Whether you are an author getting your first book narrated, or you are a new narrator embarking on your first adventure, it can be a daunting process! Here is a little taster of what the process might contain from the narrator's perspective to give you an idea!
The author supplies two to three pages for you to read as an audition. It is great if the audition script can have a couple of the lead characters talking so that the author can hear the narrator's work in dialogue scenes. Of course, the character voices may change if you get the job, but it gives an idea of how your work! Sometimes authors want to hear more for an audition, but I would try to avoid this. Narrators have to protect their time, and usually, you can tell if a narrator is right for the project within twenty seconds or so, so it is not really needed on either side. You can always have snippets from a couple of different scenes, so you can hear some different energy! If an audition was sent to me with more than 5 pages or would end up being more than 5 minutes when read through, I would reach out to see what sections they would like to hear rather than recording the whole thing!
A FRIENDLY MEETING!
I love to have a video chat with authors I am considering working with. When I work for publishers this doesn't really happen, I just read the audition and they let me know if I get it or not! However, when I am working directly with an author I love to get together to have a chat, explain how I work and hear more about the book. This gives us time to get to know each other, share ideas and see if we are a good artistic fit!
Great! The author likes the read and would like to work with you! This should include PFH rate agreed upon and the desired finish date.
I cannot state how important this bit is! Even if you are working on ACX which has its own contract, draw one up between the two parties anyway (Author/Rights Holder and the Narrator). Make sure to include each other's responsibilities and what will happen if someone doesn't meet them. For example, what happens if the author changes the script once you have started recording? What happens if they want you to record a character differently? Can they give you performance notes? All of this should be agreed to avoid any confusion down the line. Of course, I am not a lawyer and cannot give you any legal advice, but feel free to take a look at the contract I use in The Audiobook Guy Reference Documents. Just get your lawyer to read over it first to make sure they think it works for you too!
Congratulations you got the job! The schedule for the project should be outlined in an email before production begins (PROJECT EMAIL). At this time the script must be provided in its full and final state including Credits and if requested character breakdowns and pronunciation preferences. Some narrators also request a 50% non-refundable deposit at this time. This protects them if an author decides to pull out of a contract after they have put in a number of weeks of work, and helps with cash flow as projects can take weeks to reach completion and for invoices to be paid. Often a narrator is outsourcing the proofing and mastering so this helps to pay for those professionals.
This is when the fun starts! You read through the script in its entirety. When meeting new speaking characters I always make a note of the first page they appear, how the author describes them, and a little voice note to remind me of how they speak with a recording to match so I can quickly play it back when recording. This makes sure their voice stays the same throughout the book and is especially useful if recording a series of books over many years!!! For example:
John - p. 35
A large man, the bouncer of a club, all muscle but has a caring side.
Thick London accent
Has a little scratch and gravel to his voice, and tries to speak a little quieter and softer to be less intimidating
I also make a note of any words, places or names that are not obvious in their pronunciation so that I stay consistent through the book with a link to the dictionary or page I found the reference.
I have a sample of my research document in the Reference Documents.
The first read is extremely important. It is your chance to experience the book as your listeners will, to feel the journey and surprises! This will help you prepare for the pacing and story arc when you come to record.
It is important the author is easily reachable at this stage so that if any questions come up in the script you can swiftly communicate with them to get the answer and continue with research! The last thing either of you wants is a week in between responses which can push back the schedule delaying the project overall!
If the author would like to see this research I then send this all to them
IMPORTANT - HAVE A RESEARCH PRODUCTION MEETING!
I like to have a production meeting to discuss their notes at the end of the research. It is very important to ensure you are both on the same page at this point. That characters are as the author wants, any difficult pronunciations have been discussed and you have agreed on the tone and pacing that you are going to go for in the narration.
I have heard some really sad stories of authors not being happy at the end of the audiobook, issues with main characters and narrators going back to re-record all of the lines of that character or being asked to re-record whole pages of script. This can be a nightmare to do. Re-recording takes a lot of time to do and to re-edit and master. It can start to push the project into a place of being unsustainable for the narrator, and if they are booked back to back on another project can have knock-on effects on their career! The rhythm of the narration can feel broken with inserts like this and all the careful work of storytelling by the narrator can be hard to get back.
So make sure you are both happy before continuing. My contract points out that the narrator has artistic control of the narration and that the author is free to make suggestions as guidance before Project Commencement. Obviously, I do everything I can to make the audiobook just how the author imagined it in their head! But it is worth noting that there is a reason they are hiring you. They are the expert on writing, you are the expert on narrating. You are the one with the experience to bring the characters to life, you are in the booth feeling the rhythm of the text and the flow of the dialogue. If I make a decision that is different to how the author imagined it, that may be a great thing! Inspiration in the arts comes when creatives come together and bounce off of each other. When you take what they have given you and run with your gut! So while I do all I can to honour their suggestions, I will feel confident to express to them if I think a character should have a different accent or a section of text should have different pacing. Just make sure all of this is chatted about and you are both super happy before heading into the full record!
It is important to have a fast turnaround on all of this feedback so that the project can stay on schedule!
THE FIRST 15
Here we go! Research is confirmed so now record the first 15 minutes and proof and master just as you will deliver the rest of the audiobook. If this is the first chapter and is only about 20 mins I will just record the whole thing. Hopefully, your production meeting at the end of research should mean that everything has been discussed and everyone is on the same page so, if the author likes this read then you have one chapter in the bag!
Research and the First 15 are done, your author loves them, YOU ARE OFF!
I remind the author at this point that any revisions after this time, whether they be changes to the text or to re-record sections will be charged at the regular PFH for the time of the revisions. Obviously, if I make a mistake and read something wrong that is for free! Ha ha!
Time to jump in the booth and tell some stories! Here the narrator will record the book in its entirety. I like to separate my project files by chapter but some narrators like to keep the whole book in one project. There are pros and cons to both so just find what works for you! And don't forget to record the opening and closing credits!
Industry-standard is to record via a Punch and Role method. This just means that when you make a mistake you just bring the play head back to just before the mistake, perhaps to the last full stop, or period for my friends in the US! Then press record again. Set up your DAW to play back the last three seconds automatically to get you in the flow and you are off again! This will mean at the end you have one continuous recording with no mistakes or repeated takes.
I know many narrators that use the 'click' or 'clap' method. Where if you make a mistake you use a clicker or clap your hands and go back at the end of the recording to edit out the mistakes. I MASSIVELY recommend switching to punch and roll. When you start working with editors and publishers this is what they will expect, and it will save you SOOOOOOO much time! Not to mention it prevents you from missing any double takes that would need removing, and it is much easier to match a take using punch and roll vs trying to stitch two takes together where you may have changed rhythm or vocal tone.
This is when each chapter is reviewed for any issues. This can be done by the narrator or outsourced to a third party. It is much better to outsource your proofing, they may see things that you miss because you are so in your own head and way of reading that it can be hard to catch your own mistakes.
A proofer will listen back to the recording with the script in hand listening out for misreads, mispronunciations, background noises like cars or plans, audio quality issues, corruption in the files, and other things like that!
Pozotron is an excellent piece of third-party software that can assist with this!
The proofer will send a report to the narrator and editor with all the mistakes. The editor will make a voice match file and send this to the narrator. A voice match file contains little snippets of the original recordings of all the mistakes. This is usually just the sentence with the mistake. The narrator listens back to the original for the tone and pacing and tries to match it as they re-record just that sentence to be inserted by the editor. I used to get really obsessive about this! I would listen back loads of times, sometimes try and track down the section in my original project file to listen for more context, and keep recording over and over to make it fit. Trust me just listen to the voice match, re-record and move on. Trust your instincts and skill. Looking back if I move quickly through those voice matches it often sounds better and fits better than when I do it again and again and again...
It is important to re-record the whole sentence or thought not just the word the mistake is on! The editor needs to find empty spaces of air on either side of the recording to insert the new recording so help them out and find a clean section! They will like you more! Ha ha!
Recording is done!!!! The pickups are edited into the original recordings and the files are then mastered to sound all lovely and to match the requirements set out by the various audiobook platforms.
Do not underestimate this part of the process. I have heard stories from narrators who tried to do this themselves and the files kept getting rejected from the platforms. If you are unsure. Outsource your mastering.
Requirements for acx can be found here:
You should also select a five-minute retail sample at this time. This is the bit that people will listen to when deciding to purchase the audiobook and is usually the first five minutes without titles or chapter headers.
I find authors often like to perform QC or quality control. This is just one last listen-through with the script in hand, listening out for any missed misreads from proofing or any file corruptions or anything like that. If they would like me to complete this I just charge an extra fee on my PFH rate.
DELIVERY OF DIGITAL FILES
If you are working on a platform like ACX you upload the files there. The files will go through the ACX audio review and if all is well they will be released once cleared, usually 10 days or so. If you are delivering directly to the author you would use a file-transferring service of your choice. Once they are uploaded ... YOU DID IT!!!
Once the author has received all the files you would invoice for the fee of the project. Remember, you can only know the final cost of the audiobook once it is finished because you will only have the final runtime once it is complete. The final runtime is the whole audiobook including all credits, chapters and any prologues or epilogues. The Retail sample is not included in the runtime. ACX only arranges payment if you are doing a Royalty Share, so for PFH payment, this will need to be sorted off platform. There are a ton of options to choose from depending on your location! I invoice via waveapps.com. I make sure my projects are SAG so I need to take payment from a Union Paymaster. I like using https://skywirepaymaster.com/
The owner Noah is super friendly and can talk you through everything!
If the project isn't SAG you can either use waveapps.com direct online payment options or if the client has another preference just include your info on the invoice. If you can do a direct bank transfer that is always best to avoid too many fees!
For more info on PFH rates and costing an audiobook have a look at this post:
Once the book is released, spread the word! It is so lovely to hear from people listening to your work on social media! So getting chatting!
Producing an audiobook is a marathon. It takes time and patience, but the finished product is so exciting and if you are lucky you make great friendships with the authors you work with and the listeners that come on adventures with you! People have been telling stories to each other since the very start of human society. Mobile phones and apps have become our new campfires, and hearths to gather around and let our imaginations fly!
So get in the booth and tell your story!!!
Is there something you think should be added to this production breakdown? Is there a step you are unsure of, just let me know in the comments!