9 Tips for a Successful Audiobook Production
The following is a guest post by Jamie Davis: an author, podcaster, and health care journalist who has created three audiobooks through Findaway Voices (with two more in production now). Learn more about his work at jamiedavisbooks.com. Enjoy!
As more authors delve into the world of audiobooks with their collected works, many find the challenges of working with narrators or voice actors a challenge. It is difficult to translate your needs and desires regarding your project to the person who will be the voice of your book and characters. Here are some tips discovered along the way to help when working with an audiobook narrator.
Tip #1: Identify Your Project’s Voices
Identify the two voices in the project. Yes, there are two general voices involved in the creation of your audiobook. Like a classic pop duo, these can work in harmony and create beautiful music. Conversely, they can grate against each other if not matched well. The first voice is the voice of your book. This is the tone of your book and the style of writing. The second voice is the voice of the individual characters, especially the main character of your book. When you audition a narrator, pay attention to anything in their samples that makes you stop and think something isn’t quite right for your project. I’m not saying it is wrong, just not fitting with the vision of how your book should sound. If this isn’t something you can work with, seek out a different artist to narrate your book. I’ll talk more about this in the next two tips on auditioning narrators.
Tip #2: Think About the Ideal Narrator’s Voice
Genre may also affect the overall voice of your book. Having an idea in your mind of the type of narrator voice you think would best represent your book’s voice. Just a few of the things to consider include male or female, apparent age or how old should the voice sound, and what base accent should be used (for example: American vs. British English).
Tip #3: Think Like a Producer
Think like a producer during auditions. You’ve identified the general type of voice you expect for the narration of your book, but now you have to pick from a selection of narrators. This can be challenging because it requires you to take off your author hat and put on the hat of a movie producer/director.
When listening to auditions, focus on the tone of the author’s voice. Some of what you will hear as errors in the audition selection are things you, as a producer/director, can work on with the narrator to make adjustments specific to your book. This includes things like pacing, pronunciation, and character voices. All of these things are subject to your direction of the narrator’s voice acting.
Tip #4: Create a Story Bible
Create the narrator’s story bible. The story bible is your chance to help the narrator see your vision for the book. This includes phonetic spellings of all the character and place names and is especially important in Fantasy books where the names may have unusual spellings subject to interpretation. It should also include a description of the tone of the book or any special thematic emphasis you are looking to convey in your writing.
Another important part of the story bible is how certain story conventions are dealt with in the audiobook version of your work. For example: if your story has regular computer notifications, does the computer have it’s own voice or is it just the standard neutral voice of the narrator? These are questions you should try to answer for your narrator before they get started on your project. Solving these potential problems in advance will make the whole project review process smoother later on.
Tip #5: Proof-listening
Proof-listening is time-consuming, but very important. When the narrator starts posting audio tracks for you to review, it falls to you, the author, to put on that producer/director hat again. Just as editing and proofreading is essential before you publish the text version of your book, proof-listening and communicating with the narrator about where a fix is needed is vital to your audiobook’s success.
Read along in a clean version of your project created just for proof-listening. I use a PDF file and highlight, comment, and annotate the places where a fix is needed in each chapter. Follow along and listen not only to the words spoken but also the pacing and even the space between sentences and phrases.
Tip #6: Communicating Fixes to a Narrator
Knowing what can be fixed and how to explain the fix is key. It is important to understand how many audio narrators work. They often don’t read all the way through a given chapter or scene in one go. They stop and start, editing the pieces together. This process may be because they made a mistake and have to re-record a sentence or even just a word. It may also help them to switch character voices or dialects in scenes with multiple characters speaking.
When proof-listening, pay attention to mispronounced words, as well as pacing and awkward pauses that interrupt the flow of the story. Mispronounced words are easy fixes. Note the time in the audio track and the sentence from the main project and leave a note for the author with a phonetic spelling of how you want the word pronounced.
Pacing and awkward pauses are less tangible and require you, as the producer/director, to communicate what you’re hearing that has interrupted the flow of the story. Often, this is a simple fix for the narrator but you must communicate to them how you want them to fix the problem. There may be too long a pause between two sentences or paragraphs. Communicate with the narrator whether you want the gap lengthened or shortened if it is creating an awkward break in the scene for the reader.
Tip #7: Open Lines of Communication
Communication is essential. Throughout the project, work to maintain open communication with the narrator. Encourage them to reach out to you if they have a pronunciation question. Ask them what else they need from you to help make the project a success. Remember, every book will raise a different set of challenges, even if you use the same narrator from book to book. When you have a new narrator, communicate the things you learned from working with previous narrators to help them understand your style and expectations.
Also, don’t just focus on the places that need fixing. Tell the narrator when they’ve done well, too. If you think they nailed a particular scene or characterization, tell them. Leaving positive support communication is just as important as conveying constructive criticism.
Tip #8: Narrators are Partners
Treat your book’s narrator as a partner in the project. After the audiobook is completed, your work with the narrator is not over. Ask if you can connect with them on social media channels. That way you can cross-promote the project to your separate audiences. In the audiobook world, listeners follow their favorite narrators as often as they follow their favorite authors. Use this brand loyalty to your advantage and create a partnership between author and narrator.
“In the audiobook world, listeners follow their favorite narrators as often as they follow their favorite authors. Use this brand loyalty to your advantage...”
Tip #9: Review Codes
If you receive free review codes to download the book, consider sharing a portion of them with your narrator to give out to his or her fans. Just as your rabidly loyal fans would love to get a free copy of your book to listen to and review, your narrator has fans who’d like to do the same. This can help you accumulate rapid reviews for your audiobook, generating buzz and social proof for others considering purchasing your book.
Work together to build the success of your joint project!
Overall, the creation of an audiobook can be a challenging project that, in some ways, rivals the process of creating the original text version of the book. Using some simple tips and techniques can make it a more positive experience for both the author and the narrator. This will create a better audiobook and generate a whole new audience of readers for your stories.