People’s choice, audiobooks and other stuff

Having realised I was way behind in putting up another blog post, I sat down to pour out my thoughts and ended up just depressing myself.

Not a lot of good things have happened since my last post (anyone reading this in the future will hopefully be looking back on The Age Of The ‘Rona without too many traumatic memories) so instead of recording some mild depression in blog format, I asked the Facebook fan group what they wanted to read.

As ever, many suggestions were made, and a few require honourable mentions.

“Because AiH pretty much predicted 2020…” (Josh Etterman) Well no, Josh, it didn’t. This is the worst apocalypse ever. Not even a single zombie. I doubt anyone would have read, AiH: Working from Home, or AiH: The Slow Economic Collapse of Society, or AiH: Tales of the Refrigerator not Magically Generating More Interesting Food.

“The change in narrative due to this year’s social economic effects.” (Daniel Thomas) Not so much the narrative but the appetite of the reader base. While some have gone crazy for anything apocalyptic (see ‘Contagion’ on Netflix – an all but forgotten movie suddenly very popular again), I’ve found that many people don’t have the mental energy to read about any kind of apocalypse right now, and I can understand that.

I mean, sucks for me, but I can understand that.

“Multiple project juggling.” Right now, I’m working on a solo post-apoc trilogy, a collaborative military sci-fi trilogy, a sci-fi/post-apoc collaboration, I’m editing two other books and writing some other stuff I can’t go into details about. It’s how my brain works. I need something else to work on all the time to suit the mood I’m in – some stuff is technical and hard while other stuff just needs me to feel creative and let rip without a plan.

And to the chosen subject suggested by Chris Carberry… “What does an author think of the audiobook of their novel?”

Good. Question.

First off, I make the distinction that the book and the audio are two separate products. They generally (and I’d guess maybe 85% or more) have a separate audience as those of you who read and listen to the same books are a tiny minority.

When I started writing (insert image of a much younger me cross-eyed, typing with two fingers and sticking my tongue out one side of my mouth) I’d never even listened to an audiobook – shock horror – and only when AiH gained some success did I start getting approaches from audio producers.

This is the point where I sigh, lean back in my chair and lament of all the things I know now that I wish I’d known then.

Some of those approaches were from companies I couldn’t find on the first page of a google search for them, but one has subsequently become a rather large player in the game…

So, I got into audiobooks. And I listened to my own.

And I almost cried at how AWFUL MY WRITING WAS!

Seriously, I knew I could do better than that, so I did. And that there answers the first major question – I changed how I wrote with audio in mind. 

If I know I have a certain narrator for a project I’ll gear the style, characters and dialogue to them specifically. That won’t detract one bit from the written book, but it will enhance the audio for the reader, and by the reader I mean me. 

I listen to all of my own books, with a very critical ear, and I always enjoy how someone else can perform and bring my characters to life. It’s like a symbiotic relationship: narrators don’t generally write, and writers generally can’t narrate (Neil Gaiman, put your damn hand down!), so they need me to write them a story to read and I need them to bring it to life in their own way.

I don’t have a set impression of how my characters should sound in audio, not fully, because that part of the process isn’t mine. Sometimes they surprise me, other times they turn out just how I expected them to be, but I never know until I hear them.

It’s more than just that though. Hearing you own work performed shows up tiny flaws that most people wouldn’t notice.

It’s the cheap hand sanitiser to my undiscovered papercuts.

It shows you how your words appear in a person’s mind, shows you where your ambiguity causes confusion and what words you overuse and what phrases you echo too much. It really does feed my pathological need to be overcritical of everything I do – I mean, why do something if you aren’t looking to be better at it? Why wait for criticism when you can get your own digs in first?

I’ve enjoyed every single one of my books in audio, even the ones I can’t read again because I feel the urge to attack them with a red pen, and I’m guilty of constant Easter-Egging as well as intentionally making narrators do and say things purely to amuse myself… anyone who has listened to book 6 in the Toy Soldiers series will know what I’m saying…

I’ll end this chaotic insight session with an aside. 

Recently I’ve been receiving more and more, um, feedback? from readers who feel the need to provide me with their opinions and suggestions.

I’ve had abuse, mainly for a perceived slight or my failure to retrospectively support an individual’s aggressive personal agenda, as well as for getting a subjective fact about a gun “wrong”.

I’ve been told what to write and when to write it. I’ve been told my other books are stupid and that I should only write one particular series. I’ve been told, so many times, that I should have a series on Netflix or Amazon Prime as if these things happen overnight – I would LOVE a TV show, unfortunately there are a lot of steps to actually getting one and I control 0.00% of that process.

I’ve been patronised, condescended, laughed at and abused, but I’ve also had other kinds of feedback.

I’ve had people tell me about the dark times they’ve been through, and how my words, my warped imagination, has helped them through it. I’ve been told people’s intimate bad news because sometimes it’s too difficult to share with people they know. I’ve had others tell me how they experienced some of the same pain my characters went through, while others just want to thank me for making their daily struggles a little bit easier.

I’ll take all the abuse and advice gladly to get just one of these people telling me I made any kind of positive difference to their lives, because if there’s one thing we all need this year, it’s a glimmer of hope that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a f*cking muzzle flash!