I’ve seen quite a few blog posts about producing audiobooks, but I wanted to specifically address the subject of working with a narrator.
I’ve had much more experience with this than my Amazon page might indicate as I have been the contact person for an author collective. One of my own books, The Wake of the Dragon, has been produced at ACX, Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange, and others are planned for the future.
ACX has an option to do your own narration, but unless you’ve had some form of voice training, I advise against it. Listen to a few audio samples read by professional actors and a few done by authors and you’ll notice the difference, especially when it comes to doing different character voices.
Most of us can’t afford to pay a professional actor’s fee, but ACX offers a choice between paying an hourly fee or agreement for a royalty share. You provide the manuscript, the narrator produces the audio file, and you split the profits 50-50. This is fair. Both jobs require considerable time investment as well as specific talents. This is the deal I’ve used for every book I’ve handled to date.
Putting your book up on offer is a fairly simple process. One thing to remember is that if no one offers an audition for a couple of months, you have to click a button to re-list it or it disappears from the books on offer.
So what happens when you do receive an audition? You get an email telling you that someone has submitted an audition. You specified what sort of voice you want when the book was submitted, but sometimes you’ll receive auditions that just don’t suit the story. For example, one I handled required a natural English accent and a gentle tone. The first audition I received sounded like an American radio DJ with the requisite booming voice for old AM radio! This would never do. I politely told the voice artist that I really needed a different sort of voice and wished him luck.
This is something to remember when working in any aspect of media; be polite to people! Even if they’re getting something spectacularly wrong, employ patience and diplomacy. Because I work in film as well, this has long since been deeply imprinted for me. You never know who you’re talking to, even if someone seems to be ‘just someone’s assistant.’ They might well be the person you need to get on the good side of to obtain access to a famous actor!
Don’t feel like you have to settle for a voice that doesn’t fit your story. If you get a lot of unsuitable auditions, look at your description and try to work out if there is a way to clarify exactly what you’re looking for. There is a box for audition notes when you upload a sample for the actor to read for the audition and that is a good place to add details.
It’s possible you may get the occasional response from someone who doesn’t communicate well or who is otherwise actually not up to the job. Most of the auditions I’ve received have been from unknown actors who are very professional in their dealings with me.
There is the occasional exception. One book I still have up for auditions needs a specific accent and I received an audition from someone with an excellent voice for the story. However, he did not read from the provided script, but sent one from a previous audition. I told him his voice was perfect and asked him for an audition with the relevant script. I never heard from him again.
If this happens, you have to ask yourself, would this person have been able to keep up their end of the production? Probably not. Even the ‘perfect voice’ isn’t going to end well if there is a lack of communication or they don’t get around to doing the recording within a reasonable time frame.
I stay flexible with my due dates and don’t push the voice actors. If something comes up that means it’s going to take a few weeks longer than originally anticipated, I would rather have it done well than forced to hurry up and finish or to lose a voice actor who communicates well.
Overall, most of my dealings with voice actors have been professional and co-operative. We have the same goal after all; get the book produced and up for sale, but provide a quality product. This brings me to an important part of the process:
No matter how good your narrator sounds, you absolutely must listen through ALL of the chapter files and follow along with a copy of the manuscript. Despite the professionalism of most of the voice artists I’ve worked with, every single one has had to do some corrections of words or pronunciations they have got wrong. The occasional word change doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence significantly, but there are some that do or that throw the grammar askew.
Don’t be afraid to ask for corrections! I highlight them on a copy of the manuscript and all of my narrators have re-read the relevant sentences and slotted them into the appropriate place on the sound file. Check corrections too! Twice I’ve had both the old version and the new one on the second version of the chapter file. Make sure it’s right before you click that ‘Approve’ button!
I’ve never had a narrator complain about this. It’s part of the job. One last thing I’ll mention: Sound effects. Generally less is more. Most of the books I’ve handled have none. One has a few subtle air whooshes and such (that’s on my own Steampunk book. Airship pirates would have things like wind noise.) For most projects, very subtle background noises are more than enough, though I can imagine something like breaking glass providing a good effect on a Mystery story.
There are sites online where you can get sound effect files for free. For most books, leave them out. It’s only distraction. It’s also more work for the narrator who is the person working with the sound files!
A good narrator can really enhance an audio version of your story. Always communicate well, keep it professional and stay flexible with things like dates and you can always have a positive experience when dealing with the person who is going to bring your story to life!
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