It's a marathon, not a sprint
It's just over a year since my first completed audiobook went on sale, and I'm pleased to say that it remains a strong seller. It was a pretty mammoth fifteen hour long non-fiction title, so not perhaps the most sensible starting point to my narration career. That's what wiser and more experienced heads have since told me, and I wouldn't disagree with them. The truth is, you really don't know any different when it's your first foray into the business.
What made it such a difficult starting point? In my opinion, there are two key battles you face on a long audiobook project: one mental, the other physical. The physical side of audiobook narration is well covered by experts in the art such as Pat Fraley and Scott Brick. You only have to do the briefest of searches on YouTube to find examples of their hard-earned and sage advice on making the narration process bearable physically.
Most people assume that it's the voice that gives up first, and occasionally that's true. As I write I'm battling a heavy cold which has kept me out of the studio for a week now, so I have been a slave to throat lozenges, expectorant medication and ginseng and lemon tea for several days. The voice is coming back thankfully. During a recording day, I use a range of techniques to keep my voice in shape - not least using a mist spray bottle filled with water to lubricate my mouth after every page. My other secret weapon is another spray - Farley's Entertainer's Secret mouth spray - which soothes strained vocal chords and makes short work of the clag that gums up the throat after a few pages. I will also get through a large bottle of still mineral water in a three or four hour session.
Of course the voice is important - but it's rarely the thing that gives out first. My twin enemies are physical fatigue, and mental burn out.
Let me take them in turn: narration can hurt. Why? I challenge you to remain largely still, either seated or standing, in a relatively set posture a fixed distance away from a microphone, for several hours. You'll experience pain in strange places, or numbness in others. No matter how regularly you stretch or take breaks, you will feel it. Trust me. It was a similar feeling when I worked in retail back in the 1980's - the tough part was enduring the pain in your feet, ankles and calves while rooted behind the checkout counter.
That pain nags away at you, and adds to the second of those enemies, mental burn out. It's easy to become disheartened when you take a sneak peek at how many pages remain of a chapter, or in my case, how many per cent of the book remain when I check on my Kindle. It's that sense that this process is never-ending, and the end of the book remains elusively out-of-reach. That can crush the spirit.
Recently I've been recording three fiction titles back-to-back in short order - each weighing in at thirteen hours of finished audio. This has pushed me beyond my previous stamina limits, and I confess at times I have felt battered by the experience. But - and it's a Kardashian sized but... it has done me the world of good. It has toughened me up - physically and mentally. It has shown me that I am capable of enduring marathon sessions in the studio of up to six hours. It has forced me to find ways of keeping body, soul and voice going and get the job done. That knowledge allows me to say with some confidence that my productivity has doubled.
So - as promised a few tips:
Warm up! Not just the voice but stretching, massaging the face and tongue - the works.
Wear comfortable shoes and socks. Have a massage roller to hand to ease the tightness in your legs or shoulders.
Water. Loads of it. Keep hydrated.
Find some throat medication that works for you - a lozenge here, a squirt of throat spray there.
Break the session down into targets. I set myself a percentage goal, usually 25% of a book a day. Have a reward for completing that.
Move around and stretch. I do this every 15-20 mins.
Eat well. Fuel the fire. Give yourself an hour for lunch and chew it slowly.
Think of the money. If I'm doing a PFH job, I know how many per cent each 10% of the manuscript is worth. It helps when the fatigue sets in.
Please drop me a line if you have any handy hints to add to this list - I hope this post helps you cruise past the audiobook finish line with ease.