When I tell people I am an audiobook narrator, most people ask things like, “how long does it take to narrate a book?” or, “how does it actually all work?”.
I’ll cover the process in this blog, and dip into the complex question of time in another. Salvadore Dali would be proud. I hope that this blog might be useful for indie authors/self published authors who want to know what goes into producing an audiobook, and also for voice actors who might be interested in a career in narration.
Read on - narrating a book is incredibly rewarding, but is not for the faint hearted.
This is the basic flow of audiobook creation. Some of it is done by the narrator; much is done by the unsung heroes known as the proofers and editors (and producers should also be added to this if you are in a studio rather than your own home studio).
1. Receiving the script and Prep
3. First pass edit
1. Receiving the script and Prep
When the script comes in, it is time to Prepare. Prep is everything.
I could (and maybe I will) write an entire blog on prep. It is the absolute backbone for the narration of the book in my opinion. And what’s that old saying? Preparation prevents p*ss poor performance. It is time to mark up the script, make notes on the characters (so you can bring them to life), look up any tricky pronunciations, research locations/place names/people, perfect any accents that crop up etc. I personally love iAnnotate for this and could not live without it.
By the time you step into that sweatbox known as a booth, you want to basically be able to forget about the prep and launch into the book. You don’t want to be stopping every five minutes to look up how to pronounce some French on forvo.com. This is also the time to make notes of any questions you want to ask the publishing house/author on pronunciations, characters and so on. Personally, if a script comes in a month before recording (which is the actual DREAM) I prep asap. Then questions can be sent off and there is time for answers to get back to you before you get into that booth. If you leave it all until the last minute you’ll regret it. Trust me.
And now the glorious recording begins. I say that because I genuinely feel completely at home in the booth. I am my happiest and most content when recording. It almost feels like the hard work of the prep is done, and now it is time to play. It is time to bring these worlds and characters to life, and create an incredible journey for the listener.
However, all of this is only possible if you are tech savvy and competent with the equipment, your DAW and your mic technique. Again, I can feel another blog bubbling up about the actual recording space and the equipment, mic technique, punch and roll, choosing your DAW and so on, but for now we will touch the surface like a little pond skater.
Most likely, you will have your computer out of the booth (no hums aloud…ahem allowed), you’ll be speaking into a delicious mic (through a pop shield) which is connected to your preamp, and you’ll probably have a monitor, wireless keyboard, mouse, and something to read your script from (I use my trusty iPad). You will be recording through a DAW (I am in love with PreSonus Studio One - check out Don Baarnes for everything you need to know about this), and you will be SAVING all of your work periodically as you go. And checking that it’s saved. And saving it again.
In the booth it is time to transport your listener into the heart of the book, and let all of the prep speak for itself as you fly through the script.
3. First Pass Edit
Most audiobook publishing houses will expect the voice over artist to send in a first pass edit. This means that clean audio is submitted - no pesky coughs or sniffs, no swallowing, sharp intakes of breath, no massively long pauses, excessive mouth noises, big clicks/pops or mistakes.
Now, we all make mistakes as we go along. Reading a book out loud for up to 6 hours a day takes it out of even the most experienced narrators. Don’t beat yourself up. But more often than not, we will catch ourselves making that mistake, stop, drop our cursor back in, initiate the joy of punch and roll, and go again.
However, sometimes we miss them. Sometimes we make gloriously bizarre changes to the text completely subconsciously. They will be picked up by the proofer. The clean edit means just that - no obvious mistakes or noises in the audio.
A very underrated part of the process in my opinion.
The proofer is your knight in shining armour. They will find those tiny word changes that you didn’t realise you had made. They will pick up when you might have accidentally read a line as the wrong character.
They will basically make you sound perfect and ensure that the words you are saying match the words in the book perfectly. And I love them for that.
I am a good sight reader, my work is always thoroughly prepped and I make very few mistakes. But I still make them. And I am always grateful to the proofers who catch these little mistakes which I have missed.
Claire Aston is an unrivalled proofer and I would have her for all of my books if I could. If you are recording a book through ACX LINK please use a professional proofer. It is a lot of work, they are skilled at what they do, and it will mean the end result is polished, slick and professional.
5. Corrections / CRX
The narrator will then receive a folder containing their corrections. In an ideal world, there will be voice match files (so that we can have a quick listen for the tone, character etc), and the full sentence of what needs to be re-recorded.
So often I have received the PDF page from the book, and the word that was mispronounced is on that page (‘irreparable’ kills me every time), but the sentence actually starts on the page before. Which I have not been sent.
Pozotron is now gaining traction in the audiobook world. I have very mixed feelings on this. Very. But that is for another time. It is the narrator’s job to record the corrections on one file (all slated), and then send it off to the editor.
The editor will then weave their magic to insert the corrections, elongate/shorten pauses, and get the audio ready for the listener. It needs to be in chapters, may need to have meta data added, it is most usually an MP3.
If you are an author/narrator working on ACX - please do not underestimate the value of paying for a professional editor. Yes as narrators we need to be able to record our audio. But editing is a skill. The editor most likely would not try and record the book; untrained narrators trying to do the edit is messy.
Yes, it is an extra cost, but trust me, it will be worth its weight in gold.
This is the Quality Control. Some publishers have someone who listens to the whole book to double check everything (and you might receive more corrections as a result). Others dip into the beginning/middle/end of each chapter to make sure it all sounds tickety boo.
And voila! The audiobook is ready for release. As you can see, creating an audiobook is a pretty lengthy process, with many people involved (not just the narrator). If you are an indie/self published author, please allow space in the budget for a proofer and editor, as well as the narrator. They are just as important. And please allow time for the whole process. Do not rush it.
If you are a voice over artist thinking about getting into audiobooks, think long and hard. Personally, I love doing them. But they are hard work, they take up a lot of your time, and recording out loud for up to 6 hours a day (or more!) on your own in a potentially sweaty booth in July is no mean feat. However, if you’re a literature lover like me, the overall reward is fantastic. I am paid to read beautiful books out loud, and am honoured to be trusted with this very precious work.