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How to Record Your First Audiobook–Tips from My Virgin Experience

Shar Rednour being recorded for The Femme's Guide to the Universe at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley.

Susie Bright—an Audible author, show host, and Editor at Large—warned me that narrating an audio book is  “grueling work.” It’s not like a ten-minute or thirty-minute reading that most authors are used to putting out. It’s hours of having to be “on,” keeping your energy up— yet evenly paced.

Nevertheless, I auditioned to read my own book, The Femme’s Guide to the Universe and got the job! I’d like to share some of my thoughts in case this helps other authors who are thinking about narrating their own books—as well as fans who might find this interesting. My own new audiobook will be coming out in late October!

 

First, Deets, What Are You Reading About?

The Femme’s Guide is non-fiction. It’s a funny, campy yet practical book of love, life, fashion, home decorating, work, sex and more (thus Universe) advice for a queer-femme crowd— although many Girlie-Girls like it, whether queer or not. Oh, “and those who love us!”

Narrating is not “Reading.”

There are professional narrators— “voice-over talent” or “VO,” as they call it— people who do this all the time. They know all the tricks.

I have been a Gold Member at Audible (hardcore listener!) for over a year now and have become a critic myself. Besides the books I buy, I listen to every free sample they have on there.

And I judge. I judge like nobody’s business. I’ve become a snotty, demanding, heartless critic!  I do feel for the authors, but not the narrators. They are paid professionals. I expect them to be great. I even have returned a book that didn’t meet my standards.

 

Practice at Home

I started by practicing at home, a lot. I learned so much from listening to myself. I always strive to be interesting and lively. But now, for narrating, I am also listening for rushing, energy, mouth sounds, slurs, and the flow of my own content.

When you’re in a pro studio with an engineer, and you’re narrating six hours a day for days in a row— you’re not going to want to go back to re-do each sentence. And your producer can’t do that either.  So what’s the answer? Strive to be awesome the first take… over and over and over again for a zillion “first takes” because IT’S A WHOLE BOOK!

Between takes,  I took time to re-wet my mouth, to sync my energy, to drink water, to deep breathe, to turn pages, to wiggle my toes then “settle.”  PS: I wasn’t not awesome every first take.

 

“Stomachs Be Warned!”

I watched some tips on an ACX instructional video. The expert there warns that you can take off noisy clothing but there is nothing one can do for stomach noises. Note I say “noises,” not growls. The tiniest like rrrrgg, or oinggrrg is heard in a sound proof booth. I had to leave early my second day because my Throat Coat tea was too stimulating for my digestive system! The studio and engineer had been booked for days. I became superstitious and only ate  what I’d safely had my first day of recording. My engineer tried to reassure me that I could branch out, but I didn’t dare: Scrambled eggs with vegetarian sausage for breakfast then the leftovers of that with ketchup on a tortilla for a snack at the studio.

I never drank throat coat again.

 

The Perfect Manuscript

Besides dry mouth and tummy, there were the stumbles from examining the manuscript. As I read aloud, I found errors that the editors and proofreaders had missed. Or sentences that were just plain clumsy when read aloud. I wished I had read my whole book aloud, even before I had turned in my final draft for publishing.

I wanted to shoot myself. I am confessing this to help other authors. I could play it cool for my audience and fans, but I want to help others so I confess.

Susie had warned me of this. She said to read my whole book aloud before I submitted it for a print or ebook. REALLY? I had never done that for any of my other published books. But if your final goal is an audio book, you are going to be reading it out loud later, so Baby, make it sooner, and work out the kinks now. I had read warnings on Amazon’s Kindle advice sheet to authors. I had outside readers, professional editors— and still found mistakes. I will always, from now on, print a copy for proofing as well.

A day or two before each Studio session, I read that day’s pages aloud with markers in hand, marking up my pages with my own notes of vocal cues. A big circle between words equalled: “pause.” Dots under a line meant “say softly,” a squiggle meant “lively.” If I put a square around a word it meant that word was dividing two contradicting thoughts. (“I really like to eat healthy BUT this super cute butch wants French Fries on our date”).

 

The Eyes Have It

You need to have big easy-to-read typeface when you’re reading for hours. My engineer, kindly enlarged my manuscript type to 24 point without my even asking. He worked from a Kindle PDF and it ended being the size of an 8 x 10 sheet of paper. Reading from an iPad, like I thought I was going to do, would’ve done me in. Also, at this writing, I do not like the few options we have to electronically “mark” up a pdf with vocal cues or corrections. Marking on good old-fashioned paper is best in me.

 

The Studio

I liked being treated so wonderfully at my studio, Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. They had hard candy, tea, and a fancy glass water bottle with a star etched on it.

There was no director for the sessions. I made my engineer be a director of sorts. An engineer will tell you if a take isn’t good for technical or sound reasons, but they don’t want to insult talent by critiquing performance or script. That’s usually a director’s job, at least in other fields. I am a very self-directed person as it is, and it’s MY material so not having a director was great for me.

I asked my engineer to not worry about my feelings: if I lost energy or didn’t make sense, or slurred or sounded stupid, whatever–he was to tell me! It’s a lot of trust which brings me to…

 

Reading Without an Audience

Unlike public readings, there is no one to vibe off of, nothing. You are alone in a soundstage—a soundproof room—with no feedback.

One thing I realized was that I screwed up more when I thought about the process—engineers, directors, producers. When I made myself focus on my material, and loving my material/my baby, I was at my best.

 

Verbal Accents & Tics

My engineer and I both agreed that I should let my Southern/Midwest accent mixed with the Valley Girl twang come through. That’s me. We say: “EvaDENTly”  and “inteRESTing.”  If people don’t want to hear an occasional sarcastic “Like, really?” then they won’t like me.

 

Laughing At Your Own Jokes

I couldn’t get past saying “L.A. Lesbian” without cracking up.

And when I say, “Why do you think these women become UPS drivers? For the Dental Plan? —More like the POONTANG Plan!” — my engineer was on the floor laughing.

 

Tip Sheet

BEFORE RECORDING:

1. Read your book aloud to yourself.  Do this on a printed version that you can mark up.

2. Hydrate—and watch what you eat, to avoid “stomach voice.” Peppermint Tea. No Throat Coat!

  1. Listen to as many audio books as you can. There is a free sample to every audio book that Audible offers. Listen to ones in your genre, listen to best sellers in any genre, listen to narrators vs. authors, read the reviews, do your homework.
  2. Your accent, your dialect, your style, is what the audience wants to hear. Mentally prepare for this as you prep.

 

WHEN RECORDING:

1. Focus on your work, love your work, love your fans, focus on each precious word.

2. Hydrate.

3. Keep your energy up with small breaks. Do something fun that shoots adrenalin into your body, like a mini photo shoot or calling a friend who gets you excited.

  1.  Slow down. Don’t talk too fast.
  2. Wear soft clothes that don’t make noise.

6. Stay warm. Bring a soft sweater or something to keep you warm. It gets cold sitting still for so long. And a scarf for your neck.

7. Re-wet your mouth often. Don’t wait for the engineer to correct your mouth noises. Pause, wet, then go on.

8. Use hard candy to suck on, for the sugar rush and to coat your mouth and throat.

9. Have fun and let the emotions of your feelings come through!

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