Author Readings & Attendance Anxiety

There are no small readings, only small audiences.

Almost any writer (or anyone doing a presentation or speech to an audience whose size is not guaranteed) knows what it is like to go to a reading and face only a few people. It is not as difficult when the space is small but if it is meant to hold 100 people and only five appear, it tends to make you feel very small as a writer! “Don’t take it personally” is a cliché but it is true nonetheless. It is not a reflection of you or the topic or your reading.

I don’t have performance anxiety as some writers do. I actually enjoy reading to people. I have what I call attendance anxiety which starts the moment a new reading or talk has been set up for me. I worry that no one will show up. Small I can handle but zero I cannot. I try to put it out of my mind. I am rarely successful but I am getting better at dealing with it.

In one of the writing forums I am part of, I heard about an author who went to a reading and there was only one person in attendance. I am sure they had a split second where they wished that one person had not shown up and they could go home. That second passed and the writer used humour to deflect any awkwardness and did the reading anyway.

If the audience is small, remember that all of them still came to hear you, want to hear you. They care enough about you and your book to be there. You owe it to them to be there too, in every way. Nothing else matters.

I had someone tell me in advance of my reading somewhere that it would not have a high attendance because of the location.  I took it as the criticism I think it was meant to be – why are you doing this reading because hardly anyone will hear you? I admit I was slightly irritated because, first, I thought any publicity was important. Who knows if one of the few people who does show up might not be very significant to the future of your writing career or to the sales of whatever book you are promoting at that time.

Secondly, on more than one occasion after a reading, large or small, I have been told by someone that I have inspired them in some way. Sometimes my talk stimulated their writing and occasionally even their life in general. I cannot begin to tell you what that means to me.

Yes, of course I am there to promote one of my books and it goes without saying I want to sell as many books as possible. However, one of my goals in writing is to somehow touch people’s lives, to help them in some small way, so to inspire anyone is immensely fulfilling for me.

In addition, the more I do readings the more I do not mind small audiences. Perhaps I have to have that attitude because I so often face them!!  Seriously, intimate is wonderful. I try to write as though I am sitting next to a person telling them a story, whether it is about murder or theatre or a family’s history. Because of that, reading to a smaller group of people feels comfortable to me. It has been decades (my school public speaking days or my time in amateur theatre) since I have “performed” in front of a full house.  I’d like to have that opportunity again because it means reaching more people. In the meantime, I am quite content reading to smaller groups. Size really doesn’t make any difference – unless you allow it to.

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