At An Author Book Reading, You Should Never, Ever Do This One Thing
I have attended hundreds of readings and literary events, both as an observer and as a coordinator. I absolutely love attending readers, and every event has been fruitful in its own way. Yet, there is one thing that happens more often than it should. I'm talking, of course, about the seven most dreaded words in the publishing industry: "I have a comment and a question."
Let me rewind a little and set the stage, just in case you've been lucky enough never to experience this phenomenon. The typical format for an author event includes a reading from the author's work, followed by a panel discussion or a conversation with an interviewer. At the end, the author usually answers a few questions from the audience. And nine out of 10 times, at least one person will raise their hand and begin their inquiry with the following words: "I have a comment and a question."
Please don't do this.
Here's the thing: when I attend a reading, I'm there to listen to the author speak. Don't get me wrong, I love connecting with other book-lovers. But, there's plenty of time to do that before and after the main event. During the event, I want to hear what the author has to say, not what you have to say.
Plus the longer a person's comment/question, the more time wasted that could be used for other audience questions. Your comment robs the rest of the audience of the chance to engage with the author and have their questions answered. It also deprives the author of the valuable time they have to answer inquiries about their work. The event venue usually has a strict scheduling, meaning that time is seriously limited.
And believe me, even if you think your comment won't take that long, it does. People tend to get nervous when they're speaking in public, which means they meander a little bit in what they're saying. And even if you are as direct as possible, your comment doesn't have any relevance to anyone but you. It might feel like only a moment's interruption in your eyes, but for everyone else, it feels like eternity.
OK, I get it, though. This author's work has meant an enormous amount to you. You feel like this is your one chance to have a finally connect with them IRL. But an audience Q&A is not the place to share your life story.
Here's what you should do instead: If there is a book signing scheduled after the presentation, use that time to talk to the author. (Though, again, be mindful of the author's time and the people in line behind you.) Not only does this spare everyone else from your comment, but trust me, talking to them one-on-one is going to be a much better experience than talking to them in front of everyone else.
If there's not a book signing, or you don't have enough time to say what you want to say, you can always write the author a note afterward. Most authors are easily reachable on social media, and if you can't find them there, you can send them a note through their publisher. Authors generally love hearing from their fans. By writing out your comment instead of saying it, you're giving them the chance to truly think about what you have to say and to answer on their own terms. Plus, you can make sure you say it exactly it is you want to say. Win-win.
By all means, if you have a question, you should ask it during the Q&A. That's what a Q&A is for! But it's not called a C&Q&A. So, if you ever get the urge to add a personal story onto your question, take a moment to dial it back. Believe me, everyone will appreciate it.