Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Public Reading Primer

by Anita Mae Draper

I live on a Saskatchewan farm 15 minutes from a small community of 500, and to get anywhere important – like the nearest fast food joint – is an hour’s drive to the city of Regina, with a population of 200,000, 1 huge central/main library and 8 smaller community libraries.

Lillian Ripplinger, my librarian in Montmartre, has supported me as a writer since she read my first blogpost, but until I have a book published, it’s not feasible to hold a book reading in our library. In the 11 years we’ve lived in this area, I can only remember 2 author readings and I wasn’t able to make either. The authors stopped here on their Saskatchewan tours and received a very good response with most of the chairs in the library being filled. That would give an audience of about two dozen if you include the chairs from the council chamber across the hall.

So I was very excited last year when my writing group, the Saskatchewan Romance Writers (SRW), was invited to participate in a public reading at the main branch of the Regina Public Library (RPL). The reading would be entitled, Romancing the Word: An Evening with Saskatchewan Romance Writers and the SRW was looking for volunteers to read.

Safety in Numbers

Four of us volunteered to read and yet only Annette Bower had experience reading. I don’t think I would have agreed to do it on my own, but being part of a group, especially with women I deeply respect, took a lot of the pressure off. And since Annette had experience with the RPL and lived in Regina, she volunteered to be our liaison, or contact person. Not only did she do a terrific job keeping us informed by email, she arranged a meeting at a coffee shop where we got together to discuss the finer details such as promotion, timing, order of read, arrangement, décor and refreshments.


The RPL created posters and gave us some to take back to our own communities. Annette encouraged us to bring as many friends and family as we could to the reading. It was very strange to see my name on posters hanging in city bookstore windows and on bulletin boards, but conscious of my unpublished state, I was too shy to give them to my local librarian, Lillian, until the day before the event (at which time I received an earful).

Practice and Timing

Since we would each read for 15 mins – which I understand is normal for the industry – we agreed to meet an hour and a half prior to the posted time to practice. This gave us a chance to stand at the podium and actually read. We could fiddle with the microphone placement, see how our papers would sit and just get used to the idea of standing there.

When it was my turn to practice reading from the beginning of Emma's Outlaw, I looked up at the imagined crowd every so often, and I decided to quietly slide my paper to the left as I finished each page instead of flipping it over. This smooth action allowed me to read without pausing and without the audience being distracted by the crackling and rustling of paper. Another benefit of practicing was that in one paragraph of introspection, I noticed the girls getting this dazed look on their faces. When they asked me to try it again at a slower pace, I skipped that paragraph. They didn't notice the difference and they didn't seem to lose interest. And because I was speaking slower, I would've gone over the time limit except it worked out by eliminating the one paragraph.

Anita Mae Draper, Feb 2010

Arrangement and Decor

The venue was a small theatre with a 3’ high stage and about 8’ of floor space in front of it. Annette told us some readers use the podium on the floor instead of on the stage. We agreed to do the same to make it more cozy.

The weather in February on the prairies is very unpredictable and that night, the drive was horrid with blowing snow creating whiteouts on the highway. I arrived 15 mins later than our agreed upon time and the others had already set up the room with the podium on the floor. Beside it were two tables, each with two chairs and a microphone. I thought we were only going to sit there for the question period afterwards but we sat at the front throughout the reading. Karyn brought white tablecloths for the tables and even added a small bowl of roses to set the romance ambiance.

Karyn Good and Susan Easton, Feb 2010

Order of Read

Since the audience would need to differentiate between the 4 romance stories, we arranged it so there would be a good mix of genres. Susan lead off with her contemporary, Karyn followed with her contemporary suspense, I read from my historical inspirational and Annette ended with her women’s fiction. And although the first two were contemporary, there was no mistaking the flowing romance of Susan’s, to the edge-of- the-seat suspense of Karyn’s. (Karyn has since signed a publishing contract with The Wild Rose Press for the novel she read that night. Yay, Karyn!)

Annette, Susan, Anita Mae, Karyn, Feb 2010


The RPL provided refreshments of coffee, juice and water on a table by the door, but it was Annette’s tray of heart-shaped sugar cookies with pale pink icing that helped set the mood as soon as you entered the room.

The Reading

At 7 pm the RPL staff introduced the SRW and we began. Because we’d practiced, our timing was perfect. I had brought my son, JJ who took the photos of the evening. As well, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law showed up for support. They know I'm a writer, but it was the first time they heard what I write. From their comments, they liked my story. What I remember most about reading my portion is that the room was very quiet and everyone was looking at me with interest. What I mean by that is I didn't see any bored faces, no one dozed off, and they chuckled and gasped in the appropriate places.

After allowing a few minutes for the audience to grab refreshments, the question period began. It’s been rumored that some of the initial questions were ‘planted friendlies’ to get the ball rolling. If indeed they were, it worked, because once those initial questions were out of the way, they kept coming.
At 8:30, a staff member approached the front and thanked everyone for attending. A couple ladies lined up to speak to me after (which really impressed my family). And by 9 pm, the room had cleared. The official count was 40 attendees.

The roads were still bad on the drive home, but we pulled into the yard around 11 pm.

What made this reading enjoyable was the RPL staff, our (mostly Annette’s) planning, and the support of my fellow writers. Would I read again? Yes.

Have you ever read or attended a public reading? How many readers? What would you read? Would you host one if you didn’t have to read?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests.
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Photo Credits: JJ Draper


  1. I recall your preparation for this event, so it's nice to see the photos and hear more of the story.
    I applaud your effort, and knowing the story, I'm SURE listeners were indeed interested! Such a great experience for you.

    When you are pubbed, notice I say when not if, you will have many more opportunities. thanks for sharing. It sounds like a very nice event.

  2. Cool. I did a public poetry reading once. I enjoyed it.

  3. It was a great night, wasn't it? I remember being very nervous but so happy I was there with supportive and helpful friends! It was a great learning experience and a confidence builder. I'd do it again.

  4. Thanks, Deb. It was nice. Which is surprising because I used to freeze when people looked at me.

    The first time I drove in a small town parade, it was with the back our old truck filled with goat and human kids, and halfway down Main Street I became aware of people looking at me. Until then I'd been too busy throwing candy out the windows and checking the mirrors to ensure no kids fell out the back. Then suddenly, this awareness hit me and I froze. Thank goodness the road was straight because it took about 20 seconds to snap out of it. Ugh. I've driven in several parades since without freezing so I hope I'm cured. LOL

    It helps that I really love Emma's Outlaw and I want to tell everyone about it. :D

    Thanks for the support, Deb.

    Anita Mae.

  5. Dina, I would've liked to sit in on your poetry reading. Someday I will. :)

  6. Hey Karyn, congratulations! I missed you at Saturday's Sask Romance Writers meeting. I've been waiting to hear your call story in person. You're such a gutsy writer to pit your heroine against a gang. You had me right there with you while you read that night.

    Thrilled for you.

    Anita Mae.

  7. Wow, what a great experience that must have been and what a great success!

    Sounds like you all prepared well, which I think is really important for these kinds of events. Having a couple of shills in the audience to get the ball rolling doesn't hurt either.

    I've never done or been to a reading, though I did have the teacher read a scene of mine in front of the class. She had told everyone to bring their best scene, but I didn't realize she was going to read everybody's out loud.

    Mine was WAY too long for that purpose, and I was VERY uncomfortable while I waited for her to finish it.


  8. Shills, DeAnna? Is that what a 'plant' is called these days? Or is a regional term where you are?
    It certainly sounds better than, 'planted friendlies'. LOL

    Why were you uncomfortable with your instructor reading what you'd written? Just because it was too long? Or had you written something you didn't want anyone to know?

    My Gr 10 teacher read our short stories when they came back from the marker once. She said mine was the cream of the crop and she didn't understand why. I had to look up what 'cream of the crop' meant because it sounded good, but her tone was derogatory.

    For the first time, I was proud of myself and something I'd done although I knew I was supposed to be humble. Pride before the fall had been drummed into me enough.

    But what the teacher didn't like was that the marker gave my 'cowboy and Indian' story (attack of the wagon train) a 17/20 and the next highest marks were 15/20 for a couple contemporary romances. It was an all-girl class and that confirmed I was weird. LOL

  9. Actually, I think "shill" is a really old term, but yeah, it's the same as a plant, somebody who pretends to be just part of the audience but is really "working" for the presenter(s). It really does help get the ball rolling when the regular folks aren't sure what to say or don't want to go first.

    I think I hated having that scene read aloud because (a) I wasn't expecting it, (b) it was too long, and (c) at that point in my writing, I never let ANYONE read what I wrote. It felt like somebody grabbed me and stripped me naked and made me stand there while they all stared.

    Yeah, that's pretty extreme, but it took me a long, LONG while to get my mind around the idea that I was actually a writer, that people would read what I wrote and that they would have opinions about it.

    I'm better now. ;)

  10. What a wonderful experience! You'll have many more readings, I'm sure, Anita Mae!

    I used to do poetry readings. Haven't read any of my fiction. It sounds intimidating but I'm glad I can ask you for pointers!

    PS Please tell your photographer that he did a great job on the photos. :)

  11. Come to think of it, DeAnna, I'm sure I've heard of the term 'shill' when I was researching carnies. I'll have to remember it this time.

    Your explanation is totally plausible to me because that's the kind of character Gwen Stewart wrote in one of her novels except the heroine wasn't a writer but a songwriter. I think you'd really appreciate her book - when it gets published.

  12. Thank you, Susie. I sure hope to have more. :)

    It sounds intimidating, but being in a group helps. So does reading your fiction in a podcast. (blink, blink)

    And yes, I'll tell JJ you said he did well. You guys must think he's chained to my hip, huh? LOL

  13. Thanks, Anita. I'll have to check that out. :)

  14. Hi Anita,
    Being part of a group read is a great idea! There's definitely safety in numbers. I've never done a reading, but maybe if you guys decide to do another one, I'll come to Regina and join you. But hopefully not in February!


  15. Hey Jana! How's things in Winnipeg? Poplar's are turning yellow here already.

    I'd love to hear you read - especially if it's one of your books. Now that Karyn has joined you at TWRP I'm starting to feel left out.

    So, you'll drive out if we have a reading? Do you hear that Karyn? Quick, where's Annette? We'll plan one before the snow flies. Oh wait, that could be tomorrow. LOL

    Great to see you, Jana. Thanks for dropping by.


  16. Thanks Anita. I did a reading at the Francis Morrison Library in Saskatoon with courage from two members of my writers critique group. It was a challenge we posted to do it. The crowd was small - a dozen or a few more, mostly friends, supporters of the writers. I enjoyed the experience. After reading, I had one older gentleman approach me and tell me that my piece made him teary eyed and he wanted to talk about his personal life and hurts with me. I graciously and humbly listened and tried to offer some support. This is every writers dream, to inspire something in our listeners and it was a powerful and humbling experience.

  17. Hey Anita! Sorry it took me so long to get here. It's been a long crazy day. Cool idea! I've never read publicly - except to little kids, nor have I ever attended a reading. It sounds like fun.

  18. Hey Carrie Ann, I can believe it just from what I've heard you read at the SRW mtgs. Your voice has a natural humble quality to begin with. You also use inflection to advantage. When you read, it's like you're talking on a one-on-one basis with your audience. I think your eye contact has a lot to do with it because you pause and really look at people. I realized you are a people-person early on and when you speak with your soft voice, people stop what they're doing and give you their full attention so they don't miss anything.

    That's probably what that man felt when he was listening to you, and there were probably many more in the room who didn't step forward who felt the same.

    You have a gift, Carrie Ann. And the neat thing is, I don't have to attend a reading to listen to you, I can do it at the meetings. However please let me know when you do another public reading and we'll see if the weather co-operates. :D

    I appreciate you sharing with us. Thank you.


  19. Hey Suzie, you may not have read stories publicly, but don't you read reports and such in your job?

    I can picture you reading, but it's like a still photo because I haven't met you yet.

    Hey wait - I have an idea... when we go by train to RWA Anaheim next year, we can do a reading on the train for all those bored passengers. That's a writer's dream isn't it... a captive audience? LOL


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