With audiobooks, it always begins with the breath. Any type of speaking begins with breath, and practicing yogic breathing techniques is wonderful for this. Getting in touch with your torso, ribcage, throat – becoming familiar with how the throat and tongue and everything is attached – is fascinating. You can go really deeply into it. Tina Dietz
In a recent Podnews article, it was predicted that podcast listening will quadruple by 2021. Not only are we busy creating our own audio dramas here at Writer on the Road, but we’re doing a deep delve into whether it’s better to narrate your own novels, and therefore build your brand through know, like and trust, or whether narrating is better left to the professionals.
I’ll be catching up with Tina Dietz again shortly to get an update on all the things we need to consider when hiring a professional to do our narrating for us – you can listen to our chat here. And if you’re thinking of having a go at narrating your own novel, you can listen to my chat with Renee Conoulty, who has all the tricks and tips for self-narration, here.
In the meantime, here’s my interview with Tina, which is also available in Issue 3 of Author Success Stories Magazine here.
Tina Dietz MS, NCC is an award-winning and internationally acclaimed speaker, audiobook publisher, podcast producer, and content marketing expert who has been featured on media outlets including ABC, Inc.com, Huffington Post and Forbes. Tina’s podcast, The StartSomething Show, was named by INC magazine as one of the top 35 podcasts for entrepreneurs.
Mel I’m here with the beautiful Tina Dietz. I’m very keen to pick her brain about audiobooks and eBooks, and how to get them out into the big, wide world. Tina is an expert narrator and the founder of StartSomething Creative Business, a business she created, in part, to help authors get their books out in audio format.
Tina Yes, well… I’m kind of the queen of leveraging things creatively. I created StartSomething because I got tired of always creating something new. I’m always creating new things – I can’t help it. But when you’re trying to make money from that, it can be really exhausting, so I turned my attention to how I could help myself – and other people – take the brilliant word they’ve already created and make the most of it. Every time you generate a product, like a book or a course, you have to create infrastructure to get it out into the world. That’s where a lot of creative people get tripped up – in the details and the muck of technology.
I try to alleviate those barriers so creative people can do what they do best – create, teach, and inspire. And they don’t have to worry about it, because they’re using other people’s platforms and audiences and tools to get their work into the world.
My favourite medium is audio, so I tend to focus on helping folks with podcasts and audiobooks – with the production and launch side of that. Many times I end up helping people with other forms of marketing too. Ultimately I just want to see people be creatively free.
Mel What’s the process you go through when you’re helping someone get their book out into the world?
Tina First we have to evaluate the book, though a novel requires a little less evaluation than a non-fiction book. We have a strategy conversation about your audience and assets and strengths – the ways you like to connect with people, your contacts, all those things. We then create a strategy that will make you feel good about being out there in the world with your book.
If you want to turn it into an audiobook, we need to make sure we get you the right narrator. There’s a couple of steps in that process, then I would curate auditions and send you the best ones, after making sure they were up to the right standards. You get to pick the narrator who’s most aligned with the voice of your book.
Your strategy also depends on why you want the audiobook. Authors producing an audiobook come to me in one of two places. Sometimes they come to me when they want to revive an old title, one that they launched six months or three years or ten years ago. Alternatively, they come to me when they’re launching a new book and want to have a robust launch that includes the audio format.
Audiobooks extend the life of your launch and give the story to people in a format they’re really, really hungry for. Audiobooks outsell eBooks three to one.
Mel Audiobooks gained huge audiences when Audible launched, and then people’s profits dropped because Audible was taking a lot of the money. Do you think the format’s gaining ground again because of the popularity of podcasts and being able to do more than one thing at once?
Tina There are multiple reasons for the increased popularity. Audio has never really gone away – it’s been with us longer than written words. We are wired for story, so deeply wired that we’ve always attracted to audio. In the earlier part of the twentieth century, what did people do? They listened to the radio. They were glued to the radio. Then TV came around and took over for a bit, but now we’re coming back to audio – we’re always in motion.
Part of the reason is also that we have accessibility to podcasts and audiobooks, because we can put everything on our phones.
Now we can listen everywhere, so it’s easy to listen to audiobooks when you’re driving or at the gym or on the subway, or in any situation where you can’t necessarily read text or watch video. In the US, the average person reads about a dozen books a year, but the average audiobook listener consumes almost double that. Producing audiobooks is more accessible too – it now costs half of what it did seven years ago to produce an audiobook.
Mel But you should still make sure you’re investing in a good narrator – rather than doing it yourself?
Tina I don’t tend to recommend recording it yourself. There are certain audio settings you need to have. You definitely want higher-quality audio than you would for podcasting minimum. It doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive microphone – there’s just a necessary level of attention to detail. Audiobooks require a level of focus that takes practise, like you’re training for something.
It’s far easier to narrate nonfiction than fiction, and that has to do with characters.
A narrator producing a fiction book goes through and marks the appearance of each character in a special way. They have to practise and remember how to do each character’s voice. They use a technique called punch recording, which allows them to pause and back up and fix mistakes seamlessly as they go along. Narrators also learn microphone technique and breath technique, and have a certain amount of stamina they build up over time. It takes about five hours to produce one hour of finished audio.
Mel How do you deal with books that need particular narrators – say, an outback Australian accent?
Tina I have narrators from all over the world. I work directly with about 150, but I’ve got access to 4000 more. When I’m trying to find a particular accent, I say that they must be native speakers, or at least from the country where the accent’s from. I have had a couple of people fool me, though, and the author as well – some really talented actors. We go after the specific tone, timbre, and cadence of the accent. It’s no different from casting a part in a play or a movie.
Mel What about the voice itself? Do you need to use special vocal techniques?
Tina There are certain tones and timbres of voice that the human brain will react favourably to. Part of it’s personal, and part of it’s wiring. Studies show that deeper voices tend to be perceived as more trustworthy.
On the podcasting side of things, if we don’t have naturally deep voices, it’s not a matter of deepening them falsely – it’s a matter of using the other factors that go into creating our tone. Tempo is a big one, sonority, flow… We need to take those things into account when we’re looking at voice.
With audiobooks, it always begins with the breath. Any type of speaking begins with breath, and practicing yogic breathing techniques is wonderful for this. Getting in touch with your torso, ribcage, throat – becoming familiar with how the throat and tongue and everything is attached – is fascinating. You can go really deeply into it.
You can definitely narrate your own audiobook as a passion project, but I’d make sure you get some coaching. You should also make sure that you send a completed file of chapter one to a professional editor, to make sure that all your settings are correct before you go further. I’ve had a couple of people come to me, after narrating their entire books and getting so excited to publish them, whose work had been recorded at the wrong speed or on the wrong setting, so it literally could not be uploaded to Audible.
I think ultimately you need to ask yourself whether there’s an advantage to narrating your own book. Choosing to narrate it instead of getting it done professionally certainly doesn’t save you time, and it doesn’t save you money either – the amount of time you spend on it will cost you money, and you usually still hire an editor when all is said and done. And ultimately, you’re not going to see much of a difference in sales. Especially in fiction, people will choose a professionally narrated book over one narrated by the author. Nonfiction is a different story.
Mel So what kind of professional companies can we work with to produce our books?
Tina That’s a tricky one, because I’ve interviewed a lot of audio publishers and they take way too many royalties for what they provide. There is a common backend to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes that allows you to produce your audiobook and even work with narrators. It’s called acx.com – Audiobook Creation Exchange.com. However, that platform is only open to you if you’re based in the US or UK. Don’t ask me why; it’s an Amazon thing. That’s one of the reasons why my team at StartSomething has created a workaround to let international authors get their audiobooks produced and published without taking any royalties.
Mel That sounds amazing. Let’s say I came up to you with my beautiful 200-page literary romance, and I wanted to get it produced with you guys. How long would we be working together?
Tina First we’d look at the book and see if it’s a good fit for us. If it is, I like to leave three months for production. That’s enough time for us to still get it done if anything goes wrong – communication issues, people going travelling. With a three-month timeframe, there’s no panic. Plus, I’d like to leave myself more time and get it done early and have you be extra-delighted, than overpromise – say that it’ll be done in thirty days and then leave you disappointed. It’s important to set those kind of expectations from the get go. A lot of authors expect to be able to launch their books in thirty days, but it usually takes four to six months once you discover all the things you need to do that you hadn’t considered. That’s okay, because anything worth doing is worth doing well.
After you’ve chosen your narrator, and made sure that narrator is performing the way you want it performed, the narrator and I will go ahead and produce the rest of the book together.
You don’t have to do anything in that process. We make sure everything is word-perfect and consistent, you check over the final product, and then we publish it through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. If you’re based in the US or the UK, your royalties go directly to you; if you’re international, we distribute the royalties to you quarterly. Of course, the process is more detailed than that, but those are the big chunks as an author would experience it.
Mel How do you support authors through the marketing process?
Tina It’s a balance between creating things for the author – email copy, social media posts, etc. – and helping the author pull their own resources together. We take what’s called a launch team approach. I help you gather a team of family and friends, and then they help you promote your book. That keeps the cost down, as well as boosting your credibility, because there’s no substitute for word of mouth. We also put together a curated list of recommended podcasts you can pitch to as a guest, and help you create that pitch. It’s a similar process to the launch of the print or eBook version of your book.
Another aspect of marketing is that authors tend to move onto the next project before doing the current one justice. This is especially common in nonfiction, but I bet it holds through for fiction as well. Many authors let a project go when there’s so much more that could be done with it, and it does them a disservice, in terms of both income and audience. As an example – are you familiar with Stephen Covey and ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’?
Mel Of course. That was my bible when I was younger.
Tina It’s a great book. So, how many books did Stephen Covey write?
Mel I don’t know any of his other ones.
Tina He wrote a bunch, but we don’t think about those too much because he always focused on the original work. Stephen Covey took that one piece of work, those Seven Habits, and turned and twisted and launched and developed it into a world-wide empire of corporate training, personal training, business courses, branded products, endless articles, blog posts… People are still talking about it. He focused on one thing and continued to get creative with how he could tease it apart and share the information in it.
I see no reason why we all can’t take a page from that, pun intended, and honour ourselves and our work by exploring other possibilities with our work.
What else does your book have to offer you? Can you write articles from it? Can you pull quotes from it for social media? Can you talk about it on podcasts? Can you submit articles to the ‘Huffington Post’ about it? Can you guest blog on other people’s outlets?
And so on and so on. As creators, we don’t necessarily have to create something from scratch. We can fulfil our creative itch by leveraging what we already have in new ways, to reinforce our personal brands and gain more audience and income.
Your launch can take a long time. You move through one phase of it, and you learn from it, and snowball what you’ve learned into your next phase. It’s not an all at once, all the time scenario – it’s sending out ripples, waves of influence. I usually recommend that folks have at least three phases of their book launch. It could be over a year, to keep the book alive and allow you to breathe in between phases.
You can find out more about Tina and Start Something Creative Business Solutions here.