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Recording My Audiobook

Studio1-001

Happy Publication Day! The Ghost Bride was (finally) published on August 6th!!

In a burst of optimism, I auditioned to read my own audiobook and was actually approved. I was very excited about this, as reading aloud is a favourite activity with my kids and brings back happy memories from my childhood when my father read all the Chronicles of Narnia to us.

Apparently, audiobooks are more popular than ever. In fact, a number of people have told me that they hardly digest books in any other form nowadays. The reasons for this ranged from “I don’t have any time” to “I like to listen to books when I’m driving”. And of course, there was the Big Caveat. “I can’t stand it when the narration is horrible”. Uh oh.

Now that reality was upon me, I suddenly realized that I should have been spending all my free time preparing character voices, practicing pacing etc. Instead, I had been doing things like cooking crustaceans and wondering what kind of snacks to serve at book readings.

Before the studio recording session, I had a phone conversation with Susan Stone who was going to direct me. Yes, it turns out that studio recordings are directed much like plays are, in terms of pacing, emotion etc. After going through the logistics of the 4 days booked for studio time, she gave me a number of pointers. Such as avoiding dairy for a few days before recording as it tends to stuff you up. Also, consuming apples/apple juice in between takes helps because they contain pectin that coats your mouth and makes things sound smoother. “Oh, and don’t wear any noisy clothing”, she added. Apparently they’d once had an aging rockstar come in to read his memoirs and the sensitive microphone had picked up the squeaks from his leather pants.

Yes, I am wearing yoga pants.

Yes, I am wearing yoga pants. This is my dream job.

“How about yoga pants?” I said hopefully.

“Perfect!” she said. I was already smitten with Susan and this only cemented my high opinion of her.

On the first day of recording, I staggered off to the studio with the book script that my publisher had sent me. This was a stack of paper roughly the size of a 15 lb sack of rice, printed in a large font for easy reading and organized so that every page concluded with the end of a sentence. It turns out that digital studio recordings allow you to seamlessly cut out things like the sound of flipping paper, coughs, and things like elevator rumblings. In the old days, as Miik Dinko, the friendly sound engineer, told me, they used to cut out sections from spools of recording tape. Now, it can all be done on a computer.

I was very impressed, especially when Miik took the time to settle me in and adjust the microphone and seat. He did this every day of the recording, in case the mike had been moved in the interim. Apparently it was a rather sensitive and expensive microphone.

“How expensive?” I asked.

“About $7000,” he said. “So don’t throw up on it.”

Gingerly, I sat down. A professional recording booth is basically a sound proof box with a glass window and a two way microphone, rather like a high-tech hamster cage. The outer room is where your director and sound engineer sit, together with computers and boards with lots of terrifying dials and switches.

The view from the recording booth/hamster cage (you can see the reflection of my script in the glass window)

And then we started recording.

I’ll never forget the words on the first page that I read. “Harper Audio presents: The Ghost Bride. By Yangsze Choo. This is the author.”

Aaaahhhh! I almost let out an undignified squeak, but there was no time. Also, a squeak would have to be edited out. In any case, there were lots of pages to cover and many many characters. Once again, I felt like kicking myself. Why were there so many people? And why were so many of them old men? Opium-addicted old men, grouchy old men, cunning old men… I tried my best to give them all different voices. Susan kept a log of the characters and what they sounded like, so that she could remind me by replaying previous dialogue with them. She did this every day of the recording which was extremely helpful.

It was surprisingly exhausting work. We recorded for about 6-7 hours a day, with breaks for lunch and snacks (many, many snacks – I ate lots of cookies to prevent stomach rumblings and doused myself with apple juice “for the sake of art”). But it was so much fun. Although I was terrified every time a new character appeared.

Every evening at home, I would hastily look over the next day’s script and practice the voices, all the while berating myself for not prepping months in advance. This kind of carefree attitude was sure to get me into trouble, I thought, conveniently forgetting that I had done this at school too. In addition to old men, there were several old women too. And young people, Dutchmen, and ox-headed demons… Susan’s deft direction kept me in character. Sometimes she and Miik would tell me to do things again. “He’s dying. Make him sound like he’s dyiiiiiiinng!!”

My 5″ thick recording script.

When we were halfway through the recording, Susan remarked, “It’s so nice that you’re doing different voices for characters. Many readers don’t, you know?”

What? I had clearly missed this option. Never mind that (thanks to my kids) I had been listening to a steady diet of books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and had mistakenly assumed that this was the normal way to read an audio book.

But in that dim, underground studio, I fell into the world of the novel. All I could see was the words floating on the pages in front of me; it was such a small, intimate space that it felt as though I was speaking directly to a listener, perhaps somewhere driving in a car, or lying on a sofa with earphones on. Telling them a story in the most old fashioned way.

Thank you so much, Karen Dziekonski (Executive Producer in NYC), Susan Stone (Director), Miik Dinko (Engineer), and the team at John Marshall Media and HarperCollins who made this happen. It was an amazing experience, and one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Here’s Chapter One:

Suggested Book:

  • The Ghost Bride, by (ahem) me!  ;)

Suggested Snack:

  • Chocolate chip and dried cherry cookies, with lots of apple juice
  • Malaysian food mentioned in the book, including kaya toast, begedil (fried croquettes of mashed potato and minced meat), pie tee, and curry laksa.

Do you prefer reading or audio books?

50 Comments Post a comment
  1. How interesting! I am just trying to pluck up courage to do some short sections for a simple YouTube video… this is a whole new world for me.

    August 12, 2013
    • You should try it! I bet you’ll do a fantastic job! :)

      August 12, 2013
  2. Gram #

    This would be great for walking…Dee

    August 12, 2013
  3. Congratulations., for print and audio publications.

    August 12, 2013
  4. RachelB. #

    You just made history! Congratulations!

    August 12, 2013
    • Gosh, well, I don’t know about history, but it’s very kind of you ;)

      August 12, 2013
  5. Sounds like it was an amazing experience. I am very impressed! :-)

    August 12, 2013
  6. Susan O'Brien #

    Thanks so much for providing so many fascinating details! One of my relatives is an actor who has read many audiobooks, but hearing the author’s perspective is different. I’m so impressed that you took on this challenge! I’m sure your readers will appreciate it. (I just hit play, and your voice is amazing!! Congratulations!!)

    August 12, 2013
    • Thank you! I’d love to hear what your relative thinks about reading audiobooks by different authors and what sort of process he/she goes through to prepare. Must be fascinating :)

      August 12, 2013
      • Susan O'Brien #

        Can’t imagine how busy you are, but I’ll DM you some links to her interviews, etc., just in case. (Hope it works…Not sure I’ve ever used that Twitter feature.) Best wishes!

        August 13, 2013
  7. Love this inside look into the word of recording an audiobook. Never even considered what it might be like. Can’t wait to hear the audio version of your book. Like many others, my “reading” diet has been reduced to kids audio books. This will be refreshing.

    August 12, 2013
    • Hi LiLing, don’t worry, I think that many kids’ audiobooks are excellent ;) For example, have you heard Hugh Laurie’s reading of Roald Dahl’s “The Giraffe, the Pelly, and Me”? It’s absolutely fantastic, plus he even sings!!

      August 12, 2013
  8. It is rare that an author can pull off reading his/her own creation — you do it so well! I listen to a lot of audio books, and usually steer clear of ones read by the author after a couple of sadly boring books I encountered. I may have to listen to your audio book after I read the print version!

    August 12, 2013
    • Thank you so much! It’s very kind of you to say so, and I really appreciate it. My great fear in doing this was to cause some poor listener to run screaming from the room. Really!! This is the stuff that author nightmares are made of ;)

      August 12, 2013
  9. Thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve only recently started listening to audio books, so it’s really interesting to read what goes on behind the scenes of book narrations. Your voice is lovely btw :)

    August 12, 2013
    • Thank you – I’m so happy this was interesting for you! I also wonder what other audiobook narrators do. I’m sure they’re much more professional! Love your bunny avatar. :)

      August 12, 2013
  10. Paul Yee (the lawyer, not the famous author; sorry) #

    That was a fun look behind the scenes. I’m the type who loves listening to directors’ commentaries on DVDs, so I especially enjoyed this post. I’m very much looking forward to the audio version of your book. So glad you are doing the reading.

    August 12, 2013
  11. emmaccallum #

    Reblogged this on The Reader's Hollow and commented:
    As a follow up to yesterday’s post featuring “The Ghost Bride.” Such a great book, the author deserves all the success for this debut!

    August 13, 2013
    • Wow, thank you for the reblog! And I just found your lovely and thoughtful review – I’m so happy that you enjoyed it!

      August 15, 2013
      • emmaccallum #

        I loved it and wish you all the best with your book!

        August 16, 2013
  12. Ooh, so fun to hear all about the inner workings of the recording studio! Thanks for sharing. Xox

    August 13, 2013
    • Thanks so much!! I’m glad you enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek ;)

      August 15, 2013
  13. I’d been waiting oh so eagerly for the release date of the book and went out to snatch me a copy at it’s release! I am sooo excited to read it, for though I’ve gazed upon the pretty cover and read through the synopsis several times, I’m not allowed to turn to page one for another WEEK. This is because during a time of lapsed judgement I decided that I could get the book ONLY AFTER I faced a difficult-but-nessisary-evil that’s coming up in several days. I told myself I could get the book as a reward… but now it’s killing me to wait! I have the book in the shopping bag still so I don’t see the tempting cover. Probably shouldn’t have gotten it until I was “allowed” to read it… but I couldn’t resist! ^.^

    What an awesome experience recording in the studio- thanks for sharing! I think it’s so neat that the AUTHOR of the book is doing the reading.

    Congrats on the book release and the audio!

    August 14, 2013
    • Hi Joni,

      I’m honoured that you’ve chosen my book as your reward, and am so happy that you’re excited about it! Plus impressed that you have so much willpower. ;) I hope the book is a fun read for you and wish you all the best in your upcoming battle!

      August 15, 2013
  14. It’s very nice to hear your voice!

    August 18, 2013
  15. Arboldemacuelizo #

    You have a lovely reading voice. And the characterization of the voices was a great option! Congratulations!:)

    August 24, 2013
    • Thank you so much!! I’m glad you enjoyed it. :)

      August 29, 2013
  16. S. Hatfield #

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read the book yourself. Personally, it means so much more that you recorded your own work. I like to think that the intention of your story stayed truer without having it filtered through someone else. I listened to it recently while on vacation. Every night I’d find myself staying up extra hours, hanging on every word in the dark of someone else’s home. I couldn’t have planned it better. I felt more connected to the lead because I too was a far from home and family. You made something magical and I really loved it. Can’t wait to read or listen to more! I’m hooked for sure.
    Oh, and on the subject of audio vs. print. When I was growing up I read print books constantly. I moved around a lot and books were my best friends. My father would read to me at night when I’d go to bed as well as rent audio books from the library for when we’d drive in the car. He passed away when I was 11. Now that I’m 23 and working a normal job I can’t keep my nose in a book like I used to but I can listen to them. And I do, constantly. I like both methods. The story is the part that matters most but I lean toward audio recordings.

    Thank’s again for your time and your stories,
    – Shelby

    August 28, 2013
    • Hi Shelby,

      Your story about listening to the audio book in the dark was so evocative – how wonderful and I’m very happy that you enjoyed it!

      I’m sorry to hear about your father’s passing. It sounds like he instilled a deep love of books in you. And yes, I agree that books are like friends. I have many favourites that I revisit and it’s often a comfort to nestle up with a beloved book, especially childhood ones (for me, many of the Diana Wynne Jones novels) which seem to have a special magic. :)

      August 29, 2013
      • S. Hatfield #

        Diana Wynne Jones is wonderful! I listen to Howl’s Moving Castle everytime I need extra encouragement for doing housework. Sophie always puts me in a mood for scrubbing and dusting. :D

        September 5, 2013
  17. Coco #

    Love your voice! BTW, is this a horror book? Can I read it at night time?

    August 28, 2013
    • Thank you, Coco! Don’t worry, this isn’t a horror book – I think it’s more of an adventure. But the good thing about books is you can always close them (unlike movies, where I sometimes I have to leave if it’s too scary!). ;)

      August 29, 2013
  18. Beverly Flores #

    I just finished reading your book. I couldn’t put it down! I absolutely loved it. The characters were all so interesting. It took me all of 3 days to read it! Thank you so much for writing it! Will you continue to write? I hope you do. :) I also listened to your recording and you have a beautiful way of reading. Keep up the great work and I’m looking forward to reading your next book.

    September 3, 2013
    • Hi Beverly,

      I’m so happy you enjoyed the book! Thank you so much for your encouragement, and yes, I hope that I can continue writing! (Probably more strange tales to entertain people) ;)

      September 4, 2013
  19. Katherine #

    I would love to buy your audiobook; unfortunately I couldn’t since I live in Australia :(

    September 6, 2013
  20. I am in the midst of listening to your wonderful story! I listen to audiobooks as I garden and do menial household chores to keep my mind occupied. Because your books is so wonderful, I keep working. I have a rule, you see, that I can only listen while working! Thank you.

    September 8, 2013
    • Thank you so much, Karen! I’m really glad you’re enjoying the audio book, especially if it makes chores easier (I find audio books help me fold the laundry). Hooray for housework! :)

      September 12, 2013
  21. Priya McMorrow #

    I finished “The Ghost Bride” in 24 hours. It was utterly captivating. Your writing is just beautiful. *Spoiler*…….I really want to know what happens to Li Lan!!! Please, please, please write a sequel!!!!!

    September 13, 2013
  22. Hi Priya,

    Thank you so much for the encouragement! I’m so happy that you enjoyed it and am certainly open to writing a sequel some time in the future! :)

    September 16, 2013
  23. Robin #

    Hi Yangsze,

    I just finished reading your book. It was wonderfully written especially with certain imagination of the afterlife. I enjoyed reading and understand the back ground where you based the story as I am from Penang and have strong interest in the culture and religion.

    November 2, 2013
    • Hi Robin,

      Thank you very much – I’m delighted that you enjoyed the book! It means a lot to me, especially coming from a fellow Malaysian. :)

      November 7, 2013
  24. I am listening to Ghost Bride now and I absolutely love it! Your narration is absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much!

    November 22, 2013
    • Hi Melanie,

      Thank you for your kind words – I’m glad it’s fun for you to listen to. :)

      November 25, 2013
  25. Sarah #

    It’s really interesting how i found this book. I was wandering aimlessly in Borders one day as i was waiting for my friend and i managed to catch a glimpse of this book, i didn’t pay much attention as my lack of courage always steer me as far away from books about ghosts. But it managed to piqued my interest on the subject (Ghost marriages). Since then it has always been in my to- buy list and i finally bought it. I love it! I guess there is really something magical about your book. Will there be a sequel to this book? Er Lang and Li Lan is by far my favorite couple, and i hope to see more of them in the future. Perhaps you should start writing a book series on Li Lan and Er Lang’s adventure! I hope you really do so :D Please!

    March 5, 2014
    • Hi Sarah,

      Gosh, that’s very kind of you! I’m delighted that you enjoyed it as well as the characters. Will certainly try my best to keep writing (things would go faster if I could stop wandering over the fridge in search of “inspiration”) … ;)

      March 10, 2014

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