10 Tips to Improve your Book Reading


Photo credit I.Gay-Elgueta

Another Denman Island Readers’ and Writers’ Festival has come and gone. This was the third year I braved the stage to do a book reading. Why this particular feat should unnerve me, when in my working life I had no trouble rattling on in front of an auditorium full of people, I have no idea.

Well, I suppose I have one idea. These readings are timed. I have twelve precious minutes in which to hook my audience; twelve minutes to make a positive impression; twelve short minutes to turn listeners into readers, and I’m loath to waste a single moment of my allotted time.

As a result, I trim my reading to come in just shy of the twelve-minute mark. Trouble is, it’s only shy of twelve minutes if I read on stage at the same pace at which I’ve practiced.

I know what you’re thinking. Why not choose something shorter? Something that runs, say…ten minutes? Save myself a boatload of stress. Yeah, I should do that, but did I mention I’m loath to waste a single moment?

I may never get over my jitters, but regardless of whether the readings are timed, I have learned a few things that you might find helpful if you find yourself on stage with your book in your hands.

  1. Choose a selection that not only represents your work, but ends on a note that leaves your audience curious to know more.
  2. Avoid or remove spoilers.
  3. Replace the names of minor characters who aren’t pivotal. E.g. “Dr. Emery Coulter,” becomes “my doctor.”
  4. Delete references to events that occur either before or following the selection, but which aren’t explained or relevant within the passage. They will only add confusion to a short piece.
  5. Practice your reading standing up and speaking out loud. It makes a difference to the timbre of your voice and the timing, trust me.
  6. Give a brief introduction to the book and, if necessary, its genre. It will give your audience a basis from which to listen.
  7. Set up the scene and introduce the characters who are in the selection you’ve chosen. It will help your audience come out of the gate with you instead of struggling to keep up.
  8. Pause at the end of quotes. “My name is Emelynn,” (pause) she said.
  9. Use your voice to colour the words. Cold should be a short, hard slap. Warm should be a soft caress, drawn out to melt on your tongue.
  10. Know the passage well enough to be able to glance away for a moment and engage the audience.

Listening to other authors read at festivals is a great way to pick up tips on what works and what doesn’t. My favourite readings are from those authors who are able to step into an actor’s role and animate their reading. I’m not there yet with my own readings, but I’m working on it.

Have you read your work in public? What tips would you add to the list?

If twelve minutes isn’t enough for you either, you can download The Gift: Awakening in its entirety with one click here.

About JP McLean

Author of The Gift Legacy, a contemporary thriller with a twist of fantasy that will leave you believing the impossible and wary of the night sky…
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8 Responses to 10 Tips to Improve your Book Reading

  1. Dear J.P. You have ‘hit all the notes’ perfectly in this synopsis, outlining the ‘road map’ to success in ‘authors’ readings and presentations. Great ‘food for thought’ in the practical applications here, so eloquently addressed. This, I am going to tuck in my back pocket to reflect in the muse! Cheers!


  2. Sue Cox says:

    I noticed there is a bottle of wine on the table behind you. Does that help with the jittery nerves too? lol


  3. Thanks J.P. for your overview. I have yet to do this, but I know it’s coming and your tips are so appreciated, I’m going to save this post on my desktop, so hugs for this. I don’t know if you know, but I’m also a professional actor, so I should be good at this, right? But it’s different when you’re presenting yourself and not a character and your lines aren’t scripted for you. Though I’ve done public speaking before when I ran stress management workshops, but still every time you have to get up in front of an audience, it’s nerve-wracking. So, thanks again.


    • JP McLean says:

      Thanks, Diana. I can’t wait to hear you read from “A Cry From the Deep.” I’m sure it will be a masterful performance. It’s those acting skills that turn a reading into memorable entertainment. Cheers.


  4. I’m not overly nervous with public speaking… Even so, i always feel anyone is very brave when they get up on stage. But reading on stage is not something i’ve done. Now that’s a scary thought. 🙂


    • JP McLean says:

      I’m so envious of those of you who don’t get nervous speaking in public. There is one advantage, however, to reading on stage. And that is, with the lights, it’s difficult to see anyone in the audience. You could almost fool yourself into thinking no one was out there. Almost… Thanks for your comment.


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