Into the World of Audio Books: Selecting Your Narrator

Here’s part 3 of my journey into creating an audio book from my first novel, Chosen. To recap: There’s a lot of preparation involved. Don’t skip it!

You’ve done all your prep, you’ve got your account set up, you’ve uploaded your audition script, you’re ready for masses of narrators to send in their auditions! Only … you may only get 2 (or perhaps even just one!). This is where you curb your impatience and give your book some time to generate a few auditions.

What to look for in a narrator is a highly individualistic process. Much depends on how you work and how well you play with others. There’s a level of control over your work that you aren’t going to have once you’ve picked your narrator, so it’s important that you have an initial level of trust. You also need to be able to communicate very clearly what you want. On ACX, narrators or as they’re called ‘producers’, have their own pages and it’s a good idea to take a look at their experience level. Google is your friend here. Before you make your choice, do a little stalking. No, it’s not creepy at all, but a way for the author to find a good match.

If you get enough auditions, you then have to make a choice. Sometimes, this is quite difficult, particularly if you’re faced with more than one producers who have given you excellent auditions. This is where your research comes in to help make the choice. And don’t hesitate to ask questions about how each producer works. How receptive are they to input? ACX wants you to communicate only through their web interface, but it isn’t very conducive to good work flow. I don’t know how other producers are, but if mine hadn’t been willing to communicate through email we’d still be back making the audio book.

How much effort and input you as the author want to put into the creation of your audio book is also highly individual. Some authors want to hand the project over and not worry too much about the nuances. Some want more control. Before you pick a narrator, you need to know what kind of director you’ll be. I thought I’d be in the former column, but it turned out that my inner control freak came right out when it came down to letting go of how the audio book was made. Fortunately, my producer was more than willing to accept my input. It’s helpful to everyone if you have in mind ahead of time how much involvement you’d like. You need to know how much work is involved with the latter variety, where you’re more involved in how the book is read.

Each narrator will probably have an individual process on how the work is created. Will you get it all after they’ve read the entire work and then you go through and give corrections, or suggestions? Or do you check each chapter as it comes out, making those suggestions as you go. One is a big chuck of time devoted to listening to the work, the other is also a big chuck of time, but spread out over many days and weeks. For me, it was more work than I anticipated, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Just a scheduling thing. Feel free to talk to each of your auditioning producers to get a feel for how they work, how you anticipate working with them, and how you expect to communicate during the process.

In making your selection of producer, do make sure you let the others who’ve taken the time to audition for you that you are going with someone else. It’s just professional courtesy to do so. My notes to each producer went something like; Thanks so much for your audition. You were really fantastic! It was a difficult decision, but at this time I’ve decided to use a different producer. Thanks again for your time and effort. I will keep you in mind for future projects. ACX keeps track of your auditions for you, and your correspondence with each.

The choice between the two narrators came down to tone and inflection. My ‘chosen’ narrator understood through my director’s notes what I wanted with each section in the audition. He was able to change voices between characters – even characters who sound very much alike, so it was crucial to be able to tell everyone apart. There was also a range of emotionality that the other audition was missing, an intensity of voice and a vocal range that meant I’d found my narrator in Keith McCarthy.

Here’s his ACX page – go ahead, check him out!

Next: The First Fifteen minutes…

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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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