In Part I of this mini-series, I talked about my debut foray into audio book creation–with the redoubtable Lloyd Sherr of the History Channel’s Modern Marvels show narrating A Reason to Live.
The project is now out of our hands and in its final validation phase with audio book producer ACX, which is checking for sound quality and consistency. Once ARTL passes this quality control phase, it will be available on Audible.com, Amazon, and iTunes. There will no doubt be a part III to this series upon my muddling through promoting the audio book, which is going to be a very different animal from ebook or print promotion.
In the meantime, however, I wanted to give you a few highlights of my experiences working with Lloyd and submitting our project to ACX. There were a few bumps along the way–hopefully, these warning signs will help you when you take your own plunge into the audio book market.
Once I decided to partner with Lloyd, he immediately asked for some background material on ARTL–not just a copy of the book, but descriptions and summaries with a bent towards the idiosyncrasies of narration: name pronunciation, character attitude and age, their mental state, and so on. Story arcs and plot movements–the tectonics of the book, so to speak–were also important to give the sweep of the novel as it changed, which could have an impact on the characters’ basic outlook.
I had a lot of this info already, but it was a mess–it had always been as grounding material for myself, never to see the light of day. It only took me a day or two to prepare, but you can save yourself some trouble and help out your narrator with a couple key contributions, prepared ahead of time:
- An e-copy or print copy of the book, or both
- A short (2-3 page) story synopsis of the whole novel
- Chapter-by-chapter summary (just a sentence or two for each)
- Character list, including minor/tertiary characters. Include pronunciation for anything but the most obvious.
- Place name list, ditto for the pronunciation.
This is a small issue, but you and your narrator will need to agree on a digital delivery system so that you can proof the audio files as they’re made. Even as highly compressed .mp3s, the files will likely be 20-40 megabytes–too large to email.
There are several large file delivery services and cloud based storage companies you can use to exchange the files. We used YouSendIt (now Hightail.com), but Dropbox, Google Drive, the Apple Cloud, the Amazon Cloud, etc. are all viable options. Just remember you’ll eventually need upwards of 750 mb of free space for all your files–depending on how long your book is, of course–and the file/folder permissions need to be shareable with your narrator.
Setting Aside Time
ACX estimates that a 90,000 word book will come out to about 10 hours of finished reading time. A Reason to Live came in a little under that–maybe Lloyd reads fast–but the implications of this block of time should be obvious: at the very least, you’ll be spending 10 hours listening to the audio “manuscript” in order to proof it.
But that, of course, is like saying you only need to read through a rough draft once. You’ll be spending more time than that. I didn’t track it, but I’d estimate that I spent 25-30 hours listening to various versions and I also had friends and family helping me out. There weren’t many mistakes, but there will be issues of nuance and tone you’re going to want to check for and address if you need to.
This kind of time is closing on a full work week. While the primary burden of producing the audio book is on your narrator’s shoulders, be aware that you’ll have to devote significant time to the project yourself. And be fair to your narrator: as they give you files to proof, get right on them. If you wait or ask them to move on, they’re going to screw something up if you catch a mistake three chapters previous. No one likes working backwards.
Our first submission of the final product to ACX was rejected because both of us had missed a small, but critical requirement: each chapter (and any intros and epilogues) must be recorded as its own file, i.e., one chapter, one file. Lloyd had gotten used to working on two chapters per day, so he’d recorded it that way, too. The submission was sent back and we wasted three or four more days while Lloyd re-engineered the track.
If this is the first time for you, but especially for your narrator/engineer/producer, you must read ACX’s Rules for Audiobook Production. In fact, read it twice. Pay special attention to the sections Common Mistakes and Editing Guidelines. There are some mission-critical rules in both about timing, empty space, and even how the opening and closing credits should be read.
Also, something ACX doesn’t mention, is that validation takes 14-20 business days, even if nothing is wrong with the product. This was deflating, since the initial production only took us about 25 days. But rules is rules. Be prepared to wait after all your hard work.
The good news is that many of these mistakes are easy to avoid, unlikely to be made again on the second project, and no-brainers for experienced producers. If the narrator you choose has made dozens of audio books before, listen to his advice in this regard. If you’re both new to the game, be ready to do more than just sign-off on the project…and read the fine print carefully.