Become a Writer Today

Turning the Written Word into an Audio Book with Al Black

June 17, 2021 Bryan Collins Season 2
Become a Writer Today
Turning the Written Word into an Audio Book with Al Black
Chapters
Become a Writer Today
Turning the Written Word into an Audio Book with Al Black
Jun 17, 2021 Season 2
Bryan Collins

People consume books differently from how they did in the past. They like to read books on their phone or tablet. And they also want to listen to books in the car, at the gym, and on the go. And this is where audiobooks come into their own.

I've recorded several audiobooks as it's a fantastic way to increase sales. I'd certainly encourage you to consider turning your books into audiobooks. 
 
In this episode, I speak with Al Black of Voquent Media. He's an expert when it comes to creating audiobooks as it's his service that helps authors find professional narrators, audio engineers, and so on to get their audiobooks ready for publication. 

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Where should a writer start when turning their book into an audiobook
  • How to pick a specific narrator
  • How much should you budget for an audiobook
  • What happens after you've chosen your narrator
  • Knowing when you're ready to publish the audiobook
  • Mic recommendations for recording your own audio

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Show Notes Transcript

People consume books differently from how they did in the past. They like to read books on their phone or tablet. And they also want to listen to books in the car, at the gym, and on the go. And this is where audiobooks come into their own.

I've recorded several audiobooks as it's a fantastic way to increase sales. I'd certainly encourage you to consider turning your books into audiobooks. 
 
In this episode, I speak with Al Black of Voquent Media. He's an expert when it comes to creating audiobooks as it's his service that helps authors find professional narrators, audio engineers, and so on to get their audiobooks ready for publication. 

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Where should a writer start when turning their book into an audiobook
  • How to pick a specific narrator
  • How much should you budget for an audiobook
  • What happens after you've chosen your narrator
  • Knowing when you're ready to publish the audiobook
  • Mic recommendations for recording your own audio

Resources:

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/becomeawritertoday)

Al: I often like to reverse that to who do you think your audience is? How old are they, you know? Where are they based? What are their interests? What’s their education level? And if you kind of come up with — a bit like what you do if you’re doing a marketing campaign, you’re trying to decide who you’re speaking to here, think of one person you’re speaking to and who would go down the best with them and that’s kind of who you want to focus on.

Introduction: Welcome to the Become a Writer Today Podcast with Bryan Collins. Here, you’ll find practical advice and interviews for all kinds of writers.

Bryan: Are you considering recording an audiobook? Hi, there. My name is Bryan Collins and welcome to the Become a Writer Today Show. At the time of recording this episode, I’m actually thinking about recording my next audiobook which is based on a parenting book that I’m finalizing at the moment. 

Over the past few years, I’ve recorded several audiobooks and it’s a fantastic way of selling more books because people these days like to consume books on their phone or on their tablet, in the car, in the gym, and on the go so if you have any books, I’d encourage you to turn it into an audiobook because you will see an increase in book sales.
 
Now, that said, turning an audiobook or creating an audiobook is a bit of work. The first audiobook that I created was one that I narrated myself, it’s The Art of Non-Fiction Writing, and it took me a couple of weeks to narrate it because I was doing it part-time alongside working a day job as a copywriter and I had to prepare the room for narration by dampening the sound in the room by putting towels on the desk, by buying a good mic, by recording test audio and sending it to an audio engineer or producer who cleaned it up for me. 

It was about 50,000 words, that book, and between all editing, narrating, re-editing, I think it took two or three months before I got the book live. Second time around, I wanted to do it a bit faster so I hired a narrator on ACX which is Audible’s service for finding narrators. Basically, I was sent demos where different narrators pitched themselves with a quote and recorded a sample chapter from the book and I was shocked by the variation in quality and standard of the different demos so it took quite some time for me to figure out which narrator to go with and then, of course, I had to pick somebody that I could afford to work with. 

Now, the advantage of doing this was that it was all managed through ACX and that the narrator created something that was compliant with the ACX platform and I was able to get it live on Audible that bit faster. The downside was working within the ACX platform was quite a bit more expensive. It cost me well over 1,000 euro to — or dollars, if you’re listening in the U.S., to record my audiobook or to commission a recording of my audiobook versus editing it myself. 

So, consider if you want to record your book yourself versus hiring somebody else. Now, if you’ve written fiction, it’s quite a job to record an audiobook yourself because you’ve got all the characters’ voices to think of, you’ve got all of their accents, and you have to differentiate how people sound so it’s more pleasing and entertaining for the listener, whereas if you’ve written nonfiction, which is what I write, it’s a lot easier because, well, you understand what the piece is about, probably doesn’t really have as many characters in it, and you can, you know, read directly from your manuscript. 

My other key tip is to make sure that you’re working with something that’s as final as possible, because when you’re reading something out loud, the last thing you want to be doing is jumping back into your manuscript and making changes. But that said, you will want to make changes because when you’re narrating, you will naturally hear something that sounds different to the way you intended it when you wrote that manuscript.

Now, with all of that said, I wanted to speak to an expert about creating an audiobook to see what mistakes I made with my last audiobook and how I can fix them the next time around. So, I recently caught up with Al Black of Voquent Media. His service helps authors find professional narrators, audio engineers, and so on get their audiobooks ready for publication. I started by asking Al about whether or not it’s a good idea to create an audiobook today and then we get into a step-by-step process of how you can take your final draft and turn it into an audiobook that you’re happy to publish. But before we get over to this week’s show, if you find it helpful or informative in any way, please consider leaving a short review on iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or even sharing the show because more reviews and more ratings will help more people find the show. And, secondly, if you really, really enjoyed it, you can become a Patreon and support the show by clicking on the link in the show notes. For just a couple of dollars a month, I’ll give you discounts on my writing books, writing courses, and writing software, depending on what tier you take out. Now, that said, let’s go over to this week’s interview with Al.

Al: Well, first of all, I’m Al Black. I’m the co-founder of voquent.com. We are an online voice-for-platform. We represent thousands of professional voice actors worldwide. We predominantly work in the business and entertainment sectors, to be honest, but after seeing a growing trend in the audiobook industry, we’ve really seen a huge surge in requirements from authors to get their books turned into audiobooks. 

I think there’s a number of reasons behind that. I mean, obviously, everybody kind of has this feeling that it’s a growing industry but the fact, I’ve looked up some statistics and from what I can gather, it’s worth about 3 billion U.S. dollars just now in America and the American Audio Publishers Association expects that to grow about 24 percent year on year until 2027. Now, a lot of writers might think, “Well, so what, you know? I prefer to write, you know, proper books.” I think the problem with that mindset is that it ignores the kind of growing trend among younger generations, particularly, to consume their content on mobile devices and I think that’s really where we’re seeing the growth in the sector is because you’ve got 25- to 35-year-old males, in particular, consuming audiobooks, using their mobile, using apps, not just the Audible app, especially around the world like BookBeat, Kobo, NextRead, Playster, Scribd, Storytel, among many others, and that’s where they’re getting their audiobook or their book fix from rather than reading it, you know? They’re listening to it when they’re going to school, on the train or on the bus, or they’re listening to it when they’re commuting to work, in their car. That’s how they’re consuming their content these days and I think it’s important that everybody creates an audiobook version of their book, if they can, to get in front of that audience because it’s a growing audience year on year, as I previously said, so I think — does that answer your question or…

Bryan: Yeah, it does. I think when we’re chatting just before the episode, I was explaining I’ve created three audiobooks over the past few years. The first one I narrated myself and the second two, I used ACX to find narrators. Probably made a few mistakes along the way. So, what would you say are the best practices for a writer who wants to turn their book into an audiobook? Like where should they start?

Al: Well, I think there’s two different approaches, depending on whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, but if you’re just going about, you know, researching how to go about doing it, I mean, and you are intent on hiring a narrator rather than doing it yourself because doing it yourself is an option, I think, that’s workable, especially if it’s a nonfictional book because — and it’s read from your perspective, especially if you’ve got some expertise about a subject area like, for example, yourself, when it comes to how to become a writer, then narrating it yourself can really go down well with listeners and help sort of enhance your overall brand, as it were, your personal brand, but that does require a bit of investment because you need to do some training. 

You’ll need to get some coaching to make sure you can actually have the vocal stamina to narrate for hours and hours on end to get the audio recorded and you’re also going to need some decent equipment, you know? You’re going to have to get a professional microphone, you know, make sure your room is actually acoustically treated and we’ve got some blogs about this on the Voquent site, if anybody wants to dig into it, but it is quite a bit of a time sucker and an investment to do that, which is why a lot of people jump onto ACX to hire a narrator instead and I think — the thing about ACX, and I think what they do is impressive, it’s really only open to residents of the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Ireland from what I’ve seen so that can limit your scope, if you’re not one of those countries, for actually using the service and, also, they try and get you to really get into the exclusivity with them so that you only distribute your audiobook on Audible, Amazon, or iTunes, which can be good if you’ve done a really amazing job of marketing yourself. 

If you haven’t, then it can also limit the scope of your audience by a huge, huge mark, especially if you’re intent on maybe speaking to a foreign or non-native English audience as well because there’s a lot of countries, such as the Netherlands, where Audible don’t really even have a presence. They listen to their audiobooks via other platforms. And a lot of these countries are happy to listen to audiobooks in English, you know? You don’t have to necessarily translate them but, yeah, as you know yourself, Bryan, you know, Audible, if you go the exclusive route, basically, they’ll pay you, was it 40 percent, I think, that you’ll get from returns on their sales. If you go the non-exclusive route, you’re looking at getting 25 percent on sales.

Bryan: Yeah, and also they’ve been in the news or they were in the news before Christmas for a dispute over royalties, how much they were going to pay to authors whose books were refunded as part of their Great Listens Guarantee and as also as part of a trial that they were offering to new subscribers. 

So, when I was using ACX, now, I did the two options. I did the exclusive option for one book and then for another book, I got a narrator elsewhere and then he edited the files and uploaded them to Audible so I tried both options. So, if I have a book ready for an audiobook, should it be a final manuscript? 

Because one thing I found while narrating my book is I wanted to change part of the book while narrating it and also when I gave the manuscript to somebody else to narrate, there was a couple of times where he asked for clarifications on paragraphs in the book and I didn’t realize what the issue was and my editor actually missed it as well until the narrator came across it. So, what would you say to somebody who’s facing either of those two issues?

Al: Yeah, it’s very difficult because, obviously, you’ve just written a book and you want to get it turned to an audiobook as quickly as possible and put on to the Audible and Amazon stores, etc. The problem with sort of editing it or creating a separate kind of edited version of an audiobook version is that you can’t then have it Whispersync’d or Immersion Reading kind of synced with the written or Kindle version of the book which is one of the benefits of having it on the Audible platform is you get that Whispersync so you can switch between reading it on your Kindle to listening to it in your car on Audible. With Immersion Reading on a Fire HD device, it will highlight the words as they’re read. 

So, that’s one thing you can miss if don’t just record the narration as it is word for word in the book so having a final manuscript with that regard would be the best bet, obviously. But, as you probably realized when you were doing your books, what’s written on a page doesn’t necessarily sound great when it’s read and sometimes you discover little issues with the written word that you’ve already published that you want to fix for the audiobook version. In those cases, yeah, I think it’s definitely — I currently listen to every single audiobook project, there’s always a back and forth with the author and the narrator to just highlight and flag these things as you go through it because it’s impossible to sort of have everything completely finished at the start. You’re always going to have little niggles here and there as you go through.

Bryan: That’s good to know. So it wasn’t just me and I was thinking of a book by Gary Vaynerchuk when you were describing Whispersync because he goes on a monologue for some of the book — or the audiobook and I’m pretty sure it’s not on the book —

Al: Oh, really?

Bryan: — because I think he was speaking off the cuff, so I don’t think he’s got Whispersync for that book. Okay, so just to go back then to your tip then, so it’s good to know that I’m not the only person who made those mistakes. So, I’m getting ready to work with a narrator and I’m ready to look for a narrator on your service or elsewhere, what should be my criteria or how do I go about finding an ideal narrator?


Al: Well, I think there’s a couple of things to do just before that that I was going to touch on. One of the things that I find that a lot of authors miss out on, especially with fictional books, is having character descriptions so if you’ve got a fictional book with lots of characters, like a fantasy or, you know, young adult book with lots of characters on it, you know, just preparing a document with a list of the characters’ names and, you know, what their ages, what their gender is, what their likes and dislikes are, can be massively helpful to the narrator as a reference because what an expert narrator will do is when they’re doing a pass on the book, as soon as they discover a new character, they’ll build and create the voice and then record it and kind of keep a note of that, a record of that voice so that they can refer back to it later because it could be chapters or thousands of words before that character comes into play again and they’ll often forget how they sound so they have to make a record of it as they go to make sure it’s consistent and that’s what you’ll find with all the big sort of fantasy or, you know, fictional books is they’ll have sometimes 150 plus characters in the book that all need slightly unique variations in the voice and just having those character descriptions up front is a big help. 

But when it comes to then contacting narrators and, you know, how to reach out to narrators, a lot of it’s going to come down to how you’re going to market your book as well. I mean, if you’re very much just going to be publishing it on Amazon, iTunes, Audible, then going the ACX route kind of makes sense to a degree because it’s all there, you know? They kind of — they’ll all be recording to those standards and feed it straight into the system, but they don’t say no if you’ve got the audio already so if you go out and find your own voice on either a freelance platform or a platform like Voquent where we actually manage the production, then there’s nothing wrong with that. 

They’re still going to accept the audio. In fact, in many cases, I would say narrators themselves are not engineers, you know? Most of them have to go on some kind of course to learn how to edit the audio and that’s not going to compare it to somebody, like one of our producers who’s done, you know, four or five years at university on music tech and, you know, knows inside out how to edit an audio file. But, you know, these days, it is definitely a lot easier, you know, and narrators have got a lot of tools that they can use to just record that narration and strip out very quickly any sibilance, background noises, pops, and clicks and that’s kind of half the battle, really, and that’s what takes up a lot of the time. But, yeah, I think — I’m sorry, you wanted to ask something?

Bryan: No, just when you said pops and clicks, that was an issue when I was listening to proofs of one of the audiobooks and we had to go back and get some of those taken out. So, when I’m listening to a narrator record a sample for the audiobook, how do I pick a specific narrator? What are any criteria that I should use?

Al: Yeah, I mean, that’s a really open question. I think it really depends on — I often like to reverse that to who do you think your audience is? How old are they, you know? Where are they based? What are their interests? What’s their education level? And if you kind of come up with — a bit like what you do if you’re doing a marketing campaign, you’re trying to decide who you’re speaking to here, think of one person you’re speaking to and who would go down the best with them and that’s kind of who you want to focus on. 

So, you know, for example, for a business-to-business kind of nonfictional book, you’re probably going to want to choose somebody who sounds fairly authoritative, mature, that’s going to go down with potentially a business audience that is not, you know, expecting somebody to sound super hyped. Every time they read a section of the text, they just want somebody who sounds like they know what they’re talking about. 

Whereas for a fictional book, you’re going to want to go after somebody who clearly can demonstrate versatility, can act, because voiceover is acting, it’s a performance, and even just doing a straight narration is a form of acting. The really good narrators out there will quickly build themselves up to earning quite significant amounts of money for doing audiobooks which is why you still get celebrities like Stephen Fry narrating books because people buy them and his voice is so well regarded and so well known that people can’t wait for his next book to come out. 

Bryan: So a lot of indie authors wouldn’t have the budget for a Stephen Fry, how much should they budget for their audiobook?

Al: Yeah, that’s a really good question and I think it comes down to obviously your own personal, you know, circumstances but I think you’ve got to, first of all, just to qualify that question, you’ve got to think about how much work is required to record an audiobook and to edit it because all people think about — I’ve got similar — “My book is, I don’t know, 20,000, 30,000 words, quite a short book,” you know, that’s going to equate to anything like three to five hours of audio content potentially, depending on how quickly they read, and to create that much content, you know, to record an hour’s worth of content with one professional narrator, which is maybe about 7,500 to 10,000 words, is going to take, you know, a really experienced narrator probably three hours of recording time plus another hour or two of editing and a not-so-experienced narrator is probably going to take an entire day to record that and probably even another day to do the editing because what you’ll find is that the more experienced the narrator, the quicker they can get the narration recorded without mistakes so they make less mistakes and, therefore, there’s a lot less editing to do once they’ve done the recording work. 

So, just to qualify, the reason that — I think a lot people think, “Okay, I’ve got 60 minutes of content, it’s going to take 60 minutes to record.” It doesn’t. It usually takes about three times the length to just get the recording done and about the same time again to edit it on top of that so 60 minutes of content is really about six hours of work for a professional to do.

Bryan: Yeah, that’s quite a —

Al: Or possibly more so then this is where you get the whole — the rates on ACX and other platforms, they often pay the narrators on a per-finished-hour basis so per finished hour of content and that is a little bit unfair to the narrators to some extent because that doesn’t really take into account what’s involved in the performance because performing lots of characters for a fantasy book, for example, is a lot more work than just to read out, you know, a nonfictional text. 

Yeah, the per-finished-hour rate doesn’t necessarily reflect that and, obviously, all the preparation and editing time that they have to do but, you know, a less-experienced narrator would probably earn anything between $50 to $200 per finished hour and I’ve seen $50 rates but that’s really low. I mean, that’s like asking somebody to work for less than minimum wage here in the U.K., generally, so you kind of get what you pay for. If you’re paying that lower rate, you’re not going to get somebody who’s very experienced. 

The middle level or mid to high-level kind of experience of narrators will generally charge about $300 to $400 per finished hour and beyond, you know? The more experience they get, the more they can charge, especially if they’re in high demand. But even at $400 per finished hour is still not that high a rate when you think about how many hours you have to spend actually recording and editing that because that finished — you know, divide that sum by six, you’re kind of getting how many hours, the hourly rate that they’re getting paid and that’s not really taking into account any royalties that they probably won’t get either because, in most cases, they don’t get royalties for doing the narrations. 

Bryan: Yeah. That’s a good point for the writer as well, like you’re getting a finished asset that you will have and be able to sell hopefully for years to come.

Al: Yeah, well, that’s it, yeah, it becomes a digital asset that you’ve now got and you can earn from it for the lifetime of that asset and I think a lot of writers, if they can build up their own marketing and their own kind of audience using their, you know, their own website and their own sort of blogs as well, then that’s a really good way for them to then publish their audiobooks and sell them so they don’t necessarily have to do it through these other platforms. I’ve seen authors actually use Audible or Amazon to maybe publish a book or like sort of introduction book almost and then they’ll have — that’ll be somewhere that you can then learn more about them and then go to their website and then you can buy their courses and such like and that’s how you really kind of generate — you’re using it as a lead generation tool rather than, you know, place to make your general income from selling the books, if you like.

Bryan: Yeah, that works quite well for nonfiction. So, I’ve picked my narrator and now I’m going to work with this person, we’ve agreed on a contract. Is the next step to send him a PDF of my book?

Al: Yeah. I mean, definitely. Once you’ve got the kind of per-finished-hour rate agreed and, you know, you’ve agreed to a timescale because obviously that’s important, how frequently are they going to deliver new chapters because it’s usually best for the narrator to record it chapter by chapter and send it to you as they go. 

Unless, of course, you want them to save it all to near the end or they do half but I think that can end up taking longer because if you notice something wrong, you know, right at the start, then you want to jump on it straight away to make sure they don’t make the same mistake repeatedly, especially if it’s, you know, they’ve mispronounced how some of these names should be said or something like that. 

So, once you’ve given them the PDF and, if it’s a fictional book, you’ve given them character descriptions, you want them to probably record a chapter and send it to you so you can approve it. But, obviously, with ACX, if you use the ACX or you’ve used another service like here at Voquent, we’ll happily organize auditions for you so if you’ve got, you know, your book and you want to send it to us, we’ll get suitable narrators and get them to read, you know, a chapter from the book or, if it’s a long chapter, a couple of pages, at least, so you can hear their voice before you ask them to go ahead. 

It’s always much better to hear them read your text than it is just to hear, you know, a generic kind of demo, I would say, for an audiobook. But once you’re happy with that, obviously, it’s just a case of them getting on with recording it and sending it to you chapter by chapter. And the other thing, another important thing is to make sure that you get somebody to check the audio because although the narrators will do their best to meet the standards that are, you know, required of platforms like ACX and Amazon, I would still hire an engineer just to clean it up further because they’ll spot things that the narrator themselves wouldn’t spot. And whether you do that through a service like Voquent or you go and hire your own freelance engineer, I would highly recommend that you do that just to make sure that audio is top-notch because if the audio is subpar, I’ve listened to lots of audiobooks where the audio is not that great, it really does put you off listening to any more stuff from that author. 

It just makes you think, you know, they’re not that professional, you know? It’s a subconscious kind of feeling that you get so it’s really important, especially when you’re investing all that time and effort and money into making it, you know, get the audio as top notch as you can.

Bryan: When I was recording or working on my last audiobook, I mentioned some Irish names in the book and the narrator mispronounced them so I recorded the correct pronunciation and sent it over to him. Are there any other steps or best practices that an author can use to give feedback to the narrator about their audiobook?

Al: Well, that is a brilliant one because we get this all the time in voiceover. We’re often sent scripts and it’s not always clear how things should be pronounced, especially if it’s an unusual, you know — or unfamiliar, I should say, not necessarily unusual but unfamiliar to the narrator because the narrators are not necessarily going to be savvy with your industry or with the genre of book that they’re reading. 

So, as much, you know, preparation material that you can provide them with, the better, you know? If you’ve got even just a reference link to the web somewhere if it’s to do with a specific type of business or world or whatever it is that you can provide, then that’s really helpful, but what you did, recording, you know, the actual names and how they should be pronounced, is really, really helpful. I did a Scottish romance, I produced a Scottish romance book about a year or two ago, kind of in the theme of Outlander, kind of styled romantic Scottish novel and there was a lot of names in that as well that the narrator wasn’t sure about and they were Scottish. 

Bryan: I can imagine.

Al: But, yeah, so this is going to come up and the biggest thing is not to be, you know, not to be too critical of the narrator just because they didn’t know it. You got to treat them like, you know, they don’t know anything. If you treat them like they don’t know anything and you give them as much of the material as possible, then you’re good. 

Bryan: Yeah. It was interesting you mentioned an audio engineer. I didn’t actually consider that the last time I did one so maybe I’ll bear that in mind next time. Are there any other issues that I should look out for when I get sample chapters back from the narrator?

Al: I think the consistency is the biggest one, making sure that the audio doesn’t jump up and down too much in volume and, I mean, that shouldn’t be the case anyway with, you know, the compression. If they put a little bit of compression on the audio when they’re doing the recording, there should be very little problems, that will kind of even the whole tone out, but, you know, sometimes, especially if they’re getting into character, the narrator may lean back in their chair and the chair goes creak, you know, or they go to speak in a slightly different tone of voice like they’re whispering and maybe their mic technique isn’t great because they’re quite new to the industry and they don’t lean forward to the microphone and speak like this rather than some, you know, some people just don’t — they don’t have enough experience to realize that they need to do that to keep the tone even and, yeah, sort of things like that you can easily spot but, obviously, if somebody has recorded a full chapter and you’re going back to them and saying, “Don’t make any of this,” there’s a problem, you know?
 
And, you know, maybe they’re not the right person to do it at all and sometimes, you know, I would say it’s better just to cut your losses and pay them for the work they’ve done and just find somebody else, if that ever happens. 

Bryan: Yeah. I guess that’s why the screening process is so important to listen to their sample narration

Al: Yeah. I mean, and in Voquent, we try and make that really easy because a lot of the voiceover platforms, you get showreels so you’ll hear like a showreel with a bunch of different, you know, demos on there, maybe they’re reading a commercial or a video game character or comedy kind of read back to back. At Voquent, we don’t do showreels. We have every audio — sort of every audio file we represent is in one distinct style tone and that means that if you’re looking for a narration style on Voquent, they’re all going to be generally in the audiobook realm and we’ve even gone as far as — it’s not live in the site yet but it will be in a few months, you’ll be able to filter by genre of audiobooks so if you’re looking for somebody who specializes in, you know, romance or young adult fiction or horror, then it’s going to make it easier to find expert voices that do that kind of stuff. 

So, yeah, you have plenty of opportunity to listen to their demos, listen to as many demos as you can because you get a really good feel for what their capability is by doing that. And then I would say you want to shortlist a handful of people. Five or six voices as a shortlist is a good group, good amount. Getting more than that, it will become very difficult for you to start deciding between them. If you go and get auditions from, you know, 30 different voices, some of them are going to sound very much the same and it’s going to be kind of difficult for you to tell which ones you like the best and I would say you’re better just focusing on getting six quality auditions rather than, you know, 30, 40, 50. I’ve seen some sites where people are getting 100 plus auditions for their audiobook project. I mean, how do you decide? How do you get the time to listen to all that? 

Bryan: Yeah, that’s going to be overwhelming, too many choices.

Al: Exactly, so I think just getting some good auditions and then, you know, once you’ve find somebody you really like, the next step I would say is to agree on kind of what the timeline would be and check what equipment they’ve got as well, you know? Actually check, ask them, you know, what’s their microphone, what’s their preamp, what recording software do they use, because if you find somebody that’s using a USB microphone, which is fine for podcasting, then I wouldn’t be that happy because, for audiobooks, it’s not great, you know? You’re going to want to use ideally a condenser microphone, which is a lot more sensitive, picks up a lot more subtleties in the voice, and they’re going to need a properly acoustic environment for that, you know, and most voices that are working at home have got a dedicated room to do the recordings or they’ve got like a cupboard or something that they’ve kitted out. So, ask them what other material they’ve voiced, you know? 

What other audiobooks have they narrated? If somebody has narrated dozens of other audiobooks, you know, you’re probably going to be fine because they’ve got some experience but if you’re going after somebody who’s very much a beginner to do it, then you’ve got to give them, you know, a lot more support and kind of — you’re probably going to have to put up with less good quality audio and you’re going to need a bit more time, I would say, polishing that up from an audio engineering perspective, making sure you’re with somebody you can go to to get some advice on that. 

Bryan: So, to go back then to the delivery, the narrator has sent over the corrections and is that the final step? Am I now ready to publish?

Al: Well, that’s a really good point. I mean, that’s kind of where my job generally ends. You know, once we’ve sent over the audio to the author, it’s kind of then up to them to decide what they’re going to do with it. Once they have accepted it and if they’re happy with it, obviously, they did a final listen, they’re happy, generally that’s when the final payment is made to the narrator and our kind of involvement on the job is finished. But, you know, so I don’t really know much beyond, you know, how to go about marketing that or what to do with that. I’ve got lots of ideas myself because that’s generally what I do for Voquent but because I haven’t done it myself, I wouldn’t be able to advise like what the next steps are to actually getting that on to Audible, but I know they’ve got like an approval process where you submit your audio and you kind of have to wait for them to check it and put it on the platform, don’t you?

Bryan: Yeah, the last time I use it, it took a couple of weeks for that process to happen but, yeah, for me, that was the next step. I was just curious was there anything perhaps I’d miss —

Al: No, I think you’re spot on with what you did. I think the only thing you’d probably benefit from doing it again is maybe — I don’t know, taking some more time to listen to it and choose the right narrators and get some more engineering on the audio at the end because a couple of engineers that work for us here at Voquent are just like — I mean, I trained as an engineer myself but, you know, I’ve not done any engineering work for like 20 years. I’m very much in the business and the marketing side of things now so when I, you know, send stuff to them and they listen to it, they just say, “Oh, you should have done this and you should have done that,” and they, you know, they make it sound so much better, basically. So it is worth paying for an engineer to look at it. And also one thing that a lot of authors don’t consider is music and sound effects. Having some music, library music or some sound effects, can make a difference, as long as you can get the license to publish it in your book. 

Obviously, you have to make sure the license covers that but, in most cases, the music libraries, you can use the music for anything and having a little bit of music sometimes at the start or at the end of chapters can be a really nice way to enhance the mood or just get people engaged again, you know? 

Bryan: Yeah, that’s a good point. Nice, polished. One last question so I’m probably going to narrate my next book myself. I have a USB mic, but I was to get — I have a Blue Yeti, which is quite popular. What if I was to get a condenser mic, any recommendations?

Al: Yeah, I mean, the Blue Yeti is probably the best USB mic that I’ve come across and it definitely — it would probably [inaudible] audiobook narration but I think if you really want to get that sense of depth in your voice, you’re going to want to go for a condenser mic and the Focusrite Scarlett Solo is a really good place to start. It’s not expensive, I think it’s like 200 pounds or something like that, or sort of $200, $300, so it’s not as expensive, it’s very much a starter kind of condenser microphone, but it comes usually — the pack comes with headphones and it comes with the preamp as well so you just plug your mic in and plug it directly into your computer via USB and you’re good to go and you can use it straight away.

The only thing you’re going to — the other thing you’re going to need to do is make sure your room’s treated which is the thing that most people miss because the thing with a condenser microphone, it’s so sensitive, is it will pick up absolutely everything and to reduce the reflections that come back to the microphone which creates this horrible kind of echo sound, you’re going to want to make sure you’ve surrounded your recording environment with, you know, it could be duvets, pillows, towels.

One common thing that people miss is treating the ceiling, making sure the ceiling has got something on it as well because that causes a lot of reflections. But, yeah, just surrounding yourself with a duvet fort, as they like to call it, is a good place to start if you don’t have the funds to sort of buy acoustic tiles and make it look all very professional. That isn’t actually needed because it’s just a case of making it as non-reflective as possible when it comes to the sound and that’s really just taking away all the hard surfaces that there is in the room.

Bryan: Okay, good tips. Al, where can people find more information about you or your services?

Al: Well, they can go to voquent.com and they can instantly browse voice actor demos. We don’t close the site off so you can just go on there and start browsing demos of voices and shortlist voices you like and if you have got an audiobook project, you can just make an inquiry through the platform and we will — one of our producers will be in touch with you to sort everything out. 

We generally — the way we work is we’ll set up a direct relationship between you and the narrator once the casting process is out of the way and we take 20 per cent of the narrator’s fee. It’s very transparent. So, whatever you’ve agreed to pay the narrator, we’ll take 20 percent of it and if you want any additional services for, you know, proofreading — sorry, checking the audio and editing the audio, we can quote for that at the same time if it’s something you want to consider. But, yeah, that’s pretty much it. And people can connect with me on LinkedIn as well if they want. I’m on LinkedIn, the name’s Al Black.

Bryan: Okay, and that’s V-O-Q-U-E-N-T for anybody who’s listening, but thanks for your time, Al.

Al: Thank you very much, Bryan. Been a pleasure.

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