Your First Audiobook Part 1

So you've sold your first book. You've signed the contract in blood and you've been entered into the secret cabal. On one terrifying night, you stood in James Wymore's basement, ceremonial knife in your trembling hand, covered in Muppet stuffing and my little pony hair. You are in.

But like SOME people I could mention, you negotiated a percentage of audiobook sales so high that there's no upside to your publisher recording one for you. Then you played your existing version of the audiobook for your sound guy and he asked if you would second him in a quick seppuku ceremony.

So. You need to record an audiobook.

After intense negotiation with the sound tech, you settle on a price for his work. That's all right. Everyone screws up with their firstborn kid anyway.

These events happened to me of course. You might have read about some of them in my Publishing Your First Novel posts. So the time arrived. It was time to start recording.

I've planned this to take place over 10-15 weeks. I know some people do it in three days. I might be able to do that, but we're ahead of schedule and there's no reason to push it.

Every other week or so, I'm on the Hold 322 Podcast. There, I pretend to know about comic books. JM Bell, the master of audio, is the producer of that show as well as the audiobook, so we decided to just meet two hours early every Sunday for a bit. I'd be on Hold 322 a bit more often for a few months. We'd record the audiobook. His wife would use me as a test subject for low-carb treats. Everyone wins.

You usually start an audiobook with prep work. This is no different, but the fact that I've written the book shortens some of it. I don't have to study the thing for subtext. I don't need to carefully consider the character arcs to make sure I don't mess up a voice in the early sessions. I know all that stuff already.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't prep.

The first thing that happened was Bell gave me voice homework. He had me buy Fox in Socks with instructions to read it three times a day, as fast as I could. This is about as easy as talking a horse into unspeakable acts with an aardvark. (Things HAPPEN in Wymore's basement. You are changed.)

I didn't want to practice the night before because I was afraid of the effects on my voice. So Friday night I read the first four chapters or so. I read them aloud. I practiced how I was going to handle the voices. I ran through the tougher sentences a few times. I share one thing with George Lucas. I can write that crap but I can't say it.

The day of, I didn't sleep enough. I don't like waking up two hours earlier than normal on a Sunday. I do not like it, Sam I am. Still, I blearily pulled up in front of his house two hours early.

He took me down to the studio (or his daughter did, I think he was still showering). He showed me where I'd be sitting so that the thousands of books he uses as baffles would absorb the most echoes. He got me to know the new mic. He expressed happiness that I had the book on my iPad, so he wouldn't have to manually remove page sounds.

Then we started recording. We used "Punch and Roll" editing, meaning that whenever I screwed up, he would roll back the recording, clip the inevitable breath sound off the end, and we'd try it again. I think we had agreed on a signal for when I screwed up, but about five minutes in, it degenerated into me saying a line, stopping and saying, "Hmm" as I considered what I had just said, and him chuckling and rolling us back.

That first day was painful. In the two hours, we got about 20 good minutes recorded. I'm sure we only recorded an hour, but my error rate was something like 12 a page. A good professional can get down to about one a page.

We saved each chapter in a separate file. We recorded three seconds of silence before every new chapter, five when the tone of the room had changed. Bell would need those later to remove the background noise. Otherwise, the gating might sound like... I don't have a good gating joke. It would be bad. Look up bad gating on the internet. There are samples you can listen to.

At the end of the period we were in the middle of chapter three and the dogs announced that the rest of the podcast crew were beginning to arrive. We cut things off. Bell told me he was going to make me call it quits after that chapter anyway. He could hear the strain beginning in my voice.

But it was a good session. I had gone from assuming we'd have eight sessions to fifteen, but we made progress. We'd hammered out the process and fell into efficient work patterns.

Better yet, he laughed out loud three times during the recording. It's not easy to make him laugh, so I considered that a win. We even had to stop the recording twice because of if. Best yet, one of the lines I'd worried about most had cracked him up. So my confidence, both in the rewrites and in the process grew.

I sounded terrible on the podcast that day. Or sexy. Depends on what you're into I suppose. I suspect that will be the case for the next several podcasts. You should start listening to see if you agree.