QUESTION: I’ve been invited to do a book reading. How should I handle it? Should I sell books?
I've done a number of book reading and attended even more times at various colleges and science fiction conventions.
If your reading is sponsored by a group of people or a bookstore, ask whoever is running it how long they'd like you to read. If you have no limit, around thirty minutes or a bit less is a good number to aim at unless you are the only reader. In that case, around 45 minutes to an hour is better.
If you run short, you can always answer questions or read a bit more if the crowd wants you to.
If you're there to promote a book, by all means read from it. Pick a chapter or scene that is interesting and dramatic. Give a brief introduction about what the book is about and set the scene within the book for what you are reading if it isn't the first chapter.
When I'm reading but not promoting a particular book, I'll read a light and mildly funny short story. Usually "The Werewolf Whisperer." I know it will be a crowd pleaser.
I do a special voice for each character so I make certain I remember how they sound. If there's lots of dialogue without tags like "Jack said," I will add it as I read to make certain people know who is saying what.
Practice the reading a number of times and use a watch to see if it lasts long enough.
Most writers get really nervous so they read really fast. Make yourself slow down and focus on the words and story, not on your nerves. Find a friendly face in the audience to read to.
Look up occasionally and smile at people or just acknowledge your audience.
I always print out a copy in a large font so I'm less likely to stumble over words, and, if I intend to hold the manuscript in my hand because there isn't a podium, I will back the manuscript with a piece of light cardboard so it doesn't wobble around, and I lay each page down as I read so the audience won't become mesmerized by flopping pages.
If you have an ereader or a tablet, save your reading in a larger font.
If there are spots you want to emphasize, underline them or leave a note to yourself on the side.
As to what to bring, if you will be sitting at a table, a means to display your book or a large copy of your cover is good. I use plate display stands. Others use picture frame stands. Some authors have a standup sign with their name on it in a font large enough to see from the audience.
A bottle of water or soda is good to have because it can be closed.
Selling your book depends on the venue. If it's a bookstore, they will handle the sales, but you may want to have extra books in your trunk in case they run out of stock. Mention you have them before the reading so someone can get the books if the audience is big. Before you leave, make sure you are paid for those extra books. Some bookstores love to have you autograph their copies of the book, others do not. Ask before signing them.
If it isn't at a bookstore and the sponsor is agreeable to you selling books, bring someone with you to sell the books so you are free to chat with people and autograph your books.
Round off the price of the book in dollars so you won't have to worry about lots of coins. It's best to lower the price than bring it up. Make sure your seller has plenty of petty cash to give change. Your first buyer will always have a fifty dollar bill, and everyone else will have twenties so you'll need the petty cash.
Mostly, though, have a good time. People are there to support you, not to heckle you, so you are among friends.
Here's an link to an article I wrote on how Mark Twain promoted his books which should also prove of use.