Learn From My Mistakes, PLEASE!

Like most of you, I have found the summer heat to be a great challenge. My productivity in the studio has dropped in the last couple months. Even though I’ve done my best to keep to my schedule, it has been uncomfortable and difficult to work in my four by five foot booth recording booth during days with unrelenting high temperatures and humidity.

But it’s not the heat that has presented the biggest block to productivity this summer. Oh, no. It was my own lack of preparation that made my summer recording needlessly miserable.

Over the past few months, I have voiced several installments in various mystery series that I began recording five years ago, when I was a new narrator with little understanding of how to keep information organized. All summer I have struggled and been bogged down when again and again, I needed to refer to my original recording for character voices, proper name pronunciation, and dialect choices. And again and again, I have been frustrated and disappointed to find that often, I was missing crucial information.

What in the world was I thinking, I’ve wondered, as hours of recording time have slipped through my fingers. Rather than move forward at a reasonable and productive pace, I’ve had to stop in the middle of a session, purchase the Kindle edition of a previously-recorded book (of course I hadn’t kept the original PDF manuscript), search for whatever character recurs in later installments, search through the sound files for an audio sample of the character, and finally pull what I need in order to move on. In one late-night character recreation session, I discovered I hadn’t even bothered to keep the original recording, so I had to purchase the audiobook in order to get the files for a sound match.

All this lost time has meant fewer recording hours, missed deadlines, decreased income, and, more importantly, less free time to swing on my hammock. Unacceptable.

It  has really been one of the most aggravating phases of my audiobook career (made additionally unpleasant as I’ve had to listen to my very inexperienced, unpolished, newbie-narrator voice from 2007). However, dealing with challenges caused by a lack of foresight and organization has given me an opportunity to consider best practices. I thought it might be meaningful to other narrators to post the tips that I’ve come up with, and invite you to add your own. I NEVER again want to spend my time trying to find information that should always be at my fingertips, and I don’t want you to have to struggle, either. These tips are particularly helpful for recurrent characters, but I’ve also come up with some short-cuts that apply to any character in any book, whether it’s a series or not.

So, here are my tips for keeping your workflow productive, and ensuring you don’t lose your mind:

    1. Keep a PDF of the book manuscript on a hard-drive.
      It didn’t occur to me back in the day that I might need the manuscript after I’d finished recording the book. Granted, the first couple years I still recorded from paper. Keeping those scripts would have been burdensome, but since I now work exclusively with PDF’s on an iPad, there is no reason to discard a script when recording is complete. I don’t need them on my iPad, but I need to be able to retrieve them easily in the future, so they’re waiting on a hard drive, and I’ll never have to shell out $10 for Kindle edition again.
    2. Name the book folder with the series name, and the number in the series.
      When I looked in my computer files for previous books in a great series by my pal Judy Clemens, I realized that “Flowers For Her Grave” was a far less useful project title than “Grim Reaper Mystery #3—Flowers For Her Grave.” Now that I have renamed all my book project folders with series information, I can much more quickly find the right folder and keep track of where I am in the series and where I need to be.

    3. Obviously, keep a sound clip of each character clearly labelled in a Characters folder.
      (Just for the record, I learned this lesson quickly years ago, and luckily, only a couple books had absolutely no character voice match files.) In early books, I had marked character voices in my ProTools session, which was the right idea, but an  extremely inefficient means of capturing them later.Here’s another important tip: If you’re recording on an audio publisher’s proprietary system, it’s not a bad idea to ensure that you make character voices available to you in files formatted for whatever other platform you use (i.e. ProTools). If later books in the series are picked up by a different publisher and you’re not recording in the original format, it’s helpful and efficient to have quick access to character files without having to open the proprietary program in order to access character voices.
    4. Keep sound files of the pronunciations for unfamiliar words and character names, in addition to character voices.
      This is particularly helpful if the author has contrived a world with its own language. I voice the name or the unfamiliar word in my own sound, capture just the pronunciation, and label it with as much information as possible. For example, there’s a recurring character, Celestine, in Laura Wright‘s Mark of the Vampire series. When I recorded Eternal Beast this summer, I recorded the pronunciation of Celestine’s name, and labelled that file “Celestine pronunciation (CEL-i-steen).” I also took care to record other words unique or important to the MOTV world, like Paleo (puh-LAY-o), Riordan (REARdn), Impure (IMpure – NOT imPURE). I can always listen to the 2-second clip if I need to, but I know how to pronounce whatever I’m questioning with just a visual check of the sound file, and I no longer need to keep written pronunciation notes that can easily get disorganized or lost.
      This technique was in response to my dismay when I realized I could not recall how I had always pronounced Vlad in Jeaniene Frost‘s Night Huntress series. With the start of the new Night Prince series, I couldn’t for the life of me remember if my pronunciation of Vlad rhymed with “bad” or “god?” (He’s a little bit of both, after all.) I was mortified, and so grateful that one of my listener fans set me straight, so that I could jump into the work without doing a search through the last book. (This admission of fallibility should in no way plant doubt that this series is important to me, but my growing body of work includes close to 200 titles and many book series. I’m only human.)I’ve also started keeping a sound file of pronunciation for common words that vary across the country. For example, I cannot count the number of times I’ve narrated the word “aunt” in a book, and then wondered pages later which pronunciation I chose (was she a hoity-toity aunt, or a down-home ant?). If I take the time to quickly capture my pronunciation choice (I’d call that file “AUNT pronunciation”), then I eliminate time-consuming corrections and ensure that I’m not distracting the listener with inconsistency.

    5. To help with character differentiation, use the notes section in the file information (this opens up with Command (or Apple)-I, and mark the file with color, so that it is immediately apparent that the file contains information for future reference.This gives me a much greater sense of control and specificity over my character voices. Eternal Beast is another good example for this technique. I feared that all my men were sounding the same, particularly in scenes in which all the men were in conversation, and I wanted to be sure to clearly differentiate them. But especially after listening to Johnny Heller’s wonderful advice in his Publisher’s Weekly interview, I wanted to differentiate the voices not by focusing so exclusively on creating a specific sound, but by focusing much more on playing a specific character.I opened up the note section for each character voice clip and added some description that would bring me back into character as effectively as listening to the character voice clip itself.For example, Lucien is sarcastic, funny, and impulsive. He and Helo do sound alike, but Helo’s notes say that he is more laid back, wry, and has a fairly languid pace. I knew those details when I created their character, but in six months or a year, I will have forgotten them, unless I make careful notes. The basis for these characterizations are the profiles I keep in a Word document, but that document doesn’t trigger recall of voice as effectively as pairing written notes with the character sound clip. Knowing I was capturing that detailed performance information along with the voice match gave me such peace of mind. I’ll be so much more successful voicing these guys in the future, because I’ve organized and qualified my thinking.You can use the notes section for anything, including the URL to a sound file that influenced the creation of the character voice or an image file that enabled character specificity.
    6. Finally, tag the file on which you’re currently working in a color so that you can quickly move from folder to folder.
      This is such a small adjustment in my workflow, but it has saved me time and energy. My list of folders for audiobook publishers and projects is extensive, and at the end of the day, bleary-eyed and fatigued, I found I was staring at the screen, trying to stay focused on the project at hand. Now whatever publisher folder I’m currently working on is highlighted green, and my current project in that folder is also highlighted green. I never have to search down a list for folder for the right name, because my eye jumps to the only colored line. This is time- and sanity-saving.
I’m excited to continue devising additional best practices, I sincerely hope that these tips are useful to new and seasoned narrators alike. Will you share techniques that allow you to keep focused on creating the best quality work you can? What else do you do to keep your work-flow organized? Please share in the comments section.

24 thoughts on “Learn From My Mistakes, PLEASE!

  1. Wonderful article Tavia and great advice. Thank you!

  2. Jonah Cummings on August 21st, 2012 at 1:18 pm
  3. VERY helpful info Tavia – thank you! I just started saving a character voices file for “Coming Out Under Fire – The History of Gay Men & Women In WWII” as I was overwhelmed by the number of personal histories – thank God this book has an index of all of them that I’ve been using to correspond with my sound files – but will mos def use a more cataloged system for fiction pieces in the future. Thanks for sharing and letting us profit from your experience.

  4. Scott O'Neill on August 21st, 2012 at 1:28 pm
  5. Oh, so glad it’s useful advice! Thanks for commenting.

  6. Tavia on August 21st, 2012 at 1:35 pm
  7. Ah ha! Thought of something to contribute 🙂

    Small thing but important – make sure you’re backing up those important character reference files and manuscripts! I run a nightly backup of all files to an external hard drive using the excellent and free Syncback. This actually saved my bacon once when I came into the studio one morning to find my motherboard had decided to fry itself (wiping the drive in the process). Everything was gone – but thanks to my nightly back up I was able to recover everything – mostly importantly, the files for the audio book I was currently recording!

  8. Adam Verner on August 21st, 2012 at 2:51 pm
  9. Adam, that’s not a small thing at all! I have not been on top of my backups in the past, and I had to learn the hard way to be more disciplined. Thank you so much for the reminder!

  10. Tavia on August 21st, 2012 at 2:53 pm
  11. Tavia, this is probably the most helpful article on workflow process I’ve come across.
    I am deeply grateful to my fellow narrators – especially you – who share so generously, and from whom I learn so much. Thank you for this.

  12. Christine rendel on August 21st, 2012 at 5:39 pm
  13. Tavia, this is fantastic info! As much as you think you’ve got it covered, you can’t be tooo careful enough! Gotta do the back-ups, gotta do the back-ups!
    Thanks so much!

  14. Kathy Verduin on August 21st, 2012 at 8:12 pm
  15. Um, I just have two comments: The first is in regard to the pdfs of the manuscript that you are working with. In the audiobook publisher’s agreement with the right’s holder, those pdfs are supposed to be stored on a secure server and then destroyed after the production of the audiobook has been completed. Though it may not have been spelled out when the pdfs were sent to you, that agreement is implied and applies to the narrator in the home studio as well. If you need another final, you can either purchase another digital or print copy or; some audiobook publishers have finished copy that they can send you. The second item refers to professional courtesy copies of books that you have narrated for an audiobook publisher. If copies of your work are not automatically supplied to you, you can often request complimentary copies of your work be sent to you. A certain audiobook publisher will even overnight audiobooks to you, especially in cases of needing them for them for reference!

  16. Tanya/ dog eared copy on August 21st, 2012 at 9:55 pm
  17. That’s really helpful information, Tanya! Thank you!

  18. Tavia on August 21st, 2012 at 10:07 pm
  19. This is terrific guidance that will help to make projects progress much more smoothly. Thank you Tavia.

  20. David Sigmon on August 21st, 2012 at 10:52 pm
  21. You have no idea how happy I was to help. Please give me something else to do 😉

  22. Teri Hamilton Garrett on August 22nd, 2012 at 12:31 pm
  23. I’ll try!! xo

  24. Tavia on August 22nd, 2012 at 12:35 pm
  25. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Very helpful info from a seasoned pro!

  26. Ronn Garcia on August 22nd, 2012 at 2:03 pm
  27. Thanks for the kind words, Ronn!

  28. Tavia on August 22nd, 2012 at 2:14 pm
  29. I agree with all of the above comments (and thanks for additional info from Adam and Tanya). This is a great post, Tavia!

  30. Heather Henderson on August 22nd, 2012 at 5:53 pm
  31. Greetings, Tavia! Thanks for a great article and some wonderful advice about audiobook workflow. I have a tip that you and others may find useful.

    I have just started using Evernote (http://evernote.com/) for my prep. I create a new notebook for each book. Each character is on a separate page of the notebook.

    As I prep the book, I can copy the descriptive info from the book to the character page and add notes about the chapters where the characters speak. I also add the hex number of the color I picked in iAnnotatePDF to highlight the characters’ lines.

    Best of all, you can attach an audio file or record audio directly into the note on Evernote. This feature allows you to easily add voice samples as you prep the book and/or after you record it.

    Evernote is available and synchs automatically on all my computers and my iPad. I can search across notebooks for a character’s name, which is a helpful feature when completing a series of books.

    When it’s time to prep the next book in a series, I’ll still have all of the character descriptions and sound bytes readily accessible in my Evernote notebook.

    Thanks again for posting this most thought-provoking article. I especially like your tip to keep sound files of pronunciations for consistency and will be adding them to my Evernote notebooks!

    Karen Commins

  32. Karen Commins on August 23rd, 2012 at 9:59 am
  33. Thanks, Karen! Great tip. I’ve never worked with Evernote, but I’ll check it out!

  34. Tavia on August 23rd, 2012 at 5:35 pm
  35. you make we wanna be more diligent my dear…

    i am grateful.


  36. hillary huber on August 24th, 2012 at 12:02 am
  37. Tavia, thank you so much! I thought I was pretty good at saving research, but your tips will add so much more function to the files – and definitely save time. Lots of goodies here in the comments, too.

  38. Donna Postel on September 3rd, 2012 at 12:34 pm
  39. So glad that it was of value to you, Donna!

  40. Tavia on September 3rd, 2012 at 2:33 pm
  41. I’ve printed this up and keep it in a drawer in my studio! Another tip: if you’re in iAnnotate, look in the right vertical toolbar for a little microphone icon. (If you don’t see it, click on the wrench icon at the top of that toolbar.) When you click on that icon, it will start recording immediately and you can create a character voice sample. It keeps it tacked on the script at that spot.

  42. Heather Henderson on December 7th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
  43. Thanks, Heather, for adding this invaluable tip!

  44. Tavia on December 7th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
  45. I also have a difficult time in the summer. I would much rather be outside! great tips for the audiobook work 🙂

  46. garrett d on August 8th, 2013 at 6:07 pm
  47. Thank you, Tavia. Spendid information.

  48. Stephen Bowlby on November 2nd, 2013 at 12:53 pm

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