5 Challenges in Audiobook Narration

As promised, today I’m revealing the fourth greatest challenge Narrators face in learning Audiobook Narration.  And the winner is…

#4 – Time Management

Everyone who ever tries to record an audiobook for the first time is blown away by the amount of time it takes to produce the audiobook.  It takes a long time!  And that’s just a fact of life.  Why? You ask.  Well, there are a lot of moving parts.  Let’s take a look.

We start by knowing the word count of the book we’re going to record.  For our example, let’s say our book is a 65,500 word work of fiction. The average Narration speed is 150 wpm.  That means this book will be approximately 7 hours long.  This is referred to as the Per Finished Hours (PFH)

Now let’s look at the workflow:

You do this to get the feel for the characters, the tone of the book, and to make a mental note of any scenes that will need extra care or clarification from the Author/Right Holder (A/RH).

Here you read through the manuscript again, but this time you’re digging into the details.  Make a list of any words pronunciations to lookup or ask the A/RH about.  Make a list of the characters and what you learn about them in the book so you can then create their unique voice for your reading.  Take note of any accents and study up on them if you’re not familiar.  Highlight characters in the manuscript (especially in conversations) so you can easy spot the change and adapt your voice when you record.

Record 15 minutes of the book so the A/RH can get a confident feel for how the final narration will sound.  This can be a straight 15 minutes of the book or it can be 5 minutes of the book, then character bits, then bits from highly emotional/impactful scenes, etc., so the A/RH can get a confident feel for how the final narration will sound. 

Editing the audio you have recorded takes by the most time.  In this step you’ll put on your sound engineer hat and choosing the best of optional line reads, cutting out mistakes, extemporaneous noises (barking dogs, clicks, etc.), and tightening the pace.  You’ll keep a list (file name, timestamp, and issue) of anything you missed or want to rerecord in Step 6.

Grab the manuscript and hit play on your file.  Adjust pace as needed.  Make note on you Pick up List of lines you want to re-record, words you missed or just don’t like the sound of.  Listen through your headphones in a quiet area and turn the sound up comfortably loud level to really hear what your Listeners will hear.

Go back in your booth and record pickups.  Have the original file open so you can listen to pace, tone and pitch of your original delivery.  Record full sentences (or paragraphs) when you’re recording pickups.  It will make it much easier to edit into the original file and level your sound.  Go back to Step 5 and proof the files changes to make sure you have a smooth, unnoticeable transition where pickups are inserted.

In this step you will again wear your Sound Engineer hat and balance and adjust the sound of all the files so there is a consistent, pleasant sound to the entire audiobook.  You will adjust sound to meet the platform requirements.  For ACX these standards are:

Some people say this step is optional if you’re already done 1-7.  And I will admit, I skipped this step in my early days.  Don’t.  You might hear something you want to fix or need to fix.  And even if it’s perfect, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to celebrate.  My advice, get cup of coffee or tea, or crack open a bottle of wine… put your feet up and enjoy.  This is the Listener Experience.

When its perfect, send it back to the A/RH for review.  At this point, they should only be sending you “mission critical” updates.  An example from one of my audiobooks was the author telling me that the locals in Hurricane, Utah, pronounce their hometown as “Her-kin.”  Not something I knew or even thought about when reading the manuscript.

Just so you know, where you see the hour/minute notation after Steps 1-8, I’ve used averages found on the internet. In this example, our 7-hour audiobook took a minimum of 46.5 hours to produce.

These times can increase significantly for a new Narrator who is trying to learn the in’s and out’s of their digital audio workstation (DAW).  And the numbers improve as you gain experience and put into place systems, assistants, or outsourced help who share the workload (and the profits).

Next week, we’ll take a look at the third biggest challenge Narrators face in learning Audiobook Narration.

Happy Holidays.  Be safe.  See you soon!

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