I have written over 25 novels. Each one starts with voices in my head. By the time a book is done, I know every inflection, tonal change and speech pattern of every character. So, when I had the opportunity to create the audio versions of Hostile Witness and Silent Witness, I was excited. This, I thought, was going to be a breeze.
I thought that just before I became terrified.
I was excited because next to having your book made into a movie, audio is about as cool as you can get. I was terrified because suddenly there were decisions to make that I had never considered when writing these books. How had I really imagined my characters' voices? Did I want an actor or an actress to read my books? How did I produce and publish an audio product? Did I want separate voices for each character or not? Did I want to read my books myself?
The only question I could answer was the last one. No fiction author should ever read their work if I am an example. My one attempt to do so left me ROFL. Thankfully, I was alone in the house when I tried it. Some people are actors; I am not.
Once that decision was made there were still others to tackle. This is my list of the five things I did to bring my books from print to awesome audio.
1) Listen to popular audio books in your genre. I listened to both male and female thriller authors. I found it disconcerting to hear a man read primary female parts but had no trouble accepting a female reader tackling male characters. It is a personal decision but I was lead by what seems to be accepted wisdom of the best selling authors and that is use the voice of the predominant character. I chose Tara Platt, an award winning voice over artist (www.taraplatt.com). I also chose to have each character voice distinctive and that meant the voiceover had to seamlessly move between character and gender, expository and dialogue.
2) Choose a neutral voice unless your book has a cultural basis for a different choice. I listened to audio versions of books written by English authors and read by English actors. As much as I love an English accent, I realized choosing a voiceover with a discernible accent was distracting for an American thriller.
3) If possible, seek professional assistance. I was lucky to know a producer who understood what goes into a successful voiceover. He coached me in what I should be listening for when I received my file for approval, not the least of which was breathing patterns. Like a singer, a voiceover artist should be able to read seamlessly without gasps or gaps in the production as well as communicate the appropriate cadence and genre of your novel.
4) Provide your talent a ‘cheat sheet’ that includes a short description of the plot, descriptions of all recurring characters, unique setting points, and where the major plot points are. Also provide the talent with a copy of the book.
5) Speak up and ask questions. There is someone to listen at established, professional sites. I worked with ACX for Audible.com, the most recognizable of all audio sites. They were responsive to all my questions and offered production options from talent buyout to royalty sharing and independent production.
It didn’t take me long to realize that as much time goes into reading a book for audio distribution as writing it for print or digital consumption. I also realized after I heard the first few chapters of my book that I was as lost in listening to the story in the same way I had been lost in writing it. I may have known the ending, but I didn’t know the sound of it would leave me breathless when I heard it.