Debut Author Lesson: Audio books

This entry is part 11 of 16 in the series Debut Author Lessons

So you’ve sold the audio rights to your novel. Yay! What should you do now? Allow me to offer some tips from my experience as both an author and as an audio book narrator.

Read your book aloud. Yes. The whole thing. Even a 700 page monster should not take you more than a week to read aloud. Even if it took two weeks…. you spent how long writing the thing and now you are balking at spending two weeks to read it aloud? Do it when you’re proofing it. You’ll spot things that you wouldn’t have otherwise. For audio, you’ll also spot things that are just going to sound strange when read aloud. Here are some samples from actual books (one of them is mine).

  • Then Seaman erupted from the bush.
  • You know, Ainho did it. (Ainho is pronounced, “I know.”)
  • How well do you know the knowe?
  • Aye, I’ve had my eye on him for a wee bit of time.
  • It lay on her neck like a necklace of jet.
  • He ran into the copse. (Note: copse is pronounced like “cops.” This character had just evaded the police.)

Make sure that your editor, your agent, and the audio book company know that you are available to answer pronunciation questions. Most narrators want to talk to the author because they are professionals and want to do the job right. Give them your phone number or set up a time to call them.

Some publishers “protect” their authors by ensuring that all the contact has to go through them. Not only is this slow, it means that the narrator is often relying on a written transcription for pronunciation, instead of just being able to listen to the author say it out loud. It increases the chance of error exponentially.

Have the pronunciation of your name and the characters on your website. Even if you think it is self-evident, if there’s a way to mispronounce it, someone will find that way. Ideally, have a recording as well as a the phonetic description.

If you have a multi-book deal, make a list of recurring characters and give it to the narrator. When I recorded Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books, the Sea Witch had a brief cameo appearance with maybe three lines in it. I gave her a harsh guttural voice. She then turned into a major character and I’m stuck with this voice.

Make a list of character voices and accents, you can even go so far as to do a fantasy casting and match each character to an actor as a voice model. That doesn’t mean the narrator will do an impression, but it will give them a rough guide. I had to record a set of books out of sequence and when we hit the first book in the series, after I had recorded books 2 and 3, we discovered that one of the characters was described as having a distinct accent. Whoops. If I’d had a list of character voices we could have avoided that.

Relax if the narrator ‘s choice doesn’t sound like the character in your head. Sometimes in order to make a story clear, a narrator has to choose voices that might not be what you have in your head. A lot of times this is because they are trying to distinguish the characters for an audience who doesn’t have the benefit of looking back to the page to see who is talking. The larger your cast of characters, the more likely it is that a narrator is going to have to start reaching into a broader range of voices. For instance, in Seanan’s October Daye books, Sylvester Torquill does not have an Irish accent. In the audio books, he does because of the large number of male characters. I talked to Seanan about it and the accent was justifiable, but not what she had in her head. What it does is make the story clearer in audio. If you’ve made yourself available to them then they can clear choices like that with you. Otherwise, they have to make their own judgment calls. When a narrator makes a choice like that, they are doing it to serve the story in the medium in which they are performing it, not to screw with you.

And just as a side note, here are some commonly mis-pronounced words. In audio, they are read with the dictionary correct pronunciation which may not sound they way you want it to sound.

  • short-lived – Lived is with a long I. As in “short-life”
  • dour – do-er
  • riffled – Most people say “rifled” but it’s a short I.
  • copse – like cops
  • forte – Unless discussing music, this is “fort.”


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