Neil Gardner is the managing director of leading UK audiobook production house Ladbroke Audio, and independent audiobook publisher Spokenworld Audio. He is an international award-winning producer/director/writer and an Earphones Award-winning audiobook narrator, as well as a sound designer and author. In summer 2018 he founded the Audiobook Creators Alliance.
Before there were books there was storytelling, and audiobooks remain to be the most intimate of reading experiences. Having an actor cast specifically to voice characters exactly as they were imagined by an author is a wonderful way to experience stories, and audio publishers work closely with their recording studios to make that magic happen. But how can we be doing this better? How does a recording studio operate? Neil Gardner of Ladbroke Audio shared with us his top five areas of improvement from a studio and an actor perspective.
A large percentage of the audiobook titles created each year are produced by third-party external studios, with publishers outsourcing pretty much all parts of the production process to these trusted partners. As such, it is both a business relationship AND a creative partnership… the success of both being vital to the creation of a top-quality audiobook. So, here are a few thoughts on how publishers can get the best out of this essential relationship:
1) Delivering scripts on time
Remember that both narrators and studios have many titles on their schedules, and so receiving a manuscript from the publisher late, or right before the recording dates is a real no-no. Time is required to prep the script and ask questions of the author/publisher. The ideal minimum time should be 14–21 working days before recording (excepting those special case last-minute titles, of course).
2) Clean scripts
There really is nothing worse than trying to work from either a paper copy/original book or from an optical-scanned pdf. Always try to ensure you supply the studio and narrator with a modern, freshly typed pdf manuscript. One that can be text-searched and marked up (using tools such as iAnnotate). This is especially required for back-catalogue titles where an old book has been scanned in for re-publishing.
3) Final scripts
Deadlines are always tight, but please avoid asking for a title to be prepped from an unfinished manuscript, and then recorded from the final version. It is impossible to transfer notes and annotations from one to the other, and it isn’t the job of the studio or narrator to track the changes that will have been made. Only ever send out the signed-off final edition. If time is against you… add more time to the schedule.
4) Time and scheduling
Audiobooks take longer to produce than you probably think. If you know you will be producing an audiobook edition of your title back at the start of the process, please build in more time for it at the end of the process! On average, a 330-page novel will need 2.5 to 3 days to record, similar to edit (at least) and then a few more days for proofing and mastering. If you need audio CD masters, add on a day for production and a day for postage. Let’s say 2 weeks for production, plus 2 weeks for prep. That’s a month, at least, you need to have in mind. And don’t forget, studios and narrators can be booked up way in advance… so start requesting their time far in advance of the production schedule.
5) Help with prep
Whilst studios and narrators are proud to prep their titles (given enough time), it would be genuinely helpful if the author/editor could provide some key information at the point of booking. For example, character name pronunciations and accents, place-names and odd language pronunciations, key character/plot information. Basically, anything that can ensure the narrator puts into voice what the author has in their head. A short one-sheet would be all that is needed.