The Art of Storytelling: Audiobook Narration Myths (Part 1)

“Sometimes you have to go places with characters and emotions within yourself that you don’t want to do, but you have a duty to the story, and as a storyteller to do it.”

– Hugh Jackman

I’ve had a lot of questions about how to get into audiobook narration, and honestly, it’s a longer answer than most people realize. I’ll address some of the basic rumors that I’ve heard here, and next week I’ll talk a little bit about the preparation and technical side of audiobook production.

Thank you all for the requests. I’ve really enjoyed talking with each of you.

Now first of all, it’s important to note that not everyone is meant to be an audiobook narrator- and that’s okay. With that being said, let’s address some rumors.

Myths:

You need to know someone in the industry : FALSE
While it’s certainly helpful to know someone in the business, it is absolutely not necessary. All that’s needed to have a successful career narrating audiobooks is skill and hard work. There are a ton of resources to help new narrators navigate the industry.

Having a quiet place to record is essential: TRUE
Yes. I know that this seems like an obvious one, but whether you decide to record at a studio or from your home, you would be surprised how much the microphone picks up. And reverb. I’ll address reverb thoroughly in my post next week.
If you decide to record at a professional studio, make sure to thoroughly vet them first. I once heard a horror story from a narrator whose producer left car noises from the passing street in her final product. Those sounds should never have made it into the raw audio in a professional studio, let alone after post-production.

You have to have a background in acting: FALSE
Once again, while it’s certainly helpful depending on your genre, it is absolutely not necessary. Actually, in some cases, it might even hinder your career.
Why?
Because the microphone catches everything. Every breath, every quiver of your voice, and every inconsistent tick in that foreign accent you thought you had perfected. Audiobook narration is not a “fake it ’til you make it” industry. There are acting coaches who specialize in voice acting, because it’s an entirely different kind of beast. Even without coaching though, you can constantly work to hone your skills. Above all, audiobook narration is professional story telling, and if you can spin a good story, you’re on the right path.

You can use a USB microphone: FALSE
You. Guys.
I’ve been asked to review some of the demos that come across my producer’s desk, and there is a distinct difference when a USB microphone is in use.
(On a completely unrelated note, A NEW PRODUCER JUST JOINED OUR TEAM! I’m so excited. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been wearing two hats for a hot minute while they scouted for new talent. Your girl is tired. And ready for a promotion.)
Here’s the thing about USB microphones: yes, they technically work. Yes, you might be able to score a few gigs with them. However, the odds are that these books will be a royalty share deal, which means you get paid royalties for every copy of the audiobook sold. Clients, or Rights Holders, have higher standards for PFH (per finished hour) products, since they’re risking their own money.
A royalty share deal means you only get paid if people buy the audiobook. Guess what’s a huge factor in people buying the book? Quality. Invest in a decent microphone and XLR interface, because trust me, it’s worth it. I’ll talk more about this in my next post. Even if you think you’ll start with the USB mic and upgrade later, do you really want those lower quality audiobooks floating around with your name on it? Do it for the brand your building.

You have to love reading: TRUE
I feel like this one should also be obvious, but you really have to love reading or this will be the most miserable career move you’ve ever made. You’re locked in a studio talking to yourself for hours on end. Sometimes in different voices. If you don’t love reading, and the project you’re working on, it can become amazingly tedious. We’ve all been there though, I mean, it’s a job. You don’t always love your work. When you have a project that you’re less than enthusiastic about, it’s important to push through and not let it show. Remember how I said that the microphone picks up everything? That includes boredom, smiles, shrugs, everything.

A great voice is all that you need: FALSE
Ooh, you guys. Do you know how many people think that because they have a great voice they can just sail into this career? A lot. Audiobook narration is about acting with subtlety, distinguishing your characters, channeling the emotion, tone and pacing of the book. A great voice is nice, but it is far from the most important part of storytelling. A wonderful example would be radio personalities. Their larger than life voices are great, but their training is a world away from the skills of an audiobook narrator.

You need to read the book before recording: TRUE
I don’t know how someone got it into their head that they could just jump right in, but that makes so much more work for everyone involved. A lot of planning goes into creating an audiobook, and it’s essential to know the story that you’re working with.
I always read a book twice before starting production, and I have a handy dandy notebook that I use to take notes on all of my projects as I go. I read it first to get a hold of the story, and write down a list of characters as I go, then the second time I mark down specific characteristics of each one that will affect the voice that I create for them.

This series is a bit longer than I expected, so next Tuesday’s book review will be replaced with Part Two of this series, and I’ll release the final part on Saturday. Check back on Tuesday for tips and tricks on how to decide if its right for you and how to prepare!

Thanks again for reading!

The Crown’s Game: 2.2

The Crown’s Game
Author: Evelyn Skye
Narrators: Steve West
Rating: 2.2
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy

“His laugh echoed through the entire room. He didn’t sound cruel, but then again, the worst kinds of cruelty come in the guise of kindness.” 
― Evelyn Skye, The Crown’s Game

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

In a world full of magic and danger, why wouldn’t a country’s future leader want a strong enchanter by his side?

Apparently, because he’s a hormone riddled teenager with no mind of his own.

I mean… I had the highest hopes for this series. Look at that cover! It’s stunning. I love the reversal of the city in the crown to display both sides. The cover is about as deep as this book gets. The aesthetic part of me is thrilled. The rest? Not so much.

Essentially, Vika and Nikolai have been raised with the knowledge that one day they will duel to the death for the right to become the tsar’s Imperial Enchanter. Country Mouse and City Mouse, as they shall henceforth be known, are excited for the opportunity to show off their skills and earn the coveted role. Thus, the Crown’s Game is set into motion, and Country Mouse is summoned to City Mouse’s domain to compete for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Want to know the most interesting part?

You just read it.

know. How could a magical duel to the death not be interesting? How do the words talent show sound to you? Not as exciting as a duel, I’m sure.

The mice were essentially tasked with showing off their magical ability, but all they did was try to one up each other, and it felt amazingly immature, even for YA. I mean, come on. The loser is supposed to die, and they were all “ooh, look at my life size music box.”

Also, let’s talk romance for a second. What. In. The. Ever. Loving. Name. Of. Love. Triangles. Was. That.

So City Mouse and Country Mouse embrace the enemies to lovers trope with arms wide open. Except they were never really enemies? They were mistrustful of each other, because sure, who wouldn’t mistrust someone who’s life depends on your death? They fall in love through their magic, without talking that much. It’s weird.

Pasha, the tsar’s son, is the one tasked with choosing the winner. This part makes sense, because the victor will be his enchanter when he ascends the throne. Pasha also happens to be Nikolai’s best friend, since childhood.

Does that give City Mouse an edge? NO. Apparently, Pasha is a hormone ridden adolescent who believes in love at first sight and can’t bear to sentence Country Mouse to her death.

I’m sorry little tsarovich, but if I was Nikolai, and you chose some girl that you just met over your best friend, I don’t care who your father is. It would be on.

I suppose I should explain the few pros that persuaded me to give this book the 2.2 stars that it earned.

The world building was detailed and beautiful, and the writing was smooth and delightful to read. The story itself lacked depth, and the characters were utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately, I have the e-book edition, so I can’t donate it.

Do you disagree? Comment below! 

November Wrap-Up

Hello! Welcome back!

It’s the first day of December, so I feel that it’s only fair to do a quick summary of November to give it a proper send off. And, as always, thank you for reading!

This month, I’ve reviewed Tempests & Slaughter by the wonderful Tamora Pierce, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, To Kill a Kingdom by stunning debut novelist Alexandra Christo, and Catwoman: Soulstealer by award-winning author Sarah J. Maas.

Most of my reviews came from listening to audiobooks this month, mainly because I’ve been swamped in post-production with the audiobook for All That We See or Seem, which I highly recommend. On that note, the audiobook will be available later this month on Audible, so if you’re looking for a new listen while traveling over the holidays, I’d be happy to read it to you. 

On the Rambling Thoughts side of things, we have articles on Book Marketing, Blog Marketing, and What to Research While Writing Fantasy.

This has been a fun month, and now I’m excited to spend the day enjoying my books from Black Friday. It feels like Christmas. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of reviews to come.

I don’t have a problem.

Really.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for some more exciting updates I have to announce in December!

From Daggers to Doughnuts: What to Research While Writing Fantasy

E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G

Am I stating the obvious?

Probably. But it still needs to be said.

Look, I don’t care if you’re writing about an orc falling in love with a dragon in a multidimensional galaxy, you still need to maintain certain standards of reality to keep your audience invested in your story.

I get it. There’s a freedom to writing fantasy due to its lack of restrictions, but there are still restrictions. If your orc from another world suddenly starts eating McDonald’s, I’m going to be yanked out of the story by sheer incredulity.

No one likes to be interrupted in the middle of a good book, so don’t be the one responsible for doing that to your readers.

Good, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk physics, food, and fundamental weaponry.

Physics

Think you weren’t constrained by the laws of earthly physics? You thought wrong – to an extent.

Physics is one area where you need to know the rules to break them. Why? Because until told otherwise, those are the rules your audience live by. It’s also much easier to alter these assumed rules than it is to scrap them and create your own – but if you choose to do that then you need to explain that to your reader.

A great (spoiler free) example of this comes from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.

Maas uses descriptive imagery of her witches flying, including the wild freedom of the rushing wind. When the witches get an upgrade in flying apparatuses, she explains that the wind doesn’t bother their eyes because they have a second set of eyelids that they can blink into place, serving as a sort of natural flying goggle. The witches are vicious killing machines, they can’t be bothered by something as insignificant as the wind in their eyes.

NOTE: My fiancé pointed out that flying itself goes against the laws of physics, but Maas explains this through her complex magic system. She does a great job of integrating the rules of it throughout the series instead of having a giant infodump.

*rolls eyes at fiancé*

Chemists.

Food

Gabriel Kreuther, NYC

Food is a major element, because while your audience may not be familiar with the feeling of escaping a dragon, they certainly know what a good meal should look like.

This is a big one for me. I. Love. Food. I am a foodie, and I do not discriminate. I love burgers and chateaubriand. This means that I am, perhaps insanely, familiar with foods from different cultures and classes.

Classes? You ask. Why does food have to be classist?

I’m glad you asked.

It doesn’t have to be, but if your characters are dining in the great hall of a palace and they’re eating gruel, your readers are going to be confused.

If they’ve been bragging about their chef, I don’t expect them to be excited about the bread. It’s minor details that can distract the reader.

I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m saying, make it make sense. Also, if your story is influenced by a certain culture, research their food. This can be so much fun, and you might end up with a few new recipes!

Ex. 1
In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins distinctly identifies the food based on which District the characters are in, specifically focusing on bread. When Katniss goes to the Capitol, she is enthralled by the luxurious food, but the excessive richness makes her feel sick because she is not accustomed to it. There is a distinct difference between the special meal that Katniss’ family prepares for the Reaping, and the food that Katniss imbibes on her journey. What’s more, Katniss doesn’t take it in stride, because even the cuisine is a vastly different experience from what she’s used to and where she comes from.

“I try to imagine assembling this meal myself back home. Chickens are too expensive, but I could make do with a wild turkey. I’d need to shoot a second turkey to trade for an orange. Goat’s milk would have to substitute for cream. We can grow peas in the garden. I’d have to get wild onions from the woods. I don’t recognize the grain, our own tessera rations cook down to an unattractive brown mush. Fancy rolls would mean another trade with the baker, perhaps for two or three squirrels. As for the pudding, I can’t even guess what’s in it. Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitution for the Capitol version.”

 – Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

Ex. 2
In Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo illustrates the luxurious lifestyle that the Grisha live in contract to the common army when Alina suddenly discovers that she has the powers of a Grisha. She is removed from her post in the First Army to train at the Little Palace, where she is given a lifestyle more opulent than she has ever known. Literally, the only thing less extravagant than her previous life is the food. Bardugo does include some exorbitant meals, but in the dining hall itself she maintains a standard of common fare such as herring and rye. She has the Darkling use the food as a tool to humble the Grisha, despite the splendor of their lifestyles. As explained by Genya:

“The Darkling is very keen on the idea that we all eat hearty peasant fare. Saints forbid we forget we’re real Ravkans.”

 – Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone

Fundamental Weaponry

If you don’t have any sort of weaponry in your fantasy WIP, A) I’m shocked, and B) slightly impressed, so shoot me a copy when your done (haha, get it?) so I can satisfy my curiosity.

Most fantasy works, however, do have weapons involved in some way, whether it be wands to channel magic as a weapon or swords and daggers themselves. It’s especially important to research weapons to know how your characters interact with them and what their proper uses are. If your character is experienced with weaponry and uses a battle axe to chop wood, I’m going to cringe. Most weapons experts consider their accoutrements as almost sacred. There are also a variety of factors to consider such as weight or balance, in addition to experience

Ex. 1 & 2
In An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir takes care to note the differences between how her character Elias reacts when faced with an experienced versus an inexperienced opponent. Elias has been trained multiple forms of weapons and warfare for most of his life, and the narrative is more fast paced and full of action when fighting his experienced opponent. Likewise, his tone is almost nonchalant when faced with an inexperienced opponent.

“We match each other stroke for stroke until I get a hit on her right arm.
She tries to switch sword arms, but I jab my scim at her wrist faster than she can parry. Her scim goes flying, and I tackle her. Her white-blonde hair tumbles free of her bun.
“Surrender!” I pin her down at the wrists, but she trashes and rips one arm free, scrabbling for a dagger at her waist. Steel stabs at my ribs, and seconds later, I am on my back with a blade at my throat.”

Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes

“‘Don’t be sorry.’ I look for the clearest exit, but most are flooded with students. ‘You’ll be holding a knife to more than one throat before this is all over. You’ll need to practice technique, though. I could have disarmed you-“

Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes

Finally, research your own book.
What? But you wrote it. Why should you have to research it?

So you can be consistent.

You’re creating an entire world with complex rules of magic and laws of nature that do not currently exist. Don’t assume that your readers will forgive inconsistencies. Even if they will, why would you do that to your book? As a fantasy novel, your book already relies heavily on your readers’ suspension of disbelief, so don’t push them to the point of incredulity.

These are some of the most common matters that I’ve found distracting in fantasy novels, mainly because they are so prevalent in everyday life, with the exception of weaponry. Wielding weapons, however, is a skill that needs to be mastered and so few protagonists train enough for the skill level that they display.

What other common mistakes do you find in fantasy novels that distracts you from the story?

One I’ve seen frequently is using the wrong honorific for royalty, it always makes me cringe.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll (hopefully) see you next week!

-Lissa

Catwoman: Soulstealer: 3.5

Catwoman: Soulstealer
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Rating: 3.5

“She’d taken home more bruises than usual, and the man she’d beaten to unconsciousness… not her problem.” 

Sarah J. Maas, Catwoman: Soulstealer

I am a huge fan of Sarah J Maas and I love a good anti-hero, but Catwoman: Soulstealer was disappointingly obvious, and full of clichés. I mean, seriously, how many times did Selina Kyle have to purr her dialogue?

The problem I had with this book is that I loved the idea of Catwoman’s backstory more than I liked it’s execution.

Essentially, Selina Kyle is a trained League of Assassins alumnus who returns to her hometown of Gotham City with specific plans in mind, determined to do whatever needs to be done to meet her goal. She teams up with some of the city’s most notorious villains, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, thus creating the ultimate trio of female villains. Luke Fox, aka Batwing, is tasked with stopping them while Bruce Wayne is away.

The prose was well written, but not up to Ms. Maas’ normal standard. I get the sense that she wasn’t so much inspired by this work as she was filling in the blanks of a story that she was contracted to write. Which is technically true, so I suppose I cannot fault her for that. I can however, as a reader, be disappointed. Overall, it was a nice story, but not flushed out enough to make the reader feel fulfilled. The character relationships for the most part, although meant to be full of depth and meaning, felt more shallow because of the lack of development. It felt more like they took the steps out of rote than that they were truly motivated.

On the positive side, I loved the working relationship and friendship that bloomed between Selena, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. I wish there had been more of a focus on this relationship. Instead, both Ivy and Harley’s backgrounds were revealed via an info-dump that felt too bland for their amazing stories. Let’s face it, these girls definitely deserve more airtime. Harley Quinn’s plan to blow up the children’s pageant stage (before the children arrived) as a moral protest is definitely #squadgoals and #girlpower.

I won’t discuss the “hate to love” romance that WE ALL KNEW WAS COMING, partially because of my no spoilers policy (please note my sarcasm), and partially because it bored me to tears. Seriously. Out of all of Selena’s relationships, her SO felt like the least significant. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for promoting girl power and family over one’s love life, but I’d rather there be no romance than be bored by a tired one.

Now, her sister, on the other hand, has a significant relationship with the protagonist, which is mainly portrayed in flashbacks. Maggie Kyle serves as the cornerstone of Selina’s motivation. I love the hint of personality that Maas gives us in the brief moments that we get with her. Give me more of Maggie Kyle.

In short, Catwoman is an independent powerhouse with the power to upturn a world ruled by men. All the factors were there for her story to shine, but it doesn’t. There are a few parts that sparkle with promise, but fade quickly in the vast emptiness of the unfulfilling world. Would I read it again? Probably not.

I wanted more, but not in a good way. I felt that the novel itself was lacking and needed more work before it was released.