Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Do I sound like a moron to you?

This past Sunday I had my very first book signing event.

It goes without saying I was nervous. The event took place at my local Barnes & Noble and was heavily promoted as a combination book signing, author reading, and Q&A.

No one actually told me this, but I suspected the reading was supposed to be from my book. I also had a hunch I was supposed to be the one to read it.

This might not seem like such a novel concept to most of you. Many, many articles of writing advice will tell you that an excellent way to gauge the flow of your own prose is to read passages aloud to yourself.

Despite having heard this wise tip for years, Sunday's reading was the first time in my life I'd read my own fiction out loud to anyone.

I suppose that's sort of like testing out new recipes on house-guests instead of your own family. People say it's a bad idea, but who among us hasn't done it anyway?

It was a fascinating experience. For those of you who've read Making Waves already, you'll know what I mean when I say I read the Newlywed Game scene starting and ending with Alex's point-of-view.

There were points where I expected people to laugh and they did.

There were points where I expected people to laugh and they didn't.

There were points where I expected no one to laugh, and you could have knocked me over with a feather when complete strangers started cracking up.

It was actually a damn good lesson for me. Not just about the subjective nature of humor, but the fact that any sort of writing sounds different in your head versus my head versus my ears versus your ears.

Don't even get me started on other body parts.

In all seriousness, Sunday's reading convinced me I probably shouldn't keep ignoring all the advice that suggests writers read their own work aloud. It certainly gave me a different perspective, and what writer can't benefit from that?

And speaking of lessons learned, it's possible I should pick a scene without so many curse words when reading to a large group that includes several children under the age of six.

I'd love to know if you've ever experimented with reading your own prose aloud. How did it change things for you? What did you gain from it? If you haven't done it, what's stopping you? Please share.

And in the spirit of sharing, here are a few pics from Sunday's event, courtesy of photographer Craig Zagurski:

P.S. I'm already getting lots of email messages and tweets from people wanting to know where I got the shirt I'm wearing in the pictures. That is my lucky t-shirt, and you can get your very own (along with tons of other great writer-themed gear) right here.


Anonymous said...

Haha, oh, the shirt! My new fave!

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I read everything aloud, even to my kids, and since it's all YA, very little of it has to be skipped.

I'm also a playwright, though, so the sound of my writing is very important to me. I typically read my book aloud all the way through at least twice, and with my plays I bribe a bunch of local actors with free food to come over and do a reading. Actors will do almost anything for free food. No, I take that back. Actors will do ANYTHING for free food. Especially brownies.

I've bought books I had no intention of buying after a well done book reading. An author can do much to sell her book if she reads it well.

So glad your signing went well!

Unknown said...

OOHHH. I HATE READING ALOUD. I hated it when I was ten and I hate it even more now. But I can see *swallows hard* the value in it. SO I guess I'll start reading aloud and force my innocent children to listen. :)I'm sure they will have no problem telling me if it sucks.

Anonymous said...

I don't real aloud very well at all. I do listen to my novels with Natural Reader. That really helps!! To hear it helps me catch many things I miss while reading.

What a fun experience!! :) Thanks for sharing.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've always been into music, so I care a lot about the beat, rhythm and meter of my writing, even with prose. I certainly think about it a lot while I'm writing, but I don't really read it aloud until I consider it nearly done.

Unknown said...

What great pictures--how exciting.

Linda G. said...

Wow! Look at you there, all officially author-y and everything. You rock! :)

I do read my books aloud, usually as my final step. It's amazing how much my ears catch -- stuff my eyes skimmed right over.

Of course, I feel like a total fool when I'm doing it, so I always make sure the house is empty. And I drink lots of tea, either iced or hot, during the read-aloud sessions; otherwise, I go hoarse.

Luanna Stewart said...

Yup, I bet I read the same article about reading your work aloud, to yourself, into a tape recorder, to your cat. I've done it, and it's amazing the awkward wording that your ear catches. I highly recommend it.

Congratulations on your first book signing! You're a big girl now! LOL!

Jessica Lemmon said...

The current book I'm writing is the first one I've read aloud. WOW, what a difference! Several times, I noticed repeating myself or stumbled over words that were out of order. Who knew? It feels silly, but it WORKS.

PS - got my bookmark yesterday, tysm!

& I love following your progression thru being pubbed. :)

Lynnanne said...

I agree 150%. Reading your work to your own ears allows you to catch flow -- what works and doesn't work. It also catches you if you've said / written something that wasn't intended. It was one of the first lessons of public speaking class… and reaffirmed in poetry. Another option is to have someone else read your work to you! That's made me want to throw up on many occasion. :))

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

I only read those parts that aren't working aloud. I can see where it would benefit me to read the whole book aloud. Usually by the time it's completely finished I'm sick of it, though. Maybe put it down a couple of weeks then read it aloud.
I got my bookmark, too. I'll treasure it cause you signed it!
I also found your books on the shelf at BAM in Paducah, KY. Took a picture which will go up on my blog tomorrow with a post I wrote pulling naughty words out of Making Waves!

Patty Blount said...

You know, I may steal from Kirsten White when it's my time to read out loud in front of audiences where young children may be present and substitute "bleep" for all the cursing in my YA.

There is a LOT.

Congrats, Tawna! Glad you overcame the nerves.

Christi Goddard said...

To answer your question; the writing. Definitely the writing.

Eleanor Brown said...

Congratulations, Tawna!

While this doesn't undercut the core of your advice, I will also say that every audience is different, and they will laugh at different things and hmmm over different things. Which makes it really hard to judge where you should pause to allow for laugh breaks!

But mostly, congratulations!

Kelly Breakey said...

I actually don't read it out loud. I have a very good friend whom I ply with alcohol and food to do it for me. I find that I do hear it differently when it is read out loud, but I also can hear how she sees the words and what emphasis she puts on them. Plus I like to watch her reaction and know exactly where she is in the reading. This helps me quite a bit and has even helped bone up some dialogue or even descriptive prose.

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

OK, I would have been totally freaked out by the white haired gentleman in the front row! Unless it's someone you know. LOL

I always read my work out loud. It is my final editing step. Works WONDERS. I actually learned that from my days in corporate communications. Our entire department could edit a piece and miss a glaring typo. Read it out loud, and you are going to catch that.

When talking about fiction (or narrative nonfiction), it really helps you feel the flow of the piece, too. It may not work as well as you thought it did, which is good to know before publishing. :)

Laura Riley said...

The writing software that I use (Scrivener) has a voice function that will read your text to you. I use it a lot, especially for my dialogue-heavy scenes. It has made a huge difference for me.

Betty Fokker said...

That was a good scene to pick. I liked the one where Alex goes down on Juli better, but I think the one you choose would sound better out loud :0)

Ricky Bush said...

I don't read aloud. I don't sing aloud either, well maybe in church, when everyone else drowns out my squawking. Kudos on the first time out. Sounds like you did okay.

jill said...

I can't wait for your signing/reading at Powell's! What does one bring for a debut author?

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Whenever I read my work aloud to myself, I wind up changing things. It's amazing how different the words sound "in your head" vs "out loud."

And, congrats, my friend, on your book signing! I'm so happy for you and can't wait to read MAKING WAVES. Smooches from the East Coast. ;-)

(Oh, and the drinking definitely came first!!!)

Jason said...

I know for a fact reading your own work aloud is beneficial. As an editor of an online news site, I tell my writers to do that exact thing when I notice trends in their writing I don't like or mistakes that are easily fixed.

Any editor can tell you it's great.

But no, that doesn't mean I've ever done it myself. :) I joke about reading it to the dog, but I really probably should. Here's the thing - I'm antsy. And I hate reading aloud now, just as I did in class when I was little (as someone else mentioned). Reading aloud is slower...which, of course, is part of the point...but it takes more time.

I tell myself at some point I will do this. Mix myself a bourbon and coke and get to it.

But here's another thing. What if I read it aloud to my dog and all she does is fall asleep? Should I be offended? Take that as a hint I suck? Then change everything?

Oh Misaki, you sneaky little Shiba...you have no idea how much control you have over my psyche. Or, maybe you do.

Robena Grant said...

I came by to tell you how much I enjoyed the book. It was exactly what I needed during a difficult time. Yay! for you, on a first book signing and discussion.

Now I have to tell you about my dear doggie who passed away last week. She was a gorgeous big Akita who would hear me reading my work aloud and come into the office. After about a page or two of me droning on and on she'd get up, yawn, and leave. Now what does that say about my writing?

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Thanks for the link! I was just about to ask where you got your shirt because I really like it. I also like the other ones they have on there, especially the "Will Write for Chocolate" one (I would add "and Frappuccinos").
I've read my work out loud in writing classes. It's easier for me to do it there because everyone's expected to read their stuff at some point, and the classes I've been to at Storystudio in Chicago are great at encouraging novice writers like me.

Gypmar said...

Yay! I've been lurking here for a while, and when I spotted the poster for your event at B&N in one of your posts, I emailed my mom in Bend and told her she had to go.

She said you are darling (of course) and she can't wait to read the book.

Wish I could have been there too!

Jessica Thomas said...

Good imagery. (You spouting curse words into little kiddos ears. Heh heh. Made me laugh.)

Congratulations on your novel. I shake in my boots at the mere thought of a book signing.