How to Survive a Public Reading

This past Thursday, I took part in an event sponsored by the Crime Writers of Canada. Twelve local crime writers read from their novels at a large Indigo bookstore in Toronto as part of the Arthur Ellis Shortlist Events, celebrating the best in Canadian crime writing.

For many authors, the thought of doing a public reading makes them weak in the knees. Confession—I’m definitely one of these authors. I prefer to hide behind my keyboard rather than actually come out and talk about my work. But part of modern life as an author is interacting with readers, so we go out and do just that. And, honestly, meeting new readers is really fun. It’s just a matter of getting over the nerves of putting yourself out there.

So what can authors do to have a successful reading?

Don’t take yourself too seriously: If you stumble over a word or two, or flip one page too far, world peace isn’t at risk. Just laugh at yourself and move on.

Practice, practice, practice: Entertaining readers know how to work the text by adding intonation and pacing as they read, so practice what you’ll be reading ahead of time. Author Melodie Campbell, who read from her hilarious new novella, The Goddaughter’s Revenge, is a master at keeping the audience enthralled (and in stiches).


Make eye contact with members of the audience: Audiences prefer interaction with an author who doesn’t bury her nose in her book while she reads. Lisa De Nikolits, reading from The Witchdoctor’s Bones, connected wonderfully with the audience, drawing us into both her story and her love of Africa. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to memorize your material, but it is where the previous point comes in handy, allowing the time to look up occasionally because you already know where your sentence is going. If looking up to a room of strangers gives you the willies, ask someone you know to come along to be the safe person in the room and just read to them.



Try to use humour whenever possible: Following their reading, each author was asked why they write crime fiction. The often irreverent Rick Blechta, author of The Boom Room, replied that he wrote crime because he just wasn’t any good at romance, and whenever he wrote sex scenes, his wife laughed at them.


Use the opportunity to whet the audience’s appetite: A number of different authors used different methods to accomplish this goal. Gina Buonaguro, author of The Wolves of St. Peter’s, started at the very beginning of the story so the audience discovered the body of a drowned girl alongside the protagonist.


Cathy Astolfo used passages from Sweet Karoline to touch specifically on sections illustrating fascinating points of the protagonist’s psyche. From the moment Cathy started with ‘I met Ethan on the day that I killed Karoline’, the audience was hooked.


I always like to use an early turning point from Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It in my readings—what happens when you go looking for a murder victim and find a different one instead?


Leave the audience wanting more: If you want the audience to be intrigued enough to scoop up your latest release, leave them on a cliff-hanger. Rosemary McCracken wisely left the audience hanging with her excerpt from Black Water.


Thanks to all the immensely talented authors reading with me that night, as well as for the audience members who attended the event. A very good time was had by all!

I’m at Onmimytery News this week, talking about why I write crime fiction. Stop by to see why TV shows like Bones, CSI and NCIS inspired me to write forensics in the real world: Why Write Forensic Crime Fiction

Photo credit: Bradford Dunlop, Rob Brunet, and Tanis Mallow.