Tag Archives: casting

The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook

Today, we’re joined by Robin Whitten, Editor and Founder of AudioFile Magazine, one of the industry’s top sources for audiobook news and reviews. Robin is here to demystify AudioFile‘s editorial process, teach ACX Rights Holders how to cast the best voice for their book, and share how to submit for a review.

The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook

AuON14_cover_300dioFile has been around the block with audiobook reviews. I started the magazine in 1992 when I could not find any reviews that considered the audio performance or the listening experience. What started as a 12-page newsletter has morphed into a multi-platform audiobook review and recommendation source. We review nearly 200 audiobooks per month, and now have 36,000 reviews in our Review Archive.

Listeners, library selectors, authors, narrators, and publishers access AudioFile reviews in our print bi-monthly magazine, in weekly e-newsletters, on the AudioFileMagazine.com website, at AudiobookREX.com, and featured by content partners who sell audiobooks.

Audiobooks come into our Portland, Maine, offices in a steady (digital) stream. We receive review copies from all major publishers and in increasing numbers directly from authors, rights holders, and narrators. Our AudioFile reviewers –about 120 individuals from all over the country with a few scattered around the world—help us create 40-50 professional reviews each week.

What’s a professional review?

A professional or editorial review is often different from a user-review. Editorial reviewers step back and consider each audiobook from a wider perspective. They use their audiobook listening experience to evaluate and assess the quality of the narration, the overall performance, and the alignment with the author’s intent. A professional’s critique is considered alongside the many other audiobooks they’ve experienced.

There’s always a place for user-reviews. The candid enthusiasm and satisfaction (or lack thereof) offers immediate feedback and is easy for others to react to. AudioFile reviews are more than just one reviewer’s opinion; they’re deliberate and collaborative. At AudioFile, we encourage discussion of elements like successful emotional tone & dramatic style more than a rating system. Our reviews are carefully edited and meet strict standards. Three editors see each review, and the grammar and the sense of the language have to pass them all.

The Focus of AudioFile Reviews

Robin covers

Robin Whitten, AudioFile’s Founder and Editor.

AudioFile reviews very specifically focus on elements of the performance, and what sort of listening experience to expect. Obviously we have to discuss the storyline, but we are not there to critique the author’s written work, or to give a plot summary. Each AudioFile review should make clear to the reader that it’s an AUDIObook review. We may be critical of a performance choice, or the success of an accent, but we do not trash titles indiscriminately.

What Should Authors Listen For?

The most critical element for an audiobook review is the casting. The choice of the right narrator is essential. The skilled narrator can fulfill the intent of the written work and give subtle layers of brilliant storytelling. However, the narrator is not just a voice. The narrator has to get inside the words, and thus into the head of the author. Experience shows, and reviewers can spot the pros.

Sound quality is also something noticed by all listeners. Lapses in QC, like extraneous noise, sloppy edits, and varying sound levels will always be called out by reviewers. All of these are controllable issues, and not perfecting them is a black mark.

Unpredictability comes into reviews primarily because all performance choices or all stories do not appeal to all reviewers. Part of the professional review process is to match reviewers with audiobooks appropriate to their tastes and skills.

AudioFile reviewers are given criteria for their evaluation, criteria we take seriously enough to outline on our masthead: Narrative voice & style; Vocal characterizations; Appropriateness for audio format; Enhancement of the text. We have great respect for the narrators and authors. To get top marks with our review criteria, here are some specifics:

  • Listen for more than “a great voice.”
  • Choose a narrator whose vocal style and tone is aligned with your written style and tone.
  • Make sure the narrator emotionally connects to your intent.
  • Think about how much “performance” you want from your characters. (Note: at Audible, we recommend a subtle performance over a “cartoonish” one.)
  • Consider whether big accents will define your characters or distract from them.
  • Consider whether your book has visual elements like maps or charts, essential footnotes or multiple time-line shifts? These present extra challenges in audio production.

How Do We Choose Audiobooks to Review?

The audiobook publishing floodgates opened a few years ago when ACX added their titles to the already expanding lists from traditional publishers. AudioFile receives announcements of upcoming titles from traditional publishers and starts our selection process there.

CoverBest of-300We make one pass after looking over basic title merchandizing sheets; references from various book scouts in the library and publishing industries; and whatever publicity we find. If an audiobook comes out after the success of a print or eBook title, reviews and buzz can bring these into focus. We take recommendations from narrators, and authors, as well as standard publicity information.

Rights holders, authors, and narrators can submit titles to AudioFile by sending an email with information about the title to editor@audiofilemagazine.com. AudioFile’s managing editor, Jennifer Dowell, will coordinate the review copy and make sure we have all the relevant details.

Why a Good Review is Only Half the Story.

A good review can go a long way, but you need to get out in front of the crowd with the good news. Marketing audiobooks is one of the toughest parts of the process. ACX gives rights holder’s good tips and resources. AudioFile’s broad listener audiences are eager to find their next audiobook. Our readers depend on us to find and review gems that might otherwise be missed. To give listeners an additional resource we started the Indie Showcase for independent authors and publishers. The advertising program gives prime print and online exposure to individual titles. To find out more about the Indie Showcase, email Michele Cobb, michele@audiofilemagazine.com.

AudioFile strives to find the best audiobooks to recommend to our subscribers and visitors. If you follow our advice above and end up with a great audiobook, we’d love to hear it! Please send it in for review.

Robin Whitten is the Editor & Founder of AudioFile Magazine.

5 Tips for Choosing a Narrator

Today, we’ve got a crash course for ACX rights holders on choosing the right narrator for your book. How does an author know which voice is best to bring their work to life? We’ve got 5 tips below that you can use to hone in on the perfect producer for your title.

1. Better the narrator reads a little too slow than a little too fast.

Proper pacing for your title can be hard to nail down. Romance will have a different pace than action books or adventure novels. Different scenes within your title may require a slightly different read based on the content. But overall, it’s better for your narrator to err on the slower side than rush through the material, leaving listeners in the dust.

Listen to the following example of a passage read too quickly:

Notice how it’s hard to distinguish between dialogue and descriptive text. The poor listener is left in the dust, with no time to comprehend what’s being conveyed to them.

Now, let’s listen to the same passage read a little too slowly:

The pacing is a bit deliberate perhaps, but at least the listener can settle into the story and process what’s being read.

2. Character voices should sound natural, not over the top and “cartoonish.”

Another aspect of narration that will quickly turn off listeners is ridiculous sounding character voices. When in doubt, understated is best. Narration that hints at a new character speaking is better than a jarring change in tone. Here’s a clip of a silly, distracting character:

Yeesh! Who could listen to that for the length of an entire book? Now, let’s listen to the same clip with a more measured, understated read:

Much better. Notice how the narrator subtly hints at a change in tone, trusting the reader to pick up on the change in character. (Thanks to Victor Bevine for providing the audio examples above.)

3. Check to see if the narrator has other audiobooks on Audible, and read the reviews.

Proper pacing and character voices are definitely an art, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you’re new to audiobooks and unsure what sounds best. If that’s the case, we recommend you take advantage of the combined knowledge of Audible’s listeners! If the narrator has books already for sale on Audible, check the reviews of those titles. The “What Members Say” section can be found on each title’s product detail page, under the “Publisher’s Summary” section.

Ratings

 

Note that Audible has ratings and reviews specific to performance, not just for the story itself. You can also scroll down further and read opinions from individual Audible Listeners. Many are as attached to their favorite narrators as they are their favorite authors!

Reviews

 

4. Ask for your fans’ opinions.

Author Hugh Howey linked his fans to the ACX sample search and asked for suggestions. If you’ve already started receiving auditions, you can download them from ACX, post them to your website using a service like SoundCloud, and poll your readers with easypolls or another free online polling tool.

Download

 

This is also a great way to build some advance buzz and get your fans excited for your upcoming audiobook!

5. Trust your instincts

You know your book better than anyone. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it probably won’t sound right to others. If you’re unsure about a particular voice, use ACX’s sample search to invite a few of our 15,000 narrators to audition for your book. We’re confident that the perfect voice on ACX, ready to narrate your title!

How do you find the perfect voice for your title? Tell us in the comments!

An Offer They Can’t Refuse

Earlier this week, we discussed selecting an audition script for your book once it’s been posted to ACX. Today, let’s tackle the next step for authors and rights holders: casting your title and making an offer. This is an important step that can ensure that your production goes smoothly.

Casting the right producer.

mike-charzuk-exec-prod-audible-com

Mike Charzuk

Only you know who has the perfect voice for your story or characters. Among the 10,000+ producers on ACX, you’re bound to find some fantastic narrators. Mike Charzuk, Executive Producer/Sr. Director of Audible Studios, advises you to know your text well and cast to your narrator’s strengths.

When casting, it is important to know the text inside and out. If the text is complex with many characters, then an actor that is facile with character delineation and accents would be advised. Remember, subtle is the way to go with accents and character choices; you don’t want the narrator to sound to cartoonish and over the top. If the text is nonfiction, then a voice that is engaging is optimal. Remember to cast nonfiction to the strengths of the actor. Someone that might be not be good with complex verbiage may not do well on a book about ancient Greek language, for example.

You should also be listening to the technical aspects of the audition. The auditions you receive should be indicative of the final audio quality your producer will deliver once they begin producing your title. We recommend listening to some samples of well rated audiobooks on Audible to get a sense of what a good production sounds like. If you have reservations about the sound quality, feel free to politely discuss them with the potential producer or pass on the audition.

Making an offer.

Consider a few things when making an offer on ACX. As you post your title, you may have already chosen what payment method you’ll use, but if you’ve offered your title as royalty share or pay-for-production (P4P), you’ll now need to commit to one or the other. Next, you’ll choose exclusive or non-exclusive distribution, and offer due dates for the 15 minute checkpoint and final audio.

It’s important to understand the amount of time that goes into producing an audiobook when deciding on due dates. See this post for information on how long it can take to produce your audio. Based on this, a good estimate for the length of time needed on an average ACX production is roughly 45 days. It’s always a good idea to discuss the production timeline with your potential producer via the ACX messaging system before making an offer.

Help your producer help you.

One final thing to note is that you should be prepared to send your producer a copy of the final, published version of your book as soon as they accept your offer. You should also include any additional notes that you can regarding character voices and pronunciations. Putting your producer in the best position to produce your title ensures that you’ll end up with a great audiobook.

Are you ready to make an offer for your book? Tell us how you set yourself up to get the best audiobook possible from your ACX productions in the comments!