Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Tips For Creating Audiobooks

Image edited from Pixabay

I love the audio versions of my books. Even though I know the stories and dialogue off by heart, I still listen to them with pleasure, because the delivery makes a difference.

Tom Freeman's clear tones make Turner flow, and he really manages to bring out the dark humour in Lord John's scenes in a way that lightens the tension.

Rosie Alldred's soft voice is perfect for creepiness, like a hushed house where you listen for the threat you know is there, the floorboard that is bound to creak before long, and you lean in to hear every detail even though you know you might regret it when you realise what's coming. Rosie voiced Harvest Festival and They Move Below.

I may also have a new narrator lined up for Lost Solace too. Watch this space! There are links to buy the audiobook versions of my works here.

Tips For Creating Audiobooks

I take the easy option of hiring a professional. I recommend that for many things - cover design, editing, distribution and so on. I use Amazon's ACX to find producers and distritbute the finished audiobooks.

Royalty options. If you are new to it then - unless the book has lots of sales or you are rich - it is best to select the royalty share option. That means that for every sale (at a price determined by ACX), you get 20% of the price, and the narrator gets 20% of the price. Amazon ACX get 60% (ouch).

Audition text. You upload a section that potential narrators can perform as an audition. Make sure your audition text is from a good part of the book that includes any challenges that occur often in the main text (e.g. multiple narrators, accents etc). You want to know that the narrator can deal with it, and also to help them decide if it is a project they want to do. I was mean in one of my audition texts, since I required the narrator to sing in a child-like voice out of key, but it really helped to find those who can cope with challenges.

Explain any tricky areas. Give as much information about what you're looking for as you can, so you attract the best potential narrators. You need to cover things such as possible voices, pronunciations, accents. There may be things that require special consideration: for example, one of my stories was told through text messages and Windows errors, so we used a ping sound effect and had to work out ways of keeping it clear who was typing; another story was a prose poem with a visual shape on the page, and we needed to work out ways of representing it in audio.

Audiobook covers. You need the book's cover in a square ACX format (thinks of CDs). Make sure you have a good cover design that works with every shape. And no, don't just try and squash your normal book cover!

Finding someone. Instead of just putting up an audition and hoping for the best, I find it is better to look for narrators that fit what you want and invite them to audition. Search and apply filters (sex, accent, style etc) here.

Provide additional commercial information about the book if you have it. Bear in mind that with royalty shares the narrator wants reassurance that they will make a similar amount to an upfront payment. Sometimes they spend a lot of time on a book and it sells very little; or they commit to it and find the full work isn't as polished as it should be. If you have good print or e-book sales and ranking data, or have won awards, then do let the narrators know.

Make sure it is ready. Unlike an e-book, where a new version can be uploaded at any time, it is not easy to change audiobooks. Make sure the book is perfectly edited. Then go further: many books read okay on the page, but when read aloud they seem clunky. I think a vital additional edit before a book is finished is to read it out loud. The whole thing. Write down every clunky phrase and fix it. So many errors spring out when read aloud. My system is a bit more advanced. I get a piece of software to turn my document into an mp3 file, using a Scottish woman's voice. The accent makes me hear it afresh, rather than what I expect; and I can listen to it anywhere and make notes. I normally pick up 50-100 small changes that had been missed in all the screen reading and editing up to that point - most of them are not errors, just improvements. I do this before the book is finished, and before it goes to my final editor/proofreader. It really helps the text to flow.

Character dialects in audio books. I just want to reinforce this point: select a voice actor who can do the major accents and voices of the book (and check that they can deal well with switching from male to female voices). For some of my books I needed people who could also read Welsh and do Welsh accents, so I made it part of the selection process. Likewise American characters need American accents, just as Scousers need Liverpudlian accents. Anything else introduces discordance; imagine a traditional London-based Sherlock Holmes speaking with an Australian accent for no obvious reason. However, the main non-dialogue narrated text can be in any voice (unless it is first-person POV, in which case it needs to be the character's voice). Yes, you can have non-dialogue read in one accent and dialogue read in another. Please note: I do know there isn't a single "American accent" or "UK accent" or anywhere else. There are regions. If it's important for the character (i.e. their background is specified), make sure it is the right regional accent. If the text says a character has a broad Mancunian accent then it needs to sound like that, not Brummy or cockney or Texan. Accents are too distinctive to mess with.

You are partners. Don't assume that what comes back from the producer will be perfect, and that once you've found a narrator the job is done. That's not a collaboration. Your narrator wants feedback on whether they're getting it right. They'll have questions about pronunciation and details. Listen to everything they do, every file - you are proofing it like you would a printed text. Everyone makes mistakes - a missing sentence, a mispronounced word, an incorrect volume setting. Don't be afraid of pointing it out. In most cases the narrator will have the tools so they only have to re-record a few sentences, then they snip out the section with errors and paste in the new one. Yes, listening to it all and giving feedback takes a long time! Probably a couple of working days in all. But you need to do it. Follow up any issues. A project could take a few weeks, or it could take twelve months, from start to finish.

Promotion. We need to do it. I usually ask ACX to send me free codes for UK and US Audible (since there are two sites, just to confuse things). 25 of each. Then I use Audiobook Boom and other places to promote them to get early reviews. The downside of free codes is that sometimes people take the book even though it isn't their thing (just because it is free), and it may lead to unfairly negative reviews. (Talking of free codes - I have a few left for my audiobooks for reviewers, get in touch if you're interested.)

Double check the metadata. If you have changed distributor then also make sure that ACX has been updated - ACX doesn't automatically pick up changes on Amazon and Author Central. An easy check is to go to "About This Title" in ACX and see if they display the Amazon rating – if it doesn’t then it needs updating. Titles with no rating also give an error when you click on “View this title on Amazon”. You have to contact ACX to get the change made.

Don't expect to get rich. There is a lot of competition on there now, and a lot of books. Audiobooks are not an easy route to cash. But then, neither is writing. Audiobooks can be a useful extra income stream though, and it is enormously satisfying to hear a good production.

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