What It Takes to Make a YA Audiobook

Okay, so some people… or, really, a lot of people don’t know what it really takes to physically make a complete Young Adult/Teen Fiction audiobook. I mean, doesn’t somebody just read a book aloud, and that’s it? Guess what—WRONG.

As someone who creates all her audiobooks completely from scratch with no outside help whatsoever, I consider myself quite the expert on this subject. Well… maybe that’s speaking too highly of myself, since I’ve made plenty of mistakes and imperfections, but trust me when I tell you that I know what I’m talking/typing about here!

Really, though, there’s a lot that goes into the audiobook production process, no matter the genre. However, there are some differences, however minor, that exist between genres. And, I think, the YA/Teen Fic one is the most fun, especially when it comes to audiobooks. And I’ll show you why!

So, let’s take the YA audiobook production process step-by-step, shall we?

Step 1: Pre-Production

Choosing a title

You’d think it’d go without saying that, before an audiobook is created, a physical book must be available to create the audiobook from. Not everyone knows, this, though!

So, the very very very first step of making a YA audiobook is choosing the YA book to reimagine in audio format. Since I’m a self-published author, I don’t actually know how publishing houses choose which books in their libraries to turn into audiobooks, but I can say that the sales and reviews of a young adult lit book will probably influence the decision. A book that’s been collecting dust on a shelf for over 20 years is much less likely to be chosen than one that just released last year and is already gathering a lot of attention.

As with myself and all other self-published authors (who rocks, guys!), we always choose from our own authored collections when figuring out what will become an audiobook next. If a self-published gal has a lot of books already to choose from, she may choose the most popular title first, or she could start with her very first novel—there are no rules here, which is why self- or independent-publishing is so popular now!

Creating the “script”

Virtually no audiobook narrator picks up a book for the very first time and just reads it with no prior preparation. Authors and/or other members of the audio production team will have plenty of notes to give the narrator, so the book is usually turned into a type of script that the narrator must review at least a couple of times in advance, before the first recording.

Audiobook scripts were traditionally printed on stacks of papers, although this caused the long-despised problem of audible page turning while the narrator read. Nowadays, scripts are made digitally, like on a tablet or laptop screen, eliminating the need for turning pages and saving so many trees.

Since I narrate my own books that I wrote myself, I don’t format my reading into such a “script.” Rather, I use my original manuscript document to read from, and I’ll highlight the beginning and end sections that I plan to read per section, then practice that section the day or night before its recording session. Does that make sense? Because even I get confused by myself sometimes…

The point is, though, since I narrate what I already wrote myself, I already know how each character’s voice should be read, and I know my main character’s voice extremely well, so I don’t write up narrating notes. If I were to send my manuscript to an outsourced narrator for reading, though, I would definitely mark up a script with notes!

Rehearsal time

Rehearsing an audiobook script is important for any narrator, and I always take extra time sometime before a recording session to review what I’ll be reading and practice the parts that I know I will struggle with, such as a wordy paragraph or unique character’s voice.

This part, I think, is most vital for teen fiction audiobooks, because characters need to be fun and lively for young listeners to remain interested! That’s why I like to come up with different voices for every single character I ever read, and I always make sure my main character remains the most intriguing and relatable to young adults as possible.

In my Emma Lenford series, which I’m currently in production of, I give my main character, named, get this, Emma Lenford, the voice of a sarcastic, quick-witted 17-year-old that talks with confidence and a snappy tongue. Which, more simply put, means she talks annoying fast. And, since I, myself, do not normally talk so annoying fast… I had to rehearse a lot of her “lines” a lot of times.

I mean, imagine speaking stuff like “Peter Piper picked a pack of pickles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this past pun-day to put on a poultry and pig show to plow the place of Port Paradise, serving pot roast and port-a-pit potatoes, past the point of popping pyromania” ten times in concession, ten times a minute, ten times an hour. Because that’s basically what reading Emma Lenford into a microphone is like!

So far, already so hard, huh?

2: Recording, Phase 1

After all the predominately painstaking work of pre-production (okay, I guess I could stop talking in ‘p’s now…), a narrator can finally begin recording their teen fiction audiobook in the works!

Fancy-smanshy, professional narrators, of course, have fancy-smanshy, professional recording studios to use when reading… but, I have a pretty nice, nifty homemade one, too!

…it’s basically a microphone placed in front of a mattress that’s been nailed to the wall of my parent’s basement.

But, hey, it works!

Now, recording a teen fic audiobook usually happens in two parts, which I like to dub “phase 1” and “phase 2.” Phase 1 is basically reading absolutely everything from start to finish, with breaks, of course, though, for different recording sessions. The amount of time a narrator spends in the booth per session varies, but for me, an hour straight is usually my max, otherwise, my voice will start cracking and stuff. This is normally enough time for me to get 1/3 to 1/2 of a chapter read, depending on the chapter length and how on-point my voice feels that day. I mean, my voice is almost always amazingly fresh and crisp on Mondays, but by Friday, my efficiency slows way, way down, and I have to take more breaks during recording sessions. This can sometimes extend my session time up to an hour and a half or more, but my straight reading time still equals out one full hour.

Phase 1 of recording is, honestly, the best when reading YA stuff, but I get to go into a “zone” of the book’s world and get lost in being a teenage character for a full hour at a time! It’s also super fun when I get to put on different character voices, as I make dang sure some of them are crazily funny.

I mean…

3: Editing/Markup

Ugh. Editing and markups. The. Worst.

After finishing up recording, phase 1, which can take quite a few weeks… comes this part, which I hate, mostly because it takes an eternity and a half.

For most narrators that are a part of a larger team, a sound engineer or production editor will take over at this part. But, since I don’t have the luxury of a behind-the-scenes team member… I have to do it all myself.

Now, this step is really confusing for anyone who hasn’t worked with editing audio before, and I don’t blame them!

But, I did have quite a bit of experience with working with audio in programs like Audacity before I came to the audiobook business, so I was lucky enough to know what I was doing pretty quickly. Before, I had worked with editing a lot of music tracks, which is really similar to editing an audiobook track, believe it or not!

We won’t do a deep dive into this step, but the image below of one of my current audiobook files in Audacity shows what it’s all about. A lot of cutting, and a lot of notes!

And, if you’re wondering what my markup notes all say… it’s really all an alien language that no one but I can understand, and even I forget what each note is supposed to mean when I look back at it later. I mean, when I first started marking things up, I would usually write things like “redo” on parts of audio that I needed to re-record for some reason, but then I got lazy and just wrote an “r,” and then I got even lazier and just typed whatever letter was closet to my finger when writing the note. See, I told you, I don’t like this step!

4: (Re-)Recording, Phase 2

Finishing the editing/markup process is a huge relief for me, and then, after it, comes the even worse re-recording phase!

Just kidding—it’s not nearly as bad.

The re-recording step, or just recording, phase 2, consists of a narrator re-reading all the spots that were marked up in the audiobook files. The sound editor will then use those new takes of certain lines to replace the old ones that were messed up for some reason.

Or, if you’re a one-gal team, like me, you just read and replace the lines on your own as you go through them!

Why do any lines need to be replaced in the first place, though?

A lot of people may wonder exactly that. But, truth is, no narrator is perfect, and they’re bound to stumble over a word or read something in the wrong character’s voice the first time. Some narrators may get away with minimal do-overs required… while I, on the other hand, always have tons of markups per chapter.

I’m probably a lot harder on myself than a separate sound engineer would be, though, so my 50+ markups a chapter is just a result of harsh perfectionism kicking in. I mean, don’t you ever listen to your voice and go “ew, redo that, please?”

5: Final Touches… and Playback!

Drum roll, please.

Because… after all the above steps are completed, it’s time to finally listen back to the entire teen fiction audiobook, from start to finish! And, perhaps, this is the best part… because you get to just sit back and enjoy your audio as any other regular ol’ reader would.

I’m not actually sure who would complete this step in an audiobook production team, but for me, I’m the one and only, so I always just kick up my feet, put my headphones on, and pretend I’m listening to someone else. And, sometimes, there will be one or two blips that I’ll have to make a note of to go back and fix up really quick… but, for the most part, it’s an enjoyable, hands-off experience.

And I sit and listen to my teen characters as if they were real people I had just created in the real world…

Okay, now, that was probably a lot of steps to take in, but if you still want to learn more, check out this mini video I made, very recently, explaining the process and enjoyment of making my own audiobooks!

And, of course, check out all of my audiobooks currently up for sale here!

Let me know, all of y’all, what you thought/think of the YA audiobook creation process below!

–Kari

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