becoming more famous for their live performances than their work on the page. But live “performances” – for that is what they are, whether they’re called interviews, signings or otherwise – are undeniably selling books. It’s the equivalent of the rock band live tour.

Some authors are huge and can sell thousands of tickets to their appearances. Some authors are small, and give readings to tens of people in bookshops.

But the parallels with the music industry are there too. Some garage bands dream of making it to the stadium; some want to stay indie because they believe it’s truer to their art. Either way, none of them want to stay in the garage.

I did a Spoken Word workshop recently, and it was a real eye-opener. But I also go to a lot of book events, and a good performance always makes me buy more.

Could I Get To The Point, Please?

The moral of the story is: whether you’re self-published or traditionally published; starting out, struggling, mid-list or heading for imminent superstardom – you must get yourself ready to perform.

Learn how to read your work publicly, in an entertaining way. (The old chestnut here is “Be the best version of yourself”.) Learn how to engage with an audience; learn how to engage with an interviewer. Practice reading your work out loud, and get feedback. Select well from your work, and ask for the opinion of others; the best piece (to you) could easily be the worst to read aloud, and fail to give an audience any reason to buy your book.

Opera CurtainSo if you want to be a hugely famous author, learn how to act. Put on a show. Any writer who wants to be successful nowadays must be able to entertain in ways which do not involve sitting behind their desk, or hiding behind their computer and crippling shyness. It’s all about the show today, folks, and the show must go on.

Do you agree?

  49 comments for “Lights… Camera…. READ! How Writing Goes Live

  1. October 23, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I do agree, and it makes me glad to have spent so many years as a salesman that I’m used to standing up in front of a bunch of people, making them laugh and being someone I’m actually not. (But I never wore those expensive shirts (they ARE expensive, aren’t they), let alone sold them).


    • October 23, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Yes, I make a point of never buying those expensive shirts with the money I don’t have. I’m very principled about it.


  2. October 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Missed out a ? there. Never mind, eh?


  3. October 23, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    I DO agree and as I’m doing/giving my first reading/signing next Monday, I’m taking your wise words to heart. Before long I’ll be selling tee-shirts and glow-sticks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      And baskets of muffins, Lorraine. Don’t forget the baskets of muffins.

      The VERY best of luck for Monday! I’ll be watching out for news of how it goes!


  4. October 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Another trick self pub authors have to learn. The one thing in my favor is that I was a trial attorney and I learned how to sell stories to a jury. But those were all extemporaneous. I guess I’ll get to see how the skill translates to my new “job.”


    • October 23, 2014 at 6:14 pm

      I hope success doesn’t depend on whether you’re making stories up or not. That would not be something to bring up in light of your old job 😉


  5. October 23, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Oh, Tara, Tara, Tara – I thought you didn’t have a scary bone in your body (that’s Mara of course!)…
    I do agree with you but I reeeeally don’t WANT to… I’ve actually done a kind of presentation on and a ‘proper’ reading of my one and only book one time to a smallish group of 20 (not a reading/literary one) and that wasn’t so bad – except I did a part that required no acting ability whatsoever… :-S To do most of the ‘audience-friendly’ bits I would need do several southern and eastern African accents and I cannot tell how terrible they would sound outside of my own skull!! Luckily as it’s set in Africa and about safaris I can show some pretty animals slides instead, so that’s how I’m currently ‘developing’ my spiel but the actual performance aspect scares me to bits :,(


    • October 23, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Now this is a whole other question, Jan (and possibly a whole other post)… I’m not a fan of authors doing accents during readings, myself. It might just be me, but I find I’m listening to the accent rather than the story, even when it’s a good attempt.

      I know I said we need to act, but at the same time, we’re not actors, nor should we pretend to be. For me, an author is only playing one part: that of the narrator. Just make it a bloody good narrator!

      Liked by 2 people

      • October 23, 2014 at 6:45 pm

        Ah, well, now. I grew up in the northeast of England and although my accent has pretty well gone it comes back if I spend any time there. I read to a group in Durham an extract from A Just and Upright Man that included this (it’s set in 1766 and Kate is a day labourer’s daughter, so of course she can’t read):
        ‘Lady Isabella goes every summer to Harrogate. We pray in church for her safe return.’
        ‘Yes, I can see that a provincial soul might warm to Harrogate. For me, Bath is not entirely without its compensations. And now, tell me. Why do you want to learn to read and write?’
        ‘Miss, I want to better myself. I want to read the bible for myself, instead of hearing only what someone else thinks is important. And I’d like to know what’s going on in the world.’
        ‘Very well. Estimable wishes, so long as you do not think to rise above your station. But reading and writing are not enough. You must also learn to speak.’
        ‘Speak, Miss? But, Miss, I speak every day. I am speaking to you now.’
        ‘That is not speaking. You have much to learn. For now, let us content ourselves with but a few simple rules. You must not say us when you mean me. You must not say our Mam, but my mother. Or, better still, simply Mother. You will not call people Man, whatever sex they may be. And never, ever, shall you address someone as pet. Is that clear? There will be more to learn, when you have mastered this. I shall call you Katherine. You will call me Mistress Wortley, or Ma’am. And now, let us begin. But what is that?’

        It brought the house down and I sold a lot more books than I had expected to. But I do agree; accents can be embarrassing. Think Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. (Oh, God–now I AM thinking Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins).

        Liked by 3 people

        • October 24, 2014 at 4:50 pm

          Lol – well so long as I don’t have do any method acting then I guess I can just about handle it… Really it’s the physical side of reading that get’s me in a fizz as my voice is quite unfit in some respects, main reason being that I don’t actually have much to say for myself most days so it doesn’t get much of a workout aside from yelling at the dogs when we go for our daily constitutional on the moors (hubby I can ignore silently most of the time… *whistles*). So I guess I’ll have to devise some kind of training regime to improve my vocal stamina so it doesn’t crack up too easily due to asthma, or emotion – or I should stick to reading the upbeat stuff which is quite hard when the book’s to do with PTSD and genocide… 😦


          • October 24, 2014 at 5:29 pm

            Picture the audience as dogs–that’ll do it.


          • October 24, 2014 at 7:27 pm

            I reckon you’ll fly it! Just read it aloud a few times to yourself before your next gig as it will make a massive difference. And take up opera singing. Then you’ll be sorted 😉


  6. October 23, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    It’s funny you post this now, when my local indie coffee shop is hosting an open mic night this Friday. I did a reading from one of my books a looooooong time ago, and a lady in the audience ending up buying the copy I read from. So I’m thinking I’ll try it again, with a different book, but my ‘performance’ skills are a tad rusty.


    • October 23, 2014 at 6:15 pm

      They may be rusty, but at least you have evidence that they were there in the first place! Which is more than some can say (i.e me)


    • October 23, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Break a leg.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. October 23, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Great advice Tara. Thankfully, I am comfortable enough presenting. My difficulties always start when I’m presenting my own work. Then I get in trouble. I knew a guy once who always had a ‘belter’ before a presentation. One day, he went too far and drank a ‘few’ brandies before addressing a sales conference. His last conference….


    • October 23, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      I’m tempted to say “oh, dear”, but the comic possibilities are just endless. Of the sales conference, I mean. Not the drunkenness. Although that has possibilities too, I admit.

      (You reminded me too of today’s news story about that charity action group who were rumbled over a €600 alcohol bill from a liver disease conference. I mean really. You couldn’t make it up)

      Liked by 1 person

      • October 23, 2014 at 9:14 pm

        Those bastards! Spending our hard earned money pampering themselves while pretending to be looking after the very sick in our society. Bring back the stocks!


        • October 23, 2014 at 9:16 pm

          I have them all set up and ready down at Dublin Castle, Conor. See you there at 6am if you’re up for it. I’ll bring the cabbages and tomatoes. You have to promise not to make something delicious out of them, though, it’s not that kind of scene.


          • October 23, 2014 at 9:20 pm

            All joking aside, I think it would be a great way for public officials to be dealt with. It beats giving them a lump sum and early retirement.


            • October 23, 2014 at 9:27 pm

              [Sigh] Yes. You speak a lot of sense. But that also is why you will never run for office.


  8. armenpogharian
    October 24, 2014 at 1:31 am

    I really enjoyed the analogy, not only because you have some facts to back it up, but also because it’s one I’ve been making for the past year or two. Whenever my business friends ask me about the future of publishing, I simply say look at the music industry. The money’s in performing. What I hadn’t done, was connect my own fortunes to performing. It’s not that I have any issues speaking or being entertaining, it’s opportunities I have trouble creating.


    • October 24, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Thanks, Armen! I agree, it can be hard to get gigs. But just like when bands start out, you start small in small bookshops and libraries, and hopefully work up from there. I think most booky places would be glad to hear some innovative ideas to get people in, we just have to think creatively about it.


  9. October 24, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    That’s a really interesting post, Tara (I mean, all your posts are interesting…eh…ooh, dug myself in there) It’s really got me thinking; I’ve never done anything like that. I’d quite like to, though….I’m going to go off and find out more.


    • October 24, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      I’m made of waaaay tougher stuff than that, Elaine! As an Irishwoman I’m used to being damned with faint praise. It’s a pleasant change from being damned with no praise at all. So any praise is welcome, I mean. Not to be repetitive or anything. Er, I should shut up now.

      If you find anything noteworthy on your travels, come back and let us know… I’d be interested to know how it works in your neck of the woods, for instance. Author events are becoming very common in Dublin these days, but if you can’t find any evidence of it in your neck of the woods, we should form the LiveAuthor company immediately (and its iLiveAuthor subsidiary, obvs).


      • October 24, 2014 at 7:24 pm

        Trouble is I live in the depths of the country. But I am going exploring. Let’s form the company anyway!


        • October 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm

          Geography is no obstacle. We’ll have a live streaming division 😉


          • October 24, 2014 at 7:45 pm

            I’ve just had a look. There’s bloody loads of them. OMG. Tara, I’m reeling. With my hand clutched to my head. I’ll be back shortly….


  10. October 24, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Good points Tara, tough for writers who are introverts though. I know I’d be very nervous doing a reading for my book even though I’m fairly confident in public speaking (but that’s cos it’s my book/baby) I recently heard that a best man read extracts from my book in his wedding speech and it brought the house down. Know the audience were in good form for a laugh after a meal and a few drinks. I find it hard to see the humour in my own work at times – too close to it.
    I’ve been asked to talk to a group of farm women in November and am going to read a few extracts from my book and will see how it goes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 24, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      That group will be an exciting opportunity though, Lorna (and not just for practice) – and I reckon they’ll be just as receptive and open to loving your reading as a crowd of merry people at a wedding. Nerves can be good to put life into your performance, but do try to enjoy it once you’ve started – it is possible, I swear.

      I reckon you should always read something as if it’s not funny, even if it is – and then just be careful that if people do laugh, they don’t make you laugh so much that you can’t read properly. That can happen too!


  11. Ali Isaac
    October 24, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    May as well get my coat… if I wanted to be a performer, I wouldn’t be writing books! I discovered at an early age that my voice shrinks to the squeak of a mouse when people look at me. It’s loud and proud between the covers of a book, and that’s where I’d like it to stay. I’m already blogging and ‘doing ‘ social media… isn’t that enough lol?!!!


    • October 24, 2014 at 11:55 pm

      You’ll have to wear blinkers, Ali, and pretend nobody’s looking at you. And pretend you’re invisible. And just doing it all on social media. In a bunker. That’s you sorted 😉


    • October 25, 2014 at 4:13 am

      Many years ago (many, many years), I went on my first ever public speaking course. It was run by a “resting” actor called Gordon Bell who rested so often he had his own company handling this sort of course. I gave my demo presentation full of piss and vinegar and sat down thinking, ‘That was pretty good.’ GB said, “That was bloody awful. There are fifteen people in this room and you spoke for ten minutes. You just wasted 150 minutes of human life. It’s precious stuff, human life–they’ll never get it back.” Then he said Do this, Do this, Do this and he told me to speak again–right away–on a subject I hadn’t prepared and he told everyone else to roll pieces of paper into little balls and flick them at me if I lost their attention. Nobody flicked any balls, paper or otherwise. The story you need to hear, however, concerns the poor sod who said he couldn’t speak when people were looking at him. GB told him to stand on the windowsill, drew the curtain in front of him and said, “No-one is looking at you. Speak.” He spoke. When he had to give another presentation at the end of the day (and at the end of each day for a week) he was fine. Okay, I had an advantage because when I was nine years old the headmaster of my Primary School used to refer to me as Lord Lynch and it wasn’t because of any descent from landed gentry but the message hammered home by GB was, “They’re not looking at you. They don’t give a toss about you. They came to hear about the subject and that’s all they care about. They only start noticing you if you’re, on the one hand (and looking at me) too conceited or, on the other hand, too wrapped up in themselves to deliver the message people have come to hear.” You can do it. You can. The first time may not be easy, or the second, but get your sequence right, rehearse your ad libs, know exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it and you’ll be fine. Let us know when you’re doing it–if we’re anywhere near, we’ll come along and cheer. We’re on your side. And what you need to remember is: SO IS THE AUDIENCE. They wouldn’t be there otherwise.


      • October 25, 2014 at 7:15 pm

        Sounds like a right baptism of fire you had there… Well worth the experience, although I’m not sure how many scars I’d be willing to get in the process! Great advice, and thank you for posting it here.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. October 25, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. October 26, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Hmm, this was a riveting read as I am about (on Nov 8th) to hold a launch party (home-made cakes all round) for my third novel (official publication Dec 5th). I love small group discussions and book group interviews, but I’m useless on a platform; reading my stuff out loud makes me feel ill and I’m not naturally funny (except by mistake). I am actively working on this but… I think I rather stick to a few hundred sales aiming to beak even, than head for the big-time. I guess this makes me a wuss, but doesn’t stop me writing.


    • October 26, 2014 at 9:53 am

      I think I’m going to start a programme to teach writers how to present in public. There’s clearly a need. For goodness sake, woman, you have a Cambridge PhD–how can you lack confidence? Get out there and knock them dead.

      Liked by 1 person

      • October 26, 2014 at 11:06 am

        I’m laughing as I write; if only it worked like that! I read your long comment below after I posted and vowed I would do better. Yes, I have attended (short) public speaking courses, yes, I have given a few lectures, and still my voice becomes a dry monotone and my brain ceases to be accessible and no, I haven’t given up trying – though no one is actually pressing me to talk at their festivals so the question is a shade academic.

        Liked by 1 person

        • October 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

          Don’t we all become quivering wrecks when it comes to our own work! When I’m presenting in my day job it doesn’t bother me at all. The only thing we can do to become more confident when it comes to performing as authors is to do lots and lots of it until it becomes ordinary…

          Liked by 1 person

  14. October 27, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Open mic poetry night next Friday 31st October Fusion-Café Wexford town you are welcome down Tara. Next open mic night you are holding I’m free (well not free but not overly expensive either)


    • October 27, 2014 at 10:39 pm

      Don’t tempt me. I could become a serial open mic-er. Every microphone within a 100 mile radius could be open to abuse. You’d have to get a team to haul me off. It’d make the papers and everything. [Oh, hang on. Free publicity! Yes!!]
      Just kidding. So will you be taking part yourself? (And incidentally, just how inexpensive are you exactly?!)

      Liked by 1 person

      • October 27, 2014 at 10:56 pm

        Yes Tara, I am regular once a month OOPS that doesn’t read very good must erase, ah that’s better – yes I will be taking part an open mic night without a mic that’s the Irish way of doing things eh.
        In relation to how “inexpensive” I am I can put you in contact with my Doppleganger you can discuss fee with him!!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. October 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Went to see? hear? watch? Chris Brookmyre at the Borders Book Festival during the summer. No way was he just an author reading from his work. From start to finish he was an act, part stand-up comedian, part serious author. From the moment he entered the marquee, he was the Chris Brookmyre act. On stage with a large satchel full of printouts of stories and excerpts from his work which de spilled out onto a table, he interacted with the audience, told stories, told jokes, asked what they wanted him to read. It was an hour of sheer magic, and utterly professional despite the apparent haphazard nature of it.

    With this becoming the norm, we have much to learn and live up to. And unfortunately, if you’re not a born raconteur in front of a large audience, and if like me you can never remember a joke — especially the payoff line — and if that easygoing ‘brash mate from the pub’ stance is foreign to you, then there is a very steep hill to climb over and above the actual writing of books. Gulp.


    • October 27, 2014 at 10:43 pm

      That sounds out of this world. I really hope he comes to Dublin at some point. I feel a bit the same about Kevin Barry. Nothing can beat hearing him read his own work. And David Sedaris is good on paper, but in front of a live audience he’s ten times more hilarious.

      There will always be star performers. I reckon we just have to be ourselves though. We can’t be like anybody else and although we can look up to the masters of the art it shouldn’t stop us carving out our own little niches.


  16. October 28, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I write for 8-12 year olds and my standard ‘set’ is 80 minutes of unscripted performance in front of 100-200 children… mainly storytelling, mixed with encouragement for reading & writing. I don’t usually charge schools but earn my fee by book sales: as a result of the performance, I sell around 150 books per school. So I fully agree!


    • October 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Good grief, Ed, you’re some glutton for punishment – 80 mins unscripted live performance in front of the harshest audiences known to man! I am in awe of your stamina and delighted that it’s paying off!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: