a primer on publishing in audio
In the first post in this series, we explained the Per Finished Hour rate structure. This time we’ll look at all the different elements that go into producing an audiobook. When you're getting estimates on audiobook production, whether that's from a narrator or production company, it may be helpful to know what should be included in a full production. That way you can avoid unexpected costs.
We hope this post will also give you some clarity on the amount of work that goes into creating each and every audiobook!
In addition to the narrator, the other roles in audiobook production include: producer, engineer, proofer, and editor. There are a handful of narrators who wear all these hats, but that's unusual. Most authors will agree that while it may be cost-effective (or enjoyable) to take on some of the roles that go into publishing a book, it's unwise to try to play all the roles. When each individual can specialize and increase their skills in the various areas, production goes more smoothly and efficiently and tends to create a better product. Additionally, it can be useful to have a number of ears on a project to keep errors low and production values high.
In the past, the majority of audiobooks were produced with a director and/or engineer in the studio with the narrator during the whole recording process. Due to budget constraints and evolving technology, this has become rare. These days, narrators record alone in a studio, directing their own performances and keeping an eye (and at least one ear) on the recording equipment.
Here’s a quick overview:
Studio Engineer – this person sets up the studio space and the recording equipment, making sure that microphone placement and equipment levels are just right. A narrator with a home studio will often hire an engineer to set everything up and then keep it consistent for all projects.
Proofer – this person listens to the initial recording of the book while reading the manuscript and records any errors the narrator makes, including mispronunciations, misreads and/or extraneous noises. The narrator is sent a list as well as “voice match” audio files and then re-records those sections. This is called doing “corrections” or “pickups”.
Editor – this person digitally removes extraneous sounds, adjusts the lengths of silence between chapters and sections, and edits in any corrections. In the olden days, an editor would start with a “straight record” and have to remove all the bad takes/mistakes. (In the olden olden days, this was done with a razor blade on actual tape!). These days, most narrators do a “punch record”, which allows them to turn in only the final takes.
Mastering Engineer - this person performs the final processing that sweetens the sound, providing crispness and clarity as needed, as well as evening out volume levels over the course of the production so that nothing will distract the listener from the story itself. This is particularly crucial, perhaps even challenging, when more than one narrator is recording the book, to ensure consistency through the voice changes.
Director – this person listens to the narrator while she records, making sure that character choices and pronunciations are consistent. He may also consult with the narrator on tone and pacing. While many professional narrators now self-direct, we all have found working with a director in the past or on occasion very helpful. Sometimes directors will even work remotely via Skype.
Which roles should the author play, if any?
One step we definitely recommend: once you've got your final files in hand, either listen to the book yourself or recruit a trusted beta listener or friend to listen while reading the text. This will give you the reassurance that the audio is error free. (One hint for indie authors: narrators tend to be the best proofreaders. I often listen to my books and discovered errors the best proofers miss, then go back and change the ebook files to match!)
Unless you're a trained actor and voice artist, we generally don't recommend narrating your own books. If you choose to do so, it's highly recommended to work in a recording studio with an engineer and director who have experience producing audiobooks. (Note that books are recorded quite differently from music or even other voiceovers.)
If you're an audiobook fan with favorite narrators in your genre and you enjoy all the nitpicky detail work of publishing, you may choose to produce your audiobook yourself, or oversee the production by hiring a narrator to who will hire the proofer, engineer and editor.
If neither of the above are true, working with an audiobook production company is a great choice. Not only do such companies have all the post-production roles covered, but they often have relationships with narrators and can work with you to find the best talent for your budget.
More on that in the next post!