The classic question of an author’s existence is, if you write a novel and no one ever reads it, does it exist? I think most of us would be relatively unsurprised to discover one day that all of our terrible buried novels had simply disappeared, as if the universe had decided to give us a pass and burn their thread from the pattern, setting us free.

But what about the books you do like, once you’ve written them? Generally speaking you’ve got to get out there and try to sell them. Whether this involves finding an agent and a traditional publisher or self-publishing that sucker, the next step is to, you know, try to sell them. Which means promotion and marketing, which means, very likely, someone will suggest to you that you organize a reading. or will announce they’ve already done so.

Punch them. Punch them hard. Readings are terrible. And what’s more, they don’t accomplish much.

Welcome Back My Friends

Look, in theory Readings are perfectly reasonable. They give you something to advertise and promote, they offer your fans a chance to meet you and hear you read your novel, and you might sell some copies.

The reality is somewhat different. Now, if you’ve got a lot of fans you’ll likely get a decent showing, and they might buy your book to get it signed, or because it’s launch day and they couldn’t buy it beforehand. That’s all good! And yet it’s not worth it, because Readings are awkward horrorshows and you will never sell enough books to make them worthwhile, for a number of reasons:

  • The probability that the people who will come to your reading are already fans and would buy your book anyway is at least in the high 90s.
  • Chances those same people would buy a copy just to chat with you and have you sign it even if you didn’t bother doing a reading is about 100%.\
  • The chances that a person who has never heard of you will choose to attend your reading and then be persuaded to buy your book is very, very close to 0%.

So, what you get is a stressful performance conducted by people who were not put on this Earth to perform (most writers are the sort, like me, who hiss and spit whenever sunlight hits them), all in the service of selling books to people who would buy it anyway.

You might enjoy doing readings. Certainly they can offer promotion beyond the actual physical event, if you get some press coverage and the like. But don’t imagine for one moment that they’re really worth the effort, because they are soul-killing humiliation pits, and everyone who comes to laugh and jeer at you would have bought your book anyway.

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