Thoughts On Recording An Audiobook For My Mother.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 9.648% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Back in August of 2015, I told my legally-blind mother that I would record my book Flex for her so she could hear it.  Yes, it’s available as an audiobook already, but we didn’t know that it would be at the time I promised it to her – and besides, she’d get to hear me read it to her.

I am only vaguely ashamed to say that I finished the project last night.

I say “vaguely ashamed,” because holy crap was this a lot of work. I probably spent six hours trying to make the opening prologue audio-book perfect – not a stutter or a mispronunciation in earshot, clipping all the uhs and pauses out with Audacity, stopping and restarting whenever the damn dog barked, which was all the time.

And I’m told that I do a damned fine reading – but that process stressed me out so much that I avoided it, because it was going to take me 240 hours to do this perfectly and when I read the next chapter I was hyperaware of every word I spoke and so I screwed up more, and so….

In December, I finally said, “Okay.  I’m gonna read it to Mom like I’d read it cold to a room full of people.  I’m good at reading, and she’s my Mom, so if she hears the dog bark or my chair creak, well, maybe that’ll sound more like her son did it.”

And even then it was another 24 hours worth of work, sitting down and reading and editing and listening and chopping out the most egregious mistakes.

Audiobooks are crazy work, man.  Maybe if you’re a professional, with professional recording techniques, it gets easier – it could be that people read through with zero mistakes.  But I’m not that person, and it’s my book, so I figure if I can’t read my own words through perfectly the first time, I’d have problems with everyone.  Which means that audiobooks must be a constant stream of tiny edits, endless nigglywork.

And I kept thinking about what The Little Red Reviewer said about my public reading style:

I’ve been lucky enough to see Ferrett Steinmetz at Conventions and attend his readings. My friends, if you ever find yourself in the same city as Ferrett, get yourself in the same room with him in the hopes you will hear him read his work. The man has an amazing voice.  At first it seems he’s reading slowly. But no, those are deliberate, planned pauses. Those are moments in which the words he is saying (and not just the sound, but the words and the meaning and the weight) sink in. He’s doing you a favor – giving you time to absorb and digest what you are hearing.  While I was reading Fix I heard Ferrett’s voice reading it to me.  Slower than I usually read, a kindly and sympathetic voice encouraged me to slow down to experience the full effect of getting kicked in the feels in nearly every chapter. Thanks Ferrett, for making my cry for like an hour while finishing this book!

Yet I guess I don’t read that slowly, as the professional version of the book is 11 hours and 43 minutes, and my book is about twelve and a half.  (I misremembered it as ten hours total, which panicked me – how slow was I reading?)  If I’d been studious about going through and clipping out every excessively-long pause, I’d probably cut another 5-10 minutes out of it.

(Because it’s better to go too slow.  When I see other authors reading, the most common mistake is to blitz through it so fast that you don’t leave the audience time to process.  I’ve seen some very funny chapters mangled because the author told the joke and then accidentally stomped on the laughter by racing ahead to the next line.)

But I did like the ability to put my own spin on the takes.  Having listened to it, I think I did a good job at keeping things listenable – and I love the way my microphone makes my voice sound.  I learned to overpronounce a little, because when you’re dealing with the foreign vocabulary of a fantasy book you want to Make It Quite Clear What Is Being Said – and by the end, I learned do things with slight intakes of breath and with pushing the volume and tempo at exciting times.

The real issue was voices.  My mother will now have the debatable joy of listening to me try on two separate accents for Kit the donut-loving detective before I finally settle on a third riotously different tone.  I thought I differentiated Paul and Valentine a lot more when I spoke, but that turned out to be mostly internal – which isn’t a problem for some audio narrators, who do everyone mostly the same and use the writer-handles of “Paul said” to clear them, but I like a little more acting in mine.  (For the record, in my head Valentine always sounds a little vexed, and a little astonished.)

But she will have it.  I may post an audio excerpt on here so you can hear what I’m like when I read – or I may do an audio production of my favorite short story “‘Run,’ Bakri Says” – which was read quite wonderfully by Mur Lafferty (who has a book I’m interested in coming out soon), but I think it’d be interesting to compare our approach if I did it right.

Anyway.  It is done.  I just need to figure out what format she needs it in.  And if she decides she wants to hear The Flux, well, I’ll get to that too.  A lot sooner.

I’ve learned so much in doing this.

1 Comment

  1. Andrea J
    Jan 6, 2017

    I come from a family of very fast speakers, and I’ve been to many readings were the author zips through the text as fast as they can. I don’t know if the person is nervous, or wants to get through more material than is realistic. the way you paced your reading was a breath of fresh air.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve recorded some work for radio, and yes, it’s a lot of editing and re-recording certain sentences. It’s taken us about an hour to record what will eventually become a 5-7 minute radio segment. So much editing! so much repeating words and sentences until you get them right.

    Andrea / Little Red Reviewer

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