In November of 2019, I was getting ready to publish book #2 in the Mike Stoneman Thriller series, Deadly Enterprise. For a year, I had been asked repeatedly whether book #1, Righteous Assassin, and the upcoming book #2 were available as audiobooks. (To be honest, mostly the question was “is it available on Audible,” but there are many other places you can purchase audiobooks.) At that time, I had not commissioned an audiobook of Righteous Assassin because of the upfront cost involved, and because of the uncertain prospects for sales and profits for a new book from an unknown indie author. But, there was another option – narrate my own audiobook. And so, I ventured forth into the uncharted waters of audiobook production.
My wonderful wife got me a professional microphone kit as an early holiday present, I read a dozen online articles about how to self-narrate a book, a created a home studio in my basement, and in early December I sat down to start narrating the 125,000 words of Righteous Assassin. I learned many lessons along the way, which I chronicled in two articles published in InD’Tale magazine. [insert links] The biggest problem I had, as it turned out, was that I effectively forgot to turn on my brand new microphone. In reality, I didn’t realize that I needed to change the settings in the Audacity software so that the microphone input feeding the audio into the software would be my new hardware and not the default – the microphone built into the laptop computer running the program. By the time I realized the mistake, I had spent 60 hours recording the audiobook files. The audio quality was poor. Not so bad that you couldn’t listen and understand the story – but pretty bad.
For Deadly Enterprise, which I recorded right after Righteous Assassin in January of 2020, the audio quality was much better. Also, by that time, I had the voices for my characters more locked in. During the narration of Righteous Assassin, the character voices evolved significantly from the start to the end. For the next three books, the voices were much more consistent. A year later, I narrated book #3, Lethal Voyage, and then six months later book #4, Fatal Infraction. The audio quality for the last two was even better. I became a better narrator and a better audio editor. There was a learning curve – a big one.
But as the reviews came in for the audiobook of Righteous Assassin, there was a consistent theme that the story was great, but the narration quality was not great. I agree. It wasn’t great. In fact, it was pretty poor. If I were an audiobook listener, I would say, “OK, I bulled my way through that, but I’m not going to run out to listen to more books narrated by this guy.” I get it.
For marketing what will soon be a 5-book series, it’s not a good idea for book #1 to be a turn-off rather than an exciting introduction. I knew that. But, the prospect of sitting down to re-record and re-edit fourteen hours of audiobook was daunting. Plus, I was still trying to write the other books in the series, which took up pretty much all my available time. (I still have a day job, you know.) And I was trying to market the new books (first book #3, then book #4). There was just no time to re-record the audiobook of Righteous Assassin. But I knew, deep down, that the time would come. If I wanted to market the series and expect audiobook buyers to get interested based on book #1, I was going to need to re-record that audiobook.
I also went back to re-read Righteous Assassin, and I noticed a long list of things I didn’t particularly like about the text. It was the first crime thriller I had tried to write. There were problems. The references to the main characters as “Dickson” and “Stoneman” throughout the story was inconsistent with them being “Jason” and “Mike” in the later books. There were several chapters in the middle section where not much happened and the plot was dragging (as pointed out by several reviewers). There were also many repetitive dialogue tags, some sloppy paragraphs, some stretches of description that were much more detailed than they needed to be, – and the whole thing was too damned long. The sweet spot for a suspense/thriller novel is between 80,000 and 90,000 words. All the other books fit into that model, while Righteous Assassin was much longer, and didn’t need to be.
So, the project of re-recording the audiobook became the slightly larger project of re-editing the story to cut out about 8,000 words and tighten up the prose. Then, I could re-record the audiobook and the whole package of the re-edited book and the re-recorded audiobook would be much, much better. In early September, right after I sent off the manuscript of book #5, Perilous Gambit, to my editor, I had a window of time when I wasn’t writing. It was then or never. I locked myself away in my basement studio, stayed up late at night (when there is no noise in the house), worked through the weekend, and in nine days cranked out all fifty-four chapters of the audiobook. Another week and I had finished editing the chapters and mastered the audio tracks. During a trip on Amtrak to Boston in late September, I worked on uploading the files to Audible and to Findaway Voices (which I slightly screwed up and had to fix a few chapters later). By the time September was ending and the manuscript of Perilous Gambit came back from my editor, I had done it. Righteous Assassin was re-published in its newly edited and re-recorded form.
In a few months, I’ll be done recording the audiobook of Perilous Gambit and I’ll start aggressively marketing the whole five-book series. I’ll be discounting the audiobook of Righteous Assassin, along with the ebook, to entice new readers into the series. I’ll do that now safe in the knowledge that the audiobook quality of book #1 is now equal to that of the rest of the series. No new reader will shun the other books based on the audio issues. They may decide they don’t like my narration, or the voices I have given my characters, but they will be able to correctly assume that the rest of the books will be about the same narration quality as the first.
For all my readers who suffered through the old version of Righteous Assassin, I apologize for my rookie performance – as a narrator and a sound tech. I hope you’ll give me another try and pick up the audiobook of Righteous Assassin for $0.99 on sale during one of my upcoming promotions. Or just pick the series back up with book #2 and go from there. I’m not claiming to be the world’s best book narrator, but I know my characters and my books, and I’m confident that I can make my listeners happy. In one recent review of the audiobook of Fatal Infraction, the reviewer described the narration quality in terms that made me smile. I’m very satisfied if this is the general consensus about my self-narrating:
“This author narrates his own work. The voice of Stoneman is gritty and speaks of age and wisdom. Dickson is his younger partner, and is portrayed as such, but also seems to have a lot of innate intelligence. There are multiple characters to track, and Chapman does a wonderful job of creating a distinct personality and voice for each one. This narrator is intimately acquainted with these characters, and it shows! The recording quality is good.” – InD’Tale Magazine
The audiobook version of Righteous Assassin is now available on Chirp, BingeBooks, Apple, hoopla, Google Play, Kobo, Walmart, Scribd, and will soon be available (again) on Audible and on all other major audiobook retailers.