Do you Audio?

See full issue for 2016 05-30

Do You Audio?

It’s a question I’ve started getting from interested readers- when are you planning to release this on audio?

I admit that at first the precious and sniffy side of my writer self (and all writer’s have that side of them to some degree, I assure you) was taken aback by this. “Are we all suddenly too good for the written word?” I cried, carefully clambering onto my always-a-little-skittish high horse. “Have we become so spoiled by the face books and the twitter tubes that we can’t even read anymore? For shame!”

Of course, all it took was a brief moment of taking my head out of my ass to see the attraction. I may love my old paperbacks, but you can’t read one whilst driving to work. Not without ending up in the local news, at any rate. Or the local obituaries.

More than that, though, I was surprised to find that after browsing through some ol’ reliable Stephen King on audio, I found that the loving narration by talented voice actors was as much a revelation as a rediscovery. I noticed things in the interpretation that, for whatever reason, seemed different, and often more captivating, to when I read the originals myself. Nothing will ever replace the joy reading, of course, but there really was something to this books on tape milarky, and it wasn’t just the on-the-go convenience.

Well, that’s all well and good for the reader, but let’s get down to brass tacks— what’s in it for me? I found plenty of literature out there selling the audio service to indie writers, but I eschewed this in favour of my preferred method of research— eavesdropping on the conversations of my (often more experienced and successful) writer friends. The conclusion? There’s gold in them there audio hills…

Most of the guys and gals that had taken the time to go down the audio route reported a significant chunk of their monthly income was down to audio book sales. And it’s not just the money— Audible (the go to outlet for audio books) has their own top-of-the-pops chart— yet another arena for us indies to do battle with our traditionally published peers. And battle they do. I watched with quiet envy as fellow indie author Luke Smitherd  shouldered his way to the number one spot with his audio book The Stone Man, shouldering his way past household names to do so (in fact, The Stone Man would go on to be shortlisted for Audible's 2015 Book of the Year.) No small feat, and no small opportunity.

The best part, though, was when I was turned on to, a service that allowed a no risk royalty share arrangement with interested voice actors and producers. Not only could I get an audio book made, but I could essentially get it made No Money Down.

In short, there was no good reason not to get an audio book done. So I did. And now, a few short months later, I’m ridiculously glad I did.

Though I hear nothing but good things about Audible, I won’t bother with the testimony of others here. Ask, and they’ll tell you, I have no doubt. But I will tell you, that for me, the audio book process has changed the way I think about my writing. This is how it worked for me—

After signing up and putting my book out there for potential producers to look over, I felt the familiar trepidation. Now came the months of waiting and the slightly aloof enquiry letters, right? No. I was given an audition by a guy called Luke Thompson almost immediately. A simple message and a two minute audio file of a scene I had hand picked. And it was good. Damned good. I “hired” him there and then.

As we continued to work together, what struck me about Luke’s work was not just the sheer talent of his voice (though that was a factor— he was able to rustle up four different character voices in the audition alone,) but how much I loved his interpretation. He understood the beats of the dialogue, he understood the comic timing and he understood the intended atmosphere. This was enormously validating for me, of course. After all, the only person I’d heard reading this work aloud was myself, and there’s always that worry that the reader won’t “get” the way you’re trying to put your words across.

Hearing my work read aloud by a talented professional, who required little direction on my part other than a couple of pages of character guides, had given me this enormous wave of reassurance. The book worked. The beta readers, editors and reviewers weren’t lying, and here was the evidence, heard with my own ears. I’ll admit it was an ego boost, but for those of us still fighting tooth and nail for every review we get, an ego boost isn’t always a bad thing.

Also, I could hear with my own ears that which clearly didn’t work. When I’d tried to be too cute with my language, or too supposing with my structure, it stuck out like a wrong note in a banjo duel. Not even Luke’s talent could disguise my more ham-fisted transgressions (and I’ll admit right now that the audio book is going to be that little bit more polished than the original.)

I used to study film, and I can still remember the first time I heard one of my lines read by a real actor. It was a student film, an abstract werewolf love story that was far too ambitious for a group of perennially hungover students to be taking on. I was only the sound recordist, but I’d written a lot of the dialogue, and it was sometime after midnight at the end of a long shoot when I first heard our actors- paid in food, beer and accommodation- act out the penultimate scene. It gave me a legitimate shiver. All those assumptions and wild guesses I’d made, putting word to paper, were made flesh. For the first time I was experiencing my story from the audience’s point of view. I had that shiver of excitement, but also an enormous sense of relief. It worked.

Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but I got that wonderful feeling again at, every time Luke sent me a new chapter. Excitement. Relief. By God, it works!

Now, I’m not saying that anything’s ever going to replace the reader’s private experience of the written word. That’s one thing we’ll always have, no matter what Hollywood would have you believe. The ownership of that world you build around an author’s words is hard earned, and well deserved, I think. But ultimately authors are entertainers, and these days it’s not enough to play only one instrument. Audio books are not just here to stay, they’re a big part of the future for those of us who read, write and love stories.

At the time of writing this article, I’m about to push the button on the approval of my audio book. Soon I’ll be doing the grand old tap dance of self promotion, getting the good word out to potential readers— hopefully eager, but I’ll settle for idly curious. For the time being though, I’m going to take a moment to bask in a little self satisfaction. This is my book made flesh, my odd little dream made suddenly more real. It feels good.


Steve Wetherell

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