What to Look For in Audiobooks.

When it comes to the age old question of audiobook versus e-book versus paper book, I’ll usually chance an audiobook. I’ve had to deal with some real duds, but when you find just the right one it makes up for everything.
So, when author and friend Honor Raconteur started asking about audiobook preferences, I had to jump in on the conversation.

Honor, dare I hope that one of your novels is getting the audiobook treatment?

HR: Actually, I have three books out in audio at the moment. I chanced upon a system devised by Amazon called ACX that allows authors to find their own narrators and produce the audiobooks themselves, without having any sort of a middleman. After discovering that, I tested the system with Kingslayer,1372875141 which was the record breaking book for me at the time. It did so well that I went back and started with my first series, and they’re being recorded as I type.
Me: Oh goodness. I’m usually pretty picky about who becomes the voice for a story. Not only do they need to be able to do the necessary accents (if any), but the reader pretty much as to get into each character and become them, even for a little while, in order for the book to succeed on audio. A good example would be Kirby Heyborne and his performance of Dan Wells’ Mr. Monster and I Don’t Want to Kill You. I can’t imagine it was a quick decision for you, either.
HR: Heavens, no! I spent a good week going through auditions, waffling back and forth on who to pick, and such. It was especially hard as I didn’t have any real experience with audiobooks. I prefer to read books, not listen to them. I had to start from the ground up, learning what good narration was, before I even knew what to listen for. 
Me: So how did you discover what good narration is? Any examples? My prototype for good booksnarration has always been Alan Cummings and his work on Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series. He used probably a dozen different accents and even pulled off the difference in genders really well.
HR: I was fortunate that a friend of mine likes audiobooks and had several that she played for me as a sample. I couldn’t begin to tell you what she played. I remember that one of them was narrated by Brendan Fraser. He did all the character voices, and he put meaning and feeling into each word. He even did sound effects at times! That was when I realized, I couldn’t pick someone with a nice reading voice. It had to be someone that could do accents, all sorts of character voices, and inflection as well. 
Me: Wait, Brendan Fraser? I’ve listened to Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, which he read and it was a rather potent sedative. He sounded very bored right from the get-go. 
HR: Really! I forget what it was that he read. I’ll have to ask her. But I believe it was him that read it. Anyway, it was that sample that made it clear what I needed to look for in a narrator. I admit, it was hard to find someone that could do the job I wanted. It wasn’t just talent and skill, after all, but a certain type of voice. Matching a voice in the real world to the one in my head wasn’t easy. 
Me: I can imagine not. Well, at least not for what an author can generally afford. So off that information, it sounds like it’s possible for men to treat any story as well as women, providing they know the dynamics of reading a story into existence.
HR: I found a jewel of a narrator in California by the name of Mark McLean Wilson that can do any gender, age, accent or tone that you can name. After listening to him do my books, I wasn’t even tempted to try my hand at it! But the beauty of the ACX system is that you don’t have to pay for it up front. Quite a few narrators are willing to do a royalty share, so you can start recording and producing audiobooks without having to spend $3-4,000. 
Me: Wow. That must take talent. What did he do to build up those skills? I took a college class on Stage Dialects but I don’t think I could pull all that off. 
HR: I couldn’t begin to guess. He’s a professional actor and he knows quite a bit about sound engineering, so between those two skillsets, he can do an audiobook well. I know there’s quite a few amateurs in the ACX database that try to audition for jobs, but there’s quite a few professionals like Mark as well. 
Me: Do you listen to more audiobooks now that you know what you’re looking for? I’d be willing to bet that the knowledge you’ve gleamed from choosing your own reader changed how you hear people. 
HR: Actually, no. Part of that is because I just don’t have TIME. I write four books a year, run a publishing house, and still have something of a social life. I barely read these days! But I do have a whole new appreciation for voice actors, let me tell you. Listening to any animated series or film makes me understand just how well they can project emotion into their voices. 

I stand corrected, but I admire your ambition. I’m still working on the successful author part of that.

What would you recommend for the voice actors trying to succeed? How should they get an author’s attention?

HR: Now, that’s an excellent question. I do try to give feedback to people that audition so they know why they didn’t get the project. Sometimes its just a matter of having the right equipment. Contrary to proper belief, you cannot record a book by just plugging a microphone into your computer. You must have a clear, good sound when recording. The first thing I look for is just the overall tone quality. Is it a pleasant voice to listen to? I’m going to have that voice playing in my ears for 10+ hours, after all. The second is, how well do they put emotion into what they’re reading? Of course they can’t be monotone, but I also want to hear variations on how they do descriptions, on the narrative parts of the book, and the dialogue. The third thing is, how well can they follow directions? Can I direct them about pronunciation and tonality and have them perform how I wish? It’s the last part that usually does people in, as not everyone can do as I request. 
Me: Well darn. I was going to plug in my laptop and audition for your next book
HR: Hahahaha, sorry! I’ve tried doing this myself, for a minor project on my website, so I learned this from experience. Any microphone that you just plug into a computer is going to pick up a lot of background noise. Even when you put it through a program like Audacity, it’s impossible to filter out that noise without altering the voice quality of the recording. You really need something like a studio setup in order to do a recording right. 
Me: That’s actually good to know. I like using my voice (like my video to celebrate reading Harry Potter), and was thinking of doing other projects like that.


Before I let you get back to your busy, busy world, what’re you currently working on?

HR: Well, I’m working with Mark on producing the third book of my Advent Mage series. I’m working on edits for a brand new series called Deepwoods (due out this fall) and I’m writing on a spin-off novel from the Advent Mage world. 🙂 Oh, did I mention I’m getting ready for my brother’s wedding in the beginning of August?

No, I haven’t yet lost my mind yet, but I do believe it’s just a matter of time. 

Me: Well, Honor, thanks for stopping by.
High five, long distance style
HR: I five you back! Hope this information helps future producers and narrators alike.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s