Adventures in audio

As some people already know, I’ve been getting ready to move into audio books.

This is not a decision to take lightly, because 1. it’s expensive, and probably only worth it if you have books that sell, 2. I’m in Australia, and I don’t have direct access to ACX, 3. You have to spend some time selecting a narrator and listening to examples to know what you want, 4. Quality really matters, taking us back to point 1.

In short, it’s not without risk and you don’t want to have to mortgage your house to do it.

ACX (the audio book exchange) is your gateway to audio. You upload a sample and narrators send in auditions.

First, you have to set up an account. If you’re not in the US or the UK, you can do this through this company.

Then you have to decide how much you’re willing to pay per finished hour of narration. A finished hour of narration will in general take the narrator a couple of hours to finish, record and edit.

You can also opt not to pay outright but share royalties with the narrator. Professional narrators are not interested in this option, because anyone who’s got money (= who sells well) will be paying outright.

Aggregated wisdom says that you should expect to pay at least $200 but probably more like $300 per finished hour for professional level narration.

Armed with all this wisdom, I uploaded a snippet of text from chapter 6 of Ambassador 1. Why this snippet? Because it includes dialogue and you want to see how the narrator handles it. It includes some made-up names and I wanted to see how the narrators interpreted those without pronunciation guide (if they’re close, they’re likely to be on my wavelength).

I was also happy that the snippet includes a bunch of swear words, because as it turns out–and I had no idea–there is a lot of difference in the capabilities of narrators to swear convincingly.

Accents. Aggregated wisdom said not to be too esoteric, but I flipped that the bird and asked for a New Zealand accent, and said in the comments that I figured it was unlikely to happen, and I was happy with a general British or American accent.

I got 42 auditions, all male, because I asked for it. Not to be sexist, but Cory is male, and the book is in first person. A woman would be just… weird.

Out of the 42, most were American. A good number were British. One or two I suspected of being Australian, and one stated that he was from New Zealand.

At this point, I found that a lot of other factors come into play. Voice quality varies a lot. Things like age, tone, speed of speaking all determine the type of character, and some just didn’t mesh with Cory. He’s of slight build, thirty-five, so you can’t have a narrator with a very deep voice who sounds like a gruffy detective of sixty. Just doesn’t work.

In the book, I also make a point of de-Americanising the world, and some had American accents that were just waaaayyyy too strong. I did put some Americans on the shortlist.

When you have voice quality, age and accent sorted, you need to consider the sound quality of the sample. Are there hisses or echoes and is the speech clear? This is determined by the type of equipment the narrator uses, and it needs to be professional.

After listening repeatedly to the best audition samples, I chose one, and I’m happy to say that he has accepted. He’s a Brit from London, trained as actor and his sample was near-flawless, the sound quality is great, his voice is not too deep, he speaks clearly without missing syllables (this is really common, by the way), and he knows how to fling an f-word or two without making it sound like a hot potato. He responds to correspondence in a professional way, and has assured me that the first book will be done by 19 August.

Watch out for further news!

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