In the interest of constantly exploring new avenues of “getting out there”, I have ventured into the realm of two things with which I have very little experience: audio recording/editing and book reading (as in, out loud). There are potentially significant benefits to this endeavor:
- It exposes my books to a new audience in a new way
- It helps me hone my audio editing skills
- It forces me to confront my own speaking voice and all that I hate about it
- It provides practical training for a day when I might choose to do this live
It’s also surprisingly easy to do with the help of modern technology and costs nothing, except my time and effort. So, since I have now recorded my own voice a couple of times already and plan on doing it some more, I thought it was time to share my how-to with fellow writers who might find it useful.
Disclaimer: This method is reserved strictly for casual recording. Any professional-level work (like narrating your own audiobook) involves a much more sophisticated studio setup to meet distribution requirements.
How to record an author reading
Step 1: Prepare your material
Obviously, you won’t be going into this blind. If you’re thinking of doing this, you probably already know which of your books and which passage from your book you want to read. But are you forgetting something? How about an intro to what you’re about to say? What about an extro that tells listeners what you just read and where they can find your book online or in stores?
It helps if you write these things out and practice saying them. You’ll want to sound natural for the intro/extro, change your tone a bit and have pauses that will clearly separate the book material from everything else. It also helps to practice the reading so you’re comfortable enough with the material to not sound nervous. The fewer mistakes you make, the fewer times you have to re-record.
Choose a scene/chapter that has some dramatic value and play that up as much as you’re comfortable doing. Remember, the idea is to capture attention and get people interested in reading more on their own. You’ll want to provide some background in the intro that sets the scene for listeners and adds a bit of context, but not too much. The work should speak for itself.
Also, make sure you’re comfortable with the length of what you’re reading. If you’re like me and aren’t used to talking out loud for extended lengths of time, keep it under 10 minutes. Keep in mind the short attention span of the average audio browser. In a world of 3-4 minute songs, people won’t stick around for a 25-minute reading if they don’t care for the material.
Step 2: Get the right tools
The good news is, you likely already have everything you need to record your reading. For mine, I used my smartphone and Bose noise cancelling headphones, which connect with a wire and have a built-in mic. You can probably use any headphones or buds that work with your device, since most phone mics these days do a good job eliminating background noise. To capture the audio, I used the Samsung Voice Recorder App. I downloaded it special (and free) when I discovered the native app was absolute shit. Which leads me to the second point:
Test your equipment first. You’ll want to do a sound check to see how the app works and how well your mic behaves. Do a recording of 15-30 seconds of just “silence” so you can hear the level of ambient background noise (because there will be some, unless you’re doing this in a recording studio). Then do one with your voice to gauge the volume, clarity, etc.
Step 3: Find a quiet place and time
This is important and will save you from having to re-record three times (like I did) because of random noises from traffic, loud neighbors, etc. It also helps with stage fright if you don’t have people around to hear you. If you are usually surrounded by noise during the day, plan on an early morning or late evening to record. Plan for several takes worth of time because mistakes will happen, especially the first time around.
It’s best if you do the recording in one session. That way, the setup is consistent throughout, so you won’t have weird changes in volume, ambient noise, etc. when you splice and dice it all together.
Practical tip: Read from a screen. I’ve discovered that when you turn pages in a physical book, the rustle of paper does get caught on audio.
Step 4: Record with confidence
Even if the mic is right there by your mouth, you’ll need to speak in a clear, steady voice. Pretend you’re giving a speech on stage. You want to project so people can hear you. You want to enunciate so they can understand you. You want to inject emotion into what you’re reading. Depending on how far you want to go down this particular rabbit hole, you can even pretend you’re voice acting an animated film.
I personally run into one of two problems. Either I get nervous and speed up until I stumble over my words, or I start losing steam and get monotone. To combat nervousness, I record at a place and time where I know I’ll be all alone and I do face exercises beforehand to relax my jaw (cuz TMJ, guys, it’s a serious pain in the jaw). To prevent the monotone-ness, I keep my recordings short and practice reading the passages out loud, even in a whisper. It really helps.
You can do separate takes, or just keep going on one go. If you choose the latter, mind your pauses. Every sentence ends on a pause, which creates a convenient place to break off if you need to. Same with every paragraph. If you screw up a sentence, pause for a set number of seconds (longer than your usual pause) and do it over. You’ll see that pause as a flat line in edits so you’ll know there’s something to fix there.
Step 5: Get your voice together
You will most likely not get everything right in one take. That’s okay. You can always edit the recording. I use Audacity to edit audio tracks. It’s a free software that has lots of cool features and lets you export your track in any major file format. It’s also very easy to use. You can literally copy/paste segments and drag them around to the right place. You can fade in/out so there’s no awkward sound break, you can add special effects like echos, and play around with speed and pitch. It’s a really neat little tool to have in your arsenal.
For your recording, all you need to do is put together one track from start to finish, composed of your best takes for however many sections you have. And when you’re done, just export your track as a .wav or .mp3 and you’re done!
Step 6: Publish and publicize
So now you have your recording audio track. What do you do with it? You have a few options here and you can use as many or as few of them as you like.
- Upload to your private cloud storage (Google Drive, DropBox, etc.) and share links with select few individuals via newsletter, personal email or private message.
- Plop the track right onto your self-hosted website (if it’s not self-hosted, there may be restrictions on this) as an Easter egg, or cool little featurette for your book page
- Upload to a music sharing service like Soundcloud and share from there (this gives you the best of both points above: you can share the link and embed the player on your website, self-hosted or not)
- Put it to a video and upload to a video sharing service like YouTube or Vimeo, or even social media (hint: you will have more flexibility with a video platform than you will on social media)
Always, always tag your audio/video with relevant keywords. It increases your chances of being found by those not looking for you specifically. Also, always ask for likes/comments/shares/follows. This increases your recording’s visibility and gets more eager ears to listen to it.
As with anything else, unless you tell people it’s there, they won’t know to look for it. The more places you share, the better. It should appear on your website, and you should blog it when it goes live. You should definitely tell your newsletter recipients you did something new and fun. Share on your social media profiles, but also in groups and on pages that allow for that sort of thing. Solicit feedback to see if it’s worth the effort to do more, or if there is something else worth exploring (live podcast maybe?).
Don’t forget your sense of humor. 😉
If you take yourself too seriously, it’s going to carry over into the recording and might not be very well received. This should be fun. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. You have plenty of other things you could be doing as a writer than torturing yourself with something that makes you stiff and uncomfortable.
And now, because I walk my talk and don’t shy away from making a fool of myself for the greater good, I will share the first author reading I recorded using this method. I shared a link to this in one of my #AuthorTip posts last month, but here, it’s also to show you how easy it is to embed a SoundCloud player on your WordPress website. I literally just pasted the link onto its own line and WordPress did the rest.
I sincerely hope you found this post useful. 🙂 If you like what you hear of Wolfen, I hope you’ll grab a copy for yourself. If you record (or have already recorded) your own author reading, drop the link in a comment below. I’d love to check it out!
Until next time. 🙂