Live Readings: Literary Concerts
by Will Viharo
No matter how successful an author you may become, you’ll never reach rock star status, mainly because far more people idolize musicians than writers. Plus many more actually buy music than books.
But you can still promote your books and gain your own “groupies” with live appearances reading from your work. It’s a great way not only to meet your potential readers, but also network with your fellow authors.
And it's not nearly as hard as it sounds.
One of the drawbacks of self-publishing is not only the physical isolation from the world, but the virtual disconnection from the industry. You’re basically doing all your own promotions, and getting your books stocked in brick and mortar establishments is practically impossible due to the fact your work is Print On Demand, which makes ordering them cost ineffective for neither chains nor indies.
Still, besides a politely aggressive social media presence, it would behoove you as an enterprising author to either set up, join, or at least attend group readings at an indie writer-friendly bookstore, particularly if they support local authors, or even at a venue not typically associated with this type of gig – like bars, which normally feature live bands.
But hey, even Stephen King moonlighted as a musician with some fellow bestselling authors in a band called “The Rock Bottom Remainders.” Of course, they could afford to perform for peanuts. But the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, even if bar patrons (ideally) need to be quiet during a reading, but not a song.
I actually know authors who started out as musicians (Joe Clifford, Lamentation, December Boys; Tom Pitts, Hustle, Knuckleball) but have found happiness and success as crime writers. The need for attention and adulation is the same. You just have to work much harder for it as a writer, and even still, the rewards may not be as tangible. But perhaps equally fulfilling.
Where There's a Will...
Here in Seattle, a rising young local crime writer named Michael Pool has started successfully organizing a regular series called Noir at the Bar Seattle. This is the Emerald City edition of a loosely connected, nationwide “Noir at the Bar” network of live reading events featuring crime authors of all stripes, across the spectrum of success, from self-published to small presses to major celebrities in the Mystery field.
Michael Pool didn’t have any experience as an event promoter before he began contacting local venues as well as Seattle-based authors (like me, tapped not only as a rotating reader, but as the regular emcee due to my history as a B movie impresario), along with writers he knew via Facebook from other cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco and Portland and Vancouver willing to make the trip, with only the promise of exposing their work directly to an appreciative crowd, some drinks with like-minded folks, and if they have any handy, sales of their books directly to new fans.
Michael is a talented guy, both as a writer and as an organizer, but in both cases, he only found this out by actually doing it. There is no experience or education required. You only need the time, energy and connections, all of which you can make yourself, if you’re willing.
"To All My Friends!" (Mickey Rourke, Barfly)
Some venues may require a cash deposit or minimum tab fee, but if you have a certain amount of writers committed to the event, that bottom line can be easily compensated. It’s all about the networking, anyway, and since most writers are lone wolves, this rare opportunity to run in a pack will most likely be met with enthusiasm.
Bars are a natural place for writers to congregate even when they’re not reading their work to an audience of friends and strangers. For those that don’t imbibe, cafes may be another type of venue amenable to hosting a live reading series, since these types of establishments often rely on special events like this to attract new patrons by appealing to different sets of demographics, all bound by common interests.
Non-profit places like libraries may be open to reading events as well. You need to be proactive, creative and flexible when seeking out spots for your group.
Of course, you could always start a private literary club that meets regularly in your house, rotating with the homes of others in your group. But then you’ll only be reading to each other. This is still useful for those that need the feedback and support. But it’s best from a commercial standpoint to secure places where the public will be introduced to your work via the spoken word.
Joe Clifford, whom I mentioned earlier, started a series called Lip Service West, comprised of writers from his social and professional circles reading autobiographical tales in public. This regular event has been included in San Francisco’s popular annual Litquake, basically a convention of writers that read at various venues around the City by the Bay, even outdoors, weather permitting. Most major cities have equivalents, and they are excellent resources for networking and exposure and well worth seeking out and joining.
No Man (or Woman) Is An Island
To effectively promote your work, you may just need to leave your house sometimes. Believe me, I know how hard that can be, even harder than actually writing or promoting your work online. But trust me, it’s worth it, for both personal and professional reasons.
Networking is key to success in this business, just like any other. Much of it has to be done in person, like attending any of the various annual literary conventions, like the popular, roving crime fiction gathering Bouchercon, which also showcases live readings.
Don’t be shy. And even if you are, that quality could be used to your advantage, since many people can relate to it. And nothing sells books like empathy with the characters, or the author.
And there’s no better way to make that human connection than in person.
Have you performed live readings of your work, and how was that experience for you?
PHOTO: MICHAEL POOL
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