This is the current state of our roof. We’ve had a thunderstorm last night and before that we had 2 days of hammering on the roof and the dogs barking in the yard. My apologies in advance if I make less sense than usual. Somehow the image seems appropriate to the subject matter of the post below.
I always wondered about that and if the author and reader get on the same page with pronunciation. Are there training sessions on Zoom?
Are there consequences if the reader does not follow the pronunciation guide?
Is it easier to control pronunciation if you self publish vs when a publishing house is in control?
BDH is vast and wonderful. We have absolutely the best fandom out there, supportive, kind, and understanding. BDH is also very passionate about books and very creative in their interpretations. Occasionally misunderstandings crop up. This is one of these times.
I’ve asked Mod R to hide the original comment so the commenter doesn’t become the focus. M., thank you for asking these questions at just the right time. We have had several people ask us how we are going to “punish” the narrators for what they perceived to be mistakes. Your comment gives us a chance to have this discussion.
When we select an audio narrator or license our work to an audiobook company like Graphic Audio (GA), the actors who give voice to our books become our respected business partners. They are not indentured servants. We have no right or desire to “punish” anyone.
This is a professional business relationship, where everyone’s creativity is celebrated. For traditionally published books and adaptations like the ones done by GA, the audio narrator works for an audio company. Writers have very little influence over the process in those cases. But even if we are hiring the narrator directly, it isn’t a top down situation, where we become overlords and dictate how a person will voice our work. It is a professional arrangement based on mutual respect for everyone’s talent and hard work.
When we select an audio narrator, we do not choose them based on whether or not they can pronounce the names of the characters correctly. We select them based on their skill and talent and especially on their emotional delivery.
Can the audio narrator scream an order in the middle of a battle? Would I follow them?
Do they embody the character? When their character is breaking down, do they sound poignant?
Is there emotion in their voice? Do they make the listener feel things? Can they make me cry by using their voice alone?
When they are telling someone they can’t live without them, do I believe them?
Those are the primary questions. That’s what determines if the audio performance will resonate with the audience. Of course, it’s very subjective.
Pronunciation of the names is a very distant factor, and not even second, third, or forth. Before the pronunciation comes the intonation of narrative itself. How does the narrator sound when they are reading long passages without dialogue? Do they mumble? Is it boring? Is the voice grating? Are they adding some weird inflection that most people would find unpleasant? Are they putting emphasis in the right places?
And then there are business questions. Can they deliver on time? What is the quality of their recording?
Only then, when everything is settled, do we meet, usually for a Zoom, or back before the video conferencing became popular, via phone, and pronunciation of unusual words is reviewed.
What consequences are there for a reader who doesn’t pronounce the names the way the author intended?
How good is the reader? Renee Raudmann delivered a wonderful performance. Her work is landmark and was routinely nominated for Audies, which is the audio book version of the Oscars. Is it really important that she didn’t say D’Ambray or some other things the way we wanted them to be pronounced? Not really.
We continued to work with her to the end of the Kate series, because the audio readers formed a special bond with her voice and her performance. We respect her artistic interpretation. We have chosen a new reader for Wilmington novellas based on our new set of needs, but we will not be rerecording the previous books, as some people suggested.
So the answer is, usually there are no consequences. If the audio narrator just egregiously mangles every name and term – which never happened – we probably won’t work with them again. I’m sure that occasionally something of the sort probably did happen to someone and they may have had to rerecord the book. We never had to.
Sometimes we stress that we want certain things pronounced a certain way, especially if they have cultural significance. Sometimes we just tell the narrator to pronounce things the way they feel is natural to them. We don’t want to control the audio narrator. If we wanted that, we might as well have AI read the books.
Fortunately for all of us, these books are not voiced by robots. They are voiced by people, by actors. That’s why we enjoy them so much, because people are unique and each reader adds their own special touch. The quirks of each performance is what makes it special.
I wish that in the listener conversations regarding the audio books, more attention would be paid to the really important things, like how well the narrator delivered emotion and action instead of how they pronounced a certain word. How did the performance make the readers feel? Was it successful overall? Did it deliver the story?
One of our recent audio narrators almost quit when she was hit with a barrage of negative feedback over stuff that was so minor, that I literally said out loud, “Who cares?” when I was reading it. That book is our best selling audio book to date. It is beloved by majority of listeners, and we all collectively almost missed out on her future performance. Unfortunately, it is human nature to leave negative reviews more often than positive, so every time I see someone compliment that book, I send it to her, because I don’t want her to quit. She is ridiculously talented.
BDH is the best fandom. But it can be a lot.
In conclusion, pronunciation isn’t something we lose sleep over as authors. And I say this as someone who will go directly into an audio recording after this post, because Magic Tides is filled with old Shinar and I can’t wait to butcher both the ancient Sumerian and the ancient Akkadian in my sad effort to create a guide for the audio narrator.
There are more important things to worry about with audio narration. As much as we obsess over things, we have to keep in mind that we will never please everyone. Sometimes listeners forget that audio books are not created to the specific tastes of each individual just as books are not written to the needs of each individual reader. There is no guarantee that you will like every reader’s inflection or pitch. It’s unrealistic to expect perfection because your perfection is another’s reader’s horrible failure. The listener have the luxury to do so. But we, as authors, are not allowed to forget that, otherwise we would never commission any audiobooks at all.
That said, Gordon has just finished listening to the Curran sample for Magic Tides and he is very happy, because the narrator put the emphasis directly where Gordon wanted it to be. The tone, the inflection, everything was on point. That is so rare, it’s gold. He can mispronounce things all day if he wants to. He got the character right. We can’t wait for you to listen to it.
The comments are locked because I don’t want Mod R to work this weekend. The last couple of weeks have been very busy and she deserves her rest.