Audio Tips for Authors

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So, I was supposed to release The Inquisitor’s Gift as an audiobook this month. That’s not going to happen. Acts of nature and inexperience have delayed the release. For the first time, I can say that the climate crisis has affected my small business. The heatwave in Europe took its toll on my narrator, who became gravely ill. We also ran into some technical difficulties. This is my second audiobook, and I believe it’s this narrator’s first. Hopefully, things will come together soon.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned about proof-listening. If you’re an author trying to publish an audiobook on ACX, the publishing arm of Audible and Amazon, you’ve probably realized that they don’t offer many resources to “rights holders” a.k.a authors in nonlegalese. Although they do have a Help section and a large FAQ, I’ve rarely found the specific answer I needed. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

What’s Unreasonable?

For instance, the contract between the rights holder and the producer (usually the narrator), says the author should not make “unreasonable” editorial requests. Um…that’s pretty vague. I asked an experienced voice actor to help me understand what that meant.

Basically, “unreasonable” is expecting the narrator to be able to make one character sound exactly like James Earl Jones and the next sound exactly like Bishop Briggs. Don’t do that. “Unreasonable” also means expecting the narrator to rerecord the entire book because you’ve suddenly decided you want it to have a different vibe.

You’re in This Together

It’s also important to understand that this is a collaboration, so an author should allow the narrator–especially if he’s a voice actor–to exercise some artistic control. Yes, you know the characters and the story better than anyone, but sometimes an actor can surprise you by what they bring to a role or scene if you let them.

Nice Matters

Positive feedback is important. Everyone likes to be appreciated. You know what it feels like to have someone tell you only what they don’t like about your work. Remember to tell the narrator what he’s doing right.

Some Basic Terms

Although it isn’t technically the author’s job to identify audio issues (the producer is in charge of this), it doesn’t hurt an author to know a few audio terms to make communicating with an audio professional easier. (And c’mon, what writer doesn’t love learning jargon and vocabulary!)

  • Plosive–also called a “p-pop” this is that puffy sound when someone says a hard consonant like a “P” or “T”. Sometimes it will happen at the beginning or end of a word, and sometimes the entire word will have a puffy quality. If you’re listening with good speakers (and you should ALWAYS proof-listen with the best speakers you can) it can do more than sound obnoxious–it can physically hurt. An experienced producer will know how to edit these, or what sort of equipment or posture to use to avoid making them at all.
  • Mic thump–this one’s kind of obvious. It’s that knocking or thumping sound when the mic is interfered with in some way.
  • Mouth click–a smacking sound. These occur naturally when people talk, but we don’t usually notice them in day to day conversation. However, a mic will pick these babies up and ruin an otherwise good recording. Some producers have tricks to reduce these during a performance, but sometimes the only way to handle them is through the editing process.
  • Mouth noise–these can be loud breaths, wheezes, swallowing, gurgling, etc. Basically, any human sound that distracts from the listener’s experience. Although there are breathing techniques an actor can master to reduce heavy breaths, not everyone knows how to do this. In this case, these sounds can usually be edited out. It’s okay to have some breath noises, however. If all of the breaths are removed, the recording can take on a robotic quality. Quiet, non-distracting breaths–or breaths which are part of the acting–are fine.

If you hear any of these noises when you’re proof-listening, write down approximately where they occurred so the producer can fix them. However, it is not the author’s job to comb through a chapter for several hours writing down each and every one of these. If you’re hearing a lot of plosives or clicks, simply tell the producer that the chapter contains a number of whatever the noise is called so he can try to fix them.

Proof-listening Bonus Tip

A tip I learned from a site that creates audio copies of classic books is how to write an error so it’s easy for the audio person to understand. If the narrator deviates from the text in a way that changes the meaning of a sentence, write:

I hear: The woman asked when the prince lived. Text: The woman asked where the prince lived.

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Happy creating and happy listening!

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