We are thrilled to have Laura Kinsale joining us today to share her experiences as she made the decisions necessary to assure her popular backlist was published just the way she wanted in audio format. We even have a sound clip from The Prince of Midnight! Here’s Laura!
So it’s here. The first raw edit of the first three chapters of the first of my novels ever to be read aloud. It’s here. Now. Today. After months of researching, planning, budgeting, a lot of getting lucky and a certain amount of risk-taking; after discovering that a 1 GB download from London will take 12 freakin’ hours on my lousy “high-speed” internet connection, after much technical frustration and a sleepless night of waiting…finally there’s a complete file there. On my computer. And it’s someone reading my book. And I’m going to put on headphones and listen to it. I’m so excited!
No, wait. I’m terrified.
Truly terrified, as an author, to let go of my words, to turn them over to someone else in such a concrete way. Or maybe it’s the fear that I’ll hear them, my words, and they’ll sound ridiculous to me (and I’m paying for this.) Maybe my characters will turn into some other characters–but, well, of course they will. My characters are only in my own head. They never were anywhere else. What’s on the page–every reader sees what they see in it. But I don’t have to know that; it’s always been mercifully hidden from me.
I knew the audiobook would be a separate thing, a new thing, a different thing—it’s a unique work in and of itself. I understand and want that. When I turned down an offer from an audiobook publisher and embarked on this journey to produce my own books in audio, that was the reason I did it: I wanted to create something new out of what I’d done before.
I love audiobooks. I spend a lot of hours on the road (not to mention trying to walk those ten thousand steps a day.) Only once have I actually driven past my exit, but we audio fans know that’s always a hazard. I have my favorite narrators and some authors that I even prefer in audio over print.
For an audiobook, the narrator is the crucial element. I’ve always believed that in a romance, the hero carries the book, and most of mine are deeply hero-centric. So I knew from the start that for my own books, I wanted to have a male narrator.
I began my project there. And it was a real Ground Zero for me, because I knew nothing about how audiobooks get made. Or perhaps I should say, how they used to get made, because a sea-change has occurred over the past two years, the same sea-change that hit music and books…Amazon bought Audible, and suddenly indie publishing is an option in audiobooks as well.
There are now two tracks into having an audiobook published. One is the traditional way, where either the book’s publisher pays to have an audiobook made (typical of big bestsellers from the big houses) or the audio rights are sold to a dedicated audiobook publisher such as Brilliance or Tantor. The other is the recently launched Audiobook Creation Exchange, ACX.com, a “marketplace where professional authors, agents, publishers, and other Rights Holders can post audiobook rights.” On ACX, which is run by Audible, authors can post their books and preview potential narrators, producers can look for books they might want to record for a share of the royalties. There is a great deal of information on the ACX site, and any authors interested in creating their own audiobooks would be well advised to study it thoroughly. Productions are then uploaded to Audible through ACX for digital distribution in the largest MP3 audiobook markets, including Audible and iTunes.
And then there’s me, ever the contrarian. I didn’t go either of those ways—not exactly, although I will be using ACX to distribute my audiobooks when the time comes. I struck out on my own to find a narrator and producer.
I had some specifics in mind for a narrator. I wanted a native British accent. I wanted a male with a voice that would be evocative of the hero to my readers, someone of the right age range, and on top of all that, someone who could voice female dialogue very well.
Some of my books have significant narration challenges in them. The aphasic hero of Flowers from the Storm, for instance, and the Middle English dialogue in For My Lady’s Heart. I wanted to find a reader with the talent to bring those books to life for listeners.
While many audiobook narrators are actors, not all actors, even talented and well-known actors, succeed at narrating books. Audiobook narration, I’ve learned, is a very specific skill—it’s demanding not only artistically, but mentally and even physically. Try picking up that novel beside you and reading the first chapter aloud, consistently differentiating the characters with emotion and control in your voice. When I experimented with one of my books, I was so exhausted that I had to take an aspirin and go to bed.
I started to listen to samples. And I listened. And I listened. I took notes. I have pages and pages of narrators’ names, most from books on Audible and Audible UK, some from talent agency websites, some from ACX, some from suggestions and lists sent to me from various other sources.
The process has given me a deep appreciation for the casting work behind the scenes of movies and audiobooks. I’d sit down at night and listen to fifteen or twenty samples in a row. There were many wonderful voices, but most I could nix immediately. I had plus marks and minus marks and plus plus marks and minus plus minus marks. The biggest challenge was finding a man who could voice women without sounding screechy or too high-pitched. A number of times, I was sure I’d found a great prospect, so I’d download a whole book to listen. And as soon as I heard the female dialogue, I’d put a minus next to the name.
Discouraged, I took a long break from listening to samples, while looking into some other aspects of production. Then I went back and started a new list, because I couldn’t find the old one. (This is more or less how I write books, too. Pretty random.) More listening, a lot more voice samples. I was determined, but growing confused over names and which I’d heard before. Until I happened to come across the first list again. It had one name with a lot of stars beside it. So did my new list. And it was the same name on both.
Nicholas Boulton. So, the acid test: I downloaded several books he’d narrated. Before I was a whole chapter into his reading of David Copperfield, I knew who I wanted to narrate my books.
I’ll be honest. When I realized he’d been one of the King’s Men in my favorite movie of all time, Shakespeare in Love, I was star-struck. Then I found out he was the voice of the male Hawke in Dragon Age II, and voiced characters in a number of other major video games, including the new Assassins Creed III. He studied at the Guildhall School of Music And Drama, and appears in plays on the London stage, and BBC TV and radio and movies. Yikes. This is big-time Shakespearean actor stuff, and I’m going to ask him to read my genre romances?
Well, yeah. Because I need somebody who can convincingly say “t’was” and “avoi!” and that sort of thing. Who better to handle it than one of the King’s own Men?
So I conveniently hid behind asked my agent to conduct negotiations. When I got a call back and found out Nick was willing to read not just one or two, but all of my books…well…YES!! Now I know how editors feel when they sign an author whose work they really and truly love.
Nick is a charming person, on twitter and in email. Talented, experienced, professional. I’ve given him and the director only a few sentences of input on the first book I’ve chosen to produce, The Prince of Midnight. They’ve started recording, in a studio in London.
And now here it is, the first edit of the first three chapters. Here’s this wav file, scaring the bejeepers out of me.
Headphones on. Fortunately they’re wireless, because I’m already pacing…Title, written by…read by…my dedication: “This one’s not for David, either; there’ll never be one good enough.” Nice. He said those lines like they mean something. Chapter One…
It’s a strangely emotional experience, listening to a brilliant narrator read a novel I wrote so many years ago.
I knew it would be different; that these voices wouldn’t perfectly match the voices in my imagination. The first few paragraphs were disconcerting in that sense—words I knew, but oddly unfamiliar, as if my own voice were saying them in the background, reading along and not quite keeping pace.
Then S.T. Maitland uttered his first line of dialogue in exaggeratedly gruff French-accented English, and I laughed out loud, because it was funnier than I’d expected or imagined. Leigh Strachan said her lines in a perfect husky voice that I’d described in words but never heard…there it was…there she was. Talking! Really actually talking.
This is magic. The same way a novel is magic, making things happen that never did, and people live and breathe and walk around with me as my office vanishes and I’m in a ruined French castle with a man and a wolf and a bitter, broken girl. It’s just amazing magic.
When I reached the end of the second chapter, where S.T. sends his wolf away into danger, knowing he might not see Nemo again, I got teary listening. Maybe it was just tears of relief. Mainly it’s a deep and vast appreciation of an artist and a different art than writing, but one that brings mine alive in a way I’d never envisioned.
This is going to work. I’m going to be more than proud of it. I hope listeners will enjoy it, as I always hope readers love my books. But in the end, for me as a writer, it’s the thing created that counts the most, the work itself. And these audiobooks, read by Nick, will be more than I’d even hoped.
Since I wrote these paragraphs, last night, the entire recording was completed, though it will be a week or so before I hear the edited audio myself. Nick sent me a tweet, “For some reason I feel like taking riding lessons again…” Those of you who’ve ever read the last scene in The Prince of Midnight may appreciate that. If you don’t know what he means, you’ll have a chance to listen in a few months, and find out.
This is just the first of several times we’ll see Laura here at AudioGals in 2013. Later she will share more about the production and directing from her point of view and as the time draws nearer for the release of her audiobooks, we’ll get even more of an inside look!
We invite your comments and questions. If you choose to discuss at Twitter, please use the hashtag narrate. We can then keep up with one another!