I’m usually not a big audio book listener. I’ve loved some, and I totally understand the pleasure of experiencing a book while busy doing something else. Long drives are one time I go for audio. But I read much faster than I can listen. And I’m a bit shy about listening to sex scenes. (Yes, I write them – but on paper. Not out loud.)
So when I decided to create my first audio book of my work, I went into it without a lot of experience of what makes them good. And with a lot of nervous anticipation. I loved the result, but fumbled the promo. Now, I’m starting my second novel-to-audio adventure, and still not a pro at this. But I thought readers here might be interested in a glimpse into that process, even though other authors are far more adept at it.
That first book I did was Into Deep Waters. I wanted to test the audio process and, in case it turned out to be my one and only, I wanted to do the book I loved best. Plus if I had to listen to multiple auditions, I wanted to listen to my favorite. Of course… that meant more pressure to do justice to the book I’m most proud of.
For that first attempt, I had amazing support from my friend and colleague Jonathan Penn. Without his enthusiasm and help figuring things out, it wouldn’t have happened. Luckily, he ran with the idea, set up the account, organized it, (and me.) Now, as I’m moving The Rebuilding Year into audio, I have footsteps to follow. (Including his detailed chart for rating auditions…)
There are a variety of ways to do audio, but for me ACX was the easy way to go. This is a service affiliated with Audible and Amazon, which provides a contract framework and uploading base for authors and narrators. From an author’s point of view, it takes guesswork and risk out of the process. Many of the M/M genre’s best-known narrators are members there, as are many others who haven’t done any M/M yet.
I can either pay a narrator up front – setting a limit of $100 to $500 or more per book-hour recorded (and The Rebuilding Year will be close to 10 hours.) Or I can ask a narrator to take a chance on splitting the royalties with me for 7 years, forcing them to risk putting 40 hours or more of work into a book, up front, hoping for a good return later. Either author or narrator has to risk a fair bit of investment in the process before the first sale, which is one reason not every book is pushed through to audio production.
The basic idea getting started at ACX is that you set up an account, link it to your book on Amazon, and add some general information. The goal is to make your book sound like an appealing one to narrators. (I actually called myself “a recognized name within the M/M romance community” which for me is pretty darned promotional.)
Then you upload an audition script, with some scenes from the book, and wait to see if any narrators take the bait. One thing I wrestled with was cutting that script down to size. The directions say “5 minutes or 3 pages” – well, it turns out 5 minutes when read at my blazing speed is a lot longer at a real narrator’s pace. I had to cut the script back both times. I’ve figured out that 800 to maybe 1000 words is 5-6 min and as long an audition as you can ask these guys to do, to throw their hat in the ring.
One problem was that I wanted to have, in the audition, the important character voices, including a woman’s voice, some back and forth dialog with the MCs, a bit of my sometimes-over-wordy description (which may be easier to read than say clearly,) a little emotion, and of course some sex scene. In 5 minutes. Well, I tried.
For The Rebuilding Year, I now have 16 auditions pending (yay), and this weekend I’m going to go through and start to listen to them. With headphones, because my family does not need to hear John and Ryan getting busy 16 times. I’m going to score them on the handy-dandy chart that Jonathan made up. It has me rate the performances on voice quality, pitch and tone, reading speed, distinction of characters, and several other features including the all important sex scene. Then… I’ll listen again to the top choices, with my eyes closed, and hope that the logic and ratings are helping me decide which one sounds right.
For Into Deep Waters I went with a narrator who‘d never done an M/M book, although he’d done several M/F romances. In his audition, Kaleo Griffith managed to hit the emotional peaks and intensities that are central to that book. For The Rebuilding Year I’m looking for narration that reflects the slow-building warmth of John and Ryan. I can’t wait to hear what’s on offer.
One other consideration is the narrator’s following. M/M is a small genre. Some of our narrators are very well-known and well-liked, and may encourage readers/listeners to take a chance on my book, trusting that narrator to do it right. Of course, a well-known narrator may also be strongly associated with a particular character by some other writer. An unknown may make the characters feel more distinct. Choices.
And then, once the audio book is done, the question of where to try to promote it, so audio book enthusiasts find it, is another challenge. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing how this book – a contemporary and not a freebie this time – works out in audio. I hope there are people who‘ll enjoy listening to John and Ryan’s slow burn romance.