Last week, I talked about getting started in the audio book market, with the basics of how to set things up with ACX, which is the company I decided to go with. When I left off, I’d mentioned that ACX had featured one of the four Pine Hills Police books I wanted added to the program in their newsletter, which helped called attention to it, as well as their stipend program, which I was fortunate to be included in. What came next?
Auditions. In my last post, I mentioned I’d had 3 auditions within a day or two. I now have over 20 different readers over the 4 books.
The process that I began with was to click open my sample and read what the narrator was speaking. I noticed that these seemed to read very slowly, and found myself getting impatient. However, when I closed the text window and simply listened, the pace seemed more normal. I was “silent” reading much faster than the narrators were reading aloud, and it made a huge difference when I simply listened. After all, that’s what people who listen to audio books are doing. They’re not reading along with a print version.
Because I’m unaware of what audio books sound like, I went to the audible.com website and started browsing for books in my genre, as well as books by best-selling authors I’ve read. These narrators would likely have been selected by their publishers, so they didn’t have to worry about finding the perfect voice. However, one can’t assume that just because a major publishing house hires a narrator, that they’re doing it the ‘right’ way. I found some I enjoyed, and others I didn’t. What I did hear was that these were all read at a relatively slow pace, which I now assume is the right way to go.
Once I felt comfortable listening to the reading pace, I tuned into understandability. These people who are auditioning are all professionals, and they were all easy to understand. There were a few who didn’t pronounce a few words correctly—the Boston Celtics might be the “Seltics” but Celt has a hard C. Femoral artery caused a few stumbles—the bone is a ‘fee-mur’ but the artery is ‘fem-or-al’. There were different pronunciations of character names, notably Colleen. Some called her “CO-leen” and others “CALL-een” or “Call-EEN.” These I considered minor, since I could tell them how I wanted the names pronounced.
Then, there was the “do they seem to sound like my characters, even in narration?” I found a New York undertone in one narrator, a Texas in another, and a few that sounded far too old for my thirty-something characters. One or two had a sing-song delivery, or too many pauses between words or phrases.
The major areas I concentrated on were how they handled dialogue and internal monologue. My characters do a lot of thinking to themselves, and I want my readers to be able to tell whether they’re thinking or speaking. This is easy on the page; not so easy on the ear. Also, are the characters’ voices distinguishable without sounding fake. I found men trying to sound like women didn’t work as well as simply having a different voice, slightly higher in pitch, but not falsetto or squeaky. I also listened to whether they could capture the emotional state of the character even in the short sample provided. I didn’t give them character notes, but since none of them had any extra insight into the character’s motivation, they were on a level playing field.
I got to the point where I felt like I was at the eye doctor having to judge between the very subtle differences between #1 or #2 on the chart. Only this would probably be the ‘ear’ doctor. Given the way ACX displays the auditions for each book, it was possible to listen to a paragraph read by one narrator, pause it, then listen to the same paragraph read by another—and on through the entire sample. And, believe me, when it got to the point of narrowing the narrators down to the top few, it came to that. (You can click to enlarge the screen shot.)
As I write this, I’ve got 3 potential narrators. They’re all very good, but slightly different in their delivery. Since I want the same narrator to do the entire series, I asked those I felt had strong potential if they’d mind auditioning for the other books—especially one that was in the ‘other gender’ POV so I could hear how they read both sexes. I found that some did very well with one book, but not so well with another, so I don’t want to commit to a series narrator without hearing them read all the samples.
The hardest part? Having to send rejection letters to those who I’ve eliminated. I hated getting them, and I hated having to write them. I can sympathize with agents and editors who have to turn people down. And it’s harder when you’ve already had a bit of interaction with these people, perhaps getting their hopes up when you ask for more, and then having to let them down. I feel like the judges on Chopped who have to cut chefs who have cooked their hearts out, having to point out that often the decision is based on a very small difference.
What have I learned so far? If I do other books, I’ll include more information in my profile notes about the book—including that they’ll be expected to read sex scenes. I did ask anyone whose audition sounded promising if that would be an issue to avoid any misunderstandings later on. I’ll also tell them a little more about the characters—what their mental state is in the scene they’re reading, their age, whether they’re the hero or heroine. Things I didn’t think of, but that seemed “wrong” when I listened. That would help keep things equal across the board.
The next step will be the final decision, and it’ll be tough. Once I make the offer, the narrator reads a longer (15 minute) section and, as I understand it, this is where we get to fine tune the reading before moving on to the entire book.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society