Audio from the Authors: Lessons Learned

I’ve had the privilege of working with some fabulous authors in my new vocation of audiobook narration. In my recent series I interviewed some of them to give encouragement to colleagues and interest to listeners. Here they are:

Just Then and Right Now
Coming this Summer
Share and Share Unalike

I Was In on It Too

Of course I was my own first customer, and thought I would conclude this start-of-summer series with some of my own reflections. Working as a narrator is so fulfilling and interesting, I can only compare it to teaching as a source of joy. Right now, those two things are just about all I’m doing for work so you can imagine how happy I am.

Lesson One: Audition Yourself

I found the entire experience to be a dramatic endorsement for the value of reading your own work out loud. I’ve posted on this several times in the past– even if you never publish a single audiobook you need to hear your own writing. There is no better way to pick up on a host of errors invisible to the spell-checker, and the rehearsal is great preparation for DIY if you choose to go on that path. Some colleagues have told me they can’t pick out mistakes when they are reading, so they let Dragon do it for them. I suppose that could work too.

But I suspect they also just don’t like their own voice– and that was a key revelation for me, to realize this about other people. I’m such a ham, I heard myself much earlier than most folks–I got over the shock of how different my voice sounded to my own ears with a tape recorder when I was six. It’s a habit you have to form: now I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to myself as I edit the books and I don’t notice any difference anymore.

Lesson Two: That FX Thing Seems to Have Worked Out

I still see reader reviews who mention that the sounds I put in are “distracting” etc. I’m honing my craft and certainly opinions will differ. But no question, the AUTHORS I’ve auditioned for loved them and reacted the way I was hoping. They have kindly let me know that the sounds (and voicing) add atmosphere and deepen the experience for them. I keep the FX on separate tracks for easy removal, replacement, or emendations.

Model Behavior

Let’s admit it frankly– the more I try to rely on the Per Finished Hour model (getting paid up front) it’s increasingly the author I need to please. Another aspect of moving into the PFH crowd is that I’m meeting authors with their own plans and resources for marketing. I trust they know what they’re doing.

But I bet there were times in my work, where the sounds became too much (loud, sudden, frequent). I’ve always held to the mantra that this is about the author’s words first and foremost. Now I try to open with a gentle environmental effect, like breeze or rain, as the very first chapter begins. It can’t be an unpleasant surprise if it’s not a surprise.

Lesson Three: Series Work is Like Bread

My first two forays into narration, beyond my own series Shards of Light, were with authors who either had or were just starting series of their own. I wrote out a notation sheet to double-check pronunciation of place names and jargon with them, and also jotted down my impressions of what type of voice to attempt for the major characters. Big-time payoff there! I revisited those sheets like old friends as I bounced back and forth between tales. Series work allows me to exploit my labor over several projects. So far, it’s mainly been in the Royalty Share model and those returns have been significant. The more series installments, the merrier.

Bundles are Like Sliced Bread

Most authors are aware that bundling a series of maybe three or four titles can be a great marketing tool over on the ‘Zon. But with Audible it’s even better since:

a) the main business model works with credits, so listeners get a terrific value plonking down their monthly chip on a title that has multiple tales in it, and

b) authors and narrators get better compensation than for a single title.

The exact amount is still a mystery to me, so I grumble even as I celebrate. But both for my own series and that of others, the bundle is attractive and leads to new sales. Excelsior!

Lesson Four: Always Doing, Never Done

May the Good Lord protect me from thinking that I’ve arrived as a narrator. Just in the past week I was able to make a small observation about my chief bugaboo, background noise. That amended my editing and production steps to make the final file just a bit better. I keep picking up tips on blending in effects. (God forgive me, I edited the first chapter of my own book yesterday and I have FOUR FX tracks supporting the narration!) Not a sound engineer, but I am learning how my voice works (and doesn’t). The environment I created in my basement is utterly consistent and I even get RMS and Noise Floor readings that are close to each other across the entire project. I just love what I’m doing.

And now I get to do it to myself again.

Coming This Fall, Harbingers of Hope

I’ll be spending the next 10-15 weeks heads-down and recording my titanic opus, 400k words of epic fantasy going into a single title and audio for the first time. Since I have a summer schedule with no teaching, it will only be me and the usual interruptions to my day. I hope to get a reliable impression of just how much material I can knock out in a week. Then I will be better able to return to auditioning, and put out offers with promises I can keep. I’ve been extra-conservative to date because I never want to fail of a deadline. And that’s largely been because I never knew how well I could do over a long haul. Well 400k is a pretty long haul. I hope to come out of the summer of ’21 as a truly professional audiobook narrator.

And the rest of you, don’t let the season slip by with only the grim aftertaste of hot dog and a little sand in your shoe to show for it. Get your books into audio! Don’t make me come over there.



2 thoughts on “Audio from the Authors: Lessons Learned

    1. Hah! You’re the last person who would give me reason, in that way Cat. Hope all continues well.

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