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!

Negative Rating Survival 101

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To be perfectly honest, as a writer, I sort of hate Goodreads. Why? Because readers can leave ratings without leaving a review explaining why they rated it that way. I also hate them because GR has no way of verifying that the reader actually bought and/or read the book. For example, there is a user who goes by Wendy on GR who rates something like four or five books a day (I’m not exaggerating) and rates them all one-star. “She” only “reads” LGBT books. To me, this looks like an obvious troll. However, after I and many others complained to GR, they responded that she isn’t violating their policies and there’s nothing they can do. She is one of GR’s highest rated reviewers. I’m not kidding. I truly wish I were.

However, there are many normal, honest, real readers on GR that also leave low ratings. This used to irk me. I wanted—no, desperately needed—to know why they didn’t like my book. This still bothers me, but not to the extent it once did. I have four strategies for dealing with this. No, they don’t involve wine or chocolate, but those do help.

  • Look at the reader’s profile.

This is done simply by clicking on her portrait. You can (usually, sometimes profiles are private) see what other books the reader has read and how she rated them. If you recognize some of the books and/or authors, this might give you some insight as to what she didn’t like it. Maybe she mostly reads YA and your book is definitely not YA. Maybe she prefers plot-driven books and yours is character-driven. Maybe she’s just rather harsh and gives most books a low rating. (This is different from our troll, Wendy, who only gives one-stars and “reads” unrealistic quantities of books.) My new release received a two-star rating from a guy yesterday and I was momentarily devastated. When I looked at his profile, I saw that he also recently gave two stars to a book by an author I admire. An award-winning author. Obviously, this guy just has bad taste in books. Heehee.

  • Realize that the reader isn’t you.

Okay, that sounds elementary to some of you, but it was a revelation for me. I don’t rate/review books the way most people (apparently) do. I see books as works of art. I love and respect them—even if I don’t enjoy them. Because I view them as works of art, I see them as having inherent value—some artistic merit apart from whatever my experience is with the book. (And yes, I adored literature classes.) I don’t know if this is a writer-thing or just how I was raised. I’ve never left a negative rating or review of a book. I will give it three stars and say some things I liked (there are always things I liked), things I didn’t like (without dwelling), and who I think might actually like it. Or I don’t review it at all. I leave negative reviews of hospitals if they overcharge me and restaurants if they’re dirty or a business if their customer service is horrible, but books get a pass.

Most readers DO NOT think this way. For them, books are entertainment. If a book fails to entertain, it’s crap. I was sneaking about on a reader message board the other day and someone said if a book contained a certain element she didn’t like, she’d dropkick it off a cliff. This horrified me. If someone talked about kicking kittens off a cliff, I would have had a similar visceral reaction. Most readers aren’t literary scholars who will examine a book from different perspectives. They’re people looking to escape the daily grind of their lives. They want something that meets their needs, whatever those happen to be at the time, and if your book doesn’t meet them, well, off the cliff it goes.

For me, this was an ah-ha moment. It gave me a better understanding of my audience and even some empathy for them that I didn’t quite have before. Sometimes, if they dislike something, they just…didn’t like it. They may not even be able to articulate it. So, they leave a rating. However much I dislike ratings, I have to respect that.

  • Revel in the good ratings and reviews.

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I guess I tend to be a negative person. When I first started publishing, someone could write a beautiful review and I would be on Cloud Nine for a of couple of hours. One low rating and I was in the dumps for days. Now, I try to fully appreciate good ratings and reviews. I roll around in them, reading them several times. I try to imagine the people who left them (okay, I snoop around in their profiles) and send them good wishes and good vibes. I’m not just grateful to them, I love them.

  • Keep writing.

Don’t let a negative anything affect your love of writing. If you find yourself unable to focus on writing because you’re hung up on a negative rating or review, block it out. You might want to take a break and do something nice for yourself—take a hot bath, go for a run, visit with a good friend—whatever makes you happy and puts you in a positive headspace. And then dive back into your work. Don’t let anything get between you and your art. Ever.