Seven Life-lessons I Learned by Creating an Audiobook

I’ve learned a lot since the spring of 2013 when my debut novel got published. Sure, there were the normal things like learning about the process of getting a book ready for launch and all of the post-launch procedures for helping the book to succeed. Though I don’t feel anywhere near an expert in the world of publishing, it’s been an amazing crash course and I get new lessons every day.   

            When I decided to produce an audiobook of the novel, it launched me into yet another unfamiliar landscape of all that I don’t know.  I did gather a few lessons, not only about creating the audiobook itself, but about the process of tackling anything new. The lessons that I learned—some of them not for the first time, but on a deeper level—weren’t just writer’s lessons. They’re lessons for me in every aspect of living life as a learning, growing, creative person. 

 

Enjoy a Journey of Your Own Design

I know, I know, we’ve heard this before. It’s not the destination; it’s the journey, right? Confession, I’m a destination kind of a woman. When I set my sights on something I like to get there and usually feel a sense of failure if I don’t. But in writing, publishing, and now in creating an audiobook, I got it—really got it—that a satisfying journey is actually part of my destination.

            Some authors hire out and turn their project over to audiobook experts. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s they’re journey. But I wanted to participate in the creation of my audiobook. Call me a control freak, but the writer in me still wanted to retain influence over how my story was interpreted. I didn’t know what that would mean or what shape my participation would take, but I knew I that for me, sending the book to a narrator who sat somewhere across the country and just waiting to hear the product through my computer speakers wasn’t going to do it.  

Lesson One: While the quality of the product matters, it’s the process where much of the learning and much of the satisfaction takes place. Let go. Relax. Enjoy. Learn.

 

Recognize Your Limits

If my relationship with technology was a romance, it would definitely be a love-hate affair. I didn’t really want to learn the techno-details of producing an audio, nor did I want the inevitable frustrations that would come with the technology end of it. I didn’t want to invest in recording equipment or software I’d have to spend months or years learning how to use. I didn’t want to spend hours on tech support calls learning how to meet the specs required for audiobook distributors.

            My hat is off to those brave authors who record their books at home in their walk-in closets with free software and a couple of hundred bucks for a good microphone. Some of them get pretty fine results. But that just wasn’t the journey I wanted. Writing is so solitary. I wanted some companions on this part of the trip and I wanted those companions to know things I don’t. I needed a sound engineer. Lucky me, I found a great one.

            The other big question was about the narrator for my audiobook. I’ve done a fair amount of public reading of stories and novel excerpts. As my “day job” I actually teach public speaking for Fortune 500 companies all over the country. I’m a reasonably good reader and a pretty skilled public speaker.  But it was apparent early on that my book did not need a reader, or a speaker. It needed a voice artist with acting skills, and THOSE I do not have. My novel is a drama of more than four hundred pages long and filled with characters from Ireland, Australia, Mexico, Texas, and Queens. There’s an elderly character with Parkinson’s Disease and a six-year-old child as a key character. I might be able to pull off the occasional G-day, mate! But an Aussie accent that is consistent and believable and a cast of dozens, all with their own individual vocal styles in dramatic situations.  No way.

            Nope. The narration was a job to which I could not do justice. Acting, like sound engineering, is an art and one that takes years to master.  Enter qualified voice artist. Again, lucky me.

Lesson Two: Know my skills and their limits. I had to take a steely-eyed look at my own gifts and skills, but also had to silence my inner critic. In other words, I had to be objective. That meant that I recorded myself reading the same pages as I gave to the pros who auditioned. My ears told me that while my reading was adequate, it wasn’t the performance I wanted. Accepting my limitations along with my skills determined my course.

 

Get Real About Money

The money part of publishing is something writers don’t like to think about or talk about. Really, if we got paid by the hour, even successful authors would have to admit that working at Jiffy Lube might be more lucrative on an hourly basis. When it came to the audiobook, I had to be realistic. I got quotes for up to twenty-three thousand dollars to record and package my audiobook. Gulp! Not only is this not in my price-range, it just made no business sense at all.

            While the journey is important, I wasn’t just doing this for fun. I hope that this publication will result in a return on investment and the chance to actually profit from my work.  Being neither famous nor infamous the odds of making back a $23K investment, much less profiting anything after clearing that giant nut, are nothing short of astronomical.

            There are ways to create an audiobook with little or no investment, by sharing royalties on the back end. But those methods eliminate the experience I wanted to have in the creation of the product.  I had a budget of about a tenth of that astronomical quote above  I had to balance the experience I wanted with the budget I had. That meant that I had to get creative.  I found local talent, a local studio, and talented artists who were new to the process, and were willing to work within my budget.  Yes, I’m on my knees right now in gratitude.

Lesson Three: Wear a business hat when making business decisions. It’s often hard for creative types to think in the ways of business, but I had to. This meant that I had to do some math, consider how many audiobooks I’d have to sell to make back an investment, and get realistic about the probability that this could happen.  It also meant that I couldn’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. While it might have seemed as though it would save me money to narrate the story myself, the quality would have suffered and it might not have saved me money in the long run. My flub-factor would have resulted in much more studio time and time, as they say, is money.

 

Find the Right Pit Crew

In her book, Bird by Bird Ann LaMotte writes about her “pit crew”, the people that comprise her support team.  In starting this new endeavor, I wanted to actually enjoy the creative process. That meant finding not only people with the right skills, but with temperaments and work ethics that I could work with.  We were going to spend a lot of time together—more than I even knew. I wanted us to get along, work without drama, and even have some fun.

            I interviewed six recording artists and seven or eight studio engineers before I found my personal pit crew. After eliminating the financially out-of-reach, I passed on hiring one voice artist who was affordable and highly skilled, but so annoying, needy, and neurotic in our initial conversations that I knew I’d lose my mind working in confined quarters with her. Yes, the actor had to have the right voice, but she also needed the right disposition.

            One sound engineer was so condescending and impatient over the phone when I asked about a technical matter (something I confessed knowing little about) that I knew our collaboration might result in a homicide, but I wasn’t sure if the body would be his or mine. It wasn’t worth the risk.

            In my voice artist, Monica McKey and my sound engineer, Adam Sullivan, I found not only talent, but a willingness to collaborate along with dedication, enormous patience, and good will. They were pros in every way, who seemed to care as much as I did about the quality of what we were creating. With them I got to check every box: Skills, check. Budget, check. Wonderful human beings, check. Fun to work with, Double check.

            Working smoothly in collaboration with great partners might not be important to everyone in their creative endeavors. But remember, I’m on a journey of my own design.

Lesson Four: The companions I choose to go along on a long journey can be just as important as the ending destination. Choosing people I respect, admire, and have fun with always makes for a great trip. 

 

Remember the Home Remodeling Formula

My husband is a skilled carpenter and all-around handy guy.  We’ve done our share of DYI projects and home remodeling. I’m the one with the lofty dreams about how easy and simple some fantastic project can be. He’s the one with the reality checks and all of those pesky facts about what it really takes to get a job done.  But even with his skills, I’ve always learned that whatever we initially think the timeframe is for a given project, I triple it in terms of an expected end date.

            This rule-of-thumb proved true for creating my audiobook.  It takes approximately five hours to create each hour of finished audiobook recording. My finished book is 12.5 hours long. We spent about twenty-six hours of studio time recording. Then there was the post-production editing where we listened for page-turns and loud breaths and other funny little sounds. After that there was Adam’s technical wizardry and multiple hours he spent to meet the specs required at Audible and Amazon and iTunes.  Yup, five-to-one seems about right, if not a little light. What didn’t even get calculated into this figure was all of the reading and rehearsal that Monica did on her own time.  If I counted that, it would be at least seven or eight hours for each finished hour. 

            We had weather delays due to a leak in the studio after a rainstorm (perhaps the last one that has happened to date in California). We each had our day jobs and personal calendars to coordinate. Then there is the process that takes place with Amazon and the other distributors, which I can sum up in just a five words: In Their Own Sweet Time. We started recording in late January of is 2014. I originally thought we’d have a springtime launch in April, but it turned out to be a late summer launch in August when all was said and done. I forgot to triple the time in my expectations.

Lesson Five: Pack my patience for a long trip.  Dang, I hate that lesson. Patience is no fun, but I’ve learned that it’s even less fun if I get too controlling about time rather than just accepting that there will be inevitable delays along the way. Managing my own expectations at the onset is key to a satisfying experience.

 

Manage Your Need for Control, But Don’t Chuck It Completely

I’ve already confessed to being a little bit of a control freak—okay, it’s more than that. But I really did need to both embrace and abandon this tendency to achieve the final outcome and the experience that I wanted to have. Though it sounds lofty for this newbie to say it, I really had to get it that I was the acting producer/director for this project. 

            On one hand, I needed to claim control.  I wanted a certain quality. I wanted to collaborate with great people and controlled that by hand-picking them. I had a particular budget.

            To achieve this level of control I selected the artists that I thought would be perfect for the work. I listened along to each and every minute of recording, offering the occasional bit of “direction” to make occasional, small adjustments. For instance, Monica’s performed one particular character with a Texas accent. She got this exclusively (and quite reasonably, I learned) from the syntax and expressions that were in the text. But in my mind, this character wasn’t Texan, or even Southern.  I thought hard, and weighed Monica’s interpretation, but ultimately decided that I wanted the character to be the native San Franciscan I’d envisioned. This was one of those bits of control I chose to retain.

            On the other hand, Monica made unexpected and wonderful contributions in her interpretation of the story. She added dimension just with the quality of her voice that I hadn’t anticipated. She made some scenes more intense than I’d imagined, and others far more tender. Here’s where letting go of control came in for me. Just because I didn’t imagine it the way she read it, didn’t mean that I needed to control it. Monica, as an artist in her own right, brought qualities to the story I’d not written.  The synergy of her voice and artistry with my words, then topped with Adam’s technical skills made the audiobook an entirely new piece of work, apart from the one I’d created when I wrote the story.

Lesson Six: Value what others bring to the table. Robert Lewis Stevenson said “’Tis the good reader that makes a good book.” While I needed to control what was really important, I needed to leave room for the amazing and unexpected of what someone else contributes. Sometimes that’s where the magic happens. I learned when publishing the book over a year ago that the readers make it 3-dimensional.  What readers bring of themselves to the story adds to what the writer puts on the page. I’ve experienced this in the responses I’ve gotten from readers of my book over the last year. What Monica and Adam added to the audiobook was something I could never have controlled and was better than I could have imagined on my own.

 

Accept Who You Are

This has perhaps the biggest learning for me, and the biggest bit of personal growth for me as both a writer and a person. Like lots of writers, well lots of people, I have a harsh and highly vocal inner critic. I found that I was often frustrated with all of what I didn’t know while creating this audiobook. I always felt I should know more. Other people are “experts” and I felt behind and inadequate to the task.

            But if I’m honest, I can look back and remember that I was frustrated while writing my first novel (the one that’s composting nicely in a bottom desk drawer). I was frustrated when I was a ghostwriter. I was frustrated writing and publishing my novel over a year ago. I was frustrated learning to use social networking. In fact, when I look over my entire adult life, I recognize that I’m often in one or another state of frustration. Prior to this experience of creating an audiobook, I’d always been irritated by this.  Yikes! That means I’ve been frustrated with being frustrated.  I’d wonder what’s wrong with me. Can’t I just be satisfied

            It was in the middle of this project that I finally got it.  As my mom would have said, “The nickel finally dropped.”  I am frequently frustrated, not because I’m an unhappy, unsatisfied person. In fact, I’m often quite happy and experience great satisfaction.  I’m frequently in a state of frustration because, and here’s the kicker, I seek it out. 

            I’m frustrated because I’ve chosen to continuously challenge myself and to put myself on a constant series of uphill climbs up new learning curves. I’m always stretching into something I don’t know much about. It’s not just an anomaly; it’s a way of life and I chose it. I’m always in over my head. I’m always just outside of my comfort zone, learning a new vocabulary, plunging deep into new opportunities. I always feel inadequate to the task because I’m forever the newcomer looking up to a master. I always feel as though there’s more I should do, more I should know, and more that I could be learning. Frustration is what makes up the bars that form the prison I’ve designed for myself.

            When my inner critic has her way, she turns this frustration into self-doubt. “Who do you think you are?” she says. “You’re a fraud. Everybody knows more about this than you do. You’ll never measure up.” 

            I know, she’s really mean.

            Reframing frustration as learning and evidence that I’m taking creative risks rather than as inadequacy is the key to quieting my inner critic.  This is the one I need to learn, not just intellectually, but into the marrow of my bones.  I want to package this lesson to-go and take it with me into my next journey. 

The Biggest Lesson: Accept frustration as part of the package in being a life-long learner.  Frustration is just the pain of the stretch and it’s evidence that I’m reaching, learning, and growing. Just resist turning frustration into self-criticism. Going forward, I’m going to try to experience frustration as evidence that I’m learning and growing.

 

I’m grateful for the lessons learned in this creative process. I’m going to do my best to remember them going into the next adventure. I can’t wait to see what new lessons await me in this creative life.

 

Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s debut novel Fire & Water, was published by She Writes Press in Spring of 2014.  Fire & Water is now available as an audiobook on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible.com.  Betsy can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BetsyGFAuthor on Twitter: @BetsyGFasbinder, and on her website: www.betsygrazianifasbinder.com 

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Comment by Cassandra Black on May 14, 2016 at 8:12am

Tweeting this now at https://twitter.com/writercassandra. Thank you!

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