BOOKS SHOWOFF – advice for new acts


Believe it or not the crowd haven’t come to find out about books. They specifically haven’t come to find out what happens in the book you’re going to talk about (if they wanted to do that, they’d just read it). They’ve come to see you, and find out about you through the medium of talking about books. They’ve come to be entertained and to tell themselves they’ve learned something too.

The Crowd

Our crowd has an age range of about 20-70, and most of them are in their late 20s to late 30s. They love everything from hilariously cynical literary criticism that pulls a text or an author or a genre apart to the most fact-driven mildly humorous fangirling over a well-loved book. They’re clever, they are well-mannered (leave any ‘edgy’ material at home because it won’t work for them) and they’re very lovely to perform for. They’ve never  heckled or caused trouble and they know and like that most people are trying out new things

What works

Tell us your unique insights into a book or books or book-related industry, or draw our attention to something we might have missed. (Don’t come and tell us that a good book is good. We know).  Share just how terrible a terrible book is, so that we don’t have to read it. Show us what we’ve been missing by not reading something we may not have imagined we’d even want to pick up.Whatever happens, reveal something that is weird about you. We’re all weird too, and we’ll understand where you’re coming from. We might even be the same type of weird that you are.

Things to try (because they’ve worked for other performers in the past)

  • Take us into a weird book or world of books we never would have thought of, for example the genre of Cold War East Germany-themed pornographic literature. Charity shops & second hand/antiquarian bookshops are goldmines for weird and unintentionally hilarious books to share with us.
  • Tell us what it’s like to teach using books, and some of the bizarre hilarious things your students say, and the even more bizarre and hilarious things you think.
  • Tell us secret stories from the world of books that involved you, like tales of botched book launches, secret library happenings, editing terrible prose or ordering too many copies of Anthea Turner’s book.
  • Take a book from the past and expose it, and its weird author, to the cold light of 21st century thinking. Like Plotto, the book that claims to contain every plot.
  • Tell us how obsessed you were with Lord of the Rings as a child. Read out your essay titles from university where you tried to squeeze it in, regardless of the subject. We’re weirdly obsessed too.
  • Read a celebrity biography that the crowd would never read, then share the most awkward bits. Why does R. Kelly obsess over going to McDonald’s at every crucial bit of his autobiography?
  • Tell us why you actually hate books everyone else loves, like Terry Pratchett’s work.
  • Demolish a genre, for example clean-eating books, or hygge manuals.
  • Show us the secret that only you have discovered in well-known books, like the pattern that’s only visible by reading every Dean Koontz book even though they’re all the same book really.
  • Show us the spreadsheet you keep of every book you’ve ever read and analyse it to discover that your reading habits turn out to be more sexist than you hoped they were.
  • Wow us with your songs, magic or poetry based on books.

Important details

Timing: Please do a set that’s up to 9 minutes in length. Practise so it fits to time.

Projection: There is a projector and laptop. Don’t feel that you have to use them. Please send us slides in advance as a .ppt or .pptx file in 4:3 aspect ratio.

Microphone: There will be a handheld microphone on a stand. The ideal situation is for you to take it off the stand, but you might have both hands full and want to use it on the stand.

One tip from a previous performer:

“As a first-time Book Showoffer, I thought I could handle just using numbered tabs on the pages that I wanted to read from. This was fine in practice, but on the night I felt a bit too awkward fumbling with a mic and the book. If you’re a bit nervous like me, I’d recommend taking advantage of powerpoint & the screen to show photos of the quotes/pages you are using to help you. Keep the book as a prop to wave around in indignation or enthusiasm”



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