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Making Tracks: A Writer's Guide to Audiobooks (And How To Produce Them) Paperback – October 19, 2012
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About the Author
A longtime award-nominated audio/video producer and tech journalist-turned novelist, J. Daniel Sawyer's abusive behavior toward the English language finally landed him in trouble with the release of his hard-boiled Clarke Lantham Mysteries. When not speculating about crime and punishment, or laying out twisted visions in his sci-fi thriller series The Antithesis Progression or his cabin fever comedy Down From Ten, he bends his mind toward corrupting his fellow authors with educational books like Throwing Lead: A Writer's Guide to Firearms (and the People Who Use Them) and Making Tracks: A Writer's Guide to Audiobooks (and How To Produce Them). On the rare occasion that he escapes his cavernous studio to see the light of day, he slips away into the wilds of the San Francisco back country where he devotes his energies to running afoul of local traffic ordinances in his never-ending pursuit of the ultimate driving road. Should you be so inclined, you can communicate with this shady character, as well as find stories, podcasts, articles, and other literary abominations at http://www.jdsawyer.net
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When I was a pre-teen, my favorite book was the Boy Engineer. As a kid, I was always building things. In about the third grade I built my first telegraph. About that time, my parents gave me a crystal radio kit and I began listening to The Joy Boys, Ed Walker and Willard Scott, on WRC radio through my ear phones . My fascination with the show went on for years and my dad actually took me down to the studio one time to meet them. Later in graduate school, I spent a lot of Saturday evenings listening to a Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor .
Daniel Sawyer’s book, Making Tracks, taps into this same fascination.
Although I have never purchased an audiobook, most of the senior citizens that I know have. Commuters and road warriors are two other obvious listening groups. Successful authors that I know are sensitive to the audiobook market because it opens up an entirely new reading market for their content . They often end up being addicted to podcasting for the same basic reason and because much the same equipment is needed. Interestingly, the audiobook industry started out as a government program to produce audiotapes to aid the blind (xvii; 22). Now, instead of tape, many books are entirely electronic (13).
Audiobooks require a bit of time and effort. Sawyer estimates that production of an audiobook requires 4 to 8 hours of work for each hour of finished audio. Reading at a rate of 8,000 to 9,500 words per hour, that means that an 80,000 word novel is somewhere between 33.6 to 80 hours of production work—recording and editing, assuming that you know what you are doing (3).
If you are producing an audio drama, not just a simple reading, a lot of different roles are required—much like producing a movie. Think of the production including: a casting director, a Foley artist (sound effects person), a music director, director, production engineer, art director, and post production engineer (9-12). Details. Details. Details. My head was spinning as I began reading…A recent book trailer shows this kind of workmanship .
Daniel Sawyer describes himself as “a longtime award-nominated audio/video producer and tech journalist-turned novelist” . He writes in 6 parts divided into 18 chapters, including:
Part 1: The Business.
Part 2: Managing the Production.
Part 3: Acoustics.
Part 4: The Equipment.
Part 5: Production.
Part 6: Post Production (vii-xiii).
Sawyer’s discussion is detailed and engaging.
Under manage the production, Sawyer cites 5 points of vocal production:
3. Breath control.
4. Hygiene. And
5. Inflection (48).
Now is a good time to refresh the lessons that your voice instructor gave you in school. For example, the best way to read is standing up. Received pronunciation (BBC English) is a middle-class, Ohio accent. Sawyer suggests that speaking a mouth full of marbles is a good cure for “mush mouth” (49). Speak with conviction with good annunciation! (59) The list of helpful hints goes on and on.
Sawyer’s instructions on how to pick and use a microphone is priceless. He suggests, for example, that book readers probably want a dynamic microphone which uses a small magnet vibrating back and forth inside a coil (102). By contrast, a condenser microphone uses a charged piece of foil to pick up sound (101). The dynamic microphone is more durable and sounds more personal than a condenser microphone.
Daniel Sawyer’s Making Tracks is a gold mine for audio book producers, but others with sound production may also want to pick up a copy. Microphones, cables, sound boards, and sound-editing software are all discussed in plain English. Making Tracks is interesting reading.
Read more reviews at: T2Pneuma.net.
Edward L. Throm. 1960. The Boy Engineer: A Popular Mechanics Book. Illustrated by Evelyn Urbanowich and Robert Pious. New York: Golden Press.
This book is highly technical, and it is geared toward professional narrators in training, or for authors who want to record their own audiobooks. It covers everything you need to know: the state of the audiobook market, barriers to entry, proper recording technique (even hygiene), selecting the right equipment, editing, mastering, and all other aspects of the business side of audiobooks. It's a must-have for anyone looking to do their own audio.
If there's one thing I took away from the book, it's that I don't have the time, resources, or patience to do an audiobook myself. I'm glad I spent the money on this book to learn that rather than jumping into it and finding out first-hand. Let that be a warning to anyone else considering doing their own audio.
But for an author like me looking to outsource my audio, there wasn't much for me here. But I have a bit of an audio background, and I can definitely say that Sawyer's advice is sound, especially with recording, production, and post-production. This is why I gave it five stars, because it's perfect for its intended audience.
What would have made this book a six star book though, would have been a section on marketing your audiobooks and getting them out there. With the rise of ACX, most people are outsourcing their audio these days, and the key issue for them is how to get the book in front of prospective readers, especially if they're under a royalty-share agreement, where the responsibility falls on both the author and narrator to promote the book. I haven't seen a (good) book on this topic yet, if there's anyone who could do it right, it's probably J. Daniel Sawyer. And it fits in with the book's target audience, too. That's a minor suggestion for an otherwise great book.
This was a good read, and if I ever decide to do my own audio, this is the book I'd reread.