Five Things to Remember When Reading Your Book Aloud

Moonday Mania

just a random blog

Hi all! I’ve had some questions on Prince by Blood and Bone, A Fantasy Romance of the Black Court and yes, it is nearly ready! I’m so excited to tell you that I think I should be in possession of a cover any day now. Really, very soon. Okay, maybe by next week. It’s been like pulling teeth to get this book to market. The cover has been a challenge and I’ve learned a lot of dos and don’ts in how-to do a series of covers. The next one I’ll get all my covers done at the same time, so I’ll have them ready on time and they will go together. Finding images to compete with the amazing cover for The Dark Huntsman is a challenge!

Speaking of The Dark Huntsman, thank you to everyone who voted for it in the JABBIC contest. I’m pretty excited to see how it does. I think the cover competes very well but it’s tough being so far down on the list. I nearly gave up with all the scrolling through 80+ entries. Thank you to everyone who persevered and got through the whole list of paranormal entries. Whew!

I do have a blog topic today. Of course. So let’s get to it!

Have you ever sat in front of twenty, thirty, fifty people and read your work out loud? I think every author should try it, at least once or twice. Last month I had the pleasure (um, gulp!) of reading a section of my book out loud to my chapter members. I’ve done this before, but I have to tell you it never gets easy. And each time I’ve learned something different, so I thought I would share my thoughts on how to read-aloud.

1. Don’t necessarily choose the first chapter of your book.

I did this both times, and while I feel like the first chapter is good for an introduction, it may not be the best section to read aloud. Don’t get me wrong, it might be the best section, but it might have a bit of introduction that the book needs, but isn’t the best for a read aloud. Pick a section that is very intense and will catch the audience. Hopefully this is the first chapter, but first chapters sometimes have a lot of scene building, and that isn’t as exciting for a read-aloud, especially if you have less than ten minutes. Choose a very exciting passage, one that might take a little verbal explanation for the audience, but has them hopping out of their chairs.

And target your section to your audience. I read aloud the first section of Prince by Blood and Bone, which is very exciting, but it is full of fantasy elements. This was a group of romance readers and writers and some of them are focused only on the contemporary genre. They get speed-bumped by magic and attacking ogres. I would have been better off choosing a love scene with heat and tension between the couple. Different audience, different choices.

2. Do chose your section ahead of time and practice

The other times I’ve read aloud I had the time to sit down and go through the pages, figure out what I wanted to read, and practice reading it out loud. Last month I didn’t. I had to grab my book, sit down and read cold. It made a huge difference. I found myself self-editing as I read and that didn’t make for as smooth a transition as it could have. I wanted to cut things, and re-arrange them, and it made me stumble as I read. If I’d taken the time to choose the section first, I might have chosen a different one. One that read aloud a little more smoothly.

Choose a passage that has action and dialogue, and isn’t packed with internalization, back story, or scene description. Unless one of those is incredibly compelling and packed with tension, you will lose your audience fast.

One note: some of the words in your passage you might be comfortable with using, you know what they mean and you use them correctly in a sentence, but when reading them out loud, you might not be able to pronounce them! Tripping over words or passages is better discovered in the privacy of your own bathroom, um living room. (Okay, you read out loud where you want to, and I’ll read out loud where I want to.)

3. Practice

This one is so important, I am putting it in twice. You need to know how you read and how long it will take you to read what you’ve chosen out loud. Practice slowing down. Most of us read twice as fast in a real read-aloud situation, so be sure to account for that in your timing.You need to make sure you can pronounce all the words, and you need to make sure nothing in the passage is a speedbump. In other words, if you have some illicit words that you can type with impunity, but you can’t read out loud in front of a group without stumbling and blushing, you’d best figure that out at home!

Practice your cadence. Figure out where you want to add emphasis to words and what spots might be good for pausing and looking up. Try out voices for dialogue. That may not work for you, but it could be the thing that makes your reading stand out.

(If you have time, it’s good to video yourself reading out loud. You will learn a lot about habits you have, such as coughing, pausing, or reading too fast. Do it live, because we read very differently in front of an audience than at home in front of the mirror.)

4. Lay out your clothes ahead of time

20140210-074140.jpgThis is good advice for anything you are doing that might make you nervous. Interviews, read-alouds, dates. Take the time to vet your outfit. Try it in different positions and make sure it is comfortable as well as stylish. The very first time I read aloud I chose a lovely modest, cover your knees, pink skirt. At least I thought it was modest. Imagine my surprise when I went to sit down and cross my legs and felt a small draft. It was modest standing up, but sitting down slightly above my audience made it a little more risqué than I truly appreciated. I spent a lot of time worrying about that(tugging it down, shifting positions) when I should have been focusing on my reading!

(At least the shoes look good!)

5. Seed the audience

If you can, make sure you have some friendly faces to look at. Part of your practicing reading should be to look up every so often and make eye contact with your audience. This is much easier if you have made sure you have someone you know at each triangular point. In other words, if the room is like a clock face and you are at 12 o’clock, place a friendly face at 3, 6, and 9. This way you have a target face to glance up at. They will be smiling at you, and nodding encouragement, instead of those horrible blank expressions it’s likely the rest of the audience has plastered on their faces.

Reading your own work can be a challenge. I think it’s important, as an author, to try it out. For your first read-aloud experience you might try reading someone else’s work out loud, that way you will only be nervous about the reading part, and not the actual “OMG, I’m presenting my baby on a plate to wolves!” Because that’s what it feels like. For me, I think it’s worse than sending books out on submission, because you can see in their faces if they are bored or intrigued.

What if it doesn’t go right? What if it’s a bomb?

The odds of your first read aloud going the way you want it to are slim. Do it anyway. Do it because you might garner a few fans. Do it because it’s a challenge. Do it because it’s good to get to know your work in a different way. Just do it.

What challenges have you faced in front of an audience? Have you ever read your own work out loud? Had a wardrobe malfunction? Been reading and realized mid-stream that you’d failed to target your audience? Share with me in the comments, I love to hear from you!


Filed under About the Author, channeling success, facing failure, Moonday mania, Writer's Journey

4 responses to “Five Things to Remember When Reading Your Book Aloud

  1. Hi Jessica!
    I’ve done the read-aloud thing quite a few times now, so am getting more comfortable with it. Now I can’t help finding things I wish I’d written differently. Ever the critic, I guess.
    Another thing to think about besides matching the selection to your audience is thinking about the impact of your cover up on the screen. For my very first talk as an author, I thought I was being very clever to have the first and last slide of my presentation be my book cover, for The Loyalist’s Wife. I completely forgot I was talking to a group of men and I didn’t tell them about the dual point of view. John and Lucy each have their own chapters. Most of those men left the room that day without knowing that the book is about John off to war as well as Lucy holding down the home front. Sales were not great. Not surprising.

    • I love the idea of having your cover on a slide. I’ve never used slides, just read out loud to groups. I think it’s nice to have practiced a summary as well as your reading, something different from just re-reading the blurb off the cover. Not that I’ve ever done that, I’m not that prepared! And I totally agree with you about wanting to re-write as you read. I definitely could edit these books forever, but they have to go out the door at some point!

  2. Carole St-Laurent

    I know I may be the exception, but I love reading in public, or do a presentation to a group, small or big. It’s a thrill! And my way to do it is to simply imagine myself like I’m speaking to ONE friend. A good friend. A fun conversation where there is no stress.

    It works for me!

    • That’s great, Carole. I like the idea of imagining just one friend. That would work when you couldn’t seed the crowd. Sometimes I pick out the most friendly faces and focus on those. Great idea!

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