The Quick & Dirty on what to consider when participating in literary events

The ask

So you receive a request to do a reading. AMAZING. That’s fabulous. You’re new to this and unsure of how to reply. No worries, I am here to help.

 Know your values

Have a mission statement or guiding principle that you use to decide what organizations to support, what offers to accept, what relationships to build and of course, which events to participate in.

 Consider the source

Not all organizations have the same resources at their disposal. For example, maybe they offered you a smaller than normal honorarium. Before going into a “you need to pay me more” rant, take some time to consider the source. Is the organization a non-profit or a for profit? Chances are, non-profits may not have the funds to pay you the same as a private organization would, but if the person or organization doing the big ask is one that you believe in, then maybe consider that when making your decision. Yes, all artists need to be paid for their work, this is true, but what I do is set aside a certain number of “pro bono” hours per month so that I can gage how much “free work” I am doing and for whom. This will also help me decide when I need to say no.

 Do you have all the info you need?

I won’t lie, one time I straight up got an email that said: “Hey do you want to do an event on [insert date]?” That’s it. No time, no venue, no description of the event or what my involvement would be. You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t have any information. There was no transparency around accessibility, honorariums … nothing. I replied back with bullet points laying out all of the info I would require before even considering their request. SIGH.

 It’s totally ok for an organization to be HONEST and say they don’t have that info yet, but put that in the email. Instead of “Hey do you want to do an event on [insert date]?” Maybe try: “Hey there, we would love to book you on [insert date] to do a 20-minute reading from your latest book. We are still looking for a venue, investigating honorariums, and will have all the info you need by [insert date]. If you are interested in doing a reading with us and you are free on that date, we’d love to make this happen.”

 THEN …

 …you can reply saying yes with the contingency that you will make a final decision once you receive the rest of the information. Hey! That wasn’t so difficult ; )

 Know your limits

The fear of the temporary opportunity is real. I get it. I’ve experienced that fear too and said yes to everything under the sun out of sheer paranoia that I will slip into the shadowy dusty mindset that “no one cares about you now ’cause your book is old”, but you have to talk yourself out of that. Do not say yes to everything just because you think no one will ask you again. Do not overwhelm yourself with events just because you have that day free, or you like that venue … your decisions need to be well-thought out and you need to go right back to that “does this meet my core values as an artist” section and weigh your options.

Ok so you’ve weighed your options, the ask was good, the event sounds stellar and you are hyped up. Now what?

 The Venue

Not seeing the venue beforehand can cause unnecessary apprehension which in turn can lead to you not giving your best, not being your best, and let’s be honest, you are not going to feel good about it afterward. How to alleviate this? It’s totally ok to ask to see the venue beforehand. If this is not a possibility there’s always an option to google it and check out some photos or even ask the event organizer to send you some. It won’t be considered annoying, trust me. It shows that you are a professional and that you care. You want to do a good job and that’s what will come across. Here are some questions you can ask that will help paint a picture for what the event will look like and to help you situate yourself:

·      What sort of lighting will there be? (it really sucks not being able to SEE your pages, this has happened to me, not a good look).

·      Will there be a mic? Some of us have quieter voices (not me, but some of us do lol so it’s good to know this in advance)

·      Is it a public event or is the venue booked for ticketed folks only? (not gonna lie, I did a reading in a bar that was open to the public and it was hell because those folks were not expecting a reading and were not respectful. Know who to expect and plan accordingly)

·      Who will be promoting the event? I always ask for an event jpg or poster pdf so that I can do a little promoting myself. You want to get the word out. There’s nothing fun about reading or presenting to a bunch of empty chairs. Also been there, done that.  

 Preparation

·      Read your work, listen for the spots where you stumble. Revise. Time your reading (include story set up or context in your timing). Don’t be a stage hog! Know your time limit, and stay within it! : )


Chelene Knight is the author of the poetry collection Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making RoomLove Me TrueSustenanceThe Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter.

 The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” In addition to her work as a writer, Knight is managing editor at Room, programming director for the Growing Room Festival, and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials. She often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling.