Last month, I shared a couple of lessons I’d learned in my initial foray into audiobooks. The TLDR version (that’s too long, didn’t read for those of you who actually do read) is first, that an audiobook really is a different book, not just a different format. Think emu versus elephant rather than panther versus cougar. And second, I didn’t grok how individual a reading experience is until listening to my own story performed as an audiobook. You could read over my shoulder, and we’d each still be having a different adventure.
Being a writer, essentially thinking your stories are so special that other people should read them, requires a special brand of narcissism. It’s appropriate then that I learned something else that has nothing to do with readers and everything to do with me. (I shared this lesson with the audio production folks, but perhaps should have shared it on a therapist’s couch.) Listening to an audiobook of your work is like standing your writing in front of a mirror. Naked. No, that’s not quite it. You’re also standing next to it doing one of those Vanna White here-it-is, isn’t-it-special waves. And you’re also naked. Yep, that’s about it. Heavy on the naked.
Reading a novel silently to yourself, you may not notice if a word is repeated twice in one paragraph. Oh, sure, if it’s something like imposter you will, but you’ll probably forget it by the next page, or at worst the next chapter. Prodigal is around 100,000 words. In print or e-ink, a single word is easily diluted by 99,999 of its nearest and dearest friends. But when you’re listening to an audiobook, that second instance of imposter snags your ear like a hook in a fish’s mouth. Suddenly you’re yanked out of the narrative flow, gasping for oxygen. And if it’s an imposter from Gloucester, you’re screwed. You might as well call it a day and walk the dog because the imposter from Gloucester will be running on a hamster wheel in your head until (hopefully) sleep wipes it clean. (For those of you who haven’t lived in New—or Olde—England, yes that Gloucester is meant to rhyme with imposter.)
So yeah, you’re naked in an audiobook, and so are all of your pretty and not-so-pretty words. But, there is hope. A skilled narrator—your new best friend—provides you with a toga. A real toga, not the dingy sheet you wore in college, and maybe made of organic cotton. When he or she reads for you, not only are you and your writing not naked, you’re not naked in fancy dress. You’re not naked and taking your place alongside the fire with the thousands of years of storytellers that came before you. That velvety voice smooths over the rough edges and deemphasizes the occasional flaw. Their pacing picks up when yours flags on the page, and slows you down when words tumble end over end. They make you and your story better.
Of course, even the best narrator can’t cover up everything. We still suffer the occasional wardrobe malfunction, perhaps using the word still twice in two consecutive sentences. (Actual example from Prodigal: the word tree.) And the narrator can’t fudge your continuity issues. I noticed a minor one listening to the Prodigal audiobook that had escaped me and all of my readers for nearly a year! (A character dons the same article of clothing twice.) Fortunately, Alex was able to change it on his end while I made the corresponding change in the ebook and paperback versions. The imposter from Gloucester is no more.
If you’d like to hear the results of our efforts, the Prodigal audiobook will be released starting May 15, 2018, and Founder is already in production. Want a little teaser in the meantime? Click over to my Audiobooks Page and spend a few minutes with the most excellent Alex Knox—I mean, drifter Adam Rutledge—in the sample. 🙂