Audiobook Guide

March 21, 2016

So, I will admit that when I decided to record my audiobook I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And like any first book, it’s not perfect. It’s pretty cool – because I got some great actors and there are some lines and moments I still get giddy listening to.

But there’s also things I’d definitely do different the next time around. Things to save time. Things to make the experience easier and smoother and improve the process technically. And ways to leverage those things in order to to spend more time with my actors and develop and enjoy the creative process even more.

You may not be interested in recording an audiobook in the way I went about it. There’s several other ways available. But if you’re headed down this path this guide is to share the things I learned.

Preparation

Before you step into the sound booth there’s several things you can do to make the entire endeavor easier and faster:

  • Reformat your novel to a script.
    Narration will remain blocks between dialog. Then when you have dialog, pull it out onto its own line with the name of the character centered in caps above. Here’s a sample from Tattered Heart:

MAMA
“Don’t come into this house with blood all over yourselves,”

Mama tossed her cloth onto the table and wiped her hands on her apron as she crossed the kitchen to the open front door that let the smothering heat escape.  Aribella stifled a grin at Mama’s admonishment of her brothers, Ethan and Callen.

CALLEN
“Do we look like we’re covered in blood?” with a gentle laugh

  • You can also cut out every “he said” and “she said” from your narration sections because someone is actually going to say it. Descriptions of how the character says it move into the same line as dialog as italics to indicate they’re now stage direction rather than dialog the actor should read.
  • Cut out sides for each character
    This is a separate document for each character with only the scenes they appear in. That way each actor can focus on the sections relevant to them. It’s also helpful in these documents to make this character’s dialog blue and everyone else’s black–again so that the actor working can quickly identify what they need to read.

    Follow those sides CLOSELY when recording–missing lines suck.
  • Record a scratch track first
    So this one is optional, will be time consuming but can also be helpful. Erin Bowman advises that you read your book aloud as one of the final editing steps. It’s good advice (as you’ll see in the next section).

    Even if you think you sound horrible or the audio isn’t stellar. Because no one knows your book the way you do or hears the tone your characters have in your head. All that work you did to describe their emotions in the novel? It’s a lot easier to just say the line the way it’s supposed to be said.
    A lot of your actors, if you’re a good writer, will pick up that tone and bring it to their performance in their own way. But some of them won’t have time to go through it before they show up. Or they’ll choose to rely on you as the director to shape their performance. Which is very cool, not gonna lie, because you sit around and talk about your characters for a few hours. But also when having a track that feeds them the lines smoothly can be helpful to their performance. Or, if necessary, for them to hear the line from your point of view and then deliver it their way.

    At the very least, record any names or words you invented to provide pronunciations for your actors. You’ll miss out on some fun outtakes but save yourself time.
  • Hire a sound technician
    Capturing audio can be tricky if you want to do it really well. Especially when you’re the one in the booth doing any narration yourself. Hire someone to monitor and control the sound recording–the levels–all that. Someone who knows audio software. Possibly someone who can edit a bit and combine the lines as each actor records them (probably in nice breaks between sessions). Because at the end of it you’ll walk out with quality master files that need minimal adjustments, which is invaluable.
  • Plan on giving yourself plenty of time
    A 300 page novel is roughly 10 HOURS of an audiobook. And that’s just the actual length of the narrative. You’re going to have multiple takes of each line; mistakes; questions from the actors about a scene or a line.

    I walked away from my recording session with 16 hours of sound and that was before I included 3 characters who were recorded remotely.

    Reading aloud for over two hours tires your voice to the point where it changes the sound. It’ll tire your actors if they have large sections to record.

    So, if you’re using actors, give yourself a week to record the thing. Schedule the actors in different sessions so there’s time in between to edit and move their lines. And to record your parts in short bits so you don’t get worn out standing and recording it.
    And schedule yourself in the morning (if you’re narrating) so your voice is fresh because you’re also going to be talking all day directing actors and just talking for fun.

    Giving yourself a week just allows everyone to take breaks and walk away for a bit which is good for everyone.
  • On that note… Hire an editor
    This is the one thing I’d definitely do differently. I loved recording the narration for my novel. I cannot describe how much fun I had working with the actors for different character’s dialog. Directing their performances and talking about the story and the characters–it was the absolute highlight of the whole experience. I will always direct and produce my audiobooks.

    But I don’t need to sit at the computer for hours and hours that turn into months editing those recordings together. It’s worth it to hire an editor to buy myself time to write the next novel. Plus I’m giving someone the chance to do what they love to do while I do what I love to do.

Recording Your Audiobook

The actual recording of your audiobook is pretty simple, especially if you’ve got all your preparation done.

You show up to a recording booth (or someone’s house if they’ve got good equipment) and read your book.

Actors come in for their sessions, talk to you about their character, read their lines a few times, ask you questions or give you a different reading when you give them notes.

It’s all pretty fun and creative. Here’s just two technical tips to keep in mind:

  • Record everything grouped by chapter (not by character the way you might think – definitely by chapter).
    I recorded Tattered Heart by character because that was easy. An actor walked into the sound booth, I hit record and didn’t stop until they were finished.

    But then I had to take the time to edit groups of lines out of each character into the different chapters where they shared scenes.

    Starting with dialog grouped by chapter would have saved me 2-3 weeks easily.
  • Make each chapter it’s own audiofile.
    My 16 hours of recording ended up as a 24GB audio file–that’s an unwieldy thing. It took 5 minutes just to open each time I wanted to work with it. Having 20 smaller files is so much easier to work with.

Post Recording / Editing

The key thing I hadn’t realized at all before I started is that an audiobook is a beast. It’s 10 hours long. After it’s all done, it’s 10 hours long. But first it’s a 16 hour, 24GB audio file.

There is no Ctrl+F to find what you’re looking for in a sound file. If you want to edit it, you can’t skip around flying through pages bouncing all over the way you can a word doc. If you want to go through it to edit it–it’s going to take 10 HOURS and that’s just listening to it, not stopping to edit or tweak anything.

It took an entire weekend (like a solid 32 hours) simply to sort through lines and takes and remove extraneous conversations (which were fun–I totally saved them for outtakes, don’t worry).

Then there were days and weekends and hours and hours of editing out each line and moving them from file to file and piecing them together. I’m not complaining, but I am admitting I became disenchanted with the whole thing about half way through.

That’s why you hire an editor. So they can do the piecing together of making the audio match the script. Then you can go back through and select which take you want to use for adjust the pauses between lines from their master files.

A couple of technical notes for editing

  • Save the master files and do a File >> Save As for each successive part of the process. That way if anything goes wrong or you mess something up at the very least you can recover one generation back.
  • Run all the chapters through a Noise Removal tool (audacity’s works well if you get a good sample). You won’t need this if you have a good sound technician but if you don’t then… start with this step first before you start moving dialog around into the right places.
  • Run all the chapters through a Click Removal tool. Also unnecessary if you have a sound technician. Also something to do first before you start the actual editing.
  • Then begin editing the pieces together.
    Finally! You can do this yourself but it is the most time consuming stage of the process. This is where, if you have an editor they can organize each chapter audio files with all everything in the right order according to the script to give you a scratch track.
    I’d recommend that they keep all the takes together, just get them in the right order, and give you a separate file of everything not actually a line (outtakes).
  • Then the actual fun part–sort through the scratch track and select the takes you want for each line. It’s time consuming so you really want to, you can leave that up to the editor.
    But if you put in the effort you’re sculpting the creative flow of your audiobook which is no small thing.

    Having done this for Tattered Heart, I would say you can get incredibly specific–pulling one or two words from one take and combining them with a section of another take to get the best emotional version of the line. It really is the most creative part of the process, a lot of work, but also it can be a lot of fun.

The Upside of all the Audiobook trouble

An audiobook may be a beast, but it’s a pretty awesome one and there were great (fun) things I learned too.

  • Hearing the story read aloud does give you a different perspective of it.
    Most of your readers aren’t going to be reading it aloud but there were a few sentences that made me wonder if they made any sense. Or dialog I thought flowed fine sounded entirely disconnected. There weren’t a ton of them and they weren’t in key places, but I think the novel would be even stronger with a few of those edits.

    And I can say Enchanted Storms is definitely stronger for having heard those moments and those lines that didn’t quite fit in the audiobook.

  • Audiobooks are a different medium
    I hadn’t really thought about it before because, they’re “books” and a lot of people listen to audiobooks in place of reading books.

    But an audiobook is different from a written book in the same way a movie is different from a book. It sticks to the story more closely than a movie. But it’s a whole different experience. Having one, and recording one, is a lot like having something in between a movie and your book. Which is really cool. Because as much as anything can happen, the odds of this book becoming a movie are pretty slim.

    Recording the audiobook and working with the actors and performing parts of it myself was surprisingly more like making the movie of it–just without all the expensive visual aspects. That may not be your experience while listening to it, but as the creator of the story it was a pretty satisfying experience.
  • Getting to engage with people about the story is awesome
    Tattered Heart had only been out two months when I recorded the audiobook. Most of the people who bought it hadn’t read it yet. So even though it was finally in the world I hadn’t really talked to many people about this story I’d been carrying for years.

     And then my actors walked in.

    And asked what fairiesense is.

    And what’s Clara’s relationship to Trivin like.
    Why does James make this choice or what happened here between Bion and Aribella.

    As much as it was really difficult to record so much in such a short time, it was also a chance to sit around for two days and talk about my book with people who were really engaged with it. And that was incredible.

Also, hilarious outtakes. It’s always fun to have a chance to laugh with your friends.

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