More audiobooks today! This week’s topic is on all things production — let’s learn how it’s made (and some tips if you want to get involved)!
Join in by using the hashtag #AudiobookAugust or grabbing the button in the sidebar!
I’m not going to get very technical here cuz that would get very long and it’s not something I’m very familiar with but you can check out any of the resources I’ve linked below if you’re curious! Today’s post will just be an overview of the process, and steps and roles involved in making these books come to life.
This whole project started after watching a lovely virtual presentation by Jenny Hoops, a prolific audiobook narrator, and learning about what it takes to get into narration (spoiler alert: a lot). There was so much I took away from it and I planned to write a recap for the blog but then the onslaught of all things audiobooks I talked about in last week’s post turned this into a whole series.
I heard from 3 perspectives on the production process: the producer, the narrator, and the author. So here’s a breakdown on what it’s like for each of their roles!
For our first perspective, I’ve gathered some notes from a well-developed audiobook producer (listen to the Deyan Audio on the BookNet Canada podcast episode) and an independent press with likely more limited resources (click here for ECW Press’ blog post) so I think it likely gives a good range on the production process.
Finding a narrator: Both companies start with the publisher and/or author when they’re working on a book. They want to seek out the best narrator for the story so the first task is for the producer to read the book, then talk with the writing team to see if they have any specific ideas in mind for the narration.
From there they can gather demos from potential narrators and then go through auditions to find that perfect fit. Of course, sometimes it’s best to have the narrator read their own book (particularly in non-fiction) so that just makes this first bit faster.
Deyan Audio has developed an extensive database of all their narrators (3500!) so they’re able to search through this and filter by age, gender, language, and accent, where I assume most audiobook producers have a much smaller list of narrators they’ve worked with and need to put out casting calls when doing their search. That doesn’t mean Deyan doesn’t occasionally do casting calls – they talk more at length in the podcast episode about how they even had to go looking for Mandarin-speaking engineers to work with their narrators so there are important “casting” considerations for each part of the job.
Some of the narrators available in the 40s age range. Source: Deyan Audio casting site
Recording the book: On average, one hour of audio translates to 2 hours of recording. Pronunciation is absolutely key here so there is frequent pausing and restarting to make sure the book is read as it’s meant to be. Luckily the narrators don’t have to start from the very beginning if there is an issue; the director can stop the recording and run back so the narrator can hear the preceding sentence and then pick up where they left off.
Because pronunciation is so important, Deyan (and likely other producers) create a pronunciation guide in advance by flagging words in the book that may need clarification. You’re bound to mispronounce even the simplest words when you’re talking out loud for hours on end, so recording is a necessarily slow and controlled process.
Editing, editing, and more editing: Even with all the attention to pronunciation, the narration part of the process takes a couple of days. The more significant time involvement is in editing, which goes through several rounds. In listening back to the recording, there may be errors that require the narrator to re-record. The editor then needs to edit all those takes together, as well as editing out noises like the page flips!
Deyan has found a really efficient way of editing (without removing the need for an editor) by using an AI tool that can compare the written text with the recording in looking for errors.
Pozotron, the impressive AI tool helping audiobook production. Source: Pozotron
Once editing is complete, it’s on to the mastering engineers, and then on to distribution (my boyfriend is very skilled in engineering and would be able to describe this better but I’m gonna leave it as “mastering engineers” 😛 ).
For ECW Press, the average audiobook takes 13 weeks to create. Deyan doesn’t specify their length but with all the editing involved in audiobook production I’m sure it would be a similar amount of time.
So what’s this process look like for the narrator?
Getting started: The first thing to know if you want to be an audiobook narrator is it’s not easy. The common recommendation for newbies is grab a book, sit in your closet, and read out loud for 6 hours (the average length of an audiobook). If you still enjoy it by the end of that, you may enjoy audiobook narrating!
Equipment: The other difficulty with audiobooks is that they require a very high quality of recording. You need a fully soundproofed room, a good mic (not just the one built in to your computer or phone), and a fast computer to run your recording and editing programs (like Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, and Studio One). Many work out of their home but some producers do use recording studios so the narrators they hire aren’t always required to have all that equipment on hand.
Making money: It’s also not a ‘get rich fast’ kind of job. As Jenny mentioned, most narration gigs receive royalty payments though some are paid by the hour. Narrators who are part of a union (ex. SAG-AFTRA in the US, ACTRA in Canada) can charge $250 per finished hour of the book.
Volunteer: If you still think you might be interested, there are a couple volunteer sites you can try to test your skills (and to build your portfolio and create demos):
- LibriVox: a “library of audiobooks”, this site produces free audiobooks of books in the public domain. You can volunteer as a narrator, prooflistener, or project manager.
- Learning Ally: this organization produces audiobooks of textbooks and juvenile fiction for school-age kids with dyslexia and learning disabilities.
- CNIB: an in-person opportunity for Canadians (once it’s again safe to do so), this national organization produces audiobooks for those with visual and physical impairments.
On LibriVox, you can volunteer or listen to one of the already completed audiobooks! Source: LibriVox
Finding work: And once you’ve developed those skills, head on over to ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange, to find gigs! This site is like a networking website for audiobook professionals — authors, narrators, publishers, and agents. As a narrator, you’re able to audition for any open projects and upload samples of your work to build your profile.
Some bonus tips from Jenny: acting skills are very helpful in narration! Accents are also a special thing to master — often the author and producer don’t want these to be an authentic accent or too thick but rather a “flavour”, just enough that it’s a recognizable marker of the accent.
Just when I thought I had all the info I’d ever need on audiobooks, I saw that an indie author I follow on Facebook uploaded a video about her own recent audiobook experience.
Megan O’Russell recently set out to find narrators for her books, and as an indie author isn’t able to simply have this work carried out by her publisher. She, like Jenny, also mentions the high time and cost investment in audiobook production but highlights that as this helps make books accessible (hint at next week’s topic!), it’s totally worth it.
Finding a narrator: She started out by looking for a narrator and went through a couple websites (which she doesn’t name but are likely similar to ACX), pitching her project, specifying the type of narrator she was looking for, and requesting auditions. For these auditions, the actors/narrators were supplied with a passage from her book so she could hear how they sounded with the text they’d be reading.
With the auditions she received, she was able to sort through them (a process she delightfully describes as the “audition hokey-pokey” as she moved narrators into and out of her favourites folder) until finding the perfect one for her book.
Distribution: For authors with a finished product but looking for help with the final step, Author’s Republic, an aggregate distributor, helps indie authors and small publishers with distribution. The great thing about their site is they provide lots of tips for the entire process — how to prepare your book for recording, where to find producers and narrators, tips on self-narration, and even how to promote yourself.
Source: Author’s Republic
If you’re an author interested in making one of your books into an audiobook, Megan emphasizes that now is the time! Because theatres are closed, there are many more actors looking for work right now so you’re bound to get a lot of interest!
This post got very long but I hope you found something useful, whatever role or interest you have in this process!
Have you ever tried narration?
What’s your favourite indie audiobook?
Hirchberg, S. (Host). (2020, July 27). The whys and hows of audiobooks, a conversation with Deyan Audio [Audio podcast episode]. In BookNet Canada Podcast. BookNet Canada. https://www.booknetcanada.ca/blog/2020/7/27/podcast-the-whys-and-hows-of-audiobooks-a-conversation-with-deyan-audio
Hoops, J. (2020, May 20). Audiobooks – who does that? [Workshop presentation]. MCC Microlearning Session.
Kleynhans, L. (2019, October 29). In house: ECW’s Bespeak Audio imprint. https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2019/In-House-ECW-s-Bespeak-Audio-imprint
O’Russell, Megan. (2020, June 29). Audiobook auditions: Hitting the narrator jackpot [Video]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=197679731573624