Thursday, January 20, 2011

Making an Audiobook

Some argue there’s no such thing as an audio­book. After all, a book is something you hold in your hands. Okay, maybe a book is also a file you download onto your preferred electronic reading device, but no matter the form, a book is still something you read. It has physical characteristics: a type font, chapter headings, pages. When a book is read to you, you’re not actually reading, someone else is. Ergo, an “audiobook” is not really a book, it’s a recorded listening experience.

I used to think that audiobooks weren’t for me. I’ve always considered myself a visual person. Tell me your name when we’re introduced in a social setting, and it’s gone five seconds after I hear it. Write it down where I can see it, and I’m the elephant who never forgets.

But after my science thriller Freezing Point sold to as part of their “Breakout Thrillers” program, suddenly, I had reason to pay attention. I listened to samples of my narrator’s reading on Audible’s website, and fell in love. His voice quality, and his wry, sardonic tone, were perfect for my novel.

Before he began recording, Mark Boyett called me to go over a few pronunciations. “I always like to have a conversation with the author if at all possible before I go in to record,” Mark says. “I like to give the author a chance to talk about his or her novel and express anything they’d like me to communicate as I narrate their book. After all, people are downloading the book to experience the author’s work first and foremost, so my work needs to serve that end.

“As I prepare the book, I’ll make margin notes, sometimes about the mood of a scene, or the subtext of a character. Or I’ll score sections with little notations that only make sense to me to remind myself to link up these words, or drive through this part, or make this paragraph start as a fresh new thought rather than a continuation of the previous one, and so on.

“Colored markers are also important. In scenes where there are multiple characters, I assign each character a color and then dot each line they speak, so I can read right through, changing the voices as needed, without having to stop and figure out who’s talking when. Luckily, in the event that a narrator needs a reminder about the voice he’s using for a particular character, the engineer can go back and replay earlier clips as a refresher.”

With that level of professionalism and attention to detail, us it any wonder I was delighted with the result? An audiobook, I discovered, isn’t just a reading. It’s a performance, like listening to a one-man play. The emotion my narrator conveys through his voice adds a whole new dimension to my written words. And the accents – Irish, Brazilian, English, Australian – until I heard my book read out loud, I had no idea I’d created such an international cast.

On Dec. 28, the print and audio versions of my second environmental thriller, Boiling Point, will publish simultaneously. Because Boiling Point brings back two characters fromFreezing Point, Mark Boyett narrates again. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy – figuratively speaking – and enjoy what will undoubtedly be another outstanding “recorded listening experience.”


Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008, and Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming just published by Berkley. Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she currently serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. She is also Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers’ newsletter and webzine, The Big Thrill.


Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Karen,
Thanks for the great post! I've recently discovered audiobooks and am enjoying them. I have a 35 minute commute and they've proved a great companion.

Carla Buckley said...

Hi Karen,

This was so interesting--I had no idea how audiobooks were made! It's very cool the voice actor contacted you to make sure he was hitting the right notes. I've discovered through my own readers that they will buy books purely based on who's done the recording. Who knew?

Andrew Peterson said...

Karen, great post. Thanks! I had a similar experience with Dick Hill. It's a whole lot more than just "reading into the microphone."

Dick also called to clarify certain things and clear up pronunciations. Audible is getting ready to start production of book two.

Tracey, I too, love audio books. I'm going to get my audio copy of BOILING POINT today!

Rochelle Staab said...

Hi Karen,

Great post. You brought the process of recording an audio book to life for me. I'll listen with a different 'ear' the next time I buy an audio book. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

Unknown said...

Thanks for all the great comments! I know not every author loves their narrator, because the narrator's reading isn't going to match up with how the author heard the words in their head, but I was sure lucky with mine.

Andy - I know your second is coming out in audio before it comes out in print - can you tell us more?