Narrating an Audiobook
For four days in August, I had the great pleasure of narrating the audio edition of my memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. The experience was intense, intimate, exciting, and emotional. I’m so happy that Blackstone Publishing secured the rights to the audio book from my publisher Forest Avenue Press and Blackstone selected ME to narrate.
I learned a few things and had a few moments I’d like to share:
Since this was my own book, I didn’t have to practice or prepare too much for the recording. I knew the story and intention behind it. But if it hadn’t been my work I would have had to put an enormous amount of time into learning the material, considering the intention of the author, working on voices of characters. For this I am in AWE of the professional voice artists.
The relationship with the sound engineer is critical. For those four days I sat in the sealed recording room and Ben, my engineer sat at his sound board at through the heavy glass window. I could barely see the top of his head over the computer monitor in front of him. We spoke through the microphone and headphones. He was kind. He was patient. I made mistakes and we stopped and started in the “punch and roll” format he taught me (and I picked up surprisingly fast according to him). I apologized often, “sorry,” when I made a mistake. And Ben apologized often, “sorry,” when he had to stop me for a mistake I made.
Reading your own work out loud over the course of a few days (with no more editing to be done) will surprise you. I fell in love with my book in a new way, sitting there and hearing it in my own voice through the headphones. I was worried I might cringe or regret what I had written and agreed to go public with. But I didn’t. I was happy with the years of work I’ve put into this book. I laughed at the funny parts. I cried at the sad parts, hard enough that I had to stop and start again. After I made it through these chapters, Ben said, “Let’s take a break.” I appreciated his gentle response right then.
The practical things:
Be prepared, arrive on time. Be kind, be warm, be professional. Help each person at the studio do their job well and this will help you be successful.
Coming in the door well-hydrated (like the day and night before well-hydrated) keeps the mouth noises down. It’s a fine line during the recording process between drinking too much (and your mouth becomes too juicy) and not enough and it becomes clicky and the words don’t flow. Eating a few slices of a green apples is another trick I learned.
My stomach is LOUD. I already knew that, whether i’ve eaten or not, no matter what I’ve eaten. But do think about what you eat, nothing that requires your stomach to WORK HARD, because the microphone picks up stomach noises as much as mouth noises, and they are more difficult to edit out. There was a large pillow in the studio just for this. I held it over my stomach for most of the recording and I found it a comfort and a place to rest my hands and this kept my shoulders from tiring.
Be prepared to sit still for long periods. Bring a yoga mat for stretching on your breaks. Make sure the chair is comfortable and adjusted to suit you.
Wear comfortable, non-binding, quiet clothing. The microphone picks up every little thing and some kinds of clothes are loud and scratchy. I also found it helpful to wear something I felt good in. Also, no jangly jewelry.
Bring one of those little rubber finger tip things that will help you turn the pages.
Bring a pencil and take some notes on each break because this is a chance to mark out passages you found great energy in reading. You can use these notes as you plan and structure your reading events.
Arrange the rest of your life to be supportive of this intense work. I had great energy each day in the studio, but when I left, I collapsed. I was fortunate to have scheduled the recording during a time when I was also at a writing retreat. This was a new kind of “retreat.” But the women I was in community with were wildly supportive and I was lucky to be with them. And it was important to rest my voice.
Learn the voice warm up techniques (“red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather). Open your mouth wide occasionally. Yawn. Take care of your voice with Throat Coat tea, and lemon and honey. Eat lightly and healthfully during these days.
If you get the chance to be the narrator for your own book, have fun! For me, I will count this as one of the peak moment in the publishing process.