Recently I embarked on a new challenge, converting one of my books into an audio book. I don’t now even recall how I happened to stumble upon the idea; maybe one of the blogs I follow or one of the updates from my many writers’ forums mentioned ACX.com and my investigation took off from there. ACX is an Amazon company much like Create Space in that it provides an easy, affordable way to produce books, in this case audio books rather than physical books. ACX acts rather like a passive agent, creating a neutral middle ground where authors and producers can meet and explore working together. It’s a fairly simple and straightforward process.
I registered information about my book Marcia Gates: Angel of Bataan some months ago. I uploaded the first chapter, the blurb, the cover image, my desire for a female voice and my choices for a working arrangement. There are two ways to pay for a book producer/narrator: one is to pay them up front for their time, estimated to be roughly between $100-200 an hour; the second way is to pay no up-front fees and split the royalties with them 50/50. I chose the latter for several reasons. First, I was not comfortable parting with a large up-front outlay when I was trialing this whole idea for the first time, and it made sense to me that if the producer were to be heavily invested in the success of the book (i.e. royalties), s/he would do his/her utmost to promote it just as I would.
So I put my book up there, went about my other writerly duties and promptly forgot about it.
One of the drawbacks I’ve found to having ten or twenty or fifty irons in the fire at one time is the tendency to lose track of some of them. When I got an e-mail that I had an audition waiting to be reviewed, I was pleasantly surprised. Oh, yeah—audio book!
I logged into ACX and found my dashboard, figured out how to play the audition and listened to the first chapter of my book come alive. It was pretty fascinating; the words, of course, were patently familiar to me, but the tone of voice, the inflection, the emphasis were all new. It was interesting to hear a voice so different than my own read my words in ways that varied slightly from my intended emphasis. That variation was a little jarring at first, but not entirely at odds. I liked her expression, and if it seemed like there was room for improvement, the good news was that I thought her voice was closer to a fit than a definite misfit.
Through ACX, I sent her a message saying I had listened to the audition and I thought we had something going here. Turns out she thought so, too.
This particular book is the biography of my aunt, an army nurse and prisoner-of-war of the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II, and so was a labor of love for me. Imagine my surprise when my producer replied back that she chose my book as a way to honor her father, who had also served in the Philippines! Right away we connected on a very emotional level, and we both felt we could put together a fitting tribute to our families in this joined effort.
Offers sent and accepted, the next milestone was for her to produce a 15-minute sample for my approval. I quickly found out that she and her husband are voice-over actors and have their own sound studio, so producing the sample was all within her means. The fact that her husband was a professional voice, as well, sparked an idea. My book is written in an epistolary style, using copious amounts of letters, newspaper articles and telegrams to tell the story as it unfolded in real time. As the book is told from the point of view of my aunt and her mother, I wanted a primary female voice, yet some of the letters are from men, and a male voice would make a nice contrast in those areas. I asked her if her husband would be up for playing a few “bit parts” in my book. Not only did they readily agree, they even expanded his role and he narrated parts of my father’s autobiography that I had incorporated into my book, as well.
Boy, oh, boy, I thought as I listened to the sample. This is going to be good.
And it will be. We’re now into full-on production. She will upload chapters as she completes them and we’ll chart the progress together. Exciting stuff!
But certainly you didn’t think this story was going to be all rainbows and unicorns, did you?
I was ready for challenges. I was ready to have to reconsider my desires, to not expect or demand perfection, to compromise and adjust my expectations as this singular “mine, mine, all mine” project suddenly became a collaboration.
I was not expecting my brain to get turned sideways.
I listened to the sample the first time with the text in front of me, a red pen at the ready, checking for correct word usage, punctuation, whatever small missteps there might be. But as I listened, it began to dawn on me how many small clues we include in our writing that do not translate to the audio.
It began with the Prologue. I wrote the Prologue, a short background of my pioneer family, from my own first-person point of view as opposed to the impersonal observer’s POV I use in the book itself. On the page, it looks like this:
Marcia Louise Gates rose from a family that was populated by strong women and hard-working men. ….. (quick history here) …. With this for a foundation, it hardly seems surprising that one of them would eventually earn the title of hero.
However, in the audio, all the little visual clues are gone: the em dash in front of my name, even the paragraph breaks. It sounds like this:
Prologue. Marcia Gates … (blah blah) … earn the title of hero. Melissa Bowersock.
The listener cannot see the paragraph breaks to know that we’re starting a new thought; they cannot see the semi-colons to know that we’re introducing a related yet completely separate idea. They cannot see the suggestion of “air-quotes” or the emphasis of italics to drive a point home. They can’t see ellipses to know where they should finish a sentence themselves … or not. All of this very subtle but very important information must be built in by the narrator’s voice.
My respect for audio book readers just ratcheted up a whole bunch of notches. And I’m extremely grateful that I’ve got a professional helping me with this project.