How Not to Apply for a Reading Series

I’ve been throwing away other people’s books and manuscripts. Gasp. I don’t want to. It feels wrong. But these things have piled up over the years, sent by writers who want to be featured at the Nye Beach Writers’ Series here in Newport, Oregon. We have changed presidents several times in the last decade, and now the boxes have landed at my house.

It’s my job to schedule the authors for our monthly programs. At this point, 2015 is set, but of course people still contact us. Some I have put in the queue for 2016 because I want them here as soon as possible.

Others, not so much. Their work is inappropriate for our series, they live on the other side of the country, they demand a date that is not available, or–and this is where the throwing stuff away comes in–they send books with no other information, loose manuscript pages with no names on them, and vague form letters that show they know nothing about what we do here. The interesting books, I’ll read and give away, but everything else is going into the recycling bin.

Scheduling writers for readings is a big job. In some ways, it’s a lot like being an editor. People query us. We issue acceptances and rejections. We choose our guest authors to fit into the whole year, hoping for a balance of genres and styles, new writers and veterans. That means if we already have several poets, we might say no to another poet, even if his work is fabulous. We’re also looking for writers who are dynamic readers, who don’t just read but perform. We also want people who are going to draw an audience.

I’m sure it’s the same for most reading series. In the interest of not having to throw away any more manuscripts or books, here are some tips I have learned doing this job for Nye Beach Writers, as well as several years doing the same thing for California Writers Club.

  • Do a little research. Check the website, find out when and where the readings happen, and whether they do straight readings or are looking for workshops. See what types of writers read there, and tailor your query to that reading series.
  • Use email. This is 2015. Before you mail a big packet of unnecessary material, write a one-page email telling a little bit about yourself and why you think you’d be a good fit. If you have a new book to promote, tell us. If you have read at other venues or if you teach writing, tell us. If you happen to have a multimedia presentation with music, video or PowerPoint, tell us. If you have a cocker spaniel named Charlie, don’t tell us—unless he’s coming to the reading.
  • Before you go to the expense of sending a book, ask if we’d like you to send a copy. If you’re published by a traditional press, ask them to send the book. In fact, use their PR to approach us.
  • If you only have manuscript pages or proofs that’s okay, but put your name on every page and give us at least a paper clip to hold them together.
  • Be aware that we schedule way ahead, so don’t write to me in March and tell me you want to be our guest in May and only May. That date is taken. You need to think ahead, too. It’s not too soon to let us know if your book is coming out next January.
  • If scheduled, you will need to provide photos and bio material for our publicity person. Have those available, but don’t send them until asked. If you have a web page we can consult, that will be a big help.

The Nye Beach Writers Series is a production of Writers on the Edge, a nonprofit organization. We hold our events the third Saturday of the month at the Newport Visual Arts Center. After the guest author presentation, we always hold an open mic for anyone who wants to share their work. We also host several workshops a year.

Newport is also the home of the Willamette Writers Coast Branch, a separate organization which hosts monthly writing workshops–not readings. They are always looking for writers who can teach some aspect of writing. It could be you.

We have had some great authors at Nye Beach Writers. Cheryl Strayed read for us when her bestseller Wild was just a dream. Chuck Palahniuk shared his work with us when he was a brand new writer with a weird novel called Fight Club. Reading for a series such as ours won’t make you rich, but it’s a great way to promote your work and connect with readers.

There are reading series all over the country, all over the world. To be honest, if we had no one approach us, we’d just feature our friends, so we all need authors coming to us, but do it right. Do your homework, and don’t send me stuff I’m going to wind up throwing away because I don’t know what else to do with it.

Enough. You can’t read it if you don’t write it. Let’s go write.