Today we welcome North Carolina author and story performer Joan Leotta to our blogging stage at Write from the Inside Out. Joan gives us important insights and tips on how we can activate our reading opportunities whether you’re a novelist, memoirist or poet. Read on!


Hi Alice, thanks so much for having me on your blog!


For many authors, giving a reading is simply an invitation to sell books. They select a favorite excerpt from the book or story, and prepare to answer a few questions about the book.

Then the reading is over and the people buy the book. Case closed.


This process should not be the case for a really good reading, one which will garner more invitations to read and, I think, more sales as well. A reading is more than a simple out-loud repeat of what is in your book. A reading is a performance, and if you prepare for it as such, you will enjoy the experience more and so will your audience.


As a performer as well as a writer, I am very careful to pick an action packed section of the book that plays to my strength of vocal performance. Pick a section of your story that plays to your strengths. If you have trouble with different voices, pick something that gives the narrative more strength—give details not in the section you choose in your introductions and ending.


If you are uncomfortable with the idea of giving a performance, let me offer these tips:

  1. People are already disposed to like what you are doing when they come to see you
  2. The material you are offering is good. After all, you wrote it, didn’t you?
  3. Follow my points on what to offer and how to present and you cannot go wrong.

Points to Consider When Giving a Reading

1. Planning. Just as you planned the writing, so plan the performance

2. Audience consideration. If you have not been told how long you are to be “on,” count on about twenty minutes total at a maximum. The first thing you have to do is think about the kind of audience you will have. You want to select an excerpt that will appeal to them. The excerpt is the center part of your performance. Select a piece that when read will not go more than ten minutes or less than five.

3. Self consideration. Are you skilled at speaking, at giving different voices? If not, then do not select a piece with a lot of dialogue. For dialogue to work well in a reading, the audience needs to be able to differentiate the voices. If you can’t, simply select a section that is more narrative or contains just one voice. No matter what you choose, read with expression.

4. Practice reading the excerpt aloud. Practice, practice, practice. Think of practices as editing for performance. It will only make it better.

5. With each practice, add new presenter skills to what you do. Plan for eye contact at the end of sentences. Be sure to craft an introduction that offers value added. Tell them a bit about writing the book, the writing process, how you came up with the idea for the book or why you wrote this book or the best thing about the research. Limit this to about two minutes

6.Now, craft an ending. Tell them a small bit about what goes on after the excerpt and then leave them wondering so that they will read the book!  Leave time for questions.

7.Go over possible questions, even embarrassing ones in your head so that you can be gracious to each person who asks you a question, even if they are not.

8. Consider what you will wear. If you have a character-based outfit that you want to wear that is fine. Otherwise, wear something that is comfortable, that you like, and that will not make you fade into the background wherever you are. Call ahead to ask the color of the background if you can.

9.Arrive early and take a look at the area.

10.Bring a bottle of water with you in case you dry up during the presentation. Do not rely on your hosts to provide it.

11.If you prefer a chair for reading instead of standing, be sure to tell your hosts in advance.

12.You’re on—the presentation itself. Take a step forward to the mic after you have been introduced. If they forget to do that, have two or three sentences ready to intro yourself.

13.Speak loudly enough for the back row to hear you. If there is a mic, check it out before you start to make sure that you will be positioned well in front of it and that there is no feedback noise

14.Speak clearly. Enunciate each word. Drop your voice at the end of declarative sentences. Raise your voice at the end of a question.

15.Maintain eye contact with the audience. When the reading is over, give your ending, and open the floor to questions.

16.Smile. If smiling is not appropriate to what you are reading, then be sure to smile at the beginning and at the end of the reading

 Nervous when reading? Take a deep breath–do not eat before reading–do take a drink of water

You do not need to be nervous if you remember that the people came to hear you. They are your readers so do not forget to bring a pen—they will want your autograph in the books that they will surely purchase when you are finished.



About Joan

Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer whose motto is “encouraging words through pen and performance.” She has been writing professionally for more than thirty years and has been onstage for the same amount of time as a story performer and one woman show presenter.

Her articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers including the Washington Post and Woman’s Day. She now writes food and travel for a variety of magazines and local Myrtle Beach papers and has begun to publish her poetry and fiction for children and adults. Her short stories have been published by St. Anthony’s Messenger, Crimestalker,, and others. She has won local and international awards for her short fiction.

Her books include The Complete Guide to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia (Berkshire House), a travel guide; Massachusetts, (Scholastic Press– history book for elementary students); and, The Christmas Gift , (Warner Press). On July 21, 2012 Giulia Goes to War, her first romance (sweet) spy mystery debuts courtesy of Desert Breeze Press, an e-publisher. The book will be available through and on


As a performer Joan has entertained at schools, fairs, festivals, women’s groups, and even a local Confederate Reenact or meeting. She has several period pieces, one-woman shows, including one based on her award winning short story, ” Hurricane of Independence”. Her other shows include two Civil War pieces, “Meet Belle Boyd ” (humor) and “A Time to Heal” (more serious).


She also performs custom folklore programs on a variety of topics and crafts programs to meet curriculum needs in social studies and language arts and to coordinate with science and math requirements in grades one through six. She offers writing inspiration talks for elementary, middle and high school students as well as presentations of various stories to accompany the talks.


She lives with her husband, Joe, in Calabash, North Carolina and still travels regularly to Northern Virginia.


Contact her at to bring her to your school or group.

Joan’s blog

Joan’s blog

Joan’s website