How to write an audiobook


18 March 2022
Rob Parker describes writing audio first in his latest crime series

Many readers – and writers – ask me what the differences are when writing specifically for audio first, as opposed to writing a book and an audiobook narration appearing off the back of it. I must admit I find it a hard one to answer, principally because I am constantly learning on the job, adapting and improving as I go.

In my instance, I must mention the history of my audiobook series. The Thirty Miles Trilogy was conceived in the winter of 2016, when I had a simple idea for a scene and a location. A mass grave, partially opened, surrounded by police and forensics – in my home town of Warrington. The seed of a story took root there, and blossomed with every extra question I asked of myself. Why is this in Warrington? Who are the people inside? How long has this been here? What happened to them? What would this do to the people investigating?

Before I knew where I was, I had a novel-length story in my head and knew precisely it was the next thing I’d put pen to paper on. But in what format, I didn’t know.

I initially found the imagery of that first scene at the gravesite so strong, so stark, that I started writing it as a television drama, split into three parts. But I began to find rhythm hard to come by as I had so much to say about, well, everything. I thought that seeing and hearing what was happening was the perfect way to tell this story, but it just wasn’t working.

So, I took what I’d written, and used it as a springboard to write the novel, Far From The Tree. It took me about four months, and I was determined for it to be my most mature, gripping and accomplished work to date. I wrote the story to be consumed on the page, with scant regard to how it might sound – because at that stage in my career, none of my books had been given the audio treatment yet. Therefore, the question of ‘what did you do differently?’ is easily answered by ‘initially, nothing!’.

Things changed when Audible came into the picture, and I was offered a three-book deal to bring the planned story to a full arc and conclusion – because then, I had to make the audiobook audience front and centre of my thoughts and planning. I was asked who I’d like to narrate and I immediately said Warren Brown, a brilliant actor from Warrington. I’d met him before (we both train in the same boxing gym), and he gets the whole hometown identity. When Audible said they’d got him, I was delighted.

Our working relationship grew, and it became apparent that I would have to modify certain stylistic tendencies to suit both the spoken word (as opposed to written) and Warren’s own styles and rhythms – the latter of which is something I’m still working on. I’m a work in progress in this regard, now intent on looking for ways to improve the experience for listeners, while keeping one eye on the readers who prefer to enjoy the story in print. I also add at this point that I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do both, thanks to the generosity and understanding of my publishers Audible and Red Dog Press.

I talk a lot when I write the Thirty Miles Trilogy. I look out for cadence and rhythm of speech. I hone dialogue over time, acting out the parts, doing them in different voices, trimming words that don’t fit, and breaking sentences into chunks that fit the natural speech patterns – including pausing for breath. And what I’m finding is that this is actually helping add more strings to my bow and hone my craft even further. It’s helping my work have more bite and punch. It feels more real, more natural. And that’s what I’ve always wanted to bring to my novels, because I always felt that if I can create audience investment in any way, then, when I do take a jump or a flight of fancy, I can get away with it, because the reader is already with me.

I’m always eager to work with people, so it’s great that I’ve found that collaboration is key here. I’m blessed with a wonderful editor, agent and beta readers, who guide the book where it needs to go, and trim the fat where necessary so that the story can be heard with maximum effectiveness. Every single comment or piece of feedback makes me a better writer, and I truthfully lap it all up. This collaboration extends right up to the last minute in the recording booth, with the brilliant production team and Warren himself – who often rings me from the studio with things like: ‘this line isn’t working, but can we try this?’. All of this goes together to make me a better writer, my books more exciting, immersive and natural (I hope!) and the audio experience a winner for the audience, which at the end of the day is exactly why I write in the first place. It’s the audience first, always. Everything else takes a back seat. And if they’re smiling, I’m smiling.

And Your Enemies Closer by Rob Parker is published as an Audible Original.

Find out what star crime writer Mark Billingham has to say about the differences between writing for print and audio.


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