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