The Making of an Audiobook: Thunder and Roses

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

If you love audiobooks, the Golden Age has arrived. Back in the day, only major books, mostly bestsellers, were released in audio as well as print.  Romances were seldom done in audio. 

But now commercial audiobooks are no longer an ivory tower production.  Amazon changed the face of traditional publishing when it introduced the Kindle ebook reader, and at the same time created the KDP production platform so anyone could publish a book. 

Then they bought, the 600 pound gorilla of audio, and Audible created, a production platform that allows anyone to create her own audiobook, just as KDP allows us to create our own ebooks.  This means that all those backlist books that were never available in audio can be produced and released directly by authors. 

Audio--Thunder and Roses Screenshot2013-09-18at4.26.17AMBut no two revolutions are identical.  A book can be traditionally printed or produced in e-book form, but either way, you read with your eyes.  Audio is very different experience because it requires hearing rather than vision.  A downside of audio is that we don't engage as closely with the story. When I read, it takes most of my attention.  I'm really IN that book.  Since audiobooks allow multitasking, the story won't usually be experienced as intensely.

BUT–audiobooks are a godsend for commuters creeping along in traffic or driving long distances.  They're also great for people with learning disabilities that make reading difficult. Not to mention, audiobooks are terrific for those doing boring house work or exercise or anything that engages the body but not the mind.

Most of my books of recent years have audio editions, generally produced by Recorded Books, which does quality unabridged audiobooks aimed primarily at the library market.  I liked that they were availables, so several months ago, I decided it was time to experiment with producing one of my backlist books in audio.  I chose Thunder and Roses, first in my Fallen Angels series, because it's my bestselling backlist title.  It's been–educational!  (I had Kim Killion design a new cover in honor of this new venture.  The other images in this post are earlier audiobooks done by others.)

A salient point is that there is a HUGE difference in cost between publishing an ebook and producing The Bartered Bridean audiobook.  An ebook can be produced for almost nothing if the author is good technically and has the time.  Even hiring someone else to do the cover, formatting, and uploading will cost only a few hundred dollars. 

But producing an audiobook costs THOUSANDS of dollars. Why the cost difference?  Because with very, very rare exceptions, authors need to hire narrators, who are usually highly skilled professional actors with a special gift for interpreting voices and storytelling.  The cost for top caliber narrators is $200-400–or more–per finished hour of audiobook.

Nowhere Near RespectableThat "finished hour" is why ACX refers to narrators as "producers."  They don't just read the story into a microphone; they check for accuracy and quality, correct errors, and insure that the audio tracks exactly with the written book so that Amazon can use their WhisperSync technology.  That means that if you're reading a book on your Kindle and stop in the middle of a chapter, then start listening to the audiobook version in your car, it will pick up right where you stopped reading.  Very cool. 

So good narrators puts hours of work into each finished hour, and are worth every penny of what they charge.  They also need to work in a professional quality sound studio in order to get professional quality sound, and good equipment isn't cheap. 

Choosing a narrator is both harrowing and fun, because you go to ACX's database of producers and click on what qualities you want in your narrator.  Male, female, either? If you want a British accent, do you want General, Welsh, Scottish, Cockney, or other?  For an American accent, do you want General, Southern, Western, New York, Boston, or something else?

Most fun is clicking the voice qualities: Seductive/sexy, quirky, perky, sultry?  Or perchance hysterical?  <G>  Lots of choices!

After you define the kind of narration you're looking for, you post an excerpt and ask for auditions. The excerpt should be short and have dialogue with your main characters.  Some authors suggest it should include a love scene.  (I went for a conflict scene, where Clare beards a hungover Nicholas in his den to demand his help.)  Interested producers cruise those listings to find ones they might be suited for, record the audition sample, and send it to the author. 

This is the harrowing part of the process.  I decided to use only Audible Approved producers–elite narrators who have at least 25 productions on Audible, with positive reviews.  So they're more expensive, but they're all going to be good. 

I got about two dozen auditions, and every single one of them was acceptable.  The trick was Never Less Than a Ladychoosing the one that will be best for my book.  This is where it helps to have listened to a lot of audiobooks, or at least audio samples.  If a male narrator, does he do female voices well? And vice versa for a female narrator and male voices.

Pacing is a big issue–really slow narrators make me nuts.  So I wanted a pace that was reasonably brisk voice without being rushed.  With British settings for my books, probably a British born narrator will be best because they can do not only standard British, but regional accents like Geordie (Newcastle area), Welsh, Scots, etc. 

I hadn't specified a gender, but as I listened to the auditions, I realized that generally I preferred male voices for my historicals.  (If I were to do audio of my YAs, I'd choose a female narrator.) 

After much tearing of hair, I settled on Peter Bishop, a British born voice actor who lives in the New York area.  He was extremely professional and easy to work with, so we worked out a deadline for the finished audiobook.  After delivery, the file was double checked for accuracy by Audible.  Finally, in mid-October, the audiobook went live on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. 

This was an interesting and educational project, and it seems to be selling well enough to justify doing more audiobooks.  Next time will be easier, I'm sure! 

Thunder and RosesBut for today, I'm giving away a free Audible download of Thunder and Roses.  It will go to one commenter between now and midnight Saturday.  So if you're into audiobooks, this is your chance! 

Do you like audiobooks?  Have you not thought much about them, but think it might be fun to listen to some of the great stories you loved in the past?  As I said, the Golden Age of Audiobooks is here!  What books would you like to hear in audio form?

Mary Jo


An Interview with Katherine Kellgren!

Katy Kellgren Nicola here! I am thrilled to have as my Word Wench guest today Katherine Kellgren! Katherine has recorded over 125 audiobooks, including winners of the Audie Award, the American Library Association’s Odyssey Honor, the Earphones Award, the Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award, and ForeWord Magazine’s Audiobook of the Year. She was named one of AudioFile Magazine’s Best Voices of the Year for 2008, 2009, & 2010 and last year she was added to AudioFile's list of Golden Voices. Amongst her titles are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and now my very own audiobook, Notorious!

Katherine and I first got chatting when she contacted me to discuss some aspects of the characterisation in Notorious in the advance of the recording. The process of narrating and recording a book intrigued me and so I thought it would be interesting to invite Katherine to talk about her work.

Katherine, welcome to the Word Wenches! How did you come to work as a professional narrator? What is it about the job that appeals to you?

As a child and teenager, I spent hours in my room listening to audiobooks and spoken word recordings. My particular heroes were John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Edith Evans, and I spent countless hours listening to recordings of them performing in the plays of Shakespeare, Wilde, Sheridan & etc. and reading poetry. I had wanted to be an actress since a very young age, but part of what drew me into me into that desire was listening. After I graduated drama school (I did a three-year training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), my father (who was in New York) began to suffer from the effects of Parkinson's disease, one of which was that he could not focus to read properly. He had always been a great reader, so I went to the library and took out a book by his favorite out-of-print detective author, bought myself a hand-held recorder, and made him an audiobook of the title. When I moved back to the States I spent a lot of time reading to him, and somewhere along the line I began to realize that since listening to recordings and being read to had always been such an important part of my life, I should try to pursue audio narration.

What was the first book that you narrated?

The first audiobook I narrated professionally was WICKED WIDOW by Amanda Quick, which I recorded Wicked Widow for Random House Audio.

What qualities do you think you need to be a good narrator?

The patience and ability to work hard and really apply yourself to each title you record in terms of preparation and research. Concentration and stamina when you are in the studio are also very important, for when you spend all day recording you can't let your attention or focus waver for a second or it will show in the finished product. Also the traits that every actor needs to have – the intelligence to best interpret the will of the author, ability to embody characterizations & etc. Added to this, the ability (once you are armed with all the preparation possible) to let yourself go when you are recording and ride the arc of the story. You don't get to rehearse like you do in the theatre, and it can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride recording a book.

Take us through the preparation that you do for each book. How do you develop the characterisation, emotional interpretation and voices/dialects?

I first read the book through at home, making note in the margins as I go of any descriptions of tone the author has provided (i.e. "he said sullenly" "she said, shocked"), as well as any specific physical descriptions of characters provided. I make note of all the accents and dialects needed (and see a dialect coach if I need to brush up on or study them), and look up words which I'm not sure how to pronounce. Then I go back through and mark each character's dialogue in a different color of highlighter pen. This takes time, but really helps me attack each voice with more confidence when I'm in the studio.

I read that you also did some singing in some of the books, which sounds great! Are you a singer as well as a professional narrator?

 My first job when I left drama school was in a musical, but since I'm now entirely focused on audiobooks the only chance I get to sing is when a song pops up in the text. I always find it quite fun when that happens!

How does an audiobook get made? What happens in the recording studio?

Well, the process is different for different books, but for example, when I recorded your lovely title Notorious_350 NOTORIOUS it took me just under four days recording from 10AM to 4PM. I worked in the studio with a wonderful director/engineer called Nikki Banks who provided guidance, and kept me on the straight and narrow when I fluffed or accidentally said the wrong word (a big sin!) and also took care of the rough audio editing as we went. 

A newspaper recently said that: “The right voice can send an audiobook up the charts.” Do you think this is true?

I absolutely agree. I am a big listener to audiobooks, and I often buy them because I love the work of a particular narrator.

How many books do you record a year?

 It varies by year, but somewhere between 25 – 30.

Do you have to take special care of your voice?

I drink an awful lot of tea in the studio, and if I start to get a touch husky, I find hot water with honey remarkable soothing.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading – or listening to?

 P_-g_-wodehouse-thank-you-jeeves-cd-unabridged-audio-book-1477-p I used to be a big fan of 18th century English literature (and still am), but find that because I read a lot for work I do a lot less pleasure reading. When I do snatch the chance to read for pleasure nowadays it's often something like P.G. Wodehouse that does not require tremendously deep thought or analysis – not that I'm dissing P.G. Wodehouse – I worship him! As far as audiobooks go, I'm always listening to something. I often revisit the old spoken word recordings I loved when I was growing up, and I listen to a lot of new titles too. I'm a big fan of the work of Jim Dale, who is an unbelievably gifted narrator of children's audio. 

Katherine thank you so much for joining us here today and giving us such a fascinating insight into the world of audiobooks! I can’t wait to hear your reading of Notorious!

Now it’s over to you for any comments or questions for Katherine! To kick off the discussion I wonder how many audiobook listeners we have here? If you enjoy audiobooks, what is it that you like about them? Do you have any favourites? And what makes a good listening experience for you? I'm offering a gift voucher for the audiobook of your choice from Audible to one commenter between now and Sunday!