How to Start a Reading Series (or Other Regular Events That Showcase Your Inherent Artiness)

Posted in self help by Steph Auteri on November 2, 2007

crowd shot.

Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School

Just the other day, I posted on leading a slash life, and mentioned a lingering desire to start up a regular reading series (this born of my love of lit events in NYC; perhaps I could do something local, in New Jersey?). Quite serendipitously, I recently got my hands on a copy of Molly Crabapple‘s Dr. Sketchy’s Official Rainy Day Colouring Book, wherein Crabapple reveals her tips for starting your own Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School (Dr. Sketchy’s is an alternative life drawing class masterminded by Crabapple). A short and quick version can be found here, but the book itself goes into much greater depth.

Of course, these tips are meant to be used for the anti-art school specifically, but most of the advice can be used for our own purposes.

Wooing a Venue:

Crabapple suggests scoping out local hot spots, such as bars, cafes, bookshops, and the like. Once you’ve settled on your dream-venue, get to know the crowd, the owners, etc. Allow them to see that you’re a regular, admiring, mostly-normal patron. This will make them more amenable to hearing you out when you eventually propose your wacky yodeling night, weekly talent show, juggling circus, what have you.

Once familiarity is obtained, prepare your strategy (much like a business plan). Map out the particulars of your event, how many audience members you expect to draw in, how you will be drawing said audience members in, cover charges, etc. This will be helpful when you finally e-mail the owner, deferentially asking if the two of you could chat about your little idea.

Wooing a Sponsor:

Once permission has been granted, it’s time to move ahead with finding a sponsor for your event, in order to cover any costs you may incur through supplies, space rental, etc. Think about what you can offer a possible sponsor. Space advertising on a flyer or website? Event products with the sponsor’s logo? A lifetime customer?

You should also carefully target your possible sponsors. Look for the connection between various companies and your event. Perhaps a local music shop would be willing to sponsor your open mic night, for instance.

How to Get People to Show Up:

  • post to websites in your area of interest: If I ever get that reading series idea off the ground (but let’s not hold our breath), I’d post on the various North Jersey websites, and on lit blogs, perhaps.
  • e-mail bloggers: For single-blogger/administrator sites in your area of interest, send an e-press release promoting your event, or even a more personal e-mail kindly asking if your event could be written up.
  • listings: Publications like Time Out New York, Flavorpill, DailyCandy and, in my case, Steppin’ Out Magazine publish listings for local events. Make sure yours is included.
  • flyers & postcards: Do them up nice, and plaster those flyers all over town. As for the postcards, carry them with you everywhere and force them upon every person you happen to interact with.
  • mailing list: For future events, pass around a mailing list form at every event, allowing audience members to join your e-mail alert list.


It’s difficult to incorporate contests into certain events, but the idea so tickles me that I wanted to include it here. For example, at the Anti-Art School gatherings, Crabapple conducts drawing contests. She look to companies/retailers to donate prizes, hopefully with a tie-in to the event itself. In her book, Crabapple mentions approaching art supply shops for donations.

Such innovations allow the audience members to become part of the event. I like the idea of such interaction, and enjoy attending events where such things occur.

To shake things up at the Happy Ending Music & Reading Series, Amanda Stern requires that readers take at least one public risk. In the past, Steve Almond has read allowed his teacher evaluations. Gregory Maguire sang a little hymn he had written (in a beautiful baritone, I might add). There were even several candy making nights!

At a reading at McNally Robinson NYC, John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise, read aloud his list of hobo names to the accompaniment of a guitar-rendered “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” which we were all expected to sing along to.

God I love this stuff.

If you’re interested in reading about the history of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School (or of the various chapters; or playing with paper dolls), check out the full book. In the meantime, lots of luck with starting up your own local event based around your biggest performative passion.


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