Sunday, 17 June 2012

CAN YOU GIVE A READING FROM A KINDLE? Sherry Ashworth


I suppose it’s because my day job is teaching that I’ve always relished reading aloud from my books.  No – all right – I’ll be completely honest here.  I like reading aloud from my books because I’m a show-off.  And also because interaction with readers is the holy grail of all writers.  Online interaction is good, but real-life interaction is better.

When you have a paper book, and especially when you have a paper book published by a publisher, book readings do happen.  The publishers want to sell your books and so do bookshops.  They stock your books, and get you in to help move the stock.  Libraries want to encourage readers to walk through their doors, and will use authors as bait.  The sheer physical presence of a book attracts customers.  It’s like a triangle – with sellers, physical book and the author at each of the three angles.

But how do e-books fit in to this?  If we are self-publishing e-books, with no publisher banging the drums on our behalf, and with no book-as-object, can we still get readings?  And what happens when we do?

Twice recently I’ve read from my e-books, and here’s what happened in case it’s of use to anyone.  The first time I was offered a chance to read because there was a micro-local Book Festival.  These seem to be popping up everywhere.  Just as authors are doing it for themselves, a number of enterprising booklovers seem to be organising festivals in their own hometowns – and long may they prosper.

At the Prestwich Book Festival (for you benighted souls who live outside of the north-west of England, that’s north Manchester) I read alongside another author, Gill James,  who chose to bring along her paper manuscript to read from.  I was brave and brought my Kindle.  It did feel weird.  Particularly as I use my Kindle for bedtime reading, and so I felt as if I was bringing a rather intimate part of me – like my pyjamas, or alarm clock.

I did take the precaution of rehearsing.  I had to – because when I do a reading, I like to dart about in the book, doing what poets do.  I mean, when poets read, they read a poem and chat, and then another poem, and another bit of chat.  I’ve always thought this is a brilliant way to hold the audience’s attention.  If you have a paper book, it’s fairly easy to bookmark in order to do this.  With a Kindle, it takes precision engineering.

My reading went smoothly.  But I had to watch a tendency to click to turn a page too early.  When that happens, you have to flick back and you lose your authorly composure – at least, I did.  Oh, and it helps A LOT if when you format your e-book, you have a contents page with chapters, so you can move easily from chapter to chapter.

One consequence of reading aloud from a Kindle is that inevitably the questions at the end turn to the Kindle itself, and you do end up talking about the means of delivery of your text rather than the text. Or selling on behalf of Amazon!  I don’t think there’s any escaping this, while e-books are in their infancy.  You will hear from the Luddites who cannot see that e-books and paper books can and should co-exist happily.  Neither is a threat to the other.

In my second reading, I was asked to use a hand-held microphone as the audience was elderly and hard of hearing.  And here’s a tip for getting readings.  All around you, wherever you live, there are 60+ social clubs and groups with people sound of mind, desperate for good-quality speakers.  They will love you to come and read from your e-book.  But as I said, they’ll almost certainly want you to use a mike.

So there I was, mike in one hand, and Kindle in the other.  You see the problem!  I needed one hand to hold the Kindle, one hand to click through the pages, and another hand to hold the mike.  Fortunately I’d been given a table so I could use that as a prop.  Interestingly this more senior audience were less bothered about my Kindle – some had Kindles and others regretted not having one – but there was no prejudice.  The audience interacted immediately with the content of my book.  It helped that the book is mainly about food (Good Recipes and Bad Women.)  Everyone always has a lot to say about food.

I’m looking forward to more Kindle readings.  I am passionate about being able to read aloud from e-books – why shouldn’t we have that opportunity?  Writers want to meet readers and readers want to meet writers.  I’m busy thinking of ways to do more Kindle readings.  I’ve tentatively approached a couple of libraries, but was underwhelmed by the response. I wonder if librarians feel a little threatened by e-books?  I hope not.

Perhaps local e-book writers ought to get together and organise some readings.  The real challenge lies in finding the location – bookstores obviously won’t be too interested.  But local pubs?  Or small theatres?  Even though we don’t publish on paper, we can still get out and be the entertainers and thought-provokers that we are!

(photo of Prestwich Book Festival courtesy of Emma Farrer)

4 comments:

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Interesting - I've wondered about reading from a Kindle too. It would certainly send the right message. The other night, reading a 'paper book' in bed, I found myself absent mindedly clicking at the edge of the page and wondering why it didn't turn over!

Dan Holloway said...

Very good point about the actual logistics of hopping around in a Kindle. It's definitely the case an audience's attention is held best by interspersed chunks of text - that's always been the great challenge for writers of long fiction - and extracts don't always work - audiences like rhythm and structure to engage them so extracts rather than complete pieces of short fiction need to be chosen very carefully.

I've noticed quite a few performance poets are using electronic gadgets to read from now so you are most definitely a trendsetter!!

Bill Kirton said...

Interesting. It hadn't occurred to me to do this - maybe because, so far, all my books have been in ebook and paper formats. It does make sense to try it, of course, but the bookmarking needed for jumping from extract to extract would probably put me off.

And I'd second your suggestion re. getting in touch with community groups - they make very enthusiastic audiences.

Katherine Roberts said...

Ah, but have you tried holding a hardback in one hand and a microphone in the other... and then turning the pages?

Hmm, maybe if you put the Kindle on "text to speech" it'll do both the turning and the reading for you? Then you can just hold the mike and look pretty!