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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, sherryisaac.com, like Sherry on Facebook, become a fan on Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter.