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Why Authors Should (Almost) Never Read Their Own Audiobooks
- Ensure that you are speaking clearly, trying to make as few mistakes as possible
- Ensure that your pace is not too fast and not too slow
- Try to minimize loud breath sounds, lip smacks, tongue clicks, and other noises
- Make sure you’re keeping characters, voices, and accents consistent, without making them too over-the-top or cartoony
- Imbue the narrative (non-dialogue) portions of the audiobook with enough inflection and variation to be both understandable and interesting
- Keep the energy of performance consistent
- Properly support your voice to allow for long recording sessions
- Ensure that you’re using correct microphone technique
- Portray the emotion and meaning of the text without getting in the way of the emotion or meaning
- Do all of this without drawing attention to yourself as the narrator
- Make sure the tone and quality of your voice is pleasant to listen to
- The levels are set correctly on your equipment
- The microphones are correctly and consistently placed
- There’s no background or environmental noise interfering with the recording
- The recording computer is functioning correctly
- There are no plosive pops the mic or peaking in the audio path
- You are editing/post processing the audio correctly and providing the final files in a format that is usable by retailers and customers.
In one particularly heart-breaking instance, we had to reject a title that was nearly 30 hours long because the author, who also narrated, stumbled over his words constantly and recorded the audiobook in such a way that it could barely be heard. He had spent well over 100 hours of his own time working on it, and had spent thousands of dollars paying for studio time from a friend who didn’t actually know how to use his own equipment. While the author had a pleasant-enough voice, simply having a good voice didn't provide him with the tools he needed to record a high-quality audiobook. The resulting book was so poor that we ended up having to exclude it from our catalog.
- Try recording an audiobook of a text that you didn't write. For experience, you can go to Librivox.com and try narrating a public domain title. You’ll learn a great deal as part of that first experience.
- Listen to audiobooks narrated by the greats. Look up Simon Vance, Scott Brick, Stefan Rudnicki, or Kate Reading. Find the narrators who have won the Golden Earphones, and listen to the titles they do. Try to emulate that. Pay attention to their cadence, their voice inflection, their pacing, and how they handle the portions of the text where there is no dialogue. I’m surprised at the number of audiobooks we receive that are recorded by people who don’t even listen to audiobooks. Find out what you’re competing against, and what the market expects from titles.
- Practice. Don’t try recording the whole thing at once. Record a few pages. Edit those pages and listen to them back. Listen in the car or on your phone walking the dog. Get an idea of what it will sound like in different environments. Go to YouTube and watch tutorials on how to mix and master your audio. Practice doing that.
- Record with a director. Have someone sit in on your recording sessions who can give you direction and help shape your performance. Make sure your director knows audiobooks inside and out.
- If you don’t know your recording equipment, find someone who does. Compression, Limiting, EQ, Bitrates, Gain, Levels, Peaking, Dithering—if you don’t know what these mean, chances are that you’re not going to get the best quality audio out of your system. Have someone who knows what they’re doing help you set up and learn your system. Then, when you’re done, send your files off to a mixing/mastering engineer to get them to standard levels.
- Ask professionals in the industry to review your work. See if you can find a working professional who will provide you with honest feedback about your recording. Try to find a mentor. Take audiobook narration classes (they exist!). Unless you are one of those incredibly uncommon people who are good at analyzing their own work objectively, you really do need some practiced ears on your side.