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The Value of Reading Your Book Aloud

At long last your book is finished. It’s been revised and revamped, you’ve sought the best feedback you can find, and the manuscript has been polished and edited within an inch of its life. May I suggest one more step before you go out looking for an agent or a market? Read the whole book … out loud. You’re probably thinking “That will take forever.” It will, and that’s the point. Kim Wright's debut novel Love in Mid Air (March 2010) received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

At long last your book is finished. It’s been revised and revamped, you’ve sought the best feedback you can find, and the manuscript has been polished and edited within an inch of its life. May I suggest one more step before you go out looking for an agent or a market? Read the whole book … out loud. You’re probably thinking “That will take forever.” It will, and that’s the point.

Kim is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Ester won.)

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Kim Wright's debut novel Love in Mid Air (March 2010)
received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Kim has been writing about travel, food, and wine
for more than 25 years and is a two-time recipient
of the Lowell Thomas Award for Travel Writing.
See her website here.

If you believe you have a book that’s anywhere near ready to go to market, you’ve undoubtedly taken it through multiple drafts and somewhere along the way you’ve probably numbed out to the prose. It can be very hard to read our own words analytically….we know all too well what’s coming next, so we start to skim. We’re flipping the pages so fast that we don’t catch small issues like typos or larger ones like plot improbabilities.

Reading out loud slows you down. It allows you to approach each page as if someone else had written it. Tics in the writing begin to leap out at you – awkward phrasing, run-on on choppy sentences, a tendency to repeat the same word over and over.

When I first read the draft of my novel aloud I was appalled by how often I used the word “surprise.” I did a word search and found that not only did some variation of the word “surprise” appear 16 times in the manuscript, but that I seemed to have a special penchant for the term “somewhat surprisingly.” Second place went to “suddenly,” which was in there 11 times. Well, that it explained it. No wonder people in my book were always so surprised. Things were happening very suddenly!

Fortunately, the process of reading my book aloud alerted me to my embarrassing over-reliance on these words before I sent the book out. A friend who reads her chapters aloud too realized she has a tendency toward long, rambling sentences. This is not especially um, er … unexpected, because she’s a Southern writer and Southerners, even Southern characters in novels, tend to ramble on. But when she started reading her dialogue out loud, she found she couldn’t even get through certain lines without gasping for air. Lesson learned. If it’s difficult to say, it’s probably annoying to read.

If you find the idea of an out-loud read through too daunting, some writers swear that they can look at their work through fresh eyes simply by printing it in a bizarre font. So if you’re used to something serviceable and plain like Times New Roman, run a chapter out in Batik or Matisse and see if it reads differently to you.

Kim is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Ester won.)

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