>> Sunday, October 23, 2011

At some time, every author will be asked to read their work aloud. Print, ebook, fiction, non-fiction, adult novel, chilren's book, there will be a seminar, a writer's workshop, a reader's gathering, a Thanksgiving dinner with the family...and you will be asked to read.

I specifically requested this post from Sherry because I heard her read when we were at a class together at Margie Lawson's home in Colorado. I was charmed. Mesmerized. Enchanted. Not only is Sherry a stellar author, she is an amazing reader.

And as I draw near my debut release, scheduling appearances and workshops, I know I need to learn how to read my work aloud. After hearing Sherry's expertise, I knew there was no better place to learn.

GIVEAWAY: Sherry is generously offering a copy of her short story collection, Storyteller, to be awarded to a random commenter. Share your favorite editing tool or reading experience and you could win! (Must share your email as well.)

By Sherry Isaac

Of all the phobias in the world, public speaking is one of the most commonly shared. For new writers, sharing their work with another can be terrifying, even if the other person is a trusted friend.

No wonder. When we write, we put a little of our soul on the page.

No surprise, then, that the idea of reading in front of an audience paralyzes many authors.

In the words of Women of the Underworld author Kelley Armstrong, “While publishers do want you to have a website (and Facebook and Twitter and blog and an endless list of other online “opportunities”) it doesn’t replace the need to get out to stores and conventions and readings.”

Storyteller Launch at Prana Cafe, Toronto
Photo by J. Nichole Noel

Perhaps that is why sites like Goodreads are so popular: that connection between writer and reader, storyteller and audience.

Ah. The audience. If we want to sell, we need an audience. What better way to build an audience as you journey toward the publication of your first book, than to share your genius in the neighbourhood library or cafe?

Storytelling is an age-old tradition. As writers, we have the honour, and the obligation, to play our part.

So, what makes a good read? While there isn’t the space to fit all of the details into one blog post, we can explore five basic elements.


Audience time is limited, and so is your time behind the mike. 8-10 minutes makes a good read. Longer, and you risk losing your audience.

Always check with your host in advance. You may only have two!

Storyteller Launch at Prana Cafe, Toronto
Photo by J. Nichole Noel

Keep your audience engaged with humor, light tales, or stories alive with action. This doesn’t mean you have to write Hollywood crash ‘em up car chases, but avoid long streams of heavy narration.

Put aside the tear-jerkers and go for something up tempo. Not that sad or poignant tales don’t work, but since you’re probably not privy to what other authors are bringing, go with the light stuff. Too much sad material can wear an audience down, but an audience won’t be disappointed if every story has them on the edge of their bistro seat, or rolling in the library aisle.


Keep your listening audience in mind. The venue you are reading at may not be the best place to share your political views, or explore the first draft of your erotica novel.


To me, a polished read revolves around two basic, principles: time allotment, and time spend in rehearsal.

Time allotment is straight forward. If you don’t know what your time allotment at a reading venue is, ask. Then, select a piece based on that answer.

Don’t count on your host to stop you when you’ve reached your time limit. They won’t. Because it’s rude. But, it is more rude to ignore your time limit so choose courtesy instead and use a timer.

I repeat, use a timer.

We’re writers. We are in love with our words. Just like we hate to hit that delete button and destroy our little darlings, we want--once we get over the cafe reading heebee jeebies, that is--to share them out loud with the whole wide world.

Resist the temptation to go over. A paragraph turns into a page turns into two more minutes and the next thing you know, you’ve gone over time.If your piece does not fit into the allotted time, do not read faster. Choose a different piece, or consider a cliff-hanger. It works. Viewers all over the world waited an entire summer to find out who killed JR!


Try on the clothes you plan to wear. Practice eye contact by rehearsing in front of a mirror. Allow for pauses, pay attention to pacing.

Rehearse with your timer! Rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. Then, like the nuances of a familiar song, you will know when to pause, when to look up, when to soften your voice.

Rehearsing your piece out loud is a great editing tool. And who couldn’t use a neat and easy editing tool?

GIVEAWAY: A copy of my short story collection, Storyteller, will be awarded to a random commenter. Share your favorite editing tool or reading experience and you could win! (Must share your email as well.)

MAGGIE finalist and winner of The Alice Munro Short Story Award, Sherry Isaac’s tales of life, love and forgiveness transcend all things, including the grave. Sherry represents one-third of the Romance & Beyond blog trio. Visit her website,, like Sherry on Facebook, become a fan on Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter.


Gloria Richard 4:31 AM  

You have my email, Joan, but save STORYTELLER for someone who hasn't yet read (and reread) the highly praised stories contained between its covers. Sherry Isaac knows how to (and did) write a variety of stellar short stories.

I've heard Sherry read. She's heard me read--at a speed that suggests I'm about to expire and need to check "read aloud" off my bucket list before that happens. Sherry gave me some great tips for marking my manuscript to remind myself to pause--//--and emphasize (underscore).

I've heard you read,too -- Joan -- your first chapter during our Margie Lawson IMC retreat. You, too, have a lyrical voice, and the story sucked me in. So much so, I remember leaning forward, slack-jawed, until I almost tumbled off the couch. I could NOT believe how long Kensington was going to make me wait to read what happens next. I am thrilled it's finally getting close to LAUNCH time. GREAT post. KUDOS to both of you.

Gloria Richard 4:34 AM  

TOTALLY unrelated...

Why did I get "hogiest" as my secret decoder code for posting my comment? Because it was first? Because I blathered on and on and on...

Anne K. Albert 6:31 AM  

Super advice. Gotta print that off for future use! Thanks, Sherry.

Btw, just started reading STORYTELLER this morning. Love. It!

Brinda 9:00 AM  

The thought of reading my own work in front of a crowd leaves me feeling nauseous. I speak in front of groups regularly because I conduct trainings in my job. For some reason, that's much different than putting my soul out there. Your post made me feel better about the prospect.

Joan Swan 9:16 AM  

Oh, Gloria, you are so full of mean, sweet to say nice things about my reading. :) I seriously SUCK. And recently when I thought I'd have to read, I paniced and thought, where the HELL is Sherry? How can I learn to read like Sherry? Hence the post. :) And you can ramble anytime, I love it!!

elainecougler 10:30 AM  

I love to read but find few venues where I live. Maybe either of you would like to comment on how to find those!
Great post, Sherry!

Raonaid Luckwell 10:41 AM  

Reading infront of a crowd? Oh man, it puts me in mind of gradeschool when we had to read passages from the book... Read my own WIP in front of everyone? Ha! I have issues letting strangers read my WIP.

But then I am not much to being in the public eye. Speeches worked my body into a shaky mess that creeps into my voice.

Sherry Isaac 12:57 PM  

Gloria, I'm with you, Joan did a fabulous job, had us all hooked with her voice and her prose.

As for you, Gloria, yes you can!

Sherry Isaac 12:58 PM  

Hello Anne! Thanks for joining us. Everyone, meet my new friend, Anne!

Sherry Isaac 1:00 PM  


I used to feel the same way, and I think it's the nervousness of sharing our own words rather than the words of someone else. Even tho a presentation is in our words, there isn't as much at stake for the very reason you stated--it is our soul on the page. That can make us feel more vulnerable than being naked in the doctor's office.

Sherry Isaac 1:04 PM  

Elaine, I'd start with your library and local bookstores. They may have an idea, and may even host the readings. Or, would be willing to play host if you organized a read. Your library would be, I'd think, a good resource for contacting writing groups in your area. Or, check your local paper. Readings may be advertised there. Crazy idea: google. Good luck!

Babs M 1:07 PM  

Sherry, these are great tips. I'm definitely in agreement on the humor angle! lyndialexander at gmail dot com

Sherry Isaac 1:10 PM  


I hear ya about giving speeches. Readings are like anything else, you need to practise. Reading another's work may help you to get over your discomfort, and then you can start reading your own work, kinda like dipping in the big toe to test the water before diving in.

Do check with the reading organizer first, tho. Some may only want original work read, but I am sure you can find groups that won't mind. Poetry groups are a good place to start, and most will welcome prose. Here is why: poems tend to be shorter, poetry groups read in rounds, everyone taking a turn of about 2-minutes each, and most won't object to prose. That way you can read a 2-minute passage instead of a 5 or 10-minute passage. Again, the big toe theory.

Sherry Isaac 2:28 PM  

Hey Babs, nice to see you here! All we need is Jessica and we are the WOO HOO U foursome again.

Gloria Richard 4:22 PM  

Hope your math skills are better on your royalties, Sherry. (Won't use the Woo Hoo U code names on-line*). It's the WOO HOO U FIVE-SOME.

* Curious minds: I am a starving artist. Code names can be purchased.

Wayne Tedder,  4:46 PM  

Having heard you read on three occasions Sherry, I find myself very much agreeing with Joan. Not only are you a stellar author, but you are indeed, an amazing reader.

Again, in having heard you read, I can attest that you most certainly 'practice what you preach'.

This is a great article Sherry. Lots of useful tips and a very enjoyable read.

Sherry Isaac 5:43 PM  

Snort. Gloria, thank you. I wasn't counting myself. Thanks for checking on me!

Sherry Isaac 5:45 PM  

Wayne, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Could it be because I made you leave a comment? Nah.

Your poetry is lovely. It is always a pleasure to hear your heartfelt words.

jenniecoughlin 4:31 AM  

Thanks for these tips! My writers group has a monthly open mic and I've been looking for ways to improve my presentation. I'll definitely be using some of these ideas before next month's session.

Sharon 8:43 AM  

You make some fabulous points, Sherry, and you would know! I once read an excerpt for one of my novels and realized two minutes into it that it was taking too long to set up. I realized then I needed a more succinct way to summarize the plot or I will just stick to beginnings!

Sherry Isaac 9:25 AM  

Jennie, glad I could help.

Looks like you are Toronto-based? If so, send me an email, if you'd be so kind, and let me know where your open mike meetings take place. Always looking for an audience, and always have people asking me for places to share their work.

sherry (dot) isaac (at) yahoo (dot) come

Sherry Isaac 9:29 AM  

Sharon, your writing is so concise I'm sure the audience was with you.

But, your comment puts a new point in mind, especially for those still working up the nerve to read their work. Go to reads and listen. Take notes on the readers who impressed you and kept your attention, and another list for the ones who didn't. You can learn a lot about what to do, and what not to do.

Sherry Isaac 9:34 AM  

Joan, thanks for sharing your cyber space. You always make me feel so welcome.

You must stop by Romance & Beyond to promote FEVER.

IdentitySeeker 9:35 AM  

I'm not an author, but I've started attending book launches in my area this year because a cousin and a friend both launched their books recently and I went to support them . My friend's book launch was the most entertaining because she's quite shy and the store was packed with friends and family. Unfortunately, her book was not entirely a work of fiction, as she admitted to the audience. It involved a lot of her family's drama and politics, which many people did not like to see made public even if she'd cleverly masked it all under false names and slight tweaks to situations. She bravely read passages from the book and even identified one of the characters as resembling a certain eccentric aunt of hers, drawing laughter from the crowd and the evening lost a little of its tension after that.

Sherry Isaac 2:39 AM  

A little late posting the WINNER but... A copy of Storyteller goes to Jennie Coughlin. Yay, Jennie!

Thanks to all who commented. Cheers, Sherry

Sherry Isaac 2:43 AM  

Identity Seeker,

It's can be especially hard to get up in front of a group of peers or family, and if the atmosphere is tense? Wow. Your friend is very brave. Glad she soldiered on and won them over.

Love that you are supporting authors. Whether our fiction is cleverly disguised fact or not, there is always a part of our souls on the page. We are the sum of our experiences, so support is fantastic.

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