Into the World of Audio Books: The First 15 Minutes

Here’s the next part of my informational series on making an audio book. To recap: You’ve done your prep, signed up for ACX, put up an audition and finally selected a narrator.

Now you get to it.

Once you pick your producer aka your narrator, you’ll upload your book doc to ACX for the producer. This is the doc that has your director notes. Keith McCarthy and I used email and google docs to communicate throughout the process. Again, ACX wants you to communicate via their website and interface but it sucks and needs improvement (IMO). You can’t send audio files through ACX other than to upload them as part of the work and that limits how your narrator can create, get feedback, and corrections. Working on the project via google docs, which Keith set up, made it all very easy to put notes up on places that needed improvement or changes.

One of the first things we did was set up all the voices for each of the characters in Chosen. This particular story has numerous characters. It was a lot of people to keep track of. Because of that, my producer had to have a level of organization that was above average. Keith certainly has that. He made a recording of each character voice that I then approved, or asked for changes. Once they were all set, he used those recordings as reference to go back to repeatedly throughout the recording process. This is where emailing was an absolute necessity. Keith sent me the voice files via email and there was quite a bit of back and forth that wasn’t possible through the ACX mail client. They need to fix that. I even sent over an audio file of me pronouncing the names, which was way easier than me trying to figure out how to phonetically write the pronunciation out. I still did that, but it was helpful to have the audio recording.

There were a few bumps. When picking character voices I didn’t give much consideration to their interaction. I was thinking visual rather than auditory. Reading vs listening. I describe several characters in the book as having a deep voice, which is all well and good until you end up with all three of those characters talking to each other in a scene. Reading that scene doesn’t pose any difficulty for the reader in making the distinction between the three, but when you’re listening – that’s a different ball o wax. You end up with three characters that can potentially all sound alike. I thought I knew every word forward and backward in my book. I wrote it after all, but it turned out that I missed a few things when giving characters their voice.

It wasn’t until later that this difficulty was discovered, well into the recording process, so it’s important in this step of choosing how your character is going to sound that you keep in mind all the different interactions that any one character has with others. There are accents that can be employed to help with the differences. One can be an aged voices (if that’s appropriate) or a whispering, thin voice. Or you can use the text to help differentiate between one character and another just as you would without an audio book. From this day forward, I’m writing all future books with the audio book in mind.

He said, she said can get very tiresome in an audio book. To have an unabridged audio book your narrator has to read what’s on the page (this is also a requirement for Amazon’s whisper-sync system). But your characters identify themselves by doing things – Kevin walked across the room before he spoke…dialogue. Shelly sipped her tea…dialogue. Having those identifiers in the text already is good writing. If it isn’t in the text prior your decision to make an audio book, there’s nothing that says you can’t add them. (You’ll have to update your book on Amazon if you make changes to the book for the audio in order to have whisper-sync enabled. The two have to match very closely.)

Back to the first 15 minutes which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the first recording of your work. You get it and approve it, or ask for changes and then approve those. This is where you can decide if your narrator is or isn’t going to work out. Once you approve the first 15, the contract is locked.

This is where you’ll establish how the work is going to move forward. You’ve already talked to your narrator about how you’d like it done and how they work. This is where you’ll get into the nuts and bolts of it, the organizational method you use. If it’s you waiting until everything is read and uploaded to ACX, you’ll have a month or so to do other things while you wait. If it’s taking each chapter at a time and asking for corrections as you go, then you’ll be scheduling your time differently. For me, I chose the latter option, taking each chapter as they arrived, listening to it, following along with the words on the page, and asking for corrections as we went. My narrator, Keith McCarthy, made that suggestion and it was an approach that worked extremely well. I can’t imagine, knowing how much work it is, leaving it all to do at once. Plus, once the book is fully uploaded and the producer clicks the ‘I’m done’ button on ACX, the author only has 10 days to approve the work or ask for corrections. I don’t think that’s enough time. Some may, but for me it wouldn’t have worked very well trying to cram the whole book in, in that amount of time. I’m very happy it was a play as you go system.

Play as you go, or correct as you go, is a system I recommend, particularly if you are new to ‘directing’ an audio book production. It will depend on how your narrator does the work, which makes finding that out all the more important, but it was far easier to catch problems as they came up. In the last ‘listen through’ there will probably be other issues to deal with, so taking care of as many things you want corrected along the way also saves time and effort. The most important rule is keeping the lines of communication open.

To summarize: setting up your character voices takes some careful consideration. Don’t skip this step. Be willing to add (and in some cases subtract) words to help the narrator make those different voices easily distinguishable for the listener. Set up how you’re going to manage the work with your producer during the first 15 minute trial period and then decide to move forward or go back to auditions. Also keep in mind that every change you ask for is more work for the narrator. This is why prep is so important. Making sure your text is set and just as importantly, that your director’s notes are clear, will save everyone time and more effort in the long run.

Next: The production!


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