Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Making of an Audiobook: Behind the Scenes with Narrator Maryann Carlson

By Patricia Beal | @bealpat

Hi! I’m thrilled to introduce you to Maryann Carlson, the narrator of my debut novel, A Season to Dance. She did an amazing job and is here today to share her experience with us. Welcome, Maryann 😊

If you’re a fan of audiobooks or an author thinking about turning a book into an audiobook, you may wonder what happens behind the scenes. Or maybe you’re a reader considering buying an audiobook for the very first time. In that case, knowing how it’s created could help you to decide.

Whatever brings you to this post, I hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at how the magic happens from a narrator’s perspective.

Here’s how A Season to Dance became an audiobook.

Producing A Season to Dance was an adventure that Patricia and I took together with the goal of taking the listener on a wonderful journey. Recording an audiobook involves specialized skills. There’s a lot more to it than simply reading the book.

Book prep.

Before I started recording, I needed to prep the book. What does that mean? I sat in a comfy chair with my notebook beside me and read the whole book.

As I read, I created a character list and wrote down my observations of Ana, Claus, Peter, Jakob, Brian, Lorie, and all the wonderful characters. Things like:

What makes each character tick?
What are their needs and struggles?
How do they fit into the plot?
What’s their reason for being?
What’s going on for them in each scene and what is the relationship between each of them?

I also made a list of all the pronunciations that I needed to look up:

Hessisches Staatstheater
Les Sylphides
Ich liebe dich
And ballet terms like bourrée, pas de deux, and the ever so challenging “Pa, papa, papa, papa, parararapa…” and “Ta, dada dada dada dada dada dada dada, pa.” (That’s a story within itself!)

Then I made audio files for each character to reference how I was going to voice them.

Ready to enter the booth and take the listener to Ana’s world.

The booth is the recording studio. My studio is a small, enclosed, and sound-treated room with a professional microphone, a monitor screen to read the manuscript, plenty of water, and a nearby Chapstick.

Outside of the booth is a mixer and a computer with my favorite DAW installed (that's the audio editing software).

How does my recording day start?

First, I drink four glasses of water. Throughout the recording day I drink twelve to fourteen glasses of water. Why?

The microphone picks up all sorts of noises that our mouths naturally make, especially when the mouth is dry. Those noises need to be edited from the recording so it's best to minimize them on the front end.

Then I need to do a physical warm up. There are specific stretches that help support the vocal cords, so my voice will have the richness and flexibility it needs for the performance of all the different characters. Especially when Ana and Claus get into a heated exchange! Then I do vocal exercises and some cardio. Now I’m ready to join Ana on her many adventures. What an amazing world that is.

So I step into my private booth. It's just me, the book, and the microphone. In the intimacy of the booth, I get to become each one of the characters. What they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, and how they’re reacting to each other within the context of the rich and wonderful plot. I danced in Romeo and Juliet. I traveled to Prague, to Germany, and to Atlanta, Georgia. I walked through Callaway Gardens and saw the world through Ana's eyes, Claus's eyes, and Peter’s eyes. I was a mom, a dad, a stranger that Ana meets along the way, and much more.

The same way that Patricia wrote A Season to Dance to serve her readers, I performed each of these characters and told their stories with the listener in mind.

One hour of finished audio usually takes about two hours to record because I may need to do pick-ups along the way, which are retakes for things like a mispronounced word.

Then I leave the studio and the privacy of Ana's world, and it's time to edit the audio.

So how long does it take and what happens after I record the audio?

Editing takes the most time in the creation of an audiobook. It can take several hours to edit one hour of finished audio. And if I find additional mistakes, I need to record additional retakes.

When I record the original audio, I make note of the time of day it was recorded. Why? The sound of our voice changes throughout the day. When I do any needed retakes, I aim to record around the same time of the day for accuracy and consistency.

In addition to retakes, the audio file is edited for timing, pacing, and those pesky mouth noises.

Then the audio needs to be mastered. I won't bore you with the technical details of all that 😊

The entire process can take from two to four months, depending on the length and complexity of the book and the number of projects a narrator is working on at any given time.

When the audiobook is completed, a retail sample is created, it goes out for final approval and then it's ready for distribution.

Be sure to check out the sample audio of A Season to Dance.

I took this adventure into Ana's world with Patricia every step of the way. We had a wonderful working relationship that made the book a joy to narrate and produce. I hope that joy translates to the listeners’ experience of the audiobook.

As an author, you may be asking yourself:

“My book has been out for several years. Isn’t it too late to turn it into an audiobook?”

It’s never too late to create an audiobook. Ultimately the book is written to serve the reader. You want to give your reader the option that suits them best. Some people want paperbacks or hardcovers. Some people prefer Kindle. Others want audiobooks.

It also gives you another opportunity to re-launch your book and introduce it to new readers/listeners. So go ahead and create your audiobook!

If you would like more information on creating your audiobook, you can contact me through my website


Patricia here :) I hope you enjoyed the post. Isn’t Maryann awesome? We enjoyed our process and the audiobook so much that we decided we have to go to the Met together one day to watch the American Ballet Theatre. 

About Patricia 

Patricia Beal has danced ballet her whole life. She is from Brazil and fell in love with the English language while washing dishes at a McDonald's in Indianapolis. She put herself through college working at a BP gas station and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati with a B.A. in English Literature. She then worked as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army for seven years. 

She now writes contemporary fiction and is represented by Bob Hostetler of The Steve Laube Agency. Her debut novel, A Season to Dance, came out in May of 2017 (Bling! / Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). A Portuguese translation will be out in her native Brazil in August of 2018 (Editora Pandorga). Patricia is a 2015 Genesis semi-finalist and First Impressions finalist. She and her husband live in North Carolina with their two children. 

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  1. Thank you for being here with us today, Maryann! I'm incredibly thankful for your patience and talent :)

  2. How interesting to hear all that’s involved for an audiobook narrator to get things just right! Thanks Maryann for sharing your expertise, and Patricia for a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes.

    1. Hi Carolyn! Glad you enjoyed the post. See you in Nashville :)

  3. Fabulous post, Patricia. I've always wondered about the detail in creating an audiobook. A friend of mine did her own audiobook (non-fiction) and she said it was torturous and she knew the content really well as she was the author.

    Lovely hearing first hand from Maryann the process. I hope you both get to achieve that bucket list item.

    1. Thanks, Ian! James Rubart narrates his own novels too. He must enjoy the process because he continues to do it and becomes better with every book. Glad you enjoyed the post :)

  4. Fascinating. Makes me very nervous about attempting doing my own.

    1. Hats off to all who try. I couldn't... :o

  5. Very informative. Thank you. My husband I love to listen to audiobooks when we travel. Congratulations, Patricia!

    1. Thank you, Donna. I'm a huge fan of audiobooks too. I really appreciate the people who labor to make them just right :)