One Introvert’s Guide to Reading at Book Signings

My guest today is Mairead Walpole, a somewhat introverted project manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead reviews books for Crystal Reviews and writes paranormal romance. Her first novel, A Love Out of Time is available through Second Wind Publishing. Mairead writes:

When Mike at Second Wind Publishing asked me to attend a book signing over Valentine’s Day Weekend, my initial thought after the “how cool is this?” was “oh [bleep] – that means I have to speak in public.”

The whole concept of self-promotion is a difficult one for me because it requires a certain amount of extroversion and I am not the most outgoing of individuals. Contrary to what people who know me in my professional life may think, I am not a natural extrovert – it is a learned behavior. I tend to avoid being front and center so the thought of public speaking is right up there with having an un-anesthetized root canal, or swimsuit shopping. Ironically, much as my introverted soul hates it, I am told that I am quite good at it. The profession of “my alter ego” (project management) requires the ability to speak in front of groups at all levels of a corporation, so I have learned to mask my absolute terror fairly well. 

In an effort to help my fellow introverts, the following are some tips and tricks that I adapted from the corporate world to apply to book signings. 

1.  Choose your book excerpts carefully.

Pick out several short excerpts from your novel that will not require a great deal of preliminary set-up for your audience. Make sure that the excerpt has enough of a hook or “punch” to it to leave your audience wanting more. The goal is to make them want to buy the book to see what happens next. 

2.  Practice reading the sections aloud prior to the event.

Practicing will increase your awareness of any editing errors, or tricky phrasing, that could trip you up during the reading. It will also help you gauge how long the reading will take. Recent research has indicated that the average attention span for a literate adult is around 12 minutes and maxes out at 20 minutes. Continuous attention span is significantly lower, coming in around 30 seconds. Use my personal definition of the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Short & Sizzling. 

3.  Read slowly.

Speaking quickly will not get you back in your seat any faster. You will be more likely to trip over words and feel the need to stop and re-read sections. You will also lose your audience because their focus will shift from your story to trying to keep up. 

4.  Breathe.

Sounds silly, but one of the main causes of a “shaky voice” is from shallow breathing. Reading at a slow pace will give you a chance to breathe. Take a breath at the natural breaks – commas, semi-colons, colons, periods and prepositional phrases. Your voice will be stronger, you will have time to use your voice to emphasize points, and your audience will have a chance to absorb your words. 

5.  Eye Contact. If looking at your audience is going to render you mute, don’t.

I know this sounds contrary to what most public speaking training will tell you, but a book reading is a bit different. People expect you to be reading to them. When you are done reading, make sure that you look directly at your audience letting your eyes rest on each quadrant of the room, smile, then thank them for their time. 

If you can look at your audience from time to time on the natural breaks or page turns, try to do so because it does help you connect to them. A trick for making eye contact is to direct your gaze at a point just above the eyebrows of a person in each quadrant of the room. You will appear to be making personal eye contact with anyone in that quadrant but minimize the risk of losing your rhythm by being “eye-locked” with someone. 

Public speaking is like most things in life, the more you do it the better and more comfortable you will become. Good luck and have fun!

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3 Responses to “One Introvert’s Guide to Reading at Book Signings”

  1. Scotti Cohn Says:

    Excellent article! I am by nature introverted, but I did participate in theater and debate in school. Once I’m “on stage” I’m usually okay. I enjoy making eye contact with members of the audience and interacting with them.

    I just have to overcome my reluctance to do it in the first place. LOL.

  2. Billy Bones Says:

    The man who types up my stories can really identify with your article. The thing he likes best about signings are the kids. They always give him a good chuckle.
    Best,
    Billy

  3. Mairead Walpole Says:

    Scotti & Billy:
    Thank you for stopping by to comment.
    Mairead


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