Nerves & Narrating My First Audiobook!
I can't tell you how nervous I was about narrating my latest YA book, Carpool to Christmas. Luckily, there was a time crunch
to get it done before the holidays or else I may never have tried. It was either me doing it or no one. I was excited about doing the voices and being all the characters, but learning the audio tech and making the whole thing sound okay seemed like a very difficult task that I wasn't sure I could do justice to. But I think I somehow made it happen, and the narrating and sound editing was incredibly rewarding. It satisfied the itch of being a storyteller surprisingly more than putting the words on the page. It felt as if the characters came alive, just like I'd dreamed of when I first came to Hollywood to be a storyteller by making movies. That dream started when I was working in London at a record company and fell in love with movies, specifically Milos Forman's The Firemen's Ball and Loves of a Blonde. They were doing a retrospective, and the stories were so charming and funny.
Finally, some screenplays and novels later, I got the chance to experience putting a voice to my stories. And I had one month to do it. So, if you're wondering if you're ready to give audiobook narrating a go, let me tell you what I did to accomplish the seemingly insurmountable task of narrating my first audiobook in one month.
I asked questions and watched video tutorials
First, I ran in a panic to my mom-friend Toni Eyeler. Her son, Dogen Eyeler, is a voice actor, and she does his sound editing and production and told me what to do to get started. She told me to get the right microphone, a YETI , and get a box to put around the mic to buffer sound. She told me to use really good headphones, which I didn't listen to until I was a few chapters in. I should have
listened. Good headphones help you hear background sounds and lip smacks that you want to edit out. Toni also told me to download Audacity , which is free, open source, cross platform audio software.
Next, I watched the tutorial videos on ACX to get a basic overview. ACX is an audiobook platform owned by Amazon. Once your audiobook is completed, uploaded and approved for sound quality, ACX distributes your audiobook on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. They take a cut and pay you your royalties. ACX also is a place where you can hire a narrator/producer if you don't want to narrate your book yourself. I learned about ACX's tech specs, which they require to ensure good audio quality for their listeners. This includes things like how loud and how quiet the recording is and how much quiet space to put at the beginning and end of each chapter, among other details. This is where I panicked again because I had no idea how to control noise levels!
So, I got a few more tips from my friend Toni and watched tutorials on YouTube. I ended up learning most of my new skills from Josh Meyer on his channel called VoiceOverMaster, particularly his ULTIMATE GUIDE for narrators and podcasters using Audacity to pass ACX submission requirements. He gives you free EQs to download and an ACX check tool. I used these on each recording. I also used the "Punch and Roll" trick Toni told me about when I made a mistake and wanted to rerecord a word or section. I also used the "Punch Copy Paste" trick to paste room tone over any background noises or clicks from my laptop. You can find YouTube tutorials on both of these helpful tricks.
I dove in and began recording
Once I learned the basics, I began by recording the opening credits. I set up the microphone in the sound proof box and plugged it into my laptop, all facing my open closet so that the clothes would help absorb sound. I also put blankets over the closet doors and walls. After I did the recording, I treated the sound with all the tricks I'd learned in the video tutorials. I checked my opening credits recording in Audacity with the ACX check tool that I got from Josh Meyer to make sure it was ready. It passed.
Next, I created a new project in ACX for Carpool to Christmas. To do this, I had to show that Carpool to Christmas was a real book that I owned the rights to. My eBook and paperback were not yet published, so I created a pre-order page for my eBook on KDP/Amazon. This allowed me to start my ACX project and begin uploading audiobook chapters. I uploaded the opening credits, and they passed the actual ACX sound quality check.
That's when I knew I was really ready to go. So, I recorded five chapters a day for a week until I was done.
I got very neurotic about sound editing
I used to work as an assistant editor on feature films so I had a little bit of experience with sound editing. One job I had was assisting a sound editor on foreign dialogue edits. We'd take the foreign voice actor's recording in, say, Italian, and cut it to match the moving lips of the English-speaking actor. The editor I worked for was burned out and I was super eager, so he let me do the editing all by myself. What a fun experience! In Italian and French, the words and sentences were often longer than in English. I learned to shorten words by cutting out the middle of consonants and shorten sentences by deleting space between words. All of this was useful for editing my audiobook narration, but once I began, I went a little nuts cutting out the lip smacks and any breaths and clicks. I spent hours and hours on the editing. With one chapter, I made the background too quiet and it wouldn't pass ACX after I'd spent ten hours editing. I panicked and then Josh Meyer came to the rescue with his tutorial on raising the "noise floor" with an EQ. It was brilliant! It fixed the issue in minutes. I was grateful.
After finishing and uploading a few chapters, I had two friends listen. They both were surprised at how good it turned out. They were probably relieved that they didn't have to tell me it sounded awful. I was relieved too because it was so much fun and I wanted to keep going. Next, I recruited my friend Toni to listen to the whole book before I submitted it to quality control at ACX. That was incredibly helpful and made me feel good about the end product before releasing it.
I finished and submitted the book mid-December. I wish I could've finished earlier so it would've been out before Christmas, but I slowed myself down with being a perfectionist with the editing. The audiobook was up by the end of December. I missed the Christmas deadline and was bummed. But it'll be ready to go for the next holiday season. Now, I'm doing the tough part for me: marketing. Ugh! This means getting people to listen and read and rate and review so that next Christmas when I advertise, there will be plenty of stars next to the title. So, if you're an audiobook listener and want a sweet, light, funny pick-me-up, Carpool to Christmas may do the trick!
The book made #1 New Release in Teen & Young Adult Clean & Wholesome Romance, which was quite exciting, and it has a few great audiobook reviews. Hopefully, listeners and readers will spread the word!
My main takeaway: I love audiobook narrating and can't wait to do more! Next up is my previous YA book, also a romcom, Saoirse Berger's Bookish Lens In La La Land. I also have a thriller that I plan on releasing soon, Whatever Happened to Emmeline? It has a completely different voice so we'll see how that narration goes. And then, I'll be writing the next teen romcom in the carpool series, with my sights on writing something fun to narrate! Yes, it's excellent writer motivation.
But my main dream for this year is to get at least one of my screenplays into production, starting with two comedies, a high school romcom called Boyfriend In A Body Cast and a baseball romcom road trip movie called Bury Me At Yankee Stadium. I'll keep you posted!