The Splintered Universe is science fiction, published by Iambik Audio, and consists of three separate audiobooks.
In the third book of the Splintered Universe series, entitled Metaverse, Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack – only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.
Here’s an audio excerpt from Metaverse:
And just for fun, here’s a selection of proverbs that Rhea Hawke, the main character in the series, is known for using when confronting a challenging adversary or situation. Proverbs that we all can learn from:
“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” Chinese proverb
“Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.” Zen proverb
“The acts of this life are the destiny of the next.” Eastern proverb
“Never cut what can be untied.” Portugese proverb
“A little help is better than a lot of pity.” Celtic proverb
“What a fool does in the end, the wise man does in the beginning. “Italian proverb
“Be careful what you wish for; you’re apt to get it.” Chinese proverb
“She who has been bitten by a snake fears a piece of string.” Persian proverb
“He who wants a rose must respect the thorn.” Persian proverb
“A beautiful thing is never perfect.” Egyptian proverb
“Good soyka should be black like the devil, hot like hell, and sweet like a kiss.” Hungarian proverb
“The night hides a world, but reveals a universe.” Persian proverb
“The difficult is done at once, the impossible takes a little longer.” French proverb
“If you can’t dance, you’ll say the drumming is poor.” Jamaican proverb
“A cat pent up becomes a lion.” Italian proverb
“It’s not enough to know to ride; you must also know how to fall.” Mexican proverb
“Each of us must sometimes play the fool.” Yiddish proverb
“The only Zen you find at the top of the mountain is the Zen you bring with you.” Zen proverb
“Beauty without virtue is like a rose without scent.” Swedish proverb
“After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.” Italian proverb
“Call on God, but row away from the rocks.” Indian proverb
That’s the end of this special three part series on author Nina Munteanu and her series Splintered Universe. I trust by now you’ve purchased each book and devoured them all. If not, what are you waiting for? 🙂
Here’s what Inner Diverse, the second book in the Splintered Universe series is, all about:
In Book Two of this metaphysical space thriller trilogy, detective Rhea Hawke continues her quest for truth and justice in a world that is not what it seems. Rhea’s search takes her to the far reaches of the known universe from the Weeping Mountains of Horus to the blistering deserts of Upsilon 3. Amidst the turmoil of an imminent extra-galactic war, Rhea holds the key even as those she trusts betray her. No one is what they seem…
And here is an interview with the narrator of the audiobook version, Dawn Harvey:
1. When did you know you wanted to be an audiobook narrator?
I knew I wanted to be an audiobook narrator the first time I ever heard an audiobook. I don’t know when that was but probably 30 or 40 years ago (now I’m just showing my age). Despite wanting to be an audiobook narrator, it wasn’t something that I could realistically consider. At that time, audiobooks were only produced in studio, and that pretty much meant either New York or LA for the North American market. Being Canadian, I would have had to obtain a visa to work in the US and that would have been difficult to do as I could not acquire the experience necessary to qualify for it. So, I didn’t give it a second thought.
Much later in life, I began to do voiceover work and, while exploring the multitude of genre options available to pursue in the voice over world, I was quite predictably drawn to audiobooks. My first audiobook narration class was in 2009 in Los Angeles with Scott Brick, a grand master in the industry, and I have never looked back. I knew immediately that audiobook narration was my home. I do work in other areas of voiceover, as well as doing film work, and I continue to receive acting and technical training in all mediums, but I have concentrated much of my continuing education and networking in the area of audiobooks since taking that first class with Scott.
With advanced technology came high quality, reasonably priced home studios making voiceover, including audiobooks, a career you can pursue no matter where you live. I can record from my home studio anywhere on the planet for clients from anywhere on the planet. That has made it possible for me to do the job that I may have been born to do.
2. How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?
I began performing at a young age, falling in love with both acting and singing. In high school, while pursuing singing and acting, I discovered the law. It became a second love and I couldn’t decide whether to become an actor or a lawyer. So, I just did both!
In the late ‘90s, I ran into some serious problems with my knees. I was way too young for those kinds of problems, so I started to panic a little bit about how I would be able to perform if I could no longer walk. Where I live, the opportunities are rare enough without throwing a wheelchair into the mix! After an initial period of panic (it felt like years but it probably wasn’t), I had a eureka moment and realized that I could become a voice actor and perform just fine. So, within a few years, I began studying voice acting.
3. A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?
Today, everyone with a USB microphone and a computer thinks they can be a voice actor. But, they neglect to give weight to one very important word in the name of the profession, and that is “acting.” The profession and the art is “voice acting.” First and foremost, it is acting and that applies to every genre of voiceover.
And you should be thankful for that because when non-actors are hired to do this work, the outcome is often less than satisfying. In the corporate world, I have had to watch many eLearning videos on different aspects of the company and it was evident when an administrative employee did the narration as part of their job vs. when it was voiced by a professional actor. The former is often a very painful experience, through no fault of the employee. Acting requires training or, at least, good acting does!
When I consider the various forms of acting, it seems clear to me that audiobook narration is one of the most difficult acting jobs there is. Usually when we act, we only need to know how be one person. So, we work to understand that one person’s history, wants, needs, challenges, relationships to others in the story, and their part in the larger story that is being told. When we narrate an audiobook, we are everyone in the story and we need to understand the story from every character’s point of view. We need to figuratively leap in and out of people’s heads, including the narrator’s in the case of third-person fiction or non-fiction. We need to understand and portray every character’s personality, desires, problems, relationships, etc., to one degree or another, depending upon their importance to the story being told – not to mention that each must have their own “voice.” It is extremely focused and detailed work.
If you are working from a home studio, you are usually also the director and the engineer. So when you actually do the recording part of audiobook narration, you are already wearing three hats; the engineer, the director and the actor. And as the actor, you are the person who must know all of the technical details of recording such as being aware of mic proximity, deftly handling page turns, listening for outside noise while you record, etc. You are also the narrator, and every other character in the book, responsible for understanding every character and for mastering pronunciations and accents to the point where they sound natural to the characters who are saying those words or who have that accent. So, if you think of the Game of Thrones, the first book in the Fire and Ice series, for example, the narrator created 224 different characters. I haven’t seen any research on the point, but I would venture to guess that an average novel would have between 30 and 50 characters if you take into consideration all of the minor or tertiary characters such as the server at the restaurant or the taxi cab driver. So, even in an average audiobook, the narrator must have either a very large toolbox full of characters or a method to create them.
When performing non-fiction, it is important to remember (as one of my coaches, Sean Allen Pratt, is fond of saying) that non-fiction is not non-acting. I’m sure we’ve all had the teacher who was so dry and boring that we could barely stay awake during their lecture, even if we were interested in the subject! That’s what happens when you try to listen to a non-fiction book narrated by a non-actor – a potentially dangerous situation if you’re driving!
So, the short answer is ‘yes,’ acting training is imperative in this work. But, that doesn’t mean that if you haven’t spent a career as an actor you can’t do this work. It’s just something that you will have to work harder at learning than someone who already has an acting background. Some people, through raw talent or other life experiences, need little coaching to get to a place where their acting skills begin to shine. And, like any profession, the training is never finished. We are always striving to get better; so the acting training should continue for as long as you continue to do the work.
4.Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
Yes, I am an avid audiobook listener. I used to listen to audiobooks with my kids anytime we went on long drives, long before I realized it was an occupation that I could now pursue. Once I began working on becoming a narrator, I became a constant listener. I look for reviews of books that have won awards. When I find a review noting that a narrator is doing something that I want to master, I listen to that book to gain more knowledge about my craft. The bad thing about doing that is, because I’m usually only listening to the very best narrators, the storytelling is so good that I often forget I’m supposed to be paying attention to technique and just get lost in the story! In addition, I listen to non-fiction books on topics I’m exploring either personally or professionally. And, of course, anything written by Stephen King or John Grisham!
Part of the rise in the popularity of audiobooks derives from the fact that we all carry devices that can contain entire libraries. Anytime you are doing a task that uses a different part of your brain than where language is found, such as gardening, cleaning, ironing, exercising, driving, painting, knitting, etc., you can be listening to an audiobook. So, where I used to have shelves filled with books I didn’t have time to read, I now have apps filled with audiobooks I don’t have time to listen to! However, even with my overburdened schedule, I still manage to listen to about a book a week. Even if I’m just driving to the store – 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there adds up during the course of a week. I could never manage to read as much as I do were it not for audiobooks. And, if you actually have time to read as well, with whisper sync you can read when it’s convenient and then listen when it’s not because your book syncs to the place in one medium where you left off in the other. It’s the best of all worlds, really.
5. How closely do you prefer to work with authors?
The closer the better. I have such admiration for authors in general (now that I’m becoming one, that statement may start sounding a bit self-serving – LOL). I am in such awe and wonder over the ability of people to pull these incredible stories out of their imaginations, creating such real worlds occupied by real people and real emotions. Whatever we do as actors, we are only piggybacking on the creativity of the people who actually write the stories. So, if for no other reason than that I’m a fan girl, connecting with authors is always a treat for me.
In terms of the specific books that I’ve narrated, being able to work directly with the author allows me to have their input while creating their world and realizing their truth. Collaboration always results in a better product, so if the narrator and the author can collaborate, the resulting work will be so much more satisfying for the listener as well as for the author. I never want the author to listen to a recording I have done and flinch or cringe at anything. A simple point to illustrate this has to do with the name of the central character in the books written by Nina that are the subject of this podcast. The lead character’s name was spelled R-H-E-A. That could either be Ree-a or Ray-a. The audience doesn’t care which way I say it as long as it is consistent. However, if Nina had Ree-a in her head when she wrote the books and I kept saying Ray-a, or vice versa, it would bother her every time she listened to the books. I don’t want that for her. I want her to love the audiobook even more than she loved the written book because it is more; it has had a whole other layer added to it, and she should enjoy the benefit of that additional layer. So, I was very grateful for the opportunity to be able to collaborate with Nina and get her input on how those words sounded. Particularly as this series contains so many foreign, scientific and invented words. Again, the audience wouldn’t care so long as I was consistent, but I wanted it to be Nina’s vision and Nina’s words, not mine. I am but the vessel through which her story flows!
6. If so, which ones stand out to you most, positive or negative?
Yes, I do. Acting is a very subjective art. Acting in audiobooks is no different. Some people will love what you do while other people will hate the exact same performance. You can’t please all of the people all of the time so it’s important not to allow the reviews to damage you personally. For example, I had a book where two reviews in a row said the exact opposite things. One said something to the effect of “I do not know who hired this narrator but she should never work again. Listening to her is like listening to nails on a chalkboard.” The very next review said “I could listen to this narrator read to me forever. I’d listen to her read the phone book.” Must have both been older listeners; do they even have chalkboards or phone books anymore? In any event, this was the exact same book. So, you have to take those completely unconstructive comments with a grain of salt. I do, however, look for patterns. If I find a similar comment across numerous reviewers or numerous books, I will pay attention and consider that they may have a valid point and that this may be an area I need to work on. So I do see utility in the reviews.
And of course, people in general don’t take the time to say something unless it’s negative so the star count is probably a better indication of how much people enjoy your work. I know that I am guilty of not writing reviews. I almost always mark the star count but I’m generally driving when I’m listening to audiobooks so I can’t really take the time or risk involved to write a review at that particular time and I almost never get back to it later. A star I can pull off at a red light!
We are always appreciative of those who take the time to say something positive, and I will often use those reviews in my marketing materials. As actors, we are always looking for work so keep those (positive) cards and letters coming!
7. Who is your “dream author” that you would like to record for?
Well, of course, Stephen King. I fell in love with his work when I was 17 and read The Stand overnight in one sitting. I am truly his number one fan – and please feel free to remind him of this! I’m working on sending a message out to the universe for him to review my work and connect with me for the next book he releases that requires a female narrator. Most of his writing is male first person or male-third person. And understandably so. He does, however, occasionally write books that are suitable for a female narrator. And so, Stephen, the next time you do that, I’m your girl. And, of course, John Grisham. As a lawyer and an audiobook narrator, wouldn’t I be the perfect choice for John? So John, the next time you need a female audiobook narrator, here I am. And, for both of you, I will record these books for no upfront fee whatsoever. If you would like to just assign me one quarter of a percent of sales? One tenth of a percent? I’m pretty sure I’d be good with that. LOL
8. What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
I would say that they need to do some research because they would soon find that listening is not cheating. In fact, used in combination with the paper/e-book, it is an absolutely brilliant way for children to learn how to read and properly pronounce words and for everyone to improve their vocabulary and pronunciation. As a narrator, and I know I am not alone in this, a proof listener once caught me on a word that I had apparently been pronouncing wrong my entire life (and I have found some of those myself prior to handing it off to the proofer – look up “shone.” Most of us say it wrong!). Some words we have only read but never heard. We decide in our heads the first time we see that word how it is to be pronounced and then we always “hear” it that way when we read it. Sometimes we may look the word up when we first hit it but often we don’t. When listening to an audiobook, we hear the proper pronunciation of words (assuming the book had good narrators and proof listeners). When listening to an audiobook while following along with the written words, children not only learn proper pronunciation, they are able to listen to material that is several grade levels above their reading ability, increasing their reading, written and spoken vocabulary. Particularly for boys, who are generally not as interested in reading as girls in the first place, this means that they have access to a much broader range of materials and this may increase their interest in reading. And since earlier research has shown that better readers are better students, we are doing children a great disservice if we are NOT including audiobooks in their very early education.
So I would say that those people are simply wrong and missing out on a really great thing!
9. What bits of advice would you give to aspiring audiobook narrators?
This is a very competitive business, as is all acting work. You need to understand that it is in fact “acting” and that having a “nice voice” is not necessarily part of the equation in determining whether or not you will be successful. If you are an actor, and even a voice actor, you will need to spend time studying this art form, as it is as different a medium as stage is to film. If you have no acting experience, you will need to train in acting. There are some “naturals” but, for most people, there’s a lot to learn, not the least of which is finding the courage to wear your heart on your sleeve and open yourself up completely for inspection by the world. That is the “bravery” that is being referred to when people talk about how brave actors are. Most people try to hide their pain and weaknesses; actors must bare it for the world to see, or hear in the case of audiobooks.
And, as many of us work from home studios, the learning involves many other areas. A fairly comprehensive list of the other skills you will need to develop if you don’t already have them include:
deciding what hardware and software to buy
understanding how to use the software and hardware
building and using a home studio
understanding proper recording technique from both sides of the mic
conducting online research
pronouncing words in foreign languages (like you are a native)
learning how to emotionally connect with material
running a small business, and
The marketing part of the business is key, whether to increase sales of royalty share books, or to attract authors and publishers to your narration services. This is a business like any other and needs to be treated as such. Acting in general is different from most businesses because actors are constantly looking for work, even when they’re working. It’s nice to get repeat clients, and I think the audiobook world in general is probably better at that than many other types of acting work, but it is part of the job to do the marketing and treat it like a business, not an “art.” The actual narration isan art but if they don’t know that you’re out there, they don’t hire you. If they don’t hire you, you don’t eat. If you don’t eat, you need to change jobs.
It’s important to realize that the audiobook industry is small and relationships are important. The producers are regularly inundated with solicitations from people who have a computer and a mic and think, “Anyone can read out loud.” These are busy people who can’t afford to have their time wasted. They are very open to, and always looking for, new talent, but they also have to be protective of their time. They don’t have time to work with difficult or untrained people. And you need only one opportunity to make a really bad impression. They need to know that you are capable of doing good work for them, that you follow the rules, and that you meet deadlines. They care equally that you are a good person, that you are easy (better yet, fun) to work with, and that you make their job easier, not harder.
So, you absolutely need to learn good audiobook narration skills. But you still won’t get enough work to make a career out of this if you don’t also take care of all of the other matters. This is not a career for people who want to cut corners and take the easy way. This is very detailed, focused, concentrated work. If that is not the kind of work you like doing, this probably isn’t the job for you.
On the other hand, if this work suits you, it is eminently rewarding. This kind of storytelling is powerful and has an amazing reach, meaning you can have an amazing reach and impact. And, you are creating a legacy with every title you narrate. These are books. They’ll be around for as long as we are (or longer but who’d be here to listen?).
I narrated “Alice in Wonderland” a few years ago thinking North Americans might like to have a North American accented version for their kids to listen to. Unfortunately, it came out a week before Scarlett Johansson’s recording of a North American accented version, so you can imagine how that went for me! But my cover is absolutely beautiful and hers is not, so take that Ms. Johansson (it really is, here’s a link – Alice)! In any event, that book is never going to go out of style and assuming we don’t completely destroy the planet first, my grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to listen to me read it to them. That’s pretty special, and not something common in voiceover work. It’s a pretty amazing job, but you need to be committed, resourceful, willing to accept criticism, able to withstand rejection (standard actor stuff), willing to work to improve, and just willing, in general, to work really hard. For some of us, it is completely worth it. In any event, it all feels like play when it is your passion and I get to say “People pay me to read stories to them!” Does it get better than that?
After the successful audiobook tour for my novel A Time and a Place, I thought I would try to help fellow audiobook authors in a similar fashion. So once a week over the next three weeks (in association with Audiobookworm Promotions) I’ll be featuring content about Nina Munteanu and her audiobook series The Splintered Universe, narrated by Dawn Harvey. The Splintered Universe is science fiction, published by Iambik Audio, and consists of three separate audiobooks.
Here’s what the first book is all about:
Outer Diverse is the first book of the Splintered Universe Trilogy, set in and around the Milky Way Galaxy. The first book begins as Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke intestigates the massacre of an entire religious sect, catapulting her into a treacherous storm of politics, conspiracy and self-discovery. Her quest for justice leads her into the heart of a universal struggle and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.
And here’s what Nina Munteanu is all about:
She’s a Canadian ecologist and novelist. Her novels include: Collision with Paradise; The Cypol; Angel of Chaos; Darwin’s Paradox; The Splintered Universe Trilogy; and The Last Summoner. In addition to eight novels, she has authored award-winning short stories, articles and non-fiction books, which were reprinted and translated into several languages throughout the world. Recognition for her work includes the Midwest Book Review Reader’s Choice Award, finalist for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the SLF Fountain Award, and The Delta Optimist Reviewers Choice Award. Nina’s latest non-fiction book—“Water Is…” a scientific study and personal journey as limnologist, mother, teacher and environmentalist—was picked by Margaret Atwood in the NY Times as her #1 choice in the 2016 ‘The Year in Reading’.
Nina is a member of SF Canada. Much of Nina’s work is on the environment and sustainability, examining the role and evolution of humanity in the context of nature and technology. Her upcoming novel “A Diary in the Age of Water”, a near-future dystopia that explores the socio-political intrigues of water shortage in Canada, will be released in 2019.
Nina regularly publishes reviews and essays in magazines such as The New York Review of Science Fiction and Strange Horizons. She has been staff or guest writer for several online and print magazines or newspapers including Amazing Stories, Clarion, Niverville Citizen, and CBC Canada Writes. Nina co-edits Europa SF, a European speculative magazine. She was assistant editor-in-chief of Imagikon, a Romanian speculative magazine, and currently edits for Grimoire Books, USA, and Future Fiction, Italy. She has also served as acquisition editor of several anthologies such as “Water” (Reality Skimming Press) and “My Canada” (IOWI). Nina was interviewed or an invited speaker on topics to do with science & climate change, eco-fiction, writing and publishing at: The Globe and Mail, CUIT Radio, Delta Optimist, the Editors’ Association, Gazeta SF, Mississauga News, Impakter, Langley Times, THAT Channel, Observatorul, Planet S, Speculating Canada, Times Colonist, The Commentary, World Poetry Café, Wonderville, CanCon, and When Words Collide, among others. Nina was the science fiction writing Guest of Honour at Limestone Genre Expo in 2016.
Nina has taught writing since 2005 and currently lectures at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. She has been a writing coach and editor since 2005 and has worked with novice and established writers toward successful publication. Her books on writing “The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!” and “The Journal Writer” (Starfire) are used in universities worldwide. They were translated into Romanian and published by Editura Paralela 45.
Here’s an interview with Nina Munteanu about her book, her series, and the process of turning it into an audiobook:
Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
The process was magical for me. It was professional and proceeded at a pace that felt productive. All of this was mainly because of the professional relationship I had with the narrator. From audition to each step of quality assurance in ensuring character voice, pronunciations, mood, tempo, etc. the narrator and I were in good communication. The final product shows. I can’t recall how long it took for each audiobook to be created, but it didn’t feel long.
How did you select your narrator?
Dawn Harvey auditioned for my first book along with two other narrators through the audiobook publisher, Iambik. I picked Dawn because her voice resonated with my idea of my main character, Rhea Hawke, a cynical badass detective on a mission to save the world. Dawn’s voice carried attitude and sarcasm as well as compassion and kindness. It was exactly what I was looking for in my paradoxical character. Given that the book is told in the first person, the main character voice was critical. Dawn just nailed it. When the second and third books came out, I just HAD to have Dawn do them too–not just for consistency, but because in my mind, Dawn WAS Rhea.
How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
We worked fairly closely. Dawn took the driver’s seat in it. She was very professional. She sent me sections of audio to check for tone, voice, etc. She created a list of voices (I had at least twenty different alien species she needed to create unique voices for–one with multiple mouths! And another was a kind of “amoeba”–her voices were splendid!) and a list of terms with her pronunciations for me to vet. She had also asked for more information on the characters, which I was able to provide, given I keep a character dossier on all characters I create.
Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
There were many, but I’ll tell you about one. My historical fantasy The Last Summoner was inspired by a work of art by Croatian artist Tomislav Tikulin. It was the image of a magnificent knight, standing in a huge drowned cathedral–littered by war– the knight gazes up at the vaulted ceiling. A great light shines on the knight in streams of white gold. It sent my imagination soaring with thoughts of chivalry, adventure and intrigue. Who was this knight?
How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
Burnout happens when you push too much or let others push you too much. Letting go and flowing with my own creative juices and inspirations is something I had to learn to do. There’s a balance, of course, because discipline is also necessary to get things done. Working for others as a writers, I often have deadlines. I deal with this by prioritizing my work and setting (or accepting) realistic deadlines. I don’t procrastinate and start early to give me time to let things sit and my creativity flow and meander freely. When I’m working on several projects (which is most of the time), I let myself move from one to the other as my muse takes me; this allows the creative process to flow unrestrained and more efficiently. Burnout arises from frustration; I feed my whimsical muse so this doesn’t happen.
Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
I like to listen to audiobooks in the car, especially when I’m on a long trip. I find it a wonderful way to enjoy a book. It’s very relaxing. When my best friend and I used to do road trips down to California from Vancouver, we took turns reading a novel or nonfiction book out loud as the other drove. It was lots of fun. With audiobooks I can do the same even when I’m the only one in the car!
What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump?
If I’m in a slump, it’s usually because I can’t figure something out–usually some plot point or character quirk or backstory. What helps me is to put the book I’m working on away and do something else. It could even be writing something else, so long as it isn’t my book. Or I could do something else on the book such as edit a certain section or research some element. Other ways I coax my muse back are walks in Nature, reading a good book, visiting the library or a bookstore and cycling.
What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Learn your “voice” and how it’s unique from anyone else. Write from the heart, write something that means something to you, and keep writing. Success in writing results from a passion to share. If you infuse your writing with passion, everything else comes with it: the patience and determination to learn craft, marketing, and the persistence in your pursuit.
Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?
Know what you’re looking for to represent the “voice” of your book. Know the narrative voice you want for your book and don’t compromise on it. Work respectfully with your narrator: if they are good, they will turn your cherished book into something more than it was. Let it surprise you and delight you. Together, you and your narrator will become more than the sum of the parts. Enjoy the process and don’t rush it.
What’s next for you?
I recently finished my latest novel, “A Diary in the Age of Water”, which was picked up by a Toronto publisher and will be out in 2020. I am currently working on the third book in my “Alien Guidebook” series of writing guides. This one is called “The Ecology of Story: World as Character” and I’m having lots of fun with it! Re audiobooks, I’d love to work with Dawn Harvey again and I’m looking into creating a series of short audio films from my 12-chapter book on water (“Water Is…”). What do ya think, Dawn?…
I had submitted the files to my publisher, who had forwarded them to Audible (ACX), only to have them rejected because they were less than 192 kbps. This didn’t make any sense to me as I was sure that I’d exported them from Audacity properly. When I checked the files out, though, I discovered that I’d actually accidentally exported a couple of files at 32 bit sample rate. It’s weird this only happened to a couple of files; why would the settings change for just a couple of files?
Anyway, I figured this was the problem, so I corrected those files and resubmitted them.
Audible still rejected the files.
So I went back and had another look. I thought I had the settings in Audible correct, but my mistake (well, one of my mistakes) was that I hadn’t actually checked the files themselves. This was really sloppy on my part. The reason I hadn’t checked the files themselves was because, well, I had checked the files, but I’d done so on a Mac, which doesn’t tell you the bit rate. It tells you a lot of other stuff, but not the bit rate, unless you jump through a few hoops, which I hadn’t done. I’d simply assumed that Audacity was doing what it said it was doing:
It says it’s exporting 220-280 kbps. So isn’t it? Nope!
Turns out I should have selected “Constant” Bit Rate Mode, which would have resulted in a guaranteed Bit Rate of 192 kbps.
Live and learn.
Because of this mistake, I had to re-export all my files at the correct bit rate of 192 kbps.
This meant finding the original sessions of each chapter. Doing so, I discovered another bit of sloppiness on my part: poor file management. I’d carefully saved each session using a specific naming convention, but I hadn’t paid much attention to where I saved the files, other than ensuring they were saved on a hard drive somewhere in, say, my house.
Well, at least I knew all the sessions were saved on a hard drive attached to my MacBook Pro. Fortunately, my searches usually managed to locate the required sessions. Unfortunately, they didn’t always do so. I could not find the final sessions for about four chapters. The good news was that I was able to find and re-open at least the penultimate session for each chapter. This resulted in a bit more work than I would have liked. And I became paranoid that I wasn’t re-exporting the absolute final version of each chapter. Because of this paranoia, I decided I needed to re-listen to every second of every chapter to ensure that they were in fact the absolute final, pristine product.
This cut into the writing time of my second novel, which I usually worked on during my commute, and so was a bit of a drag, but it had to be done. Fortunately, I was able to download the files from Dropbox onto my Smartphone, which meant that I could listen just about anywhere I went. Unfortunately, this usually wound up being in rather noisy environments, which meant that I could confirm the proper pacing of the sound files, and that there were no missed edits, and what the chapters would sound like in the real world, but I couldn’t really tell if there were any little clicks or pops or mouth noise etc.
So I listened to all twenty-seven chapters this way, and during the course of this exercise discovered several chapters that weren’t quite up to snuff. In the case of some chapters, it was because I hadn’t been able to find and export the absolute final version, but in the case of other chapters it was because the absolute final versions themselves just weren’t quite up to snuff.
By “up to snuff” I mean mostly that the pacing was off. The way I had read and edited them had resulted in readings that were way too fast. My brain couldn’t keep up listening to them. They threatened to ruin the entire product. Even if listeners couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, what was irritating about the product, I was pretty sure that it would still bother them. All of these chapters needed to be re-edited. There were a few other minor issues too that I took the opportunity to correct, mostly sloppy enunciation, and some minor issues with the levels.
If I hadn’t exported the files at the wrong bit rate to begin with, I probably wouldn’t have discovered these other issues until it was too late, so I was glad about that.
Looking back, the single biggest hurdles I encountered during the production of this audiobook was the fact that I performed it myself, and did the whole thing all alone. There was nobody to tell me I was reading too fast, and I was too close to the product to realize myself where I was going wrong. I didn’t actually even clue in that there was a problem until after I’d finished recording the entire novel and completed the initial edit of the first chapter. Listening back to that initial edit, I was horrified at the pace of my read. So I re-edited the entire chapter and it was STILL too fast. It wasn’t actually until a few weeks went by and I listened to the chapter again with completely fresh ears that I was able to tell what the proper pace should be. So I edited it AGAIN and finally got it in the ballpark (I hope!).
I made the same mistake with several other chapters, thinking as I was going along that I was getting the pacing right, but again I didn’t have sufficient distance to be able to tell for sure. It was several chapters before I acquired enough experience to know to insert far more space than I thought I needed. Doing so made it far easier on subsequent passes to edit the material correctly, tightening it up a bit.
Had I been a seasoned performer, I would have been able to get the pacing right in the performance, which would have resulted in one heck of a lot less editing.
At least one chapter (Chapter Four) was so bad that I was forced to re-record the entire chapter. But by then I had a much better idea what I was doing, resulting in a performance that was much closer to the mark, and that required only a light edit.
Bottom line: it’s mostly about the performance. If you get the performance right, post-production becomes infinitely easier.
I’m not saying that writers shouldn’t read and record their own novels. But I am saying that if you do, have a second set of ears present—preferably, somebody who knows what they’re doing—so that they can set you straight during the recording, which will result in a whole lot less post-production time.
If you can’t have someone else present, maybe just do one section or chapter at a time. This should reduce the learning curve, and maybe by the end of the book your performance which be much closer to what it needs to be.
Still, despite having created a whole lot extra work for myself on this audiobook production, I’m fairly happy with the final product. I did not release it into the wild until I was satisfied with it. I’m also really happy to have this one under my belt. With what I know now, if I ever have to do this again, it should (theoretically!) go one heck of a lot faster.
This made a lot of sense. Audio books are a booming business these days, and it just makes sense to have your book available in as many formats as possible. Also, I’ve been an audio guy since the age of sixteen when I got my first job announce-operating at CJRW in Summerside, PEI, later making my living as an audio technician/recording engineer for CBC Radio for nineteen years.
Doing sound effects in Studio 212 back in my radio drama days at CBC Radio
For an entire ten of those nineteen years at CBC Radio I made radio plays and recorded and edited tons of short fiction re-purposed for the medium of radio. I remember recording a radio-friendly version of Brad Smith’s novel All Hat over the course of a week or two.
So you would think that I would know what is involved in such a recording. Unfortunately, all my experience did was give me a wildly over-inflated sense of my own abilities. Yes, I did (more or less) possess all the skills required to produce an audio book. But somehow I completely failed to appreciate just how much work was involved in doing it all myself, and how demanding some of that work was.
When Lorina suggested I do the audio book, I truly thought I would be able to knock it off in a couple of weeks. Because I could read, I could record, and I could edit. Thinking back, I was pretty sure we’d done All Hat in a week or two.
It’s laughable, really.
Because thinking back on it a little more carefully, I’m pretty sure that the version of All Hat we produced was an abridged version, and it took four of us to do it: a recording engineer, a producer, an actor, and somebody to adapt it. Five people, if you include the casting director. And all I did was record it (I may have edited it, but I don’t really remember). I certainly didn’t read it.
Anyway, turning my novel into an audio book was a great excuse to gear up, so I went out and bought a mic, a mixer, and some other peripherals. I had a week of vacation time coming up and figured I could squeeze all the recording in then, and edit at my leisure afterwards, on evenings and weekends.
After one week of recording though, I only managed to record ten chapters. My wife attributed this to my propensity to get up late, linger over breakfast reading the Toronto Star, casually walk the dog, and then get started recording around 11am. All of this was true. Add to that trains going by, planes flying overhead, neighbours noisily draining pools, and mysterious noises with no obvious provenance interfering with the recording when I finally did get around to it, and you can see why the process took a bit longer than expected. Worst of all, though, was my inability to read more than half a sentence without making a mistake.
Turning a novel into an audio book was a much bigger deal than I’d realized.
In fact, what I originally thought would take me two or three weeks to accomplish wound up taking over two hundred hours spread out over eleven months.
Here are a few thoughts on the process while it’s reasonably fresh in my mind, in case anybody else out there is thinking of doing the same thing.
To record my audio book, I settled on a Shure SM7B microphone. I chose this microphone because I had chosen it back in 2007 to be the main microphone for the radio show Q. I’d tested a lot of microphones and it had sounded the best with the host of that show, and it sounded pretty good on me (if I do say so myself). I would have preferred a Neumann U-87 but I couldn’t afford that (it’s about three grand). But the SM7B (at about $500 Canadian) is a fine microphone with an excellent pedigree. Michael Jackson famously used it to record his album Thriller. Its only limitation that I could see is that it’s a dynamic microphone and you need to give it a boost to get decent levels. But this is easily fixed by placing a Cloudlifter in the chain, providing an extra 25dB of gain.
My weapon of choice, the SM7B
An advantage of the SM7B is that it pretty much records what you point it at and rejects most everything else. This was really helpful recording in my basement. When I turned off the air conditioning, made sure no other appliances in the house were running, and closed the door to the basement, the noise floor was almost non-existent, but there could still be some extraneous noise, so it was helpful to have a very directional microphone.
You do have to work the SM7B pretty closely to get a nice, plummy sound. The host I used to work with on Q worked it so closely that I wound up sticking two pop filters between him and the mic to avoid popping. In my case, I used the A7WS windscreen that comes with the mic out of the box plus one pop filter. I still popped a bit, but I had ways of dealing with that, which I’ll come to later.
My fairly straight-forward home studio in my basement.
The rest of my setup was pretty simple. You can see it pictured here. Basically the SM7B plugged into the Cloudlifter, the Cloudlifter plugged into a Steinberg mixer, which in turn is connected to a MacBook Pro via USB. And a pair of decent Sennheiser headphones and a mic stand. I read the script (just a PDF version of the novel) right off the MacBook, flipping back and forth between Adobe Reader and my audio software as required.
I recorded almost everything in Cubase, which came with the Steinberg mixer, but I never really got to like it. I’ve used a lot of audio editing software in my time (D-Cart, Dalet, DaletPlus, Sonic Solutions, ProTools, Audacity) and Cubase just didn’t compare in terms of immediate usability. Probably if I’d taken the time I would have gotten used to it, but when it came time to editing the audio book, I switched to Audacity, which can be downloaded free and is much simpler.
Earlier I mentioned that I couldn’t seem to record half a sentence without making a mistake. This was true in the beginning, and it surprised me. One of the reasons that I thought recording an audio book wouldn’t take too long was because I figured I’d just sit down and read it and do some light editing and that would be it. I’ve had some experience acting and I’ve worked professionally as an announcer/operator at two radio stations (CJRW in Summerside and CFCY/Q-93 in Charlottetown). I thought I could read. Heck, I even thought I could perform. But I couldn’t. Not in the beginning.
The problem was I would read a little bit and then, convinced it sounded horrible, I’d stop and start again. I thought, well, not a big deal, I can edit it all later. But the more mistakes you make, the more editing is required, and eventually all that extra editing adds up to one big editing nightmare.
I got much better with practice and experience, but even at my best I couldn’t get through a chapter without a fair amount of mistakes.
Typically, I recorded each chapter twice. I would get to know the chapter on the first read, and read it better the second time around. If I made a mistake, I’d stop, go back, and correct it right away. This made the editing process much easier later (making up somewhat for the amount of mistakes).
Because I didn’t have a producer, someone standing over my shoulder correcting me, I needed to be careful. If I thought I made a mistake during a passage, I always stopped and re-did it (sometimes the first time was perfectly fine, but better safe than sorry, although it did make for more work). Whenever I hit a word I wasn’t entirely sure how to pronounce, I looked it up online. Most online dictionaries allow you to listen to the word you’re looking up. Interestingly, I included words in A Time and a Place that, although I know perfectly well what they mean, I either didn’t know how to pronounce, or have been pronouncing incorrectly. They are correct in the audio book version, though. I made sure of that.
Sometimes I mangled words or sentences but didn’t discover this until the editing process, which was a pain in the butt, but far from insurmountable. One of the advantages of recording an audio book yourself is that afterwards the actor’s still hanging around if you need him or her.
A typical waveform, this one from Chapter 22 of A Time and a Place.
One of the fun parts of recording this novel myself has been doing the voices. I didn’t have unique voices for all of the characters, but some characters cried out for special treatment. One of the characters, Gordon Rainer, is supposed to speak with a British accent. He was by far the most difficult to get right. I’d once done a play for which I’d been trained to speak with a British accent, but I have no illusions about how accurate I’m able to do it (my British brother-in-law is only too happy to provide reality checks on that point).
I’d always thought of another character, Doctor Humphrey, as having a gruff voice, so I played him that way. And so on. I tried not to overdo it, as it could easily get silly, but I enjoyed the performance aspect of it all.
Like just about every other part of this project, the editing took a lot longer than I expected.
I edited one chapter at a time. It took me on average three to four hours to edit the first pass of each chapter. My chapters average twenty pages. The shortest is seven pages, the longest thirty. Transformed into audio, my chapters run anywhere from eleven minutes to thirty minutes long, averaging about twenty minutes. (Unedited, the raw files for each chapter run anywhere between one hour to two hours long.)
As mentioned earlier, I did all my editing in the free version of Audacity, which worked just fine. It’s easy to learn and I found that I could edit quite quickly and effectively with it. It’s also got a nice little suite of tools for mastering, EQ and so on.
Before editing each chapter, I would do a little processing. A little noise reduction, a little limiting or amplification as required to ensure that I was peaking at -3dB with a maximum -60dB noise floor as required by Audible. I did this at the beginning because if doing any of that introduced any problems, I wanted to catch those problems as I was doing the edit. I didn’t want to complete an edit, then do processing, and have it accidentally introduce issues such as clicks or pops or digital distortion that I might have less chance of catching near the end of the process.
Every chapter required multiple passes to edit. The first edit was mainly to get all the right takes in the right order and clean it up as much as I could. To help speed things up, I created a special template in Audacity’s EQ plug-in to eliminate popped Ps as I encountered them (I found the default EQ template for this too aggressive in Audacity).
Sometimes I encountered mangled words or sentences for which no good takes existed, that I had not noticed during the recording process. These I re-recorded right on the spot. Sometimes it was a bit tricky getting these re-takes to match, but it got easier with practice. It was a matter of getting the inflection and level right. I would tweak the level in Audacity using the Amplify plug-in (always careful not to peak at higher than -3dB), and try to use as little of the re-take as necessary, often cutting halfway through a sentence, or a word, even.
After the initial edit, I would go through the chapter again to clean up weird, extraneous noises such as bits of mouth noise, the cat knocking into the mic stand, or other weird noises such as bumps occurring elsewhere in the house that I hadn’t noticed during recording.
I popped the odd P or two, so I created a specific EQ that I called Subtle Bass Cut to deal with that (and a few popped Bs too)
I took a lot of time to address issues with pacing. I tend to read fast. Left unedited, few would be able to keep up with my reading. I worked hard to address this in the edit. I know that some audio book listeners want their audio books read fast. In fact, they will listen to their audio books at enhanced speeds to get through them quicker. I tailored my pacing for people who listen at normal speeds. If I ever record another one, I’ll try to get it right during the recording. A lot easier than having to fix pacing in the editing process.
Once reasonably certain that I’d addressed all issues in the edit, I would play the entire chapter from beginning to end to make sure that I hadn’t missed any edits, and to ensure that there were no other problems. Only when I felt that the edit was perfect would I consider it done, and share it with my publisher via Drop Box (who will subsequently submit it to Audible). One of my mottos is “If it only exists once in the digital domain, it may as well not exist at all,” so I always sent a safety version to myself via Gmail.
I didn’t keep a really accurate record of how long this project took me, but I estimate each chapter took on average two hours to record, and six hours to edit, master, and double check. That’s 8 hours a chapter times 27 chapters, plus little bits like intros, acknowledgements, and so on. I figure the entire project took about 220 hours. That’s 27 eight hour days. The book itself is ten hours, sixteen minutes and fifty-five seconds long, all told. I took three entire weeks off work and devoted several evenings and weekends to this project. Probably much longer than it should have taken. I read in this quite informative blog post that “your narrator will put in six times more production hours than the final length of the book.” Yeah… took me a bit longer than that.