Category Archives: Tools of writing

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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Into the World of Audio Books: An Author’s Perspective

I’ve wanted to make my series of The Guardians of the Word, into audio books for quite some time now. I never set aside the time to really delve into it though and a lot of time slipped by. I finally got my act together a couple months ago and got the ball rolling. I thought it might be helpful to share the entire process from start to finish for any authors also thinking about stepping into the audio book world.

So you want to turn your book into an audio book? How on earth do you do that? What’s involved? How much will it cost? How long will it take?

These are just a few of the questions I had along the long road toward tackling an audio books for my first book, Chosen, the First Chronicle of the Guardians of the Word – an eight book epic fantasy adventure. It seemed like a crazy complicated process from an outsider perspective. I write books. I’m not a narrator. I don’t have the recording equipment necessary to produce a high quality product. I took a look at the technical requirements for ACX/Audible and immediately knew I couldn’t do this myself.

On top of lacking the technical know-how, I also don’t have the voice for it. Have you ever tried reading your words out loud for any length of time? I can manage a chapter usually, but after that? My voice starts to sound like sandpaper. Even if I did have the voice for narrating, it’s so much more than that. It’s a performance all to itself.

To get things rolling, I headed off into the ACX/Audible website to find someone who knew what they were doing. I read the site carefully after setting up my account, following the instructions on how to get started. I discovered along the way, after the audition and my book was in production, that I’d skipped a few important steps that should have happened before even putting up an audition script.

Step one: Read your book out loud. Seriously, if you’re not doing this already, you should. File that under advice I’d heard before but willfully decided to ignore. Never again. Many authors already do this during editing so they’re ahead of the game in audio book creation. It feels weird if you’re not used to it, but it’s a vital step. Reading out loud helps you hear where the wording is difficult. If you’re stumbling over words, so will your narrator. Change them. Reading out loud will also help you find repetitive words and phrases. Fix them. Read your book out loud before you even publish. One day you might want to make an audio book and doing this will help.

Reading aloud also helps point out those places in your work where the listener will have trouble identifying who is speaking. If you have a lot of dialogue and more than two people speaking at a time, you have to put identifiers into the words for the listener. The listener doesn’t have the benefit of a new paragraph that for a reader shows a new person is speaking. A listener will have no idea, so write your book with listeners in mind.

Of course, you’ll have a narrator who can alter his or her voice per character to help with making the distinction between your characters. Sounds easy and not so complicated, but ends up being not easy and very complicated. More on selecting character voices later. Do yourself, your narrator, and your listener a favor; make sure your words clearly indicate who is speaking. It’ll save you some headaches later on if you decide to go down the audio book route.

My main takeaway is to keep both the reader and the listener in mind while writing. Reading is visual. Listening is auditory. The two can coexist without detracting from either.

Next post preview: Proper, prior, preparation…

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Why I love my iMac and The importance of backing up your work…ALWAYS!

I left my iMac computer this morning like I always do and headed off to my non-writing job after posting the weather on the local community page and running a quick check on Facebook. All normal activities and after closing all my screens, except for the book I have open on Word, I left the house.

I almost never turn my Mac off, though I might start doing that just in case the ‘trouble’ was caused by some sort of power fluctuation.

Came home from the non-writing job and the computer screen was black, just like it usually is when it’s been asleep all day. I like to take this moment to wipe off all the fingerprints that mysteriously end up on the screen (I blame kids!). There is the moment of creeping realization when you keep pressing the space bar and nothing happens that it dawns – something is wrong with my computer. Clicking the mouse doesn’t work either. And then when pushing the power button fails to make the machine respond – well that is the worst feeling of all. That is an ‘oh shit’ feeling of something is REALLY wrong with my computer that you don’t wish on your worse enemy.

Now, I have an old house and every once in a while the power goes out for no reason at all, so I asked around to the other occupants (kids again!) – was there a power outage today that you know of? No? I was really hoping that was it. I checked the fuse box, because I have an old house and sometimes the fuses blow for no reason at all (well, usually because the microwave and the coffee pot are going at the same time = instant fuse kill.) But all the fuses that usually work were in the on position and there was no orange showing where anything blew. Really was hoping THAT was it. Now we’re back to the computer being messed up, and if it is, well, let’s just say it would be a REALLY BAD THING.

I remember through the fog of mounting alarm that wait, I have a Mac and yes, I do have this handy program called Time Machine that automatically backs up all my important stuff, and stores it on the 40 gazillion byte phone-sized external drive that’s sitting on the Mac pedestal under the screen, and I breathe again. Yes, even though it would be a VERY BAD THING if my computer is indeed dead – I have everything backed up.

The machine can be replaced. The 8 books I have on the hard drive, all the associated materials for those books, the covers, the photos, etc can not be replicated. There’s too much information that would be lost, and lost for good. It would probably mean the end of the publication of the series were I to lose all that information. So writers, don’t take the chance of not completely backing up your material –  because you never know when your computer will just shut off and not come back on. Can you afford to take the hard drive in and have them recover your data? Will you recover ALL your material? That is a question I don’t ever want to wonder about. Save yourself the horror.

Now, not everyone is a big fan of Apple. You may not have a backup system like Time Machine. The point is – you MUST have a backup system. If you are a writer it’s absolutely critical that you do, and that point was driven home today when my usually reliable computer stopped being reliable.

The computer, if you’re curious, had what is called a kernel panic. Aptly named, since once I managed to get the machine on again and it said, you’ve had a kernel panic – that’s about what I did, right before I got on the phone to Apple. First off, the computer that answers their phone actually understands what you are saying even if you are incoherent. It doesn’t mind if you say OH for Zero when you give it your phone number and the voice is a nice, soothing calm voice (of a guy) and when it understood me saying ‘uh, it turned off on its own and it says I have a panic, no a kernel panic, and I don’t know what that means’, I knew right then I was in good hands. Hold on, I was told, by the soothing computer-voice-man, and we’ll connect you with technical support. A real human answered in less than 2 minutes and immediately set about fixing the problem, step by step. And that is the other reason I am and will continue to be a consumer of Apple products. They have excellent customer service. I’ve had a number of computers in my life from various computer companies. None, not the IBM, not the Gateway, not the other off brands I’ve purchased can compare to the level of service typical from Apple support. Thank you Apple Tech people for being so awesome.

It would have really sucked to start Spring Break with a busted computer, and now, I don’t have to.

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