Tips for authors: Giving good readings

You’ve written your book, gotten it published, and now you’re ready to show up at the bookstore, library, museum, cafe, or whichever venue will be your first one along the  book tour.

Reading to an audience is something you learn how to do well over time, through experience and mistakes, as the poet Kelli Russell Agodon says so well in this blog post. One of the most surprising things for me, when I first began doing readings for Forgetting English, was that I found myself wishing I’d read each and every story aloud one more time before seeing it into print — because once I began reading these stories aloud, I realized that I’d have changed certain words here and there so that they’d flow as well off the tongue as they seemed to on the page. So this leads to my first of many tips for having a successful public reading:

Think ahead — way ahead. When you’re in the process of publication, think ahead to how your work will sound when you read it aloud, and make the changes you need to make. That way, when you’re ready to plan what to read, you’ll know that it will sound good, and all you’ll need to do is practice. Which brings me to my next tip…

Practice. You may think you know your work inside and out, but reading is so different from writing. And you’ll also need to choose what to read, often from several hundred pages (see below for how to choose). Practice reading your selection aloud as many times as you need to. Read aloud in front of a few trusted people to get feedback on your pacing, emphasis, and delivery. Some writers use audio or video to gauge how they’re doing — also a great way to practice. And if you live in a city that offers open-mic events, go to them and read — and do this as often as you can. The very best way to get comfortable in front of an audience is to practice in front of an audience. Finally, click here for a few more tips from such professionals as Jack Straw Productions‘ Moe Provencher and poet and performer Elizabeth Austen.

When choosing what to read, less is more. When Forgetting English first came out and I was doing a lot of readings, I experimented: Once, I read an entire story (about 40 minutes of reading); other times, I’d read for ten to twenty minutes from one story; and still other times, I’d read from three different stories for five minutes each. Sometimes the best way to learn what works is to give it a try — and, having done all that, I can definitely recommend reading less and chatting with readers more. While my 40-minute reading was, fortunately, well received (if you do read for that long, be sure you do it in front of a friendly crowd who’ll happily sit through it and not throw things at you, and give them a head’s-up about the duration of the reading so they won’t get restless), I’ve done this sort of long reading only once, and I’m not inspired to read for that long again. For one, it’s easier to read shorter passages; two, it doesn’t risk tiring an audience; and three, it offers more time to chat about the book and to take questions. Remember that readers are there to get a taste of the book, but they’re also there to get what they can’t get from the book itself: a glimpse of who you are as a writer.

Support the venue. If you’re reading in an indie bookstore, support it with a purchase, whether it’s a book or a few greeting cards or a bar of Theo Chocolate. If you’re in a library, ask if you can donate a copy of your book for their collection. Always find a way to give back. And don’t forget to send thank-you notes.

Offer something extra to readers. Bring bookmarks or postcards, buttons or pens — any little something to offer guests at your event. If the venue allows, refreshments such as wine or cookies can offer a nice touch (I have unscientific proof that serving wine does improve book sales). It’s nice to offer little extras as thanks for supporting your book — and even if participants don’t purchase the book but leave with a bookmark, they’ll be reminded of it and might be inspired to buy it later.

Bring everything you might need. From water to reading glasses to tissues to cough drops — whatever you might need, bring it. Keep a list of things, just in case. It’s amazing what you forget … I’ve read without water (challenging) and without reading glasses (doubly challenging), and I once forgot to bring a copy of my own book, so I had to borrow one from the bookstore (embarrassing). There is no such thing as being too well prepared.

Bring extra books. If you’re reading at a venue other than a bookstore, you’ll likely bring your own books; always bring more than you think you’ll need. I bring 5-10 extra copies of Forgetting English along even to a bookstore reading — while this may seem redundant, it’s far better to lug them along than to lose these extra sales and readers if the bookstore runs out. Bookstores often under-order, and having been at bookstores that have sold out and needed my copies, I’m always glad to have them available. Granted, my book is slender and in paperback, so this is easy …  but even if your book is a heavy hardcover, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple of extras. If you do find yourself in a situation in which you leave readers without books, get their emails and follow up yourself with a signed copy, which they’ll appreciate.

– Speaking of getting emails…develop a mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet for email updates for anyone who wants to know where you’ll be next or to hear about your next project.

Be ready for anything. I keep my events low-key on purpose — no PowerPoint, nothing even remotely high-tech — so I never worry about the inevitable broken projectors or other possible malfunctions. But if you do need to bring or use equipment other than yourself and your book, always have fallback solutions, just in case.

Talk to readers. Don’t simply read but engage. Open your reading by thanking everyone for being there; say something nice about the city you’re visiting. Tell them what you’re about to read, why you chose it. Then, after your reading, invite questions. If no one asks anything at first (don’t worry — they all have questions; they’re just shy), simply jump right in yourself by saying, “One question I get a lot is…” and answer it. This will open up the dialogue.

Learn from — and celebrate — your experience. On her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, poet Susan Rich writes about the aftermath of the author reading: how to know whether you’ve succeeded, taking a look at what’s important to remember, and what’s important to let go. If you’re a multi-genre writer, you’ll also enjoy her post on reading poetry v. reading prose.


A sense of history through cemeteries

When we recently took off for the Oregon coast, among the guidebooks we carried with us was, of course, Mad as the Mist and Snow: Exploring Oregon Through Its Cemeteries. As author Johan Mathiesen points out in the book, cemeteries are so much more than they seem. They are parks and museums. They offer history and spectacular views. They offer a sense of the region that is just a little different from what the everyday travel guide offers … and this is what’s so great about the book. (If you haven’t already, check out Johan’s recent article in The Oregonian — and learn about five secret Oregon cemeteries.)

We visited the Marshfield Pioneer Cemetery in Coos Bay (and I’d post pictures here if I had any that weren’t completely rain-spattered) — and then, when the sun reappeared, we discovered the Cape Blanco Pioneer Cemetery.

Cape Blanco Pioneer Cemetery is a tiny but inviting little cemetery near where Patrick and Jane Hughes set up their homestead in the 1860s. (Just down the road is the house they built, which is open for tours April through October.) Both the location of the house as well as this quiet little cemetery offer a sense of what life was like back in the nineteenth century, working on raw, windswept land in an area both beautiful and harsh.

Cape Blanco also has sweeping beaches and a gorgeous, well-maintained lighthouse — but it’s the cemetery and homestead that completes the picture of the region’s history. So the next time you’re traveling through a new place, don’t neglect to visit the cemeteries…they’re well worth the visit.

Guest post: Veggie travel tips, Part II

We’re delighted to have Cristen Andrews of back to with part two of this special series on vegetarian/vegan travel. All photos are courtesy of Cristen. 

Vegetarian Travel Tips by Cristen Andrews from Circle Our Earth


Are you a vegetarian or vegan? Are you itching to get out and explore the world but anxious that your diet might hold you back? Sure, it takes a little extra effort—but vegetarian travel isn’t really that tough. In fact, with the right combination of planning, patience, and creativity, it can be incredibly rewarding. Click here for the first 10 … and here are the rest.


11. Shop at Open Air Markets and Street Stalls

The small, locally owned markets and street stands are often the cheapest and tastiest places to eat. You can also see your food before you buy it and talk directly to the cook (less things get lost in translation that way).


Vegetable market in Hanoi, Viet Nam


12. Find Cooking Teachers

Learning how to cook popular regional dishes is a great way to discover the country and its culture. Consider seeking out cooking classes when they’re available. And if they aren’t, find your own cooking mentors and just ask them to teach you. You’ll find that most people are proud of their cooking, flattered that you want to learn from them, and more than happy to teach you what they know.

Learning how to make parathas in Kumily, India


13. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

In many popular tourist destinations, there is usually a certain area of town that caters primarily to backpackers. These “tourist ghettos” usually consist of a cluster of streets where accommodation is cheap, English is widely spoken, and familiar foods are served. This can definitely be more comfortable (especially if you’re experiencing a bit of culture shock), and vegetarian choices might be more clearly defined (always nice if you’re exhausted from travel). But spend all your time in places like this and your overall travel experience will be bland, isolating, and much more expensive than it needs to be. And, most important, you’ll be alienating yourself from the culture you traveled so far to see. Instead, seek out local food joints and practice some phrases to make yourself understood. It might feel awkward at first, but you’ll gain respect for stepping out of your comfort zone and making an effort to interact with the community. You’ll most likely end up with some new friends, too.


Picking aronia berries in the Czech Republic



14. Set a Good Example

Like it or not, you may be the first vegetarian/vegan someone has ever met. Think of yourself as an ambassador for all vegetarians, and set a positive example. If you come across as arrogant, preachy, or rude, you’ll sour people’s opinions of vegetarianism and vegetarians. On the flip side, if you’re considerate, respectful, polite, and appreciative, people will be more helpful to the next vegetarian they meet. This also means don’t complain (even if there really isn’t a lot to eat wherever you are). The idea is to show people that vegans can be happy and content with the multitude of choices around, so don’t look like you’re suffering or that vegetarianism is about deprivation. (And besides, no one likes a whiner).


Vegetarian Thalis with Puri and Chapati in India


15. Stay Healthy and Hydrated

Travel is exhausting. And with the stress of being in a foreign place and trying to find meat-free foods, it’s easy to neglect your health. You don’t have to be a health fanatic. Just be aware of what you’re eating, try to get a balanced diet, bring along a few reusable water bottles and a water purifier so you always have clean water to drink, and pay attention to what your body needs to stay energized. Also tell yourself that it’s okay to take it easy sometimes and rest. Your body will thank you for slowing down occasionally (and it will pay off in the long run, as you’ll have more energy to go out and explore).

Reusable water bottle and SteriPEN (handheld water purifier)


16. Get Involved

Some people just eat to be full and then carry on with their day (and that’s okay, too). But if you’re a big foodie like me, food will probably become a big part of your trip. You could tour a spice plantation, visit an animal rescue center, volunteer at a veggie event, or start your own food blog. There are heaps of interesting ways to make your specialized diet fun while traveling.

Feeding babies at a cow sanctuary


17. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

Most people are able and willing to accommodate a veggie diet. But if you’re too timid to speak up in the first place, the only person who suffers is you. Be upfront about your diet, state your eating habits firmly and specifically, and ask for custom options when vegetarian choices aren’t available. This can be nerve-wracking or awkward (especially if you’re really shy), but you’ll have to do it or you’ll have a difficult time enjoying yourself. And…you’ll miss out on some really great food. The good thing is that it’s entirely possible to explain your diet in a graceful, non-confrontational way so that you make yourself understood without offending others. And if enough vegetarians make special requests when veg-friendly options aren’t available, dining establishments will eventually react by modifying their menus to accommodate this growing demand.

Big plate of veggies with black sesame seeds in Cambodia


18. Don’t Be Difficult

When you do speak up….don’t be difficult. Don’t assume people understand what a vegetarian/vegan is (or your reasons for being one). You have a much better idea of your dietary needs and how to accommodate them, so don’t simply announce that you’re vegetarian and make people guess what to feed you. Instead, make it easy for them by describing your needs in detail and making suggestions to show that you really aren’t asking for something complicated (after all, creating a vegetarian meal is often just taking out certain elements and substituting others).

Tempeh and stir fried fiddlehead ferns in Borneo


19. Stick to Your Morals

Know the difference between being nice and being a pushover. While it’s obviously okay to make exceptions from time to time if you believe it’s the right thing to do in that particular context, don’t get bullied into don’t something you don’t agree with. If you ever get stuck in a tricky situation, remind yourself why you decided to be vegetarian in the first place. You shouldn’t ever have to take breaks from your diet or compromise your beliefs in order to please other people.


A wall full of flavored soy milk in Japan


20. Keep a Sense of Humor

Don’t be surprised or upset by misunderstandings and miscommunications. These things will happen (especially if you’re in another country where people have a completely different culture and belief system). Always take things in stride and don’t get too bent out of shape when something doesn’t go your way. Your entire trip shouldn’t revolve around food anyway, so just try your best and don’t stress. You can stick to your diet without being uptight or high-maintenance. Just plan ahead and allow for flexibility in your trip. If you’re adaptable, resourceful, and easygoing, you’ll have many great adventures!


About Cristen:

Cristen is a passionate vegan who loves to cook, eat, and travel. Having traveled to more than 25 countries, she has a diverse range of experiences and insight regarding vegetarian travel and loves sharing her stories with whoever wants to listen. Her website,, is a work in progress, but she aims to make it a comprehensive resource for vegetarian and vegan world travel. Her main goal with the site is to inspire more people – especially those who have chosen to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle – to get out there and explore the world.

A million thanks to Cristen for offering these useful tips (as well as these fabulous photos!). Visit Circle Our Earth to learn more about vegetarian and vegan world travel. 

Guest post: Veggie travel tips, Part I

Today we’re delighted to have Cristen Andrews of offering a two-part series on vegetarian/vegan travel. All photos are courtesy of Cristen.

Vegetarian Travel Tips by Cristen Andrews from Circle Our Earth


Are you a vegetarian or vegan? Are you itching to get out and explore the world but anxious that your diet might hold you back? Sure, it takes a little extra effort—but vegetarian travel isn’t really that tough. In fact, with the right combination of planning, patience, and creativity, it can be incredibly rewarding. I’ve got 20 tips that will help you make your next travel experience delicious, inexpensive, and fun. Here are the first 10 … and click here for the next 10!

1. Research Your Destinations

The most important thing you can do is plan ahead. This doesn’t mean you’ll need to micromanage every detail of your trip and adhere to a rigid schedule you decided on months in advance. It just means you’ll want to have an idea of the veg-friendly things that exist in the places you intend to visit.

Not sure where to start? Here are some great resources:

2. Learn The Local Lingo

Learning just a few words will immensely enrich your travel experience. Make your own notebook of useful phrases and add to it as you go. Copy down characters in addition to phonetic pronunciations, learn to say “I cannot eat” rather than “I don’t eat” (your diet will be taken more seriously that way), and don’t forget to learn the most important words of all: “please,” “thank you,” and “delicious.” The Vegan Passport and SelectWisely translation cards can be useful tools if you want something you can just point to and make your diet understood. But nothing beats verbal communication, and the locals will applaud you for your efforts.


Menu in a Japanese restaurant


3. Notify Hosts in Advance

Vegetarianism is not a well understood concept in many places, and your hosts will likely assume you eat meat unless told otherwise. When possible, politely explain your diet well before a meal is prepared, as this will help avoid an awkward situation. People are usually pretty accommodating if you’re nice. And as long as you’re a polite, gracious guest, your hosts shouldn’t be annoyed or angered by your desire to eat only vegetables. They might think you’re kind of weird, but since you likely have other habits that are unfamiliar to them anyway, they probably already do.



4. Make Friends

Once you start seeking out other vegetarians, the world will start to seem very small. Hang around veg-friendly places in search of like-minded folks, join meet-up groups, or use a variety of online resources to make connections easy.

Here are a few places to start:

 Eating at a delicious vegetarian buffet in Bangkok, Thailand


5. Be Prepared

Whether you’re staying a few days in a centrally located hostel, spending a week in a remote village, or going on a two-month camping trip, it’s important to plan ahead and pack accordingly. It’s a good idea to at least bring some snacks so you don’t get stuck someplace with nothing to eat. You can pack a bunch of food and some basic eating utensils, or just carry a few favorite spice mixes to spruce up otherwise boring meals. It’s up to you. But no matter where you go and how long you’re away, don’t expect other people to take care of you.


Examples of things I like to bring on backpacking trips (note the spork, travel knife, compressible bowl, and mini cutting board) 

6. Learn About Regional Foods

International cuisine is generally more conducive to a vegetarian diet, and many cultures are centered around plant-based foods. Many dishes will already be vegetarian, and many more can be made that way with the removal of one ingredient (for example, fish sauce in Thailand or bonito flakes in Japan). Knowing the names of local ingredients will help you decipher menus, customize a menu item that’s already almost vegetarian, suggest veg-friendly dishes when communication is tough, and ensure you don’t miss out on all the delicious regional specialties.


Udon soup with rolled yuba in Japan


7. Seek Out Veg Versions of Local Favorites

Once you do a little investigating, you’ll be surprised to learn that most countries are much more veg friendly than you may initially think. Many places even have vegetarian versions of popular meaty foods. Sampling these is a fun way to try local specialties without actually eating meat.


8. Stay Somewhere with a Kitchen (or Bring a Travel Stove)

It’s obviously nice to try the local cuisine and support local businesses. But if you have the means to cook your own food, you can save money, eat healthier, pack meals to take with you on day trips, and eat whenever/wherever you’re hungry.


9. Be Creative and Resourceful

Be creative with what’s available, pack versatile ingredients that can be combined in numerous ways, and learn to make tasty meals with only a few basic items. It’s a fun challenge and a good skill to have if you want to travel light and cheap. Foraging skills are also useful (especially if you’re on a long-distance hiking or cycling trip). Learn to identify nuts, fruits, mushrooms, and edible wild plants.

Picking chanterelle mushrooms in Germany


10. Seek Help from Locals

The best knowledge is local knowledge. Locals can be your best resource, and don’t be afraid to ask around if you need help with something. They can explain menus, decipher ingredient lists, suggest places to eat, make you a list of important phrases, customize your meal to be veg-friendly, and speak for you when you have a tough time communicating. Remember to always thank those who help, as they’ll be more apt to do it again for someone else.


About Cristen:

Cristen is a passionate vegan who loves to cook, eat, and travel. Having traveled to more than 25 countries, she has a diverse range of experiences and insight regarding vegetarian travel and loves sharing her stories with whoever wants to listen. Her website,, is a work in progress, but she aims to make it a comprehensive resource for vegetarian and vegan world travel. Her main goal with the site is to inspire more people – especially those who have chosen to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle – to get out there and explore the world.

Come back on Thursday for the second part of this series on veggie travel…and also visit Circle Our Earth to learn more.

Tips for authors: The author photo

I can still remember the days (long ago) when an author’s photo on a book cover was optional. Sometimes there would be one, often in black-and-white; sometimes not. Now, however, in these days of “mediagenic” authors and digital imagery, the author photo is no longer an option. Which is a little stressful for those of us who have a disproportionate number of bad hair days or who may not love the camera.

But, as Jane Friedman writes in this blog post, every author needs a professional head shot. For one, if you hope to promote yourself and your book, you’ll be asked for one — and, as Friedman points out, a photo can do wonders in terms of giving you credibility or establishing trust … or have the opposite effect.

Jane’s post offers excellent tips for what you’ll want in a photo, and I’ll add a couple more:

Stay within your budget, or you’re sure to be even more stressed about it. There’s nothing worse than spending money you don’t have … but especially on a photo that will remind you of it at every turn. Many wonderful photographers out there know that we writers don’t make a lot of money; find one that you can afford, then relax and enjoy the process.

Invest in a good camera, and find someone who knows how to use it. It’ll pay off in the end — for one, you can take photos on your book tour and at other events, which are always nice to have. Two, you can take a few good shots to offer in addition to your Official Author Photo. And, finally, you may even be able to use it for your Official Author Photo, especially if you don’t like or can’t afford the more formal studio shots. The photo I’m currently using was taken by my husband (who put himself through college in part by working as a photographer), and while it’s not a professional studio shot, I like the more casual feel of it.

Be yourself. Have you ever been to a reading where you couldn’t identify the author because he/she looked so unlike the photo on the book cover? Beware of this. You’ll want to look your best, but don’t go too crazy with hair and makeup; most of all, you’ll want to look like yourself. And, while it’s certainly tempting, avoid using a photo that captures your youthful self but doesn’t at all resemble your current self. In this blog post, author Mary Akers concludes that author photos should be updated every ten years — and this seems just about right; it allows us to put off the trauma of author photos for a good amount of time yet still keep our image somewhat up-to-date.

Interview photographers. This is a great idea no matter what, but especially if you’re going to spend a lot of money. Once you’ve narrowed down your list based on the portfolios you like the best, schedule a meeting or a chat as well. Make sure the photographer knows exactly what you want and can achieve this for you. And make sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with, or you won’t be looking very relaxed in your photos.

– Check out this Q&A with photographer Rosanne Olson, below.

I first encountered Rosanne’s work in her beautiful book, This Is Who I Am, a collection of images and essays on women, body image, and compassion that Kate Winslet called “an absolutely wonderful book” and declared, “Every woman needs to see it!” As well as an author, Rosanne is an award-winning photographer and photojournalist who also has more than thirty years’ experience as a teacher and lecturer. She is particularly passionate about telling stories through portraits — of women, families, business professionals…and, yes, authors.

Rosanne generously agreed to chat with me about author photos, offering more important tips for authors to keep in mind. All the photographs below, including author photos of Wendy Call, Susan Rich, and Kelli Russell Agodon, are courtesy of Rosanne. Visit Rosanne’s website for more on her work.


What do you think makes a good author photo?

The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.

What advice can you offer to writers who are nervous about having their photos taken?

People come to me with varying degrees of “nervousness” about how they look and how they “photograph” (“No one has ever taken a good photo of me” is a common complaint). This is very natural. My approach to get people to relax is to spend time talking to my clients before I pick up my camera. I also will likely read some of their work prior to the session. I make recommendations about clothing and makeup, and then, as the session proceeds, share some of the digital images with the client. I like to make them feel that they are in competent and compassionate hands with something that is very precious to them. After the session, I get them to sit with me to edit the photos to make sure they get the look they want.

What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos?

Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.

What should an author expect to pay for a professional author photo?

Photographers’ fees vary across the country, but most charge somewhere between $150 and $2,500. If you pay the least amount possible for a photo you may get something okay. Or even just fine. But will it work for years to come? I try to work with people and their budgets. It is definitely an important investment.

Do you recommend color or black-and-white for author photos — and why?

Things are shot digitally these days so all images come out in color and it takes an extra step to convert them to black-and-white or sepia. That said, I think color conveys more because it is, well, color.

Do you have any recommendations for authors who are looking for a photographer? What questions should they ask?

An author photo is an important piece of one’s “brand.” If you have a photo you like, you can use it for years. When people see it they will think of you and of your work. I think of some of the famous, famous photos of people like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and how they convey so much at a glance. Pick your photographer by looking at the photographer’s web site and perhaps talking on the phone. Also, ask for references from other artists and authors who have been photographed by that person.