Always Bring a Child to Your Reading and other things I’ve learned

September 11th, 2008
Reading at Village Books in the Palisades--my favorite bookstore in the world

Reading at Village Books in the Palisades--my favorite bookstore in the world

So last night I had my first official book signing for The Smart One and the Pretty One.  I had a ball, which I can’t always say about book-related events, and now that I’m looking back (from my virtual sick bed–more on that later), I think I’ve come up with some rules for having a successful literary evening.

1.  Lose your mind–a little bit.  I’ve been nursing a cold all week, hoping it wouldn’t blossom into a worse one (which it did this morning–please send chicken soup!) and so dosed myself heavily with Sudafed and Advil before going to the 7:30 reading.  I brought wine for the guests, but of course had a few sips of my own before things started, and between the meds and the wine, I was (as my sister Nell put it) a bit “loopy.”

The loopiness led to several silly moments, like when I completely forgot the name of one of the main characters in the book, and cracked myself up with my own stupidity.  Everyone else laughed, too.  Laugher is a good way to start off when you’re reading a lighthearted beach read like my books tend to be.  Of course, if you tend to write about world wars or anything like that, you might choose not to be quite so loopy.

2.  Keep the reading short and the dialogue going. I always choose a very short section of the book to read and then open the event up to questions and answers, mostly because it’s much more fun for ME to interact with everyone than to sit or stand there droning away.  Plus I tend to fall asleep when someone else reads aloud and have a sneaking suspicion I’m not the only one who associates being read to with nodding off. (Wasn’t it ingrained in us all at an early age when our parents read us to sleep?)   Besides, everyone likes spontaneity and nothing’s more spontaneous than an unexpected question.  Which brings us to:

2. Bring your children and invite other people’s kids.  Adults are polite and predictable.  Unless they’re drunk, in which case they’re less polite and equally predictable but in bad ways.  Kids on the other hand–well, there’s a reason why “Kids Say the Darndest Things” was a huge TV hit. 

Anyway, I brought my kids last night–I always bring my kids everywhere I can because I don’t like to leave the house and if they’re with me it’s kind of like I HAVEN’T really left the house–and a few of our friends also brought their kids.  Kids go to school, so they’re used to asking raising hands and asking questions without worrying about whether or not they’re impressing people with the brilliance of the questions they’re asking (the way the rest of us do–you know you do).  So the kids last night asked the most relaxed questions, the kinds of questions you wished people would ask at these things.  My daughter kept the dialogue rolling along, and a couple of my friends’ kids asked good questions, but my favorite moment was when my 8-year-old son Will said, “What do you think of other people’s books when you read them?  I mean, do you think they’re better than yours or not?”

How brilliant a question is that?  Don’t you want to ask every writer that one?

(By the way, I’m not going to answer it here.  You have to come to my reading at Book Soup on Saturday at 5 and ask it yourself.  Or e-mail me.)

You can see the back of Will’s litte head in the photo at the top–he’s in the black and white striped shirt at the front of the room.   And if you don’t think that’s the cutest most wonderful little back of a head you’ve ever seen, there is something seriously wrong with you.

4. If it’s before three in the afternoon, serve coffee.  If it’s after, serve wine.  There’s nothing specific to literary events about this.  It’s just good advice in general.  Especially if you’re inviting me.

5. Have wonderful friends who’ll show up even though it’s a week night and almost impossible to get out of the house what with all the homework their kids are doing and the long days of working and schlepping they’ve already put in and the fact that they’ve come to enough of your damn book events already and you should know they’re supportive by now without forcing them to come to yet ANOTHER book signing and one that isn’t even catered or anything exciting like that.  A big thank you to all my amazing friends who showed up last night and made it so much fun for me.  

6.  Find a great local, independent bookstore to have the event in.  If you’ve read my other blog (www.bookstorepeople.com), you know that I’m a huge fan of my local bookstore Village Books.  If they ever went out of business, the loss would be huge–not just to me (and my constant desperate last minute need for gifts and reading material for my kids and myself) but for our entire community.  Any book event will be enriched by taking place in a warm, book-loving, unique environment.  Hooray for local independent bookstores!

And hooray for a day with no plans except to stay home and write and drink hot liquids until the kids get back from school.  This cold and I are going to battle it out.  I’ll let you know who wins . . .

  • Betsy says:

    I love love love my small town, but going to a book reading does sound like fun. Ever come to western Kansas? 🙂

    I got your email today about the new book, and found the blog.

    Looking forward to both.

  • Claire says:

    You never know where life will lead you . . . Thanks so much!

  • Eliza says:

    Claire,

    You are soooo special – writer, wife, mother, and NIECE of Miss Jane of NYC…and unless your cold is contagious to those of us living in Studio City I will be at Book Soup with bells on!

    With a hug,
    eliza

  • Joanne says:

    Great tips here. Children do add spontaneity to an event, from the mouths of babes … Even the wine vs. coffee topic struck me, b/c it’s something I’d never even considered. It’s nice to read about a writer’s experiences post-publication.

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