Okay, to be honest, I never considered myself to be an audio person, although I know a lot of people who use audiobooks for traveling to and from work or on vacation. I had my reservations about doing that (more on that later) but as with many authors I love my readers, so, as with print and e-books, I wanted to give those who liked audio the chance to hear my books.
So, a few years back I took the leap into audiobooks. I was excited, but I had trepidations. ACX/Audible was available through Amazon, so I set it up through them.
The process isn’t difficult, you choose the book you want to be narrated, give the blurb and basic information about the characters (what type of people were they), choose the type of narrator you want (male/female or both) and what kind of voice you wanted for it. (My advice to writers: think about that carefully.) Then put it up for audition.
I was really curious about the process – but remember those trepidations? Like all writers, I was protective of my work. Was the narrator going to do justice to it? Since this was the first book I was doing in audio, I wanted to dip my toes in, rather than go all out, so I put one of my novellas up. In the end, I was glad I limited that narrator to one story. (I like the new one much better, more on that later.)
Not surprisingly, since it wasn’t a full novel, I didn’t get a lot of requests for auditions, but I picked the one who seemed to fit the best and sent him a section of the book which contained all the main character but was focused mainly on one.
The audition didn’t set me on fire, but I wasn’t certain what to expect, the narration seemed good, so we set up the contract.
All readers bring their own stuff to books – that’s a truism all writer/authors need to learn. I had one reader complain that all the characters in one of my books were beautiful when only one – as I’d written him – qualified. (And the character hated it.) She clearly brought her own expectations to my book. It was also true of that first narrator, and I wasn’t experienced enough with audio production to know what I should and shouldn’t object to. It hadn’t been an issue in the audition since it was only a short reading. Now it became one. For some reason – too much of the Lord of the Rings movies, perhaps – he felt all the elves in the books had to have ‘British’ accents. All in all, though, it was about what I expected from audio. He was so satisfied that he asked to read some of my other books. The novella I’d sent him was a prep to the epic fantasy. It was a character-driven story about the genesis of a friendship between three men – a wizard and two elves. The epic fantasy, though, wasn’t the one he wanted to read, surprisingly – and now I’m glad. He requested to audition for another book but didn’t feel comfortable with some of the content, so he requested another. Nope. And another. None of them suited him. In the end, we parted ways.
All those failed auditions, though, seemed to discourage others from trying, and so for a time, I gave up. I hadn’t been enthralled with the first rendition, and it had been more than a little discouraging to me, too.
Recently, though, one of my books was nominated for an Indie book award. I was floored. I hadn’t done anything; someone had recommended it to the magazine.
Excited, I wanted to capitalize on the nomination, and so I decided to try audio again.
It was scary. Once more I was going to put one of my books into someone else’s hands. They say you should what scares you, especially in writing. Challenge yourself. So I did it.
This time I received more auditions. One was close, but another…
Wow. Just wow.
It was brilliant. His voice was exactly what I wanted and conveyed what I hoped.
So, we set up the process, and he began the narration. When the first chapter came back for me to listen to, I was enthralled – at my own writing! He brought the characters to life for me in a whole new way. And we worked well together.
Bless him, I’d hoped to have the complete first version by my birthday, but I’m not a complete newbie and know there is a process, so I accepted that might not be possible. But he did it, bless him, pushing himself to get it done. When I got the complete version for correction and approval I downloaded the lot and found I couldn’t stop listening.
I was stunned and flattered to learn I was one of his first narrations. And, given the quality of his work, I want to have his marvelous voice out there more.
I know that some authors have narrators they love to work and who love to work with them. Part of me wants that (actually part of me wants to keep his talent all to myself for a little while to do my other fantasy series *grins*) but he also deserves to have the opportunity to narrate for others. So, I hope this book and any others he chooses to narrate for me give him that springboard. He’s thoroughly converted me to the world of audiobooks.
So, for Indie/self-published and other writers, should you do audiobooks?
My obvious answer would be yes, but for reasons other than just this. Today print, despite what some traditional publishers believe, is not the be all and end all – it’s just another arrow in your quiver. Readers come in all kinds; e-book or print readers, or audio listeners. Some will read the book on an e-reader and then purchase the physical book. Some will only listen to audiobooks. You should serve all your readers. With the option to share the profit, it couldn’t be easier on all levels, and unlike print which pays pennies, with audio, you can split it fifty-fifty. So there’s every reason to do it and few reasons not to.
There are a few sites for audiobooks that are usually available through your publishing site of choice. Most will help you get started.
Here are a few suggestions –
Be patient. Don’t settle. Listen to a lot of auditions and hopefully, you’ll find a voice that will make your story shine.
Understand your narrator/producer’s process, recording, editing and re-editing, and that they have the same demands on their time that you do – home, family, day jobs. Things happen.
When you get your book back, listen to it carefully. Make sure it conveys what you want. If there’s something you want to be changed, don’t be afraid to tell the narrator so they know. That’s what the process is for. As with editors, a good narrator will read the book, a great one will make it shine.
First, because I love words too much. I’m a writer. Words are my paintbrush. They’re how I draw you, my readers, into the story and help you get to know the characters I love so much. (And some I hate.) Second, I can’t write ‘down’ to my readers, I respect all of you, of them, too much. I trust you to understand, and if you don’t, to get understand by how a word is used.
What brings this subject up? Someone posted to a Facebook writers group I’m on that someone had instructed him that maybe he needed to write ‘down’ to his readers. There was an astonishing amount of debate on the subject.
I consider myself primarily a fantasy writer, although I love to write thrillers, and I wrote a four-part romance series. And, following the maxim of writing the things that scare you, I also wrote a horror novel based on a recurring nightmare, and a book about a young woman trying to overcome childhood abuse and grief to learn how to love again.
A sere desert – used in Demon’s Kiss
However I also write erotic romance under a pen name, and I remember getting a virtually joyous letter from a fan waxing rhapsodic about how I had used the word ‘sere’ (for those who aren’t familiar with it, it means parched, dry) in an erotic romance. She was so happy to find a writer of erotica who used words like that.
My dear darling husband is one of the smartest men I know – he reads philosophical and religious non-fiction all the time to expand his understanding of those topics – but he was born in Appalachia and his spelling and familiarity with some words varies. He has no problem, though, with understanding words in the context in which they’re used, and if he doesn’t, he looks the word up. He’s smart that way. I think most of my readers are, too.
There isn’t much that’s more paralyzing than fear. Even worse, in my family, there wasn’t much support. Bullying gave it form. Our family had moved, and my sister and I were the new kids in school, which was difficult enough. Add to it that – for me – I was bright, wore glasses, but I was small, too. A perfect target. I was ostracized and subjected to daily attacks – tripping, pushing, even having snot rubbed in my hair. With little sympathy at home, I took matters into my own hands, and dared my chief abuser to fight me. No matter how many times he knocked me down, I got back up. I was suspended from school for a week but my bully also became my friend. I also knew we were moving again, and I was terrified. Even worse, in my family, you weren’t supposed to talk about your problems. So I didn’t, but the fear was still there.
As with so much in those days, treatment didn’t deal with the cause, just the symptoms. So they gave me this medication. It tasted awful, but deadened the fear, and enabled me to get through the day. My worst fears – of physical abuse – didn’t come true, but we had moved to an area where most of the students had grown up together so I still felt isolated and making friends was difficult. What few friends I did have were often what would be considered the ‘wrong’ choices – ostracized for being different themselves.
When we moved again, though, I was prepared. I had lost weight, I took off the glasses, and became somewhat popular.
Bullying, by the way, begins at home – both for the perpetrator and the victim. It certainly was true for me. I had been writing stories since I was a small child – especially as an escape. Knowing that my parents – and especially my father- wouldn’t consider sending me to college to learn creative writing, I decided to study journalism. That didn’t happen. In fact, both my parents would spend the next ten years sending me newspaper and magazine articles about how bad a career being a journalist was.
Needless to say, I was more than a bit discouraged. And then life chipped in. My first marriage was a classic example of domestic violence – which I at least escaped early.
Writing, in and of itself, is a difficult career – one which everyone feels they have the ability to do and the right to critique. *laughing* I couldn’t have chosen a more difficult job, although I did lots of others in the meantime.
Over time I would write over 20 stories, books and novels.
Then I was diagnosed with liver disease, and with it came a whole host of new problems. Not including the most terrifying one. At its worst, I woke up one morning absolutely panicked, and unable to remember how to do some of the most basic functions – like brushing my teeth. I couldn’t remember how to use mouthwash. Bless my husband, who got me calmed down. (No thanks to my doctor, btw, who had kept palming me off on nurse practitioners.) Memory returned. The fear, though, lingered in the back of my mind. I also found myself forgetting things, important things like words. And with that came doubt. Crippling doubt. No matter how great the idea, in an hour the doubt would set in. Is this any good? It was aggravated by every bad review, which only seemed to confirm my doubts. Despite all the good reviews my books received, the anxiety every time I try to write kills me every time.
I’m still working my way through it. Still fighting it. Wish me luck.
We’re not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet, and we knew it complete, when we wore a sophomore’s clothes. Why do I make such a big deal about grammar? I mean, who cares if someone uses that instead of who when referring to people? (A personal pet peeve, but in this day when corporations are people, too, I suppose we can excuse some folks for the error.) Especially when even Stephen King says not to worry about it so much. I don’t think he means it the way you think he does. Mr. King has a Bachelor of Arts in English, which means he knows the rules, and he knows how to break them. By the way, I’m not God’s gift to the grammar world, that’s why the Gods created editors. Even so, I try. Why does it matter so much? Because it makes a writer look stupid and hard to understand, and it makes their editors work harder than they need to in order to make sure the writer is understood.
And there’s another reason. Do you want to be an international best seller? The rest of the world studies English and the rules of using it. It’s much harder for them to understand what you wrote. Just think how hard it is for you to understand someone with a heavy accent. Imagine how hard it would be to understand them if they didn’t know proper English. My darling husband went to China on a business trip. While there he used the phrase “You’ve got to be kidding me”. His Chinese coworkers didn’t understand what he meant, until he found a way to demonstrate the proper usage of the phrase.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a writer ask ‘what’s passive voice’? That’s one of the most basic tenets of writing. ‘Caesar was stabbed by Brutus’ is passive voice. ‘Brutus stabbed Caesar’ is active voice. Novels are about things happening, about action, about doing. They engage the reader and draw them into the story.
Before a painter decides what kind of artist they want to be, watercolor or oil, landscape or portrait, realist or impressionist, they learn the tools of their art first, how to portray shape and perspective, the difference between watercolor and oil and how to apply them. They don’t leave extra lines in the painting, everything has a purpose, even a subtle shading here, or a dash of color there. The same is true of the artist who writes.
If you’re looking for character motivation, it doesn’t get any better than Survivor, whether it’s for villains or heroes writ large or small.. Just watch. Case in point, this last season. If you ever want to know how cult leaders, Adolph Hitler or even the kids in the high school clique operate, just watch Coach. Seriously. Talk about a cult of personality. For forty days the charismatic sonofagun successfully managed to get his people to do anything he wanted even as he convinced them that Ozzie (another character) was the enemy. Not one of them seemed to realize that the biggest obstacle to winning a million dollars was… Coach. It went right down to the wire. Top three. The only thing Coach forgot was the people he was loading onto the jury. It’s basic human nature on a small, intimate scale. Want to know why the good guys don’t win? Watch Survivor where the ‘good’ guys have only won once or twice – and usually by default. Although Ozzie played a cleaner, more honest game – actually sacrificing himself at one point in a very dramatic, and silly, move – it was Coach’s personal portrayal of himself as a ‘Christian man’ that kept him alive, no matter how many principles and people he sacrificed to accomplish it. Want a petty character who’ll do anything to win/succeed/triumph, then watch Jon a few seasons back – who told everyone his grandmother had died just to gain votes. (His grandmother was very much alive.) I remember one season where all the attention was on the two ‘big guys’, the muscle men, one of whom everyone liked and rightfully so. It came down to a contest of strength and endurance, loading bags of sand onto the contestants. Everyone expected it to come down to those two. But it didn’t. With quiet dignity and true courage, it was an attorney from Chicago who won, bearing up beneath the ever increasing bags of sand as both the big men fell by the wayside. Although he stood up for his team, no one noticed. Even afterward the focus was on the two big guys failing, especially the popular one, and not the one who’d won the contest. He was voted off shortly later for being an ineffective leader, which he wasn’t. He just couldn’t overcome the cult of personality, the focus the network and the host had on another character. It’s one of the realities of life, the unsung hero. BTW, he became the love interest in one of my novels. No, I’m not telling which one, you’ll have to read them and guess. The one that gets the answer right gets the series of their choice, free. (It’s an easy bet that most of you won’t get it right.) Seriously, though, if you want to understand motivation, character and how people can justify even the most heinous actions, just watch Survivor. After a while, you’ll get it. Even watching host Jeff Probst in action as he asks the questions at each tribal council is an education in and of itself. In a few moments he skillfully picks apart the fragile bonds between the tribe members, or exposes one person’s machinations against the others. Or not. Although I understood the basic motivation of the characters in my current work in progress, especially the villain, a part of me that struggled with it. I’m not a follower by nature so I had trouble understanding how even basically good people could follow someone like him. Until I watched one of the people in the current Survivor. Then I got it. There’s an intrinsic human need to be liked that could be easily perverted, and was. Survivor is a fascinating study in human nature. I can’t wait until next season.
Valerie Douglas is a prolific writer and genre-crosser, much to the delight of her fans. She reads and writes classic fantasy, romance, suspense, and as V.J. Devereaux, erotic romance. Who knows what will pop up down the road!Happily married, she's companion to two dogs, three cats and an African clawed frog named Hopper who delights in tormenting the cats from his tank.Valerie Douglas is the co-founder and one of the administrators of the 11,500+ member Indie Author Group - supporting writers around the world.She blogs at her own blog, The Indie Author Group, [email protected] Author Group and Two Midlist Indies.