Guest post by Melanie Chartoff
For all who are publishing, traditionally or not, read this account of one author who audio-recorded her own book, Melanie Chartoff, author of Odd Woman Out: Exposure in Essays and Stories:
It's great to touch and educate people. For those who are considering narrating their own work, here's my experience trying to get my creation inside the minds and viscera of readers:
As an actor and voice actor, I recently published and narrated my first book, after doing so for other authors and producers in the past. I seemed best suited to the task, since my memoir is personal and comedic, featuring many characters from my personal history. My book was 73,513 words long, minus the table of contents, "Previously Published" page, and dedication. It took 20 hours and cost me $2000 for eight hours and twelve minutes of finished work. The engineer/editor split the fees of $100/hour with the owner/director/composer (who wrote a recurring theme ditty for the book). I was free. You can sample the audio here.
In its first six months, despite being well reviewed, the audio book did not make much money, but listeners write that they have enjoyed its company on car rides or exercise excursions and at bedtime, so I've had other gratifications.
When I've worked for others, it's usually a 4-hour session of constant speaking at a consistent level of energy throughout. I stop and do pickups frequently for words I've slurred or sections that weren't intelligible or expressive enough because I spoke too fast. There are generally 9200 words in a finished hour. I'm paid $300 per recorded hour (post edits), in order for the audio to be cost efficient for the producer or author.
It's hard work. It was hard work for my own book, too, which I produced out of pocket. I was highly motivated to enact scenes from my own experience at peak energy, but I'd get exhausted in those 4 hours. If I recorded in my home studio, I could have taken far longer, worked fewer hours and spent many hours in the tedium of listening to my own voice and editing. But I wanted an objective ear, and getting spontaneous reactions from the the booth made the read far more pleasurable.
Before you embark on recording your own book, I'll share my experience coaching authors and later listening to their books. They start out great, but unless they have vocal training or are accustomed to speaking for many hours with full conviction, they can run out of steam and get monotonous. They stop imagining the listener struggling to grasp the gist. Endurance and focus are mandatory, and if your book is dramatic, giving different characters distinct nuances that repeat throughout the story is a challenge. (Record samples so you can refer back.)
It's less about having a good voice and more about maintaining peak interest and energy for many hours and days, discovering the text as if for the first time, so the reader will, too.
You can listen to samples from professional narrators on many sites, and perhaps find a voice as suitable as your own, of any gender, for your work. And you may favor your own performance, but practice for awhile first. You might first volunteer and read textbooks for the Braille Institute in your region, or at hospitals where folks need a good story or educational text. Record yourself and see if you are galvanized when you listen to the playback.
Whatever your decision, I wish you a great audio version of your work!