Into the World of Audio Books: The Production

Onward I say! Here’s part 5 of my informational series on making an audio book. To recap: You’ve prepped – a lot, signed up for ACX, put up an audition, selected your narrator and have the first 15 minutes approved. Special note: Before you approve the first 15 minutes, review the contract and make sure you understand it. Once you hit approve, the contract is locked. If you want out of it after this, there are fees involved. So read the contract before you sign on the dotted line!

You’ve approved the first 15 minutes and your producer is off to the races, reading the chapters of your book and uploading the completed works to ACX for you to listen to. My producer, Keith McCarthy, and I had a slightly different system where he emailed me wav files that weren’t yet mastered. This was to help save him a little bit of time in the final mastering stage. He tried to explain the technical reasons for the request, but most of those went right over my head and I’m of the opinion that whatever helps make things easier for the producer also helps me in the long run. The producer you use may not make that request but if they do, it didn’t really have any detrimental effect on how I listened.

As I mentioned earlier, we set up a shared google doc file (well, Keith set it up) with the chapters of my book broken up into sections of about 4 chapters each. He would record each, chapter by chapter, and send me the wav file. I listened to the wav file, ignoring the things that he would normally remove during mastering – pops, odd noises, gaps in the narration, repeats and the like – and request corrections via the google doc comments.

I had already gone through the doc and noted how I wanted something read. I put pronunciations on the doc so he didn’t have to find another file to look them up. I went through the book and in places highlighted words or sections I wanted emphasized. I put notes in on tone and pacing. I read out loud so I would know approximately how it would all sound and if I found myself stumbling over words, I frequently changed them. An audio book is all about diction and flow. I had to take off my visual writer hat and put on an entirely different frame of reference for the audio. I learned a lot about being a better writer in the process.

While I listened, I read along to check for pronunciation, missing or wrong words, and to make sure the passage was read the way I wanted. Missing and wrong words happen. My litmus test on whether or not I asked for a correction was if the addition, subtraction, or different word changed the meaning of the sentence. If it didn’t, I left it and changed the writing (so the whisper-sync thing gets approved). If it did change meaning, I asked for a correction.

Once Keith put the corrections in, he mastered the file and uploaded it to ACX where I downloaded it and listened to it again, but usually only those places that were corrected as a double check before moving on. Depending on the request, there were times when the correction wasn’t quite right either. I had the good luck to work with a narrator who didn’t mind my pickiness and corrected the corrections! Those were fairly few and far between though.

When listening to the mastered file I discovered that there are differences in sound when listening through regular, cheap computer speakers vs online vs through headphones. It’s important to listen with different devices because your audio book listeners will do the same thing. If there are huge differences in tone/volume or any sort of irregularity that’s noticeable, your producer can fix those so don’t hesitate to speak up. I was fortunate again in that my producer was able to make those very nuanced adjustments.

There were also sections of the writing that required special effects to be applied. I wasn’t really sure I wanted any. A reader will apply their own inner effect (or not) to the written word. I wrote the book with that in mind. But listening required a different approach. I didn’t want effects that were too extreme, so it was a challenge to find the right ones that were just enough to be subtle and not annoying. This was again the difference between reading and listening.

For instance: in my book, Chosen, there is quite a lot of telepathic communication. Visually, on the page, it’s fairly easy to tell when that’s happening. Often I said so in the writing, ‘…he said to him’ or even ‘speaking telepathically.’ Some writers use italic for that, but I decided not to because there’s so much of it. Visually, those methods work – using italic, different paragraphs to indicate someone else speaking (with the standard “dialogue here,” punctuation, or directly saying these people are speaking telepathically. But with an audio book, there is no visual, so I needed to come up with a solution to that issue. Keith sent me several examples of what telepathy could sound like and we settled on a fairly subtle, very slight echo that’s just different enough that the listener will immediately understand what’s happening.

At times it was extremely difficult for me to convey what was not quite right about the reading. The tension was missing, the pace was too slow or too fast, a character was yelling when he shouldn’t be. Those were the easy things to note. The way we hear is very different from the way we read. Making those distinctions in tone is sometimes a big challenge. I learned that I had to let go of what I was hearing in my head as I read, vs the audio file I was listening to and allow a slightly different interpretation. Throughout the process, I learned quite a lot about collaborating effectively with another creative that was hugely satisfying and a lot of fun.

It was quite a lot of work too, which is good to know ahead of that happening. Primarily, that was a scheduling issue for me, which thankfully, I was able to push a few projects back to accommodate the project. Again, not everyone is going to have the level of involvement or the amount of work that I did. That was my choice to have that level of collaboration, which ultimately made me very happy with the end result.

Next: Fine tuning!

 

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