Monday, July 06, 2020

Audiobook Issues

I have just finished recording all of my nonfiction books except for Price Theory and the two SCA books coauthored with my wife, and all of them are, or in one case shortly will be, up on Amazon as audiobooks. A number of issues arose in doing it, so I thought I would ask for opinions.

The first is the problem of headers. In a printed book, a head or subhead is  usually centered, often bold face or larger print, with blank lines above and below it, making it obvious what it is. None of that exists in an audiobook. The header is simply a word or phrase, distinguished by not being a sentence. It can be set off a little, by a longer silence before and after, but that happens for other things as well. How can one make it obvious to the listener what it is?

One possibility I haven't tried would be to have someone else record the headers. Alternatively, I could use my recording software to add reverberation or change the pitch of my voice or something else along those lines. Would that work, or would it just sound odd and confusing?

A similar issue arises for quotations embedded in my text. The simplest solution is to use "quote, unquote" to mark them, but that feels a little clumsy. What I did for the most part was to change my voice tone, I think adequately, away from my normal recording tone. For one book, Future Imperfect, which has quite a lot of quotations in it, I  got other people to record some of the relevant passages for me. That seemed to work particularly well when the quote was from a female speaker or someone with a British accent, but I have not yet gotten any feedback from people who bought the audiobook as to whether they liked it.

Also, any other thoughts on audiobooks, especially from anyone here who has listened to one of mine? Recording a book is a lot less work than writing one, but now that all of them are recorded I may have to go back to work. One possibility is another novel, tentatively titled "The Long War" and set in the same world as Salamander and Brothers but starting about fifteen years earlier. Another is putting together old blog posts as a book. A third is working on more of the essays for my collection of short literature with interesting economic insights in it.


Anonymous said...

If the heads are not vital to understanding the text, I'd consider omitting them.
They typically are used to set off self-contained arguments and to provide visual clues for people searching paper for a section. The first is typically handled in audio books by sections or file breaks, the second has no analog.

If they are important, you could use "audio clip art" of some sort to provide an indication of what's going on. By chapter three, they'll understand what the bell or whatever means.

And using muppet voices is always good taste.

Rebecca J said...

I wouldn't omit them. I think a good sized pause before and after the header, recorded in the same voice as the general narrator, but with a bigger, more definite sounding, tone.

Don't do "quote"..."unquote". That would seem too informal to me. If you still want to consider it, use instead "quote"..."end quote". That's more correct.

Max Lybbert said...

If it's subtle, some sound effect may make the headers stand out without people really noticing why. If it's not subtle, reverberations would just be comical.

I prefer "quote ... end [of] quote" over "quote ... unquote."

Karl said...

The first thing I'd try is looking for a book that has headers and see what the reader of that work does.
I like the idea of a pause before the header. It will take some precision to make the pause shorter than the chapter headings.
Sound effects are an obvious answer, but it's easy to overdo them. I'd suggest something like white noise behind the heading, 10 or 20 dB quieter than the reader's voice. Reverb or echo would also work, as long as it's pretty much subliminal.

Anonymous said...

What about a very recognisable / Morgan Freeman-esque voice for just the headers.

Nathan Nguyen said...

I’ve listened to half of The Machinery of Freedom. I think you do a good job with reading it. I would suggest getting better audio equipment, since there was a little noise throughout. Also, finding a place that has soundproofing would help. I heard some cars in the background while I was listening.

Anna said...

Re: headers. Don't add reverberation or change the pitch of your voice for it. I suggest treating it like you would the title of a new chapter, with a little pause in between.

Re: πΉπ‘’π‘‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘’ πΌπ‘šπ‘π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘“π‘’π‘π‘‘ quotations feedback. I knew I should expect this but still was confused for a few seconds when the first quotation was read by someone other than you. However, with the subsequent ones, no confusion arose anymore, and I enjoyed this format. My daughter, who didn't see it coming, was confused for a little longer, telling me "Something is wrong with this file, the book suddenly stopped being read by David". My husband was prepared and commented that it was an interesting idea, implemented well. Overall, we all enjoyed it.

re: what Nathan Nguyen said. Soundproofing a bit would be a good idea. I also heard car sounds and door being opened/closed in the background. In πΏπ‘Žπ‘€'𝑠 π‘‚π‘Ÿπ‘‘π‘’π‘Ÿ I heard birds chirping on the background, which is nice but can be distracting.

Re: old blog posts as a book. I imagine it would be great. Even though they can be accessed on-line, a book format is always more convenient and reaches a wider audience. An audiobook of it another productive step. "The Long War" and a collection of short stories that teach economics would get my second vote, assuming I can vote twice.

Anonymous said...

Change the text.

How many sections do you have? Number them and say "section 3: header." It's common to number chapters and rare to number sections, but it makes the audio perfectly clear. It's a little awkward when you begin the chapter with an untitled section, but that's OK.

In addition to adding words to make the headers explicit, also include a pause and a bell or, as the first commenter says, "audio clipart."

"Unquote" has appeared in print for 100 years. People complaining about it have been the butt of jokes for 50 years.

5 years of home recording experience said...

For headers you could add a little ding right before you read them, like a bicycle bell, but something even softer and more subtle. A fork on a wine glass maybe. Get one good recording of the noise and then use it each time. You can change the pitch of the noise downward a few semitones if it sounds too bright.

Regarding soundproofing: if you have a closet you and your clothes and your recording setup all fit in, use that. Hanging clothes do a great job of absorbing stray sound waves. The inside of a car can sometimes work if it is carpeted and the upholstery is cloth, but park in the garage and close the garage door. Please don't record your audiobook while driving around town, with a long break in mid-chapter while you get out to buy gas or pick up groceries. "Hey, I'll talk more about comparative advantage in a bit, I need to grab some beer. Here, listen to the radio for a bit, I'll be right back."

David Emami said...

One thing you might try that some audio books I've listened to use is applying a software filter to text being quoted. Something subtle -- I'm not suggesting you go full Auto-Tune. I know there are filters to make the sound "flatter", or add slight reverb, or change it so that it sounds like it's taking place in a different environment, or add a bit of background noise such as wind or waves.

David Emami said...

Amendment to previous comment: the cases where I've heard that used are mostly where each chapter starts with an epigraph, to make the epigraph sound different. Might not be appropriate for quotes interspersed with normal text, though I think I remember it being used in those cases sometimes as well.

Two audiobooks that I recommend as examples of well-done editing are Macmillan Audio version of Dune, and the Full Cast Audio version of Red Planet.