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How author involvement can help to create great audiobooks

Alys Hewer is the production manager at Red Apple Audiobooks, a division of Red Apple Creative. She previously worked as an audiobook producer and editor but now spends more time out of studio managing the production from start to finish. Her favourite part of the process is casting because it gives her an excuse to hide away and read. 

Author Approval

We audiobook producers love authors. They often make us cry awkwardly in studio or laugh so loud that it distorts the audio, and we wouldn’t be here without them. In the past they seemed rather remote from us – people we loved from afar but knew were completely unobtainable. With the growth of the audiobook industry however this is changing, and for the better. It is now commonplace for us to have authors in studio or see ‘author approval’ on a brief. I’m going to give a few ideas on how author participation can help with audiobook production – that is the headphones on, press record, press stop after several days, side of audiobooks.

I should say here that the author does not necessarily need to be involved in any way and sometimes it’s impossible for them to be if they have passed away. They are an expert on the written word after all and it is not for them to know, or necessarily care, how we are going to adapt their 700-page tome into 20 hours of audio. We are quite happy to be left to our own devices.

Author = narrator

Just one glance at the non-fiction bestseller list on Audible will tell you that authors narrating their own book works really, really well. The familiarity of the voice can go a long way and no one knows the book better than the author. For this reason, particularly with autobiographies, I would strongly encourage the author to narrate. It helps massively if you are already in the entertainment industry and have a natural flair for performance, although lots of authors turn out to have a hidden talent for narration.

At the same time I would say that authors should think carefully before taking it on. Sitting in a box reading out loud for several hours a day is not a common pastime and it is not easy. If a book is deeply personal, even more so. If the author would like to narrate I would encourage them to have a go either recording themselves at home or if possible, go to the studio and run through it beforehand. We have done this many times in the past and it helps immeasurably – not just for the author to get a warm-up before the main event, but also for the studio to know how they work, what their needs might be on the day, and what challenges we’ll face recording them. We are all after the same thing, a great-sounding audiobook, and casting the right voice is crucial to this.

Author = researcher

Sadly pronunciations are one of my favourite things to work on – there is nothing like sifting through hours of YouTube videos and suddenly finding the name of that relatively unknown Dutch poet. We love to do it but occasionally it can be incredibly frustrating, mainly because some words simply cannot be found. If a title is autobiographical and there are several nicknames throughout, or if an incredible sci-fi universe has been invented along with the names of the people in it, we would love to hear how they think they should sound. Or if the author doesn’t care one hoot it would be great to know that too.

These notes ideally need to be sent prior to the recording or at the very latest early on in the recording. Receiving them after the recording causes a lot of stress and can create a whole heap of problems.

Author = producer

Come! Like I said, we love meeting authors and I think they enjoy it too. I can imagine it’s exciting having an audiobook of your book recorded and we want to share that excitement with them. Toby Clements, author of the Kingmaker series, even said that hearing Jack Hawkins narrate led him to write differently for the follow up titles in his series.

At the same time, be aware that the narrator might just find the author a little bit terrifying and their feelings are tantamount to a good performance. We would always encourage authors to come to recordings but at the same time they should try to take a small objective step back. Their work is being interpreted and they need to be comfortable with that. Also, it’s really not a spectator sport so they may decide to leave after a couple of hours anyway.

Author = creative

What’s even more exciting about the boom in the industry is how it has led the audiobook to be thought of as a unique product. Listen to Eddie Izzard go completely off script during the recording of Believe Me, or the Dan and Phil 3D audio experience and you’ll see what I mean. I feel now there’s an even greater need and desire to create new and exciting audio in the publishing world.

I would encourage authors, along with everyone else in the industry, to think differently about the audio version of their book. I’m not undermining the sanctity of the written word and you may feel it’s right to stick to single voice, unabridged recording (there is absolutely nothing wrong with this) but treat each title individually and where there is scope, work with your studio and publisher so your audiobook is in a league of its own. Think about new ways to reach your audience through audio; it can captivate them like nothing else so use this to your advantage.

The key point here is that good communication between publishers, authors and audiobook producers can work wonders for an audiobook recording. We are currently in the heyday of audiobook publishing and authors can play a crucial role in its further development. Be collaborative, be creative, and listen.

Red Apple Creative is one of the UK’s largest independent audiobook publishers. Working across 6 studios in central London they record titles for all the major platforms and publishers, including Audible, Bolinda and Penguin Random House. www.redapplecreative.co.uk

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