CONFESSIONS OF AN AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR
Four months on from launching SUPERENGAGED and the avalanche of joy keeps coming. The kindle and paperback versions are still flying off the shelves, 5 star ratings keep coming, it’s been shortlisted for Business Book of the Year 2019 and there have been a significant number of people asking when the audiobook is coming out…
We’re huge fans of audiobooks at Propellernet, and often share back the weird, wonderful and thought-provoking audiobooks that we’ve been listening to on our daily commutes. So, once we knew that there was an appetite for a SUPERENGAGED audiobook, we started to look into how we might go about doing this.
In the process we’ve learnt a tonne more stuff about how audiobooks work and once more, there have been some total highs and #awkward moments along the way. So in support of others who may be on this journey too, here’s what we’ve learnt;
1. To narrate, or not to narrate
The thought of creating the audiobook version of SUPERENGAGED filled me with delight. We turned to our trusty friend Google to tell us how to go about creating the audio version, and it seemed so simple; log in to ACX.com, create a new project, upload a few pages, and let the thousands of professional audiobook narrators send their auditions to us. Surely one of them would be the perfect voice for the book, right?!
But here was the problem, we didn’t really know what ‘voice’ we were looking for. We knew we wanted a female voice, not too slow but not too fast, not too squeaky but not too husky… it all started to get a bit Goldilocks and The Three Bears.
Turns out, it’s really hard to find the person who will have the energy, emphasis and intonation that you have in your head, particularly if it’s someone you’ve never met.
We had so many extremes of personality that came back in to listen to;
· The exuberant game show host; where it was all quite loud and poppy, which was fun, but not quite right
· The deadpan; not as much life as we needed, the opposite of the game show host. No, not right again
· The robotic; very clear in enunciation, somewhat lacking in the human element we wanted, albeit this is a business book
You get the idea, these narrators could work brilliantly for other books, just not our one. No matter how hard they tried, there was no way that they were going to sound more like me than I do. So, I decided to bite the bullet, clear some afternoons in my calendar and book into a recording studio, and that’s where the real fun began…
LEARNING – think carefully who should narrate your book, how you want it sound and what you want it to convey. Is this possible for someone else to do? Or does it need to be you?
2. Speaking and reading require different scripts
The voiced word is different to the written word. Obviously. And once you’ve poured over getting your written version to print, you need to have the time and headspace to go back through it to turn it into an audio script. Don’t rush it, the way to ensure you don’t get into re-take hell, is to have the script flowing smoothly from the off.
- Delete hyperlinks
- Delete captions
- Delete visuals
- Remove any calls to actions or click here prompts
- Delete any reference to ‘reading’ and change it to ‘listening’ in relation to how people are consuming your book
LEARNING – build in time to change your written script to your narrated script and know that you may have to keep editing as you go.
3. If you’re a novice, work with a highly experienced producer
There’s loads of advice online that it’s easy to record your own audiobook. One piece I saw said to “do it in a carpeted room, or in a wardrobe, for better sound”.
Possibly not the level of polished finish you’d be looking for in an audiobook? If you’re not a fan of confined spaces, that could be a challenge too.
More importantly, taking care of the sound quality, the editing, the technicalities for a great audio experience for your listeners is best left to a professional. There’s plenty to concentrate on in aiming to come across effortlessly natural, whilst sitting still, in front of a microphone, in a sound proof room. I think a wardrobe may be a stretch-too-far in the uncomfortable stakes.
Instead, work with a skilled producer, with the right kit and it’ll pay off in dividends in both time and the level of editing required.
LEARNING – don’t scrimp on the upfront production, it could cost you hours in retakes and editing.
4. Be honest, can you sit still?
Narrating a whole book is not for the faint hearted. If you’re in anyway a fidget like me, welcome to your worst nightmare. For sound quality control, you need to SIT STILL when you’re narrating. Think very carefully about doing this before committing to c20 hours of sitting still. Yes. 20 hours or so. Of sitting still. Not all in one go, clearly. But still. 20 hours of sitting still. Have I said that enough??
On our first sample recording of SUPERENGAGED our brilliant producer, Tom Dalton of Brown Bear Audio in Brighton, picked up around 15 ‘little knocks’ in the recording. That was me, fidgeting.
Now, I take my shoes off (more relaxed) and take regular breaks to move about.
LEARNING – work out early the best way for you deliver a great narration, how to sit, whether to stand, how much you can do at a time and whether or not fidgeting is an issue.
5. Cut out the distractions
From your phone – put it in flight mode.
From your stomach – ensure you’ve eaten before you sit for a recording session, peristaltic sounds are not the kind of special effects you want your audience to hear.
From your mouth – er, what? Yes, if you’ve eaten then it’s a good idea to make sure you clean your teeth, it gives you a better starting point for clear pronunciation.
From your clothes – wear soft materials that don’t make a noise. I’ve not lost the plot, leather trousers tend to creak a bit and zips and buttons on arms can bang on the table… these also fall into the same kind of special effects you don’t want to record.
And finally, build in breaks – every 30 or 40 minutes, so you can move about, go to the loo and pre-read through your next chapter so you’re ready to go again.
LEARNING – proper sound mics in proper sound booths pick up everything. I mean, everything (maybe that’s why a wardrobe can seem like a good idea sometimes).
I’d love to know how you think it’s working out, the recording hours are being edited down to around 7 hours of actual audiobook.
Below are the first 137 seconds, by way of introduction.
Thanks, and happy listening.