Perfecting Our Author Presentations

Photo by Dale Phillips

A word of advice. If Hank Phillippi Ryan is offering a workshop in your area, run don’t walk to sign up. Readers of this blog know Hank as a wonderful writer of two different series. She launched her career with the Charlotte McNally series. Her Jane Ryland series followed, with the fifth (Say No More) coming out November 1. She is a lovely and generous person. She is also a terrific teacher.


One note, Hank is also an Emmy winning investigative reporter. Those of us in New England have watched pound away in interviews, and try to right some wrongs, for a long time. She is fierce. I greatly admire that she is juggling two careers with grace and aplomb.

Last Saturday Hank held a workshop for the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime which was entitled “Perfecting Your Author Presentation”. The first part of the day was about doing an author presentation. The second part of the day was about being interviewed. Today I’m going to talk about the morning session–perfecting your presentation. Hank’s advice for a good reading included preparation, practice, performance, and the pitch. I’ve mashed her information up with my editorial comments, so if she ever offers this workshop again, take it. I’ve left parts out.

Preparation: Think about what you are going to read. Don’t necessarily choose the first chapter of your book. Choose a section that gives listeners a flavor of the novel. Plan on two minutes worth of material, maybe three or four pages.

Create a script out of your reading. Print out pages with large type. Number your pages. Edit out parts that don’t make sense out of context. Get rid of long passages of description. Make it exciting. Add a little bit of context to the beginning–let folks know what the book is about, and a little bit about the characters they are going to meet. Just a little bit.

Practice: Practice your reading. Read your section aloud, time it, adjust it as needed. Then practice it again.

Performance: Like it or not, this is a performance. Charles Dickens used to travel around and do dramatic readings of his work. While no one is expecting this of you, they are hoping to be entertained. For many (most?) of us, this is terror inducing. Yesterday I talked about Hank’s “Be A Puffy Cat” advice. Make yourself big, own the space you are taking up. An actor friend of mine says that fear is excitement without oxygen, so remember to breathe.

Hank and I. Photo by Dale Phillips


If you are doing dialogue, turn your body when you read different parts, or add “he saids” or “she saids” to help the audience keep track. Practice it.


Slow down, and look up at your audience. See them. They want you to succeed, so looking at them is critical. If you can’t bear that, look just over their heads.

Remember to introduce yourself and mention the name of your book at the beginning of your presentation. This is really important, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Always have a copy of your book with you. You can use it as a prop, or put it up in front of you.

The Pirch: Before you start your reading, you should introduction yourself, and mention the name of your book. Practice that, and don’t forget to do it.

Also, create a good one or two sentence “pitch” that folks will remember about your book. Make sure you use it.

Hank had us each do a reading (if we wanted to) and then gave us notes. It was a terrific exercise.

Now, back to my script…

Author friends, do you do all these steps? Readers, what do you like best about author readings?


22 Thoughts

  1. What fabulous – and useful – tips, Hank and Julie. I’m pretty good on the pitch and the practice. Sometimes I forget to print out the section and get rid of extraneous/out of context stuff, and I always regret it. I edit out on the fly but I know I could do a better job reading if I’d done a better prep job. And there’s always room for improvement on the performance! Thanks so much for sharing this treasure of info.

  2. So sorry to have missed this, Julie. Thanks for sharing the never-ending wisdom from Hank, who is the most generous author I know. I have always read my drafts aloud to see how they work for readers. I need to remember to it again before readings. Great post.

  3. I forgot to add that as a listener, Hank’s advice is spot on. Two-three minutes reading, tops. You want to give your audience a tease, not a nap!

  4. I missed this because I was at another event. I’ve been at two readings with multiple speakers lately and I have to say, bestselling author ≠ good reader. These are great tips.

  5. I never would have thought of any of this, but as an audience member, they all make perfect sense to me, and I was nodding along as I read. Having been to some of Hank’s events, I could also picture her doing these things and they work well, so I know she is speaking from experience.

  6. When I was preparing for my book release reading I worried that I’d give “clues” away, so I just read from the beginning of the book. But I now realize that of course I could just edit out any such clues from the reading. Another duh! moment. Thank you Hank! Thank you Julie!

  7. I wish more authors took this advice. I love “Meet the Author” events, but some authors read way too long. Without proper context, the long reading is meaningless. I’m not an author, but I love the “behind the scenes” info I get from these blogs. Thank you!

  8. Good stuff — thanks, Julie and Hank! Most of the bookstores I’ve been to recently don’t actually want readings, probably because too many authors haven’t heard Hank’s advice on keeping it short, reading with enthusiasm, and practicing! A snippet of a reading can be a great way to hook the audience on your characters, and yes, your voice!

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