Creating the audio version of Be Different

Have you ever considered making an audio book?

This is me, narrating the audio version of Be Different at Armadillo Audio in Amherst, MA. January, 2011

The dream of writing a book is very common. In today’s world, though, not everyone reads with their eyes. A significant and growing portion of the population ingests their literature audibly, rather than visually. Fifty years ago, people like that got their thirst for literature satisfied by having someone who could see and speak read to them. Today, auditory readers buy audio books.

We have seen some major shifts in publishing this past decade. When I was younger, the only path to publication was through a conventional publishing house. You submitted work, got it accepted, edited it, and saw it appear in print some months or years after beginning the process. Today all that has changed. Anyone can write a book, and offer it for sale in downloadable form on Amazon and elsewhere.

Much the same thing has happened with audio books. Anyone can create an audio book, and offer it for free or for sale on Amazon or iTunes. But how do you do it? I’ll show you . . .

The audio book begins with a script. In my case, as with other conventional print authors, the script is made from the print manuscript. That edited manuscript is read carefully and changed where appropriate for audio. Most changes are small. For example, in the print book you might say,

When you read this . . .

In the audio version, that becomes, When you hear this . . .

You also need what they call an intro and an outro, short passages to open and close the audio book. My intro goes something like this:

Be Different
Adventures of a Free Range Aspergian
Written and narrated by John Elder Robison

In a print book, the author is always identified, even though he may be writing under a psuedonym. In an audio book, it’s customary to identify the narrator as well. Many people like to listen to audio books that are narrated by their authors. There’s something to be said for hearing an author read his own words. Other people like hearing professional actors read stories; sometimes you find famous stars narrating some surprising works of audio.

Next I narrate the production and copyright; a few short lines:

A production of Random House Audio
Story copyright 2011 John Elder Robison
Production copyright 2011 Random House Audio

From there, we skip over the title pages and publication data that make up the first few pages of the print book. I read the dedication:

For Cubby, the very embodiment of Being Different.

I skip the contents, and go right to the first “story.” In this book, that’s the introduction. I begin reading:

Madison Square Garden, 1979. The New York concert was the high point of KISS’s Dynasty tour, and we kicked it off with a bang and a flash. The band played loud enough to make your ears bleed, and our pyrotechnics would burn your eyebrows off if you got too close. We were five songs into the set. “Firehouse” had just ended. We killed the spotlights and got to work. Buzzes and clicks from the sound system suggested activity, up on the blackened stage. The applause was over, and low ripples of noise washed through the audience as they waited for the next song.

I do this reading at a professional sound studio, which is the best way to get a voice recording that’s free of background noises and consistent in volume and sound quality. You can certainly record an audio book right in your bedroom, but the sound quality will probably suffer. If you are serious about audio, I suggest using a rear studio.

I’m lucky to have such a studio right in my town. Armadillo Audio is run by Peter Acker. He’s been the engineer for the audio versions of both Look Me in the Eye and Be Different. He’s done a fine job for me, and I’d recommend him without reservation if you want to record a book. You can find him here.

The engineer’s job is to handle the technical details. He is responsible for listening carefully and making sure I am recorded at a consistent volume, and there are no untoward pops or hisses from my breath. He listens to make sure passing trains and planes are not audible in the background, and he turns the recording into digital files that are sent to the editors.

Sitting next to Peter in the control room is the director. Be Different was directed by Louis Milgrom, an award-winning director who drove up from New Jersey to record my story. His job is to make sure I read at the correct speed – not too slow, and not too fast. A rule of thumb is that a finished audio book will flow at about ten thousand words an hour. That is, a sixty-thousand-word book will be six hours long as an audio book.

The director makes sure I pronounce words right, and also ensures that I follow the script. If I deviate from the script, he notes the changes and we make sure that’s what we want to do. Here he is:

If I make a mistake, or if there’s an unwanted noise, the director or engineer will stop me, and we’ll start reading again. We also take breaks in reading the script; no one could sit in a chair and read in a constant voice for eight full hours.

For me, a sixty-thousand-word story takes two days to narrate in the studio. That’s pretty normal.

It’s great having two people fill these engineer and director roles, but for many lower budget productions the engineer also serves as the director. Peter has done that many times. Once the recording is done, we move to the next step – editing.

Random House uses a single company – John Marshall Sound – to edit all its audio books. The editor tosses out the mistakes and pauses, and chains all the different takes together into one continuous audio story. That process takes a day or two for most books. The editor may also add music to the beginning and the end, and he may make subtle alterations to the tone to get a better sound quality.

At that point, the audio is ready for sale. In my case, it goes back to Random House, where they package it with the cover art, and distribute it to all their audio marketing partners. In fact, you can pre-order it online now

You’ll be able to see how my most recent effort turned out very soon. I’ll have a clip from the audio book up next week, and the whole book will be available for download in less than two months.

It’s coming fast . . .


Anonymous said…
Can I buy it from
Yes, it will be on Audible, iTunes, etc.

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