In light of all the social distancing and recommended reduction to group events, we're happy to help support those who have recently published, or will soon be publishing, a book. It's hard enough to get your books out there, and now with the cancelation of book events and readings making it even harder, I want to do my part to help you spread the word!
So You Want an Audiobook?
Here’s The Fraught Path of How this Indie Author Got Three.
I have to say, I’d wanted an Audiobook for years, but it seemed pretty rare for indie press authors to have one. As it turns out, one reason for this I discovered this year is that recording these books can be expensive at professional studios, which is often a hard expense to justify based on indie book sales.
Regardless, I got into the idea of recording my own and moving ahead because a friend told me last year, “There’s more meritocracy in audiobook promotion that you don’t see in the print world! Readers don’t care how big your press is—they only care about the narrator’s voice and the quality of the work!”
This idea hooked me the way coffee hooks me in the morning. After spending years traveling and embarking on best-efforts for promoting indie titles without the benefit of expensive marketing, a publicist, or an agent—I wanted to inhabit a book world where it truly was or could be a fairer playing field—and, anyway, my friend kept selling me on the idea: “You have a great voice! That will sell your work! Here’s what you do. First, go home. Buy a microphone…”
This conversation began an odyssey. My friend proceeded to tell me that I would need to, oh, you know, secure the audiobook rights from my existing publishers, find a quiet corner in my house (where five people lived) and start recording, figure out how to publish the audiobook myself, promote its sales, and then, when the sales metrics for my backlist titles shot up, use those new sales figures as leverage to finally get a bigger press, maybe an agent, and (Tada!) become instantly famous, with the new distribution and advertising!
This is also the dear friend, who had bestowed upon me for years the dubious honor of being the most talented and frequently robbed, almost-famous author she knew--something that both flattered me and caused a stabbing pain in my gut. “Why hasn’t it happened yet for you?” she’s asked.
I’ve shrugged. I guess for a lot of indie authors, that’s the million-dollar question, right?
I could be the next Angela Carter and Neil Gaiman hybrid. I could be the sex-positive, women’s power, magical realist activist for strong female characters. I could be so many things, in theory, if even one of my books took off like a flash and began to sell the rest, if even one powerful agent said: Holy &*&$ this girl is profoundly talented—so I am going to champion her work. But, let’s not dwell on that. In the meantime, I keep writing because I love it.
But back then, when I bought the microphone after the audiobook meritocracy conversation, I bought into the dream. I quit smoking to have enough breath for my work’s more acrobatic sentences, an enormous sacrifice. I bought the audio recording software and the mixer and the hardware. I tried at recording at home and took one hearbreaking afternoon to realize the stupendous sound floor in my house (which is beside a busy street in Southern California) is just too loud for making audiobooks unless I read from the closet in my son’s bedroom, squinting at an ipad, with a pro-microphone dragged in and tilted jauntily, disrupting both my equilibrium and personal space. I would also have to be okay with sitting in the near-dark for hours (closet door mostly closed to block sound), talking to myself and feeling ridiculous: “Hey, honey, can you please leave your room? Mom needs to record a very strange short story.” In short, that sounded awful. In long, I wasn’t willing.
And then my debut short fiction collection Suspended Heart’s second edition, published nearly a decade after its first release, was featured in last June’s New York Times Book Review, and I said to myself: Okay. Finally. Stop not giving everything for your work. Stop doing that thing women do of deciding you cannot, just cannot go on, because you’ve been disappointed and let down by press closures or other factors: By some miracle, your tiny indie press book has actually been registered by the book world in a significant way. Think about that! And bring your audiobooks to life…
Take heart. Follow the plan.
Anyhow, a few months later, I arranged an agreement with Hot Redhead Media and a professional recording studio. I flew my best friend Odessa out from Texas, also my favorite listener, and I engaged with an audiobook director who listened as I read and marked a pro-script wherever she might may have heard a stomach rumble or a slight external noise or even the sound of my left foot shifting on the studio floor.
I read and read and read. As you can see, I read for nearly twenty five finished production hours and was able to, in the end, create three professional audiobooks. If you’re thinking of recording an audiobook, therefore, for other authors out there who want insights into doing so, here are my top ten pieces of advice:
1. Many authors will want to read their own books. If you don’t have a recovering thespian past like mine, you may not be the best person to champion your own book. I heard from the studio owner, sadly, that many authors record their own books only to realize they don’t sound that engaging and then have to hire professional voice talent to re-record them.
2. If you do have an engaging reading voice, but still want to go to a pro-studio for recording, do be aware that reading your own work will (not only hopefully be a preferable thing for any literary author’s fanbase, but also) save yourself one of the largest expenses in audiobook recording because hiring voice talent costs anywhere from $200-$600 per finished production hour—and many recorded books land at about 6-9 finished production hours.
3. If you’re the designated reader, before you go into the studio to record, reread your own book immediately beforehand because familiarity will help with reading consistency. I discovered, for example, that I pronounced a single character’s name three different ways in my head through the course of recording the nine hour Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, contingent on which part of the story I read from. Don’t do that.
4. This sort of thing is another reason someone other than yourself should be present to listen to your recording. You won’t realize your own blind/deaf spots. You also won’t realize if you skip over a few words that your mind filled in but your voice didn’t say.
5. If you’re short on free time, in my opinion, it’s definitely worth the money to hire a professional sound editor to create your files.
6. For audiobook recording, tea is a valuable commodity. Also lemon. Also honey. Don’t record more than 6 hour days.
7. You will discover there are words you have pronounced incorrectly for years as it is revealed to you by others, just after you mispronounce them on tape. You will wonder why nobody corrected you before. This can morph into a new and continuously rewarding/punishing source of shame.
8. If there are three or more different languages you have pretentiously added to your stories or narrative: 1. You are so pretentious—you ass. Why did you do that?!; 2. it is not a bad idea to have specialists or native speakers text you a voice recording of correct pronunciations for the words and phrases you have so pretentiously included in your narrative—so you can listen on repeat several times, just before you record.
9. The voices you should definitely use for personifying crack smoking parrots will come to you somehow; this does not mean your reader will find them melodic or even that you will find them desirable.
10. If you want an audiobook, make it happen. It’s an incredible thing. Do be aware though that the next step is to figure out how to sell and promote it.
If you want to hear how one of my audiobooks turned out, please check out the exclusive sample I’ve provided TNBBC from a story called “Schrodinger’s Love Cat,” from the audiobook 2nd edition Suspended Heart.
If you like the excerpt, grab a copy at Audible, and leave a review to help a fellow author (and reader). Trust me. I do appreciate when people take the time.
Good luck in all you do!
Wishing you magic, as always...