Written by
Hope Edelman
August 2009
Written by
Hope Edelman
August 2009
I just spent three straight days inside an airtight safe. Okay, it wasn’t exactly a safe, but it looked and felt like one: metal, and square, and stuffy. It also had a huge glass window on one side. Inside, there was only an office chair, a music stand, a space-age set of headphones, a couple of water bottles, and a black microphone the size of a dinner plate suspended in the air. Yes, my friends, it was audiobook time.Three days in a padded, soundproof box reading my book out loud. And it was a priceless experience. Let me back up for a moment. Blackstone Audio purchased the audio rights to my book, and offered $1500 for me to read it myself. That was a godsend in this down economy. I accepted. The company is based in Ashland, Oregon, but has a recording studio in Los Angeles where we'd do the taping. The part I didn’t quite catch at first was that their studio is on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, an hour and fifteen minute drive from my house. This required some fancy juggling to secure childcare and maneuver around traffic patterns, but it wasn’t impossible to arrange. On Friday morning, I printed out the Mapquest directions and also programmed the address into my car’s GPS system, to make doubly sure I wouldn’t get lost. The studio was in Rolling Hills Estates, an area of Los Angeles I ‘d never seen before. It’s south of Torrance and somewhere near San Pedro, in some serious horse country. Most of the houses there have adjacent stables and the streets all have decidedly equine names. Two peacocks crossed the road just before I pulled up to the house. The studio was at the end of the street in a converted garage, the kind of set-up that makes you wonder if the photographer who gave you his card at Venice Beach and promised he’d make you a famous model really wasn’t telling the whole story. But the audio engineer who met me on the driveway looked harmless enough, and the studio inside was fully equipped, and I’d driven more than an hour and rearranged the whole weekend to do the taping, so I settled in for the duration. I’ve taped two of my audiobooks before but those were both abridged texts, sliced-and-diced versions that only vaguely resembled my original intent. I completed them both in two sessions of about four hours each. This company, however, specializes in unabridged books. Which in my case, translated to 325 pages to read out loud. The book’s a memoir and I realized pretty early into it that there’s a definite advantage to having the author read the work herself. I was able to insert all the nuances I’d originally intended in each paragraph, and because I remember the original conversations, and have since spent time with several of the characters, I was able to come close (I hope) to capturing their real-life vocal inflections and spoken quirks. At first, I’d worried that I couldn’t pull this off, given that my acting experience is limited to a single class the intrepid Rachel Resnick and I took together in Malibu a few years ago just for the hell of it, but the audiobook experience was really more like reading my daughters bedtime stories. When I read to them I try to mimic characters’ voices and inject emotion into the sentences, which wound up being pretty good training for this. The recording format took some getting used to at first, since the earphones you wear while you speak allow you to hear your own voice in real time. And nobody ever sounds the way they think they do. Plus, every time you make a mistake, or stumble over a word, or mispronounce anything, the engineer is all over it, and interrupts you mid-sentence to ask for a redo. This involves him backing up the tape, replaying the prior sentence, and having you picking up the narrative from there. It’s not hard to get the hang of, just weird at first. And over time, mentally exhausting. By 5:30 p.m. on Friday, we’d made it all the way to page 114, about a third of the way through, and I was pretty much fried for the day. It took sixteen hours total (and one Saturday evening yoga class for an aching back) over three days for me to get through all the pages. And although it felt like a marathon in almost every possible way, it was an enormously useful experience. Under no other circumstance would I ever have read my entire book out loud from Introduction through Chapter Thirteen. Doing so gave me a sense of the book as a whole, rather than as a collection of isolated chapters, which both writing it and then reading and re-reading the galleys had been. And it helped me get a sense of which sections would work best for public readings, mainly because it revealed which sections I could read best. It also alerted me to about--(gulp!)--a dozen additional typos or inconsistencies in the text that I didn't catch before. (I guess we'll get them on the second printing, assuming the book gets to a second printing.) And not to be minimized, these audiobook tech guys are like walking pronunciation dictionaries. I had no idea I was skipping through the world pronouncing so many words wrong. "Hovering” was a main culprit. They quickly set me straight on about nine or ten I've been mispronouncing forever. Best of all, as we neared the end of the book and I was reading the climactic scene, I could see the engineer through the window, a young, single, mountain-biking guy with a backwards baseball cap--who is in no way the target audience for this book-- leaning forward toward the pages in anticipation of what would happen next. And it hit me: wow! This is a book! A real book! With a story that people will read! With only 28 days left before release date, that’s a realization coming none too soon.

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  • Michelle O\'Neil

    I really loved reading about this experience, especially the backwards baseball cap guy at the end!
    A good story is a good story!

    Author John Elder Robison wrote on his blog of his experience making Look My In the Eye into an audio book and how much it taught him about himself. He might be interested to learn it isn't just people with autism who learn much through the process.

    P.S. I have a mental block on reading the word "gasped" out loud. It comes out all gapsed. We all have our quirks.

  • Hope Edelman

    Marti, you're saying it right. It's huvvering, pronounced with a short U like in hummer. I've been saying hoe-vering all these years. Who knew?

  • Deb Rox

    Very cool. What an interesting experience. (I wonder if it is ever possible to get the text perfectly clean.)

  • Marti Rulli

    Thank you for this interesting story about reading for your audio book. I was scared straight anticipating that I would have to read for mine. Turns out, they hired an actress. I was SO relieved! I can't wait to hear if the actress's voice sounds anything like my own. (I do have a bit of a New Jersey nasal quality, but I do NOT say "joisey" or other words like that.) Still, I was so scared, thinking I had to do the reading as I am the narrative voice throughout my book.
    I'm sure your anecdote will help many authors new to "audio technology and expectations." I'm curious, however, how did they suggest you pronounce "hovering"? That word is used in my book, too, and I'm just curious if the "o" is supposed to be long or short sound? (I presently pronounce it with a short sound).

    Also, I looked you up on Amazon, and I sure wish I had known about you before. A few of your titles intrigue me, especially that of your upcoming release. The Possibility of Everything is something I wish was released long before my took me over 20 years to finish my book (which is part of my story), but your title alone is inspiring. And your previous book, Motherless Daughters, sounds interesting. If not for this She Writes site, I may not have known about either. My book took extra long because of two daughters left without a mother in my story, and also, I lost my mother when I was 12. I wish I had read it before now: I'm ordering both of your titles today.
    What I liked best about your message here is the reaction of the engineer as your book's climax. Yes, that does say it all. When I received my galley proofs, my adult son took one home with him. He had not read any part of book before the galley. He called me late the next day and said, "Mom, I just want to let you know that I finished your book already, and not because I wanted to, but because I couldn't put it down." It is "the review" I will cherish forever, no matter what comes down in the future. It's moments like that that make the never-ending nights worth it.
    I wish you tremendous success with your book, and I look forward to reading your work. I am the exact amount of days away from publication! For some reason, I'm not nervous. Oh God, I hope that doesn't mean the nerves will burst out all at once...I might explode. :-) Thanks, Marti

  • Hope Edelman

    Random House sold the rights for the audiobook...I think it was the woman who handles all the subsidiary rights, including foreign. My agent may have come in to negotiate the reading fee. Honestly, I'm such a bear of little brain right now I can't remember the specifics!!

  • Casey D.D. Nicholas

    Yes! I once recorded mathematics textbooks for blind students. It's enlightening, isn't it? Thanks for the heads up. I'll be reading my own work in long stretches in the future. Many, many congratulations to you, Hope. Peace and love...

  • Kathy Briccetti

    Hope, Thanks for this riveting read! Did your agent get you this gig, or did you hustle for it?

    (My countdown to publication--of my first book--is something like 296 days. Not that I'm counting or anything!)