Cheat Sheet: Prepping Your Work for Narration

Here’s our second week with audiobook extraordinaire, Melanie Francisco. If you missed last week’s post, On Being an Audiobook Narrator, you can find it here. Enjoy!

As I said last week, I feel like I have a handle on what kinds of writing professional editors let out of their publishing houses these days. Most of the things you want to do here should happen in the polishing stage of your novel. Here are my 5 best tips to help you get your best audiobook.

  1. Tighten the tension in your paragraph.
    1. The thing is most people “helping” you tighten your work don’t know what they are talking about. Here’s what you need to do. Delete all words that are implied by the action of the surrounding words. A sentence that reads: The dog yanked on the leash, pulling it taut until it popped out of Lacy’s hand. Becomes” The dog yanked on the leash until it popped out of Lacy’s hand. Because “pulling it taut” is implied by the action.
    2. Make your action verbs strong and delay the point of your sentence to the end. Simply put, in the real world something happens and then you react (or fail to react). It is this tension in every sentence, every paragraph, every scene, every plot that propels your work forward. Keep dragging your reader through your sentences, paragraphs and scenes to end with a punch. Rinse, repeat. Example: Maria wrapped Julie in a big hug, after carefully setting down the doll, when she heard the good news. Becomes: Maria carefully set down the fragile doll to wrap Julie in a hug when she heard the good news.
  2. Trust your narrator. Your narrator wants the best production. It’s their reputation on the line. They want more work, they want to sound good, they want you to sell a lot of audiobooks. They better they sound, the more books you are going to sell.
    1. If you are listening to your book, and they say something slightly wrong, it’s OK to let it go. It’s a balancing act between getting your prose accurately on the recording and the damage I’m going to do if I have to re-record that sentence. It breaks the flow; my voice won’t sound the same; and although you and your listener may not know in the moment that’s what happened, it’s why they won’t buy my next book, or yours. Make sure it doesn’t happen over and over again. I’m not changing your prose on purpose, I’m caught up in your world.
    2. On the other hand, for every hour of produced audio you hear, I’ve probably put in about 10 hours of work. Mistakes get made, things slip through. So, if there is a flub up, speak up. Big ones need to be addressed.
  3. Simple tenses for your verbs, simple present or simple past. I’ve found most editors put out simple past as the default mode. This will help you tighten your sentence tension. Helping verbs usually help you into the passive voice. I just cut them out. (See Tip #1.)
  4. Dialog Tags: Use them or use action. Missing dialog tags actually only happen in very short spaces in traditionally published books. I’ve read loads of them by now, when you include all of the auditions I’ve gone on. Just use the tags. Most frequently what I see, there is dialog, and then there is movement, exposition, or something else in between the dialog.
  5. Download Audacity, and read a chapter of your work into it. Ideally this should be done about 30 days after you think you’ve finished polishing your novel.


I do cheat sheets and technical tips every week on my blog, The Write Hobby.  Come join me.

On Being an Audiobook Narrator

Hello, friends! We have guest posts this week and next, both from the ever fantastic Melanie Francisco- part author, part narrator, all awesome!

MicrophoneI wanted to be an actor growing up. I got my first taste of the acting life behind a curtain being a puppeteer in my church’s youth puppets programmers. This is also the same program that turned me into a writer, but I digress. I took acting classes in junior high school the first chance I got, which was in ninth grade, when I had an elective opening. And I loved every moment of being an actor, but I walked away in college for a multitude of reasons. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the semester I went and auditioned for every single production at my college and got, nothing.

I had known for a long time, that acting was a competitive field, and that “No” was heard far more frequently than “Yes.” I didn’t want to be part of the #MeToo movement. I was warned over and over again, to get any kind of regular work, you did what had to be done, you took your turn on the casting couch, and you kept your mouth shut. It was a path I did not want to walk down. So yeah, I was kind of glad to be out. There were things I didn’t want to do. And I figured, if I had any kind of talent, I would have at least gotten one of the background parts. I wasn’t upset about not getting any parts. I just took it as the universe’s way of telling me that I was meant to be on the path I was already on.

Twenty years later, in my capacity as a part time freelance editor, I was researching ACX as a possibility for one of my clients who can voice her own work pretty well. When I looked into what they had to offer, I cruised through the books available and I found one I wanted to narrate. And all of a sudden I realized, I already had everything I needed to try out. So, I did. I didn’t get that book, but I got a near miss in the form of a nice note from the author saying someone else had a bit more skill in pronouncing some of the French words. Since I don’t speak French, I understood and moved on. I found more books that I wanted to read. I auditioned, and auditioned. Like that semester in college, I set myself a time limit for how long I was willing to take the no, and then, I was done. After three more near miss rejections, I landed a contract on my 10th audition, not even a month after I started auditioning. By the time my kids got out of school and I had to shut down production for the summer, I had booked worked all the way through this February.

Working as a freelancer in this field, is much the same as working as a freelancer in any other field. The same set of challenges of trying to negotiate a reasonable deadline based on your ability. Having to learn on the fly a skill you didn’t know you needed until you already took on the contract. And not knowing if your work on this book, or that book, will pay off.

And it has many of the same rewards. I work from the comfort of my husband’s closet, I set my own schedule, and I take off the days my kids need me. I work on both fiction and non-fiction books.  I choose what I want to work on, although, honestly, I’m not all that picky about some things. (Which is my way of saying, there is definitely rated MA work on my profile for language, sex and violence.)  I’m extremely picky about other things, like what kind of theory is being proposed in the non-fiction world. If I can’t get behind the idea of the work, I just let someone else take that one. It isn’t fair to the author to get a halfhearted narrator, and it’s just a slog for me to read hours of stuff I don’t like.  I try to get a good idea of what kind of content I’m being asked to read before I audition, and I have never turned down a offer, yet.

I’ve read works published by independent authors and books that have been traditionally published. After a few such books, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the type of writing a traditional publishing house editor lets out of the door, and how any writer can get better at their craft. They are really great at putting the tension in a scene or a sentence. The job of an editor is to polish the writer’s work, to make the writer sound like the writer, but better. The work of a great editor is to convince a writer that they would sound better if they did a few simple things to strengthen their writing. It’s easy to lose tension in your work, but it isn’t hard to put it back in. You don’t need gimmicks, or to follow the latest slip-shod advice (ever tried to get rid of all of your adverbs.)

So stay tuned for next weeks’ Cheat Sheet…

Can’t get enough of Melanie and her wisdom? You don’t have to wait until next week! Follow her on Twitter  and check out her blog at . Happy writing!