On Recording an Audiobook

Audiobooks have become a huge part of my life lately. First of all, as announced in my post back in April, I recently started working in audiobook marketing at Penguin Random House. As a result, I’m surrounded by audiobooks, and people obsessed with audiobooks, all day. But I never expected to have my own voice recorded in an audiobook—ever.

I always thought, in that egotistical way, that I have an authentic, young-sounding voice that would be a match for a story from the perspective of a teenager or young adult. Of course I never thought I’d actually get to narrate one. And well, you see where this is going…

Click here to listen to a sample of my recording. (And if you’d like to listen to the rest, be sure to buy the full THE END IS NOW audiobook).

Last month, I received the opportunity (through my boyfriend, science fiction author and podcast host of WIRED.com’s book podcast, The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, David Barr Kirtley) to narrate a short story in an apocalyptic anthology called THE END IS NOW.

THE END IS NOW is the middle title in a triptych of apocalypse anthologies, the first being THE END IS NIGH, and the third being THE END HAS COME. It’s edited by John Joseph Adams (the great science fiction editor of Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, as well as a number of anthologies, including The Living Dead) and Hugh Howey (the famous author of the self-published phenomenon, Wool). THE END IS NOW features 20 original apocalypse-themed stories by authors like Tananarive Due, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Sigler, Ken Liu, and more big names in the science fiction and fantasy world.

The story I recorded was written by Desirina Boskovich. It’s called “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood,” and is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl whose family is fighting against an authoritarian regime that’s been built on the premise that aliens are planning to invade earth. Throughout the story, we really aren’t sure whether there are actually any aliens at all, and our protagonist has to make choices for herself despite that ambiguity.

For more information about the story, check out this interview with Boskovich over on the official Apocalypse Triptych website.

The Recording Process

I really enjoyed the story on the first read—and by the tenth read, I still enjoyed it. That says something. The actual recording process was rewarding too, though also grueling.

Before recording, I thought of myself as a pretty smooth reader. I thought I didn’t stutter much. I thought I didn’t have trouble saying any words. And I’m sure that’s usually the case. But once the recording studio door closes (or in my case, the ‘recording closet’ door), and that red light is lit, I can tell you it is very hard to read a sentence off perfectly. Sometimes I’d have to repeat a sentence up to 8-10 times before getting it right. Sometimes I had trouble saying words like “listened” and “away”—words I didn’t even know I could have trouble with. Sometimes I had trouble ending a sentence on a strong note, and instead my voice would trail off and get a little raspy. And sometimes I wouldn’t even mess up, but my boyfriend would give me the sign that I needed to start from the top (luckily that didn’t happen too often).

We also ran into the problem of background noise. Once we finished my first recording and were listening to the playback, we realized that the lamp next to me had been making random ticking noises throughout. So we had to re-record the entire thing. Though, re-recording wasn’t so bad, because I then got the chance to make some changes for the better, especially regarding the degree of emotion my voice was expressing in certain parts.

On a final note, I must say that I have a new respect for professional audiobook narrators. It took about 48 hours to record a 30 minute story. Most audiobook narrators are recording full length books that end up being 10+ hours (and that’s after all of the fancy editing). I really loved my audiobook narration experience, and hope to get the chance to try another one soon.

FYI, my favorite line from “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood” was:

“That’s fucked,” Nicole said. “Fucked up. Fucked in the head.”

I never messed up on that one.