Audiobooking - Part 2 by Debbie Bennett

I blogged about starting out on my audiobook journey in June 2014. On ACX – Amazon’s audiobook programme which hosts the entire process – I agreed with my narrator that he would deliver the first 15 minutes of my thriller Hamelin’s Child by the end of July 2014 and the rest of the book by the end of the year.

Now “deliver” means to upload the final approved version, after which point we both become bound by the terms of the contract we’ve entered into with ACX. Since my narrator, Marty Smith, is the one doing the work, most of the onus is on me to approve it, and I’m the one who will end up paying a kill-fee at the end of this if I don’t uphold my end of the agreement by approving his work.

We cut it fine, with the first 15 minutes uploaded and approved on the last day of July! If we'd missed the deadline, presumably we’d have had to start the contract process again, unless one of us had dropped out at this point. But the reason we were late, was because we’ve both been working on the first chapter throughout July. Marty would upload a section and ask me to read it for pace, or for clarity or for any number of small things, while we were both feeling our way around the process. And more than once he asked me to read for character voice, as he’d been through the entire novel several times, trying to get inside the head of each character and imagine how they’d speak, how their voice might develop over the course of a novel and how this would project into an audio experience.

So I’d download the audio file from ACX, pull it into itunes and add it to my iphone. Then I’d plug in my headphones and sit on the sofa with a notepad and pen. The most annoying feature about itunes, I’ve discovered, is the inability to rewind. I can go back to the start of a track but I can’t go back a few seconds, and nowhere on my iphone can I see a counter that lets me know how many minutes/seconds I am into the track. That would make it so much easier to take notes! So I ended up making rough notes on paper and then playing the relevant bits on ACX itself on the pc, so I could note the exact point where there was something I wanted to change or discuss.

I decided at the start that I needed to be able to let go and take a step back. Part of the creative process is surely to let the narrator take over – in much the same way as a film director will interpret the words of the script-writer and issue direction to the actors? I really didn’t want to get too precious about my characters and start issuing orders about how they “ought” to sound, so I simply gave Marty a short bio of each character, let him read the whole book and decide for himself how they should sound. I want to be involved, obviously, and I fully intend to carefully listen to each chapter as we progress, but if I’ve written the book as well as I’d like to think I have, the characters should speak for themselves.

I was impressed. Surprised but impressed. It’s a very strange and surreal process, listening to a stranger breathe life into my characters. Hearing voices in your head is so not the same as hearing voices in your ears, and in many ways it really wasn’t what I was expecting at all. I’m not sure what I was expecting, to be honest. But because it’s not my voice – it’s a man’s voice, a stranger’s voice – it really does feel like these people are real now. They exist. It’s so completely different from reading a book. He’s put inflections in places I’d never thought of and there’s whole new dimension here now.

I don’t imagine the road ahead will be easy. We’ve got a lot of work in front of us and certain scenes are going to be disturbing to narrate and listen to. I’m wondering if Marty will be able to make me cry at some point! But I’m learning so much more about these people I created and I’m looking forward to the experience.

And I'm falling in love with my book all over again.


madwippitt said…
It's fascinating reading about folks experiences making audio books - so much goes into it. I only know of it from the listening side of things, and have found that no matter how well I may think I know a book, listening to it gives it a whole new perspective - it can make it like meeting it for the first time. So interesting to hear that the same applies to the author hearing their book too! :-)
Bill Kirton said…
Fascinating, Debbie. I think you're wise to leave it to the reader to interpret the text. Your analogy with film (or stage) is spot on. It's a performance and, having written and directed plays, I know that a sensitive interpretation changes the nature of the text, gives it echoes the writer didn't know were there. Please write a follow-up at some point to let us know how it went (and whether you cried).
Lydia Bennet said…
As a playwright I know the thrill and the worry of having your words spoken by professional performers, it's quite an experience - you are very wise to allow him to add his own shading to your work, sounds like a great collaboration. I'd love to do this myself but there's nobody listed with a Tyneside/Geordie/Northumbrian accent! I hope you love the end product and it does really well.
julia jones said…
Hearing voices in your head is different from hearing voices in your ears - so well put. Totally agree and wish I'd found those exact words. I think what you are doing is really interesting. couldn't have managed it myself. Adam Helal had an iPad rigged up somehow (Anna Bentink) was reading from an iPad too) and he as it were 'wrote' notes as they went, underlined certain phrase, ringed particular words. I think my Bertie may have told me what this function was called. I'll ask him when he's next home. Am SO technically gormless - really impressed by what you are doing.
glitter noir said…
You're taking us on a fascinating journey here. I can't wait for the next installment!
SM Johnson said…
iTunes, ugh. There should be a side to side scroll bar on the top of the screen and the bottom. One is volume , the other fwd/rewind.

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