Making an audiobook doesn’t sound that hard, right? You just record someone reading your book and voila! Not so fast… You may not be thinking about how your book will sound while you’re still writing, but if you do, it could really set your work apart. Everything from the amount of dialogue versus narration to the verbs and nouns you choose—every choice you make in the writing stage has the potential to kick your audiobook up a notch (or to hurt the audio outcome!) We share 8 mistakes authors make when thinking about producing audiobooks so you can give both readers and listeners the best experience possible. And to save writers time, stress, and resources.
Your characters’ voices aren’t distinct enough
To be able to really get your readers to connect with your characters they need to have a distinct voice. Maybe you have a character who is emotionally unavailable and uses humor as a defense mechanism. Your audience connect with that personality in their imaginations through the dialogue you create. The snarky comments that character makes or their blatant sarcasm will pull that character out of your head and onto the page. But in order to differentiate that character from a funny best friend, you need to write the dialogue so that we can tell the difference between the characters without you telling us after every line who was speaking with a dialogue tag. This becomes especially important in the audiobook. If the characters have distinguishable voices based on their dialogue, it is much easier for a listener to process who is speaking before the narrator attributes the dialogue to anyone. As the narrator is reading, the listener’s brain is already trying to attribute those words to a specific character. When each character has a distinct voice, the listener can quickly match that up and that improves the listener’s ability to get lost in your story—in the best way.
The point of view you’re writing from
The point of view that you choose to write from determines the perspective that the readers experience the story through. It’s an important decision to make for any story but certain points of view lend themselves to audiobooks much better than others. First person point of view lends itself easily to audiobook narration. It is generally easy to follow the plot and the listener knows whose perspective they are hearing the story from. A twist on the first person POV would be to have two characters each telling the story from their own point of view. Think Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The chapters alternate between Nick and Norah’s point of views. This still works for an audiobook as long as the voices and narratives are distinct enough. Third person POV can absolutely work in audiobooks, but keep in mind how many voice you’re writing in (as well as how distinct they are) will impact the listener’s experience. It can be very confusing if you start adding character perspectives a la George R. R. Martin. The fewer perspectives, the better, as far as audiobook narration is concerned.
You aren’t reading your work out loud
Reading your work out loud serves multiple purposes. It’s an excellent way to proofread so you can pick up any words that you may have omitted or run-on sentences. More importantly, it gives you a different experience of your own writing. You will be able to catch any sentences that are confusing or just don’t sound right. It will also help you make sure that the dialogue you’ve created between your characters sounds like a conversation that real people would have. If your characters are two best friends just taking a walk and catching each other up on their lives you don’t want it to sound like a business conversation with an overly formal tone. Reading your dialogue out loud will allow your ears to help you pick up in any mismatched dialogue that might look reasonable on the page, but sounds strange when spoken by an audiobook narrator.
You’ve been forgetting to vary the words on the page
Good writing doesn’t waste opportunities. Varying your word choices for action, scene description, and character dialogue keeps the story fresh and helps avoid confusion. Keeping your word choices fresh will keep your readers engaged and will help them them separate scene description from action narration and dialogue. When you’re listening to a book, you don’t have the quotation marks to signal that a character is speaking. Provide audible clues to the listener with your word choices.
Thinking you should narrate your own audiobook
Authors rarely consider the production of the audiobook until they are in the thick of doing it. It can be tempting to want to narrate your own book because you’ve spent painstaking hours bringing these characters into the world. Of course you want to be the one to give them a voice. The best audiobook narrators are actually voice actors. Trained actors who are experienced in narration provide a lot of value. They can give each character a different voice or accent, they will understand how to control the volume and pacing of their voice for the best listening experience. The narrator will add their own creativity and talent to bring your book to life and the final product should be more professional than an author could accomplish on their own. Plus, the tools needed to produce a quality audiobook are generally fairly sophisticated. Please don’t think you can use everyday tools (like voice notes on your phone or Zoom or other recording services) in place of a professional audio recording setup.
Underestimating the cost of a narrator and producer
Hiring a narrator definitely requires a sizeable amount of cash. Most experienced voice actors will require $175-250 per finished hour of audiobook recording at a minimum. These rates come from SAG-AFTRA, the union that protects this kind of work. According to an article from janefriedman.com, voice actors may charge as high as $450 per finished hour. Now this can add up quickly for the author or publisher paying for the audiobook. Karen Commins, an experienced audiobook narrator, explains how to calculate the costs of audiobook narration on her website. If your book is 82,500 words, the finished audiobook will be about 9 hours long. If you pay your narrator $200 PFH then the total narration cost would be $1,800. That won’t be your only cost though. Most audiobooks also have a producer, who acts like a director and an editor, who will also require payment.
Micromanaging the narrator
Once you’ve made the decision to hire the narrator, it can be tough to let your book baby go. A professional narrator will have their own creative ideas about what kind of voices the characters will have, and that’s partly why you hired them! Striking a balance between sharing your thoughts and micromanaging the narration process can be tricky, but is vital to the process. It is your book, and your creation so you should have some creative input in what the final product sounds like, but you don’t want to completely stifle the creativity of your narrator. The approach they take with a character may be different from how the character sounded in your imagination, but it could end up resonating with the listeners. Even though it will be challenging, you hired that narrator for a reason and they are also aiming for the best outcome—so trust them.
Offering a royalty share contract to your narrator/producer
There are two common contract types you could offer to your narrator. One is the per finished hour (“PFH”) contract, where you pay the narrator for every finished hour of audio recording. The other contract type is the royalty share contract. This would entitle the narrator to a designated percentage of the royalties from any audiobook sale. The PFH contract is generally preferred because the voice actors will be paid for their time up front, instead of waiting for the book sales and reporting and accounting. Some narrators might consider a royalty share contract as a lack of confidence in your book’s sales. Karen Commins offers great insight into both contract types from the perspective of the narrator, and states that you may find narrators uninterested in the royalty share contract, therefore discouraging talent from auditioning or taking your project.
Creating a great audiobook comes down to great writing on the front end and a high-quality production on the back. When you are in the writing stage you will want to remember to vary your words between actions, descriptions, and dialogue. The characters should be distinct so that the audience can tell who is speaking without having to look at the page for clues. The audience should be able to follow the plot and characters just by listening and you can make that easier for them with your writing. The production of the audiobook is just as critical as the writing to ensure an amazing outcome. This portion of the process comes with a lot of decisions. Will you hire a narrator or two if you want different voice for different characters? What kind of contract will you offer? What will your creative relationship with the narrator look like? Writing your novel with an understanding of the audiobook process can help you write a story that will wow your audience in any medium.
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