Thu 15

How Audio Books Happen


Do you get a say in who reads and voices your audio books? I think the people who narrate them are fantastic! They’re also easy on the ears, as some voices are difficult to focus on what they’re saying, or they make me sleep.


I do get to choose the narrator, and it’s one of the most exciting things about publishing a book. Especially when there’s a global pandemic that torpedoes my tour.

So how it works is someone from the audio side of the publisher gets in touch to discuss things like how many narrators there should be. I have plenty of opinions, even though I prefer novels in print form and have listened to maybe two audio books in my whole life.

I also write little character notes, e.g.:

Beanfield: F aged 26. A people person, outgoing, strong social skills, but her role is to observe the crew like a psychiatrist, so she’s always faking it a little, holding something of herself back. Has a fanciful internal dialogue. Struggles with the isolation and isn’t keeping it together as well as she thinks she is. Misses home and wishes she hadn’t left.

Then casting happens: Four or five people recommended by the audio director read half a page of the book and I listen and judge them. Not in person. I get emailed files. This is great fun, like casting a movie, although the experience is tempered by how excruciating I find it to listen to my own words being read back to me. Not because of the reader. Because of the words. It is probably no picnic for the performers, either, because the audition text might be short sections ripped from various places throughout the book, so they have to guess at the context.

For my last book, Providence, I went very diva, because although the auditions were good, they weren’t, you know, really hitting it exactly right for me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m Australian or I just have deadpan personal tastes, but sometimes I find American performances to be, how to put this, shall we say, animated. I’m like, if I’d known somebody was going to be emoting the bejeezus out of that sentence, I would have used different words. So anyway, I went and browsed a bunch of random audio books in online stores, listening to samples, and wrote down the names I liked.

Then the audio director had those people read auditions. Which is amazing, right? I’m just pointing at audio books and two days later there are new readings. I mean, I’m sure those people are professionals who produce half a dozen auditions before lunch each day. But still, it’s wild. Little pieces of performance art getting conjured out of nowhere.

Finally, I picked my favourite:

Brittany and Sam were both great. Sam brought a lot of life to the combat scene in particular, and seemed to grasp the tone of that scene best. But I give Brittany the edge because she has a kind of effortless professionalism that is super comfortable to listen to, and suggests a great range.

Sam is not a real person. I changed the name. But Brittany Pressley then narrated the audio book.

And I still haven’t listened to the whole thing, because, you know, the excruciation. But I hear good things. For example, check out this review. The novel is only okay, the reviewer says. Three out of five stars. He is not really a fan. But he kept listening because he liked Brittany’s reading so much. The book was holding Brittany back. It would have been a more enjoyable experience if he’d been listening to Brittany read something different. Maybe literally anything else. Now that’s a good narrator.

Fun fact: The audio version of Lexicon has great reviews everywhere except Australia, where it is lambasted for its poor Australian accents.


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1001.0010.0101 (#925)

Location: Turn left at your CPU
Quote: "How can something be deemed artificial if it is itself. e.g. A.I."
Posted: 1286 days ago

I enjoyed reading this and it makes me want to get Lexicon in audio book form.

Machine Man subscriber Yawnder (#1840)

Location: Brossard, Qc, Ca
Quote: "Smile, Tomorrow Will Be Worse... - Murphy"
Posted: 1286 days ago

The process seems fun indeed. I'm not interested in listening to your books, because I get so much enjoyment out of reading it at my pace, but one day I should listen to some books that are "just" mildly interesting for me and see if I like the experience.

I guess I'm curious about how "Clank! Clank! Clank!" from Machine Man sounds...

Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 1286 days ago

I too am a fan of Max Berry!

Yvonne (#5991)

Location: New York
Quote: "[ this space intentionally left blank ]"
Posted: 1286 days ago

I listed to audiobooks quite a bit (while knitting, cooking etc). Ive noticed that more and more are being narrated by well-known actors, who I find read too ‘actor-y’, which I think is what Max means by embellished. I dont mind different voices to distinguish characters, but still like to feel Im having a book read to me, not listening to a radio play. Im sure it's tough to choose a narrator after only hearing a small piece read.

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