First, for the non-fiction readers out there, Regulatory Compliance Fundamentals and How To Gather and Use Data For Business Analysis are now live in audio. The links above are to the Books2Read page where I added four audio storefronts for each one, but if you have a favorite place where you like to listen to audio it should make it’s way there eventually or may already be there.
Surprisingly, I actually have some listens already according to the ACX dashboard. We’ll see if they last since ACX takes back sales sometimes. (If you listen to a title and liked it and are one of those people who return your audiobooks, please wait a week on Audible before doing so.)
But, regardless, that was a nice surprise that people had found the books and were listening to them already without any promotion by me.
Especially the data one that I’ve always thought had good information in it but just never found its audience.
I also recorded Data Analysis for Self-Publishers and Sell That Book on the non-fiction side but haven’t submitted those yet. Probably today.
This week I started to work on some fiction titles and that was interesting. Because I had a bit of an epiphany.
A long time ago I took a craft course and the instructor said that the power of writing is that it lets you be inside the character’s head. TV and movies are external. You hear the character and you see them, but you don’t get that internal thought process. (Usually. Some shows are set up to provide that, but mostly we watch from the outside when we watch movies or TV shows.)
But with writing, you can see what someone really thinks or feels, not just what they show the world. (Now, I could argue that what you’re actually getting is the narrator’s or character’s spin on things, but let’s not go there.)
The problem with writing is that the reader has to be the one that layers on the emotions and interprets the words.
Each reader brings their own world view to the page. So something I as a writer might think is sad or angry or tragic or ironic may not land that way with the reader if their life experience doesn’t mirror mine.
This week I’ve been doing short stories I wrote almost a decade ago. The first one I tackled was called The Price We Pay.
This story was very personal to me. It was born out of my dad’s struggles with having a terminal illness and how uncaring the world is about people like him. And about struggling financially. And how hard it is to be there for your family when you’re barely making it through each day. And about having a complicated marriage with someone you desperately love but who might leave you given the chance.
I have friends who wouldn’t connect to any of that. They’ve never been seriously ill or known anyone who was. They’ve never struggled financially. They’ve never loved someone in that complicated, messy, painful way.
So for that person reading that story, there’s no emotion to the words. There’s no resonance to the experience of the character for them to draw on.
(Interestingly, I think now with COVID it’s probably a story far more readers can connect to than before.)
The other story I did this week was Death Answered My Call about a woman who is essentially using prayer to keep her husband alive even as it becomes more and more clear that she needs to let go. (In the story it’s a magical red leather bag and a repeated mantra, but basically it’s prayer.)
I still remember with that story having a beta reader who didn’t understand the story at all. That beta reader was religious and fully believed that we go on to somewhere better than this so didn’t understand not wanting to lose someone and trying to keep them here.
Whereas for me, I wrote that story because even though I am not a religious person I prayed for my dad every single time he was hospitalized when I was growing up. He was religious and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask his god to help him out. I prayed for him right up until that last time…
(I also had a friend who thought the character got what he deserved because he was a skydiver so had no sympathy for either character. Sometimes having people beta for you reveals really interesting things.)
Getting back to the point.
For me, reading that story, all the emotion is there. I know what it’s like to want to keep someone and to finally have to let them go because they’re suffering too much.
Which is what made narrating those stories such a great experience. Because I was in control of the emotion behind the words, not the reader. I could deliver not just the words, but the emotions that go with them.
The Price We Pay was perfect for audio for that reason. It has a lot of internal thoughts and feelings–the story is probably half just thoughts– so it wouldn’t make a good television episode, for example, but being able to narrate it also let me give the story all the emotion that you can get from acting that maybe readers wouldn’t be able to bring with them.
I don’t think I realized until recording that story for the second time (I cried during the first recording–I hadn’t read that story in probably five years) that this unique combination of written word and performance makes audiobooks their own unique performance medium.
I had always up until that moment viewed audiobooks as just a spoken version of a story that was convenient for people to listen to while driving around or doing the dishes or whatever.
And who knows, maybe that’s what people actually want in their audiobooks and they’ll hate these recordings. Maybe they just want that straight delivery and not actual acting.
Plus, I could suck as an actor. I mean, really, my acting experience is a middle school radio skit, a drama class I dropped in high school, and a freshman play in college, so it’s possible they’re horrible and overacted.
(If so, I’ll figure that out about two years from now when my mind finally finishes processing whatever it’s always processing in the background and makes me circle back to these and cringe. That’s life as I know it.)
But I also think my own personal writing style lends itself to audio.
I tend to write short, choppy sentences and paragraphs. Because everything I write I’m reading out loud in my head. And line breaks for me are a longer pause than a period. I see a long paragraph and I think, “Didn’t you take a breath in there, man? Geez.”
So maybe audio is just my natural medium but wouldn’t work for others?
I will say though that it is a level of difficulty or ten beyond just writing a story.
There’s the recording environment. The proper equipment. The sound processing. The actual vocal performance which can be impacted by energy levels and what you ate for breakfast and whether it’s allergy season and whether your stupid stompy neighbor is home and whether your dog is going to be okay with you disappearing behind a moving blanket to make weird noises.
And that all on top of having good words to work from in the first place.
A ton of things need to come together for a good audiobook recording.
I have no idea if I’ve brought those together. I think what I’ve done sounds good. But, you don’t know what you don’t know.
(As an aside. The audio I recorded for my course videos in the past, the issue there was that I didn’t notice there was a “distance” to the vocals. It’s like I’m across the room, not right there. They’re still workable for delivering that knowledge, they’re just not “polished.” Then again, that’s kind of the story of my life. So, what’s new?)
Alright. Anyway. Time to wrap this up and do some covers and then submit some audio files. I’d like to do all of the short stories in my M.H. Lee short story collection, but I don’t know if I can actually pull off narrating all of them. It’s going to be interesting to try.