In case it wasn’t clear long before now, when it comes to anything other than actually writing the book, I’m a planner, not a pantser. I like to know things ahead of time and be prepared going into something. While I did as much research as I could going into audiobook production, the information available from my platform barely scratched the surface of what I really needed to know. As a result, I might have made some people very upset with me, solely because I did something I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do. And I couldn’t even apologize because, well, you’ll see why in a bit.
So I did the Me-thing. I asked around. I made an anonymous survey (which, admittedly, didn’t get a statistically significant number of responses) and I pieced things together into a larger picture that made me cringe remembering the things I did during my first couple of audiobook productions.
In the interest of hopefully preventing such awkwardness and frustration happening in your current or future projects, I now share my screw-ups and some other important information you’ll want to know about proper etiquette during audiobook production.
PRODUCER VS. NARRATOR
One of the questions I asked on my survey was, “Do you prefer the title producer or narrator?” and I discovered there actually is a difference. A narrator narrates the content, then sends it off to someone else to process the tracks and complete the production. A producer does all or most of that on their own. Kind of like self-published authors do most of the work themselves. If you contract for your audiobook production through a service like Amazon’s ACX or Findaway Voices (the one I use), odds are the person you choose will be a producer, and they may be referred to as such in your communications. It may be a small difference to us authors, but a point of important distinction to the person creating your audiobook. Just sayin’, be respectful of that.
KNOW THE PRODUCTION PROCESS
Here is how Findaway Voices works:
- Author submits notes
- Producer records an extended sample
- Author approves and production begins
- Once the producer uploads completed tracks, the author is notified
- Author provides correction notes where needed
- Producer makes corrections
- Author approves when finalized, pays for services, and moves to distribution.
This is where I screwed up (a lot) with mine. I freaked out because I knew that, once the audiobook came to me for proofing, I would only have a week to get it done. It was a long audiobook, and I didn’t want to fall behind, so I was checking the site daily. It just so happens that my producer uploaded tracks as she finished with them, not all at once, which made me think they were ready for feedback, so I gave feedback right away. This likely drove my producer crazy, because she hadn’t even finished recording the rest of the book and I kept telling her to go back and fix stuff. I had no idea at the time how bad this actually was. You’re supposed to wait until they notify you that your book is ready for proofing, and then go in and comment.
I think that was a vicious cycle of miscommunication. I also wasn’t fully clear on what I could ask to have corrected. Mostly the issues were pronunciation or technical errors, which can and should be corrected. But there was a time or two I may have asked for a redo on a character’s voice, which you’re not supposed to do. *cringe* I know better now, but it’s too late to make a difference to that first audiobook project.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE
This is one of the most important points that some platforms make unnecessarily complicated. Findaway Voices won’t put you directly in touch with your producer/narrator except to provide notes on submitted audio tracks. From my survey, I discovered that authors rarely if ever have any contact at all with their producers/narrators. They might not even know who it is, and might not have a chance to offer notes or feedback. This is especially true for authors whose publishers contract for the audiobook on their behalf. There’s a long game of telephone going on behind the scenes, which I find ridiculous, to be honest. We’re talking about projects with price tags in the thousands of dollars. At the very least you should be able to talk to the person on the other end to get aligned on the vision for the project.
So… if/when you do get to communicate with your producer/narrator, take advantage and communicate everything clearly. If I had been able to reach out to mine, I would have asked them exactly what they needed. I would have been able to communicate my vision for the project and we could have collaborated much easier. I’m not an unreasonable person. I usually work well with people–when I can work with them. But Findaway Voices insists on all communication going through them, which means a lot gets missed, and a lot might get lost in the translation. This, in my opinion, is not a good way to do business. On the other hand, though, I understand that they’re trying to protect the artist creating the audiobook. It can’t be comfortable trying to flex your skills when you have a possessive author tugging on a leash around your neck all the time.
WHAT MATERIALS TO PROVIDE
Things your producer/narrator will want to know:
- Is this a series? And if so, are there previous audiobooks for reference?
- Are there specific accents you will need?
- Are there recordings of proper pronunciation you can provide?
- Are there recordings of characters from previous books you can provide?
Something that wasn’t clear to me was what I could/should provide. I received a document to give things like pronunciation and character notes. So, of course, I gave character personalities, because I’m a writer. Three books in, I now realize they meant notes on how the character is supposed to sound. Yes, I am that oblivious at times.
Another issue was that my book had a lot of characters that needed notes. That can get really hairy and, naturally, things got overlooked. Producers are human, after all. This was a sore point for me, though, because one of the things I asked to have redone was something I’d clearly stated in the notes and the producer had overlooked it. I wouldn’t have bothered, except it was a character integral to the series so their voice was important to me. Note for future projects: Keep it short, and focus on the main characters in order of importance.
I also didn’t know I could/should provide recordings until another producer on another project told me I should have provided them beforehand. I’d had no clue, and probably upset her a lot when I asked her to redo something to be more consistent with a previous book. Huge no-no. But, again. I’m new at this, and no one told me. If I knew this was an option, of course I would have sent her everything beforehand. Just as I like to be prepared, I like to make sure I give people everything I can to prepare them for whatever they’re doing for me.
BE SPECIFIC BUT NOT UNREASONABLE
When you’re providing directions for your audiobook, you want to be as specific as possible. By all means, provide audio files where you can, because they’re easier to process than pages of notes. Things get missed in notes. Audio files can be referenced quicker.
With that said, keep in mind that your producer/narrator is also an artist in their own right. At some point, you need to let go of your book and allow your producer/narrator to utilize their own creativity with it. It’s as much their project as it is yours, and they, too, want to be proud of their accomplishment at the end.
UNDERSTAND THE TIMELINE
Your producer may have projects lined up before yours. You’ll need to know not only when they can deliver your finished audiobook, but also how long it will take for your platform to make it available for sale. You’ll need to know which retailers allow pre-orders, which don’t, and how those pre-orders will be reflected in your sales report. You should not set a release date before you know you can honor it. I like to wait until all the chapters are ready for me to proof, because I know that I will only have a week to go over them, and the corrections will likely take another week, so I can estimate how far in the future I need to set the date.
A special note on Findaway Voices and Amazon: If you want to distribute your audiobook to Amazon from Findaway Voices, they require that there is another format of the book (print or digital) currently available on Amazon so they can link the audiobook to it. If you don’t have this, you won’t be able to distribute the audiobook to Amazon. I don’t really understand why, but there you go.
SOME SHAMELESS PROMOTION
I say that, but really, it’s for the producers as much as for me. I wanted to include a sampling of audiobooks I’ve commissioned, because each one was done by a different producer. I was very particular about how I wanted my books to be voiced, so each producer was a researched and considered choice on my part. Audiobook production is a pricey proposition. It’s not something you should jump into without planning or forethought. A good narrator can turn your book into magic. An unsuitable one can make the process sheer hell (I’ve heard horror stories). I can personally vouch for every single one of these narrators so, if you’re looking for a talented voice for one of your books, don’t hesitate to look for them and request them.
Also, if after you have heard the samples below you want to check out the full audiobooks, or even read the eBooks, click on the book title to see the full detail book page with links to major online stores. I humbly thank you in advance for your support.
The Royal Wizard (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 1)
Narrated by Rachel Hine, who was a true wizard in the making of this audiobook. Her voice is fresh and bright, but with a warm quality, and her British accent gives the story the feel of an ageless classic. That’s exactly what I wanted for this fantasy novel.
Dragonblood (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 2)
Narrated by Charlotte Sanderson, who was incredibly patient with all the foreign accents and made up language in this book. Her voice is a little higher and younger, more spirited, which fits the heroine of this story so well.
Narrated by Kristin James. This was the third audiobook I commissioned, and I got hooked on female voices, but science fiction is a different animal than fantasy and, in my mind, sounds American, rather than British. Kristin did a fantastic job on this novella. I couldn’t have asked for better.
Narrated by Steve Campbell. This is my most recent audiobook, scheduled to release on November 23, 2020. It’s another science fiction, which means American accent, but this time I wanted to hear a male voice. Steve did so well, listening to the audiobook in proofs made me giddy excited to share it with the world.