The Heretic on Audiobook and Deirdre Gould on her Audiobook Experiences
The first three chapters of The Heretic audiobook are done. I am now going through the process of listening to Adam's take on the book, his tone and accent for each character and getting ready to approve his work so he can get on with the rest.
I'll admit to some trepidation about all of this – to some nervous tension at the thought of listening to my own work being narrated in the same way as I've been listening to Hyperion, Dune and more these last few weeks. I wondered if there might be some terrible weakness in the prose that would be horribly exposed before me as Adam narrated.
Of course there isn't. I'm surprised, but gratified, to listen to words that work. As the story unfolds, Adam has in fact made it leap off the page.
Below is the fifteen minute sample Adam sent me to get the process started. The first chapter of the book in its entirety. Have a listen, if you like – I think you'll enjoy it.
In addition, to continue with my guide to ACX and audiobooks for indies, I asked Deirdre Gould, bestselling author of After The Cure, to tell us about her experiences with ACX and audiobooks. Having read this myself, I have to say there is some wonderful advice in there – about coping with the process of having your book narrated, choosing a narrator, and not getting too caught up in small details. Among yet more great advice. It's an eye-opening and extremely useful (and frank) post. If you are planning on doing audiobooks, I suggest you read it, and my earlier post that covers the basics.
It wasn’t very long into my adventures in publishing that I knew I wanted to try an audiobook version. Both my husband and my father are avid audiobook fans. It’s hard to persuade them to read a paperback or ebook anymore – they’d even rather listen to kindle’s very robotic text-to-speech if there is no audiobook version available. And I knew there were thousands of other readers out there like them. So I started researching how to create an audiobook almost from the beginning. But the publishing process, for me, was not a raging success out of the gate. It’s been more of a slow growing burn.
I wanted to give audio a fair chance to succeed. If I’d jumped in earlier, it may have fallen flat on its face just because of the limited visibility of my series. It wasn’t until book three was released that it started to really pick up steam. Again, Simon Whistler’s book [Audiobooks for Indies] had some great advice about when an audiobook is right, and when it might be a bit too early. When I started selling at a decent clip early this spring, I decided to give audio a shot. Just like Lucas, I needed to decide between royalty share and paying upfront. I went with royalty share for very specific reasons.
I wanted to give audio a fair chance to succeed. If I’d jumped in earlier, it may have fallen flat on its face just because of the limited visibility of my series.
I knew whoever I found would probably be new or building their portfolio, and that was okay with me. I actually wanted someone who was learning the industry, because I was too. It’s the first book in a series and I really wanted to partner with someone who would learn along with me, someone who would grow with each book, just like I would. A partner in fumbling if you will. Instead, I got insanely lucky with Miles Taber. He might be building his audiobook portfolio, but he is anything but fumbling. Miles was one of the first narrators to audition for me on the very first day. I’d heard that I should wait at least a week before contracting with anyone to see if ACX would attach a stipend, and I knew my book ticked all the boxes for them-- except that it was permafree at this point. So I waited and in the meantime, contacted some female narrators, just to see what the difference would be. I listened to lots of auditions during that week. My husband also listened to them and kept me from being too nitpicky.
I actually wanted someone who was learning the industry, because I was too.
Even though I ended up choosing to work with Miles, I’m still really glad that I listened to those other narrators and that I had someone impartial listening with me. If you are anything like me, it’s going to be hard to let go and accept that the way you told yourself the story in your head is not the way someone else is going to read it. There are going to be pronunciation differences. There are going to be emphasis shifts. Your narrator might even interpret your characters completely differently than you expected. It was something I knew intellectually, but I was not in any way prepared to actually hear. There are auditions that are so over the top you’re going to cringe. There are auditions that are so deadpan you’ll want to fall asleep. And there are auditions where the narrator was having technical difficulties. But most of them are going to be good. Or not just good, really great. But unless you have that neutral party listening, you might miss it. You’re going to get picky. Of course you are. You spent hours, weeks, maybe years writing this thing. It’s natural. But at some point, it’s not doing your book any service. Some of the auditions that I thought were over the top? My husband loved them. Some of them mangled the pronunciation of every name (and I don’t have any new species or planets like some fantasy or sci fi books, just some pretty vanilla names) and my husband didn’t even blink. I started to realize that, sure, I could micromanage the narrator I picked, get every tiny emphasis I wanted, make certain every last name was pronounced the way I’d been raised to pronounce it. Sure, I could do that (and drive us both crazy) but I can never control how a person reading my book tells it in their own head. I can’t reach in and make the reader follow my script. So I let it go and started really enjoying myself.
Now, that’s not to say I didn’t pick the narrator that seemed to “get” my book the most or didn’t reflect my own tastes. Miles had an audition that was very understated and went at a slower pace than the others – something that I appreciated, but maybe someone else would find maddening. And I’m not saying that every author is going to be as laissez-faire as I’ve become (or that they should be), but if you really can’t let go, you might be happier with a self narration instead.
So I finally contacted Miles when it was clear that no miraculous ACX stipend was coming through (what I didn’t know at the time, is you can write to ACX and make a case for your book, I thought if it didn’t just happen, it wasn’t going to, but I’ll know now for next time) and he agreed to a straight royalty share. I have no doubt I will not get that lucky again (nor do I want to take advantage of Miles or anyone else). If I can’t make the audiobook fly off the shelves when it’s released, I'll be prepared to offer either money up front for the next books or a royalty share plus some as Lucas discussed. But enough about the money – everyone else can talk about that. I want to tell you about what it’s like to hear your story instead.
I started to realize that, sure, I could micromanage the narrator I picked, get every tiny emphasis I wanted, make certain every last name was pronounced the way I’d been raised to pronounce it. Sure, I could do that (and drive us both crazy) but I can never control how a person reading my book tells it in their own head. I can’t reach in and make the reader follow my script. So I let it go and started really enjoying myself.
Sure, I listened to the text-to-speech version of my book. I do it every time during edits. With her clipped computer voice and expressionless delivery. And I read pieces aloud to myself during editing as well. But neither of those even comes close. When Miles sent in the first two chapters of the audiobook for me to approve, I sent it to a couple of people before I’d even listened to it. As Lucas said above, I was worried I was going to be hyper-critical, either of Miles or of my own book, even though it had stood up to dozens of readthroughs during the publication process. I was prepared to cringe and hide under my desk for a few days, especially because the opening of the book is probably one of the most emotional and shocking scenes in the entire book. I knew if he could pull off that chapter without making me nauseatingly embarrassed, that I wouldn’t need to worry about a single sentence afterward. So I made sure I was alone in my office and I made sure my headphones were plugged in and NOT the speakers and I pressed play. And what happened next was sheer magic.
It’s the closest I have ever, or will ever get to reading my own book as if I’d never seen it before. Even if it was ever optioned for a film, it would never ever be as close to that experience as hearing the audiobook. It was like I was borrowing someone else’s experience of it. For both the good and the bad. If the auditions led me to realize I couldn’t control how my book was read, the first fifteen minutes convinced me that I didn’t want to control it. Miles made it more than it ever was on the page. More real, more emotional, more powerful. It was like seeing alchemy working. Whatever this book was, I knew it wasn’t mine anymore. That it hadn’t been mine for thousands and thousands of ebook and paperback copies. That it was something far more than I’d ever imagined, and I didn’t need to be ashamed of it at all. Actually, if there is ever a “definitive version” in readers’ heads, it will probably be Miles’s version, because he read it to them. The first two chapters gave me goosebumps. And they made the other people I sent it to immediately call back and ask for the rest of it.
I’m not worried for the rest of the book, I know it’s in good hands. My only dread now, is that some superstar seller is going to snatch Miles away and I won’t be able to get him to do the other four books. When I was holding auditions I told my readers that it was like shopping for the perfect wedding dress, except more exciting (I’m not really that into wedding dresses). In a lot of ways, I think that’s still true. You want to find that perfect voice, that perfect delivery for your book. And you want it all at the perfect time, at the perfect price. So you put up a tiny, tiny bit of your book for someone to read and you analyze and analyze. “This guy’s good, but I hate the way he makes the villain laugh.” or “I wish she realized it was pronounced tomayto and not toemahtoe.” or “How could he miss that this was the most important sentence? Why does he think it’s THAT one.”
The thing is, if you can’t break out of that picky cycle, you’re going to pass by the dress that really is perfect for you, because you’re looking for what’s wrong with the dress instead of remembering that it really isn’t about the dress at all in the first place. That this tiny section of your book isn’t what it’s about. If you can take a step back and realize that the first time you let someone else read your book, whether it’s into a microphone or in their own head, it stopped belonging to you, you’re going to find the entire experience, and your book, is better than you even dreamed it would be.
p.s. I know you all want Miles to narrate your books now, but I called dibs. Just kidding, here’s his ACX profile.