by Mary Jo
I made a flash announcement here when the audiobook version of Dancing on the Wind finally went live two weeks ago, but I wanted to ruminate a bit more on the process. This is the third audiobook that I've produced, and each time there have been more things to learn.
Though I'm still a novice, for me the key points are:
1) The first big challenge is finding The Voice. Someone I like listening to, and who will also appeal to regular audio listeners. I have a fondness for a lovely deep male voice (calling James Earl Jones!!!), but a man with a naturally deep voice will probably have trouble with lighter female voices, just as a woman with a lighter, higher voice might have trouble with male characters. A skilled narrator doesn't actually imitate multiple voices, but implies them through accent, inflection, pacing, and other verbal tricks. Doing that consistently throughout a full length book takes a real pro.
2) How well does the narrator handle a range of voices? Narrators audition by reading a short passage chosen by the producer. (That would be me) When auditioning narrators, it's good to choose a passage with several voices. The more characters and voices a book contains, the more challenging the task. (Jim Dale, the award winning narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks, is in the Guinness book of records for doing 134 different voices in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Talk about skill!!!)
3) Pacing--Narration is always going to be slower than reading, so I really dislike audiobooks where the narrator is so slow that I feel like getting out to push. But it shouldn't be so fast that it feels unpleasantly rushed. Obviously how fast is fast enough but not too fast is going to be subjective, but it's a key factor. A principal reason that I chose Peter Bishop to narrate my first indie audiobook, Thunder and Roses was because I liked his pacing as well as his voice.
Though I put a lot of time into choosing narrators, listening to auditions and samples, coming up with new covers, etc, the real heavy lifting is done at the sound studio. Once again I used the Audio Factory )in Glastonbury, England, the same people who did such a fine job on The Bargain, which was released in February. That book was narrated by Emma Newman, who was terrific.
Dancing on the Wind came with a whole new set of challenges. Though book narrators are often actors, narrating is not the same as acting. William Kirby, narrator of DOTW, was an experienced theater and voiceover actor, but he'd not narrated a full length book before. The stage requires broader emotions. For narration, that emotion needed to be pulled back. To suggest, rather than hammer, since that voice is going to be right in your ears. Stage acting sounds like over-acting when it comes to audiobooks.
Dancing on the Wind won a RITA, and it's a complicated book. My one sentence description is "A sneaky man meets a sneakier woman." In the early stages of the story, the hero, Lucien, meets the heroine, Kit, in several guises. Each time, she has a different name, a different appearance and occupation, and a different accent. Quite a challenge for an actor, especially one who has to work extra hard to get a good female voice!
This is why voice actors need directors, just as film actors do. The director listens to every word, catching errors in timbre and accent and pacing. Part of his job is ensuring consistency. The sound engineer is equally critical, and he also listens to every word. Among other things, he must catch the coughs and hiccups and rustling pages and word fumbles so they can be corrected as well as ensuring good sound. I returned to the Audio Factory because Arran Dutton and Dave Parry, director and sounds engineer respectively, are so very good. (I'm a great believer in finding good people and letting them do their thing.
The bottom line is that creating a good audiobook is a LOT of work on the part of several skilled people. (I'm the amateur in the mix.) Despite all the challenges, we're all pleased with how Dancing on the Wind turned out. You can listen to a sample here. (There's a little sample button under the image of the cover.)
I'm giving away a free, downloadable Audible MP3 file of Dancing on the Wind to one person who comments between now and midnight Thursday. And if you're not sound file enabled, I'll send a print copy.<G> Because print is still the gold standard!