One thing that I heard a lot after publishing On Swift Wings was… when will it be available as an Audio Book? My honest answer was that I hadn’t really thought about it. This entire journey has been an organic one. It started with me jotting down some thoughts in response to Gulliver’s Travels, evolved into me writing a bit of a mission statement which became the foreword, ultimately into completing a full-length (maybe more than normal length) action-adventure satirical fantasy novel with publishing, marketing, editing, cover design, and a million other lessons along the way.
Once the book was finished and published, it became clear that many people prefer to consume stories in media other than print. Reading a book requires singular attention and devotion. Many people feel pressure to do more than one thing at a time, and books are something they listen to on their commute, in the car, while exercising, or as a side-activity. It takes a kind of focus to sit down and read a long novel, so many of my friends said that they’d wait until the (unplanned) audio book. Maybe they were playing with me, but my goal is to have as many people read my book as possible, so I did a little exploration down this alley.
I barely knew where to start. Actually, this could be the title of my autobiography. I knew that Amazon had some Audio Book functions, and some of the writing groups that I follow talk about them a bit. I took to Google and found a ACX, Audible’s exchange program for audio books. Basically, you choose one of three options:
- You offer narrators a chance to try out for a fixed rate.
- You offer narrators a chance to try out for a portion of the royalties.
- A combination of 1 and 2.
I thought this sounded like a pretty good deal, but I did some more research and found that in general the experience on ACX wasn’t that good. Authors felt cheated, narrators felt cheated, no matter how well the book does, somebody feels they didn’t get what they deserve. I don’t like making people feel bad, so I shelved the idea for a while. The idea was still on my mind though, and it kept coming up. Early this year, as Covid forced people inside, I had two choices for what I could do with my writing. I could work on my second book, or I could go deeper into the Audio Book. I started writing the second book, but I haven’t found a voice that I like for it yet. Then I stumbled across a “how-to” series for creating audio books. They gave me a few really good tips, and I got interested in recording my own book.
Everybody hates their own voice, but this series said something that eased my fears a lot. They noted that the voice you hear recorded isn’t what other people hear, it is your brain’s reconstruction comparing your actual voice and the voice you hear ricocheting through your brain. You actually hear twice the difference in a recording because of this effect. Made sense to me, and with the support of a number of friends who assured me that I had a very good voice for narration, I decided to take up the challenge.
I also wanted to record my own voice reading my own book for my kids. My Grampa narrated Winnie the Pooh for us when we were young and it is a treasured possession to always be able to hear his voice when he was younger. I want my children, and hopefully their children to be able to hear my voice as it is now. This was the biggest driver for me to get this done. I hope that my kids are proud of the book that I’ve written, and no matter what happens in the future, they’ll always be able to hear their dad whenever they want.
So, I had decided that I wanted to do and narrate an audio book, but I didn’t know anything about narrating an audio book. I didn’t think my crummy headset would do a good job so I researched microphones and was directed towards a cardioid microphone. I bought everything I needed to make my office into a studio. I put up towels and sheets to reduce echo, attached screens to the phone, sealed the room to keep the noise floor down, used a tablet computer that is very quiet, and learned some tricks about narration.
One of the things I was worried about was, how was I going to read 120,000+ words without stumbling a few times. I read half-an-hour or more to my kids every day, children’s books, many that I’ve memorized now, and I still stumble occasionally. Obviously this is where editing comes in, but even then, I figured I had to at least be able to read a full page without faults. Again, a little education came in handy. First, everybody makes mistakes while reading, and it doesn’t have to be misreading a word. Mistakes include breathing errors (like running out of breath halfway through a sentence) or not maintaining a consistent cadence or energy level, tongue clicks or lip smacks, ambient noise like a cell-phone buzzing or the furnace turning on, and of course the obvious mispronunciation of a word, name, or sentence.
If you’ve read my book, you’ll understand my trepidation. If not, know that I employ a varied and flowery vocabulary, and when narrating, I realized that I didn’t actually know how to pronounce some of the names properly. I also struggled with French words, not because I can’t pronounce them, but because I naturally pronounce them in French, which sounds a little funny in the middle of an English text.
One of the more interesting and useful tips that I learned about narrating: When (not if) you make mistakes, immediately follow them up with a loud “Beep” sound. (Not an expletive, just a loud “beep.”) This way, when you look at the wave-forms during editing, it will be very easy to identify a mistake and really quite easy to edit it out. Another trick that I employed, regarding breathing, was to take a long pause after every sentence to breathe. I would start each sentence with my lungs full of air and ready. It meant that I was full-chested and able to enunciate as well as possible, but I was certainly sore by the end of the narration.
Speaking of sore, reading 120k+ words took around 13 hours of reading at my natural cadence, after editing, this shortened to 10.5 hours. I knew to be aware of the editing process, but even with warning, I didn’t realize how long it would take to edit the work to my desired quality. I estimate that it took roughly 3 hours for each hour of recorded content, so a total of about 30 hours listening to my own voice.
Editing consisted of making pauses between sentences consistent, reducing and removing any background noises, breathing sounds, clicks and smacks, cleaning up subtle mispronunciations, and clipping out incorrect words. Once I was happy with a chapter, having gone through it thoroughly, I exported the file to a high quality MP3. The software I used was Audacity, which was quite powerful, intuitive, and free. There isn’t a single second of the book that I didn’t listen to, review, consider, and optimize. Every pause between sentences was measured and planned to match the tone of the story. When I wrote the story, I accentuated action and tension with shorter words and sentences, the Audio Book features the same attention to detail. When action is happening, pauses are shorter and the book moves more quickly, when in a descriptive period, it slows down with longer pauses and greater verbosity.
Finally, I had to decide how to publish. I had already encountered ACX, but as is typical of Amazon, they encourage exclusivity clauses and generally pay the lowest royalties available. Hearkening to my mission, I wanted the most people possible to read the book, so I wanted to “go wide” as I had with the book itself. After a bunch more researching, I found Findaway Voices. Findaway takes your book and pushes it out, on your behalf, to 43 different retailers including Amazon, Nook, Apple, Google, Chirp, Kobo, Scribd… They take a percentage of my royalties, but again, money isn’t the goal, I want people to read the book and be inspired or consider new ideas. I uploaded all the audio to Findaway, 10.5 hours worth of highly edited narration of On Swift Wings.
It takes time for the audio to be approved and made available on different platforms. The fastest is Author’s Direct, which is hardly surprising, as it is basically my own personal storefront on Findaway. The slowest (and still not available after three weeks) is Audible, though I’m confident that it will eventually be available there if that is your preferred platform.
The book is available. Early feedback has been the the quality is good and my voice is clear. I would love to hear more. I would really love to get more formal reviews, especially on Amazon or GoodReads. I don’t know if I can emphasize how important positive reviews are to an author like me. I know you get asked all the time to review products, and it is because it is really important. The only way that I can get word out about my book is if people see at a glance the formal social proof needed to ease their minds.
Please review my book! Please?