Into the World of Audio Books: Proper, Prior, Preparation

Continuing my documentation of everything that goes into turning a book into a high quality audio book. To recap: There’s more to it than you think!

Your prep is done. You’ve read your book out loud (preferably before publication but after is fine too. Better late than never, I say) and you’ve made adjustments to your words keeping the reader and listener in mind. Here comes Step 2:

More prep.

Your future, potential narrator doesn’t know your characters or their story at all. They need to know so they can accurately depict these characters and convey all the variances of emotion your characters may display. The narrator needs to know the intimate details. If you’re the kind of writer who already has character studies in a file, you’re ahead of the game again, but go back over them and make sure the nuances are there. Is this character sarcastic, sad, angry, young, old, has a particular trait; a deep voice, a quite voice, are they shy? Write that down because you’re going to hand over your character study to your narrator, but do him/her a favor – cut it down to a paragraph each.

Your narrator is the producer but you, the writer, are the director. You need to be able to give your narrator ‘stage directions’ about each chapter and each section within. Go through each chapter and make sure that emotion is conveyed with words, but it’s not a bad idea to put comments right there on the page so there’s no question about what you want the listener to hear. (I used comments for this, via google docs – a very handy tool suggested by my narrator). Readers read in their own voice and create the emotionality of any given moment based on your words. A narrator has to do the same thing and the director/author can help their narrator with sidebar direction; read this tensely, with anger, with love, with fear, with whatever kind of emotion needs to be conveyed.

Once you’ve finished your character notes and your chapter notes, now you need to do a pronunciation chart on all your characters who have unusual names. This is especially important for the more fantastical writer (you know who you are) who uses crazy name spelling for their characters. Put a list together of phonetic pronunciations on every single name, place, or thing where you think it might be needed. And then put that pronunciation in the comments section on the doc; each chapter, first occurrence. If there’s any question at all about pronunciation, do a pronunciation recording and send it to your narrator. (There are a kajillion phone apps for that).

One vital preparation step you must take is taking the time to sample already produced audio books, preferably from your genre of book. You can do this through Amazon or Audible (and probably itunes as well), but be sure to do it – particularly if you know next to nothing about audio books. Doing so will give you a feel for what other narrators are doing and help you decide how you’d like your narrator to read your words.

Your last bit of prep is putting together your audition page. This is what potential narrators will read to convince you to hire them. ACX suggests taking sections from different parts of the book. Pull selections of straight narrative; something descriptive, something intense, something quiet. Select a range so you can hear how narrators will read each. Make sure you put narrative instructions with each passage. They aren’t mind readers so you need to tell potential narrators what you’d like. More detail is better!

Also chose several sections of dialogue, particularly ones that have more than two people talking. Variation is the key. Include direction on what sort of voices the narrator should use, include pronunciations where needed. I included my directions right on the audition doc inside parentheses. I think ACX provides a section for directors notes on the audition page as well.

Next: Set up your ACX account. Be sure to read very carefully the terms of agreement. Select which sort of royalty option you want; pay up front or royalty share. I chose royalty share for my first audio book. I wasn’t really sure what the cost would be and feel that royalty share works best for my situation. There are no upfront costs to royalty share but this option may affect how many auditions you get. Not all narrators want to take a royalty share. They do a lot of work to make a good product and face the risk of not making their time back. Because of this, you may end up with fewer auditions, and those narrators just breaking into the business. That’s not necessarily bad, but just the way it is.

Once you’ve set up your ACX account, upload your audition and … wait.

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