Writing For Audio First With Jules Horne

Audiobooks are the fastest-growing segment in publishing, but how do you make sure your books sound good in audio? How can you improve your writing so listeners come back for more of your books? In this interview, Jules Horne gives some tips for audio-first writing.

In the intro, I mention Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane as a great example of a beautiful audiobook, plus my home audio studio setup for any tech recommendations if you want to self-narrate.

Amazon Ads are now available for the UK and German stores through the KDP Dashboard. Plus, William Blake at the Tate – you can always find my photos on Instagram @jfpennauthor. The Camino de Santiago on Books and Travel this week, plus Productivity for Authors is available.

Today's podcast sponsor is Findaway Voices, which gives you access to the world's largest network of audiobook sellers and everything you need to create and sell professional audiobooks. Take back your freedom. Choose your price, choose how you sell, choose how you distribute audio. Check it out at FindawayVoices.com.

Jules Horne is a Scottish playwright, radio dramatist, and fiction writer, as well as writing non-fiction books for authors. Today we're talking about Writing for Audiobooks: Audio-first for Flow and Impact.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.

Show Notes

  • How our reading and learning behavior is changing because of audio
  • The implications that audio have for our writing
  • Adapting fiction for audio
  • Writing ‘ticks’ to avoid that make hearing the writing monotonous
  • Dealing with breath and commas while writing for audio
  • The books that don’t work in audio
  • On the different sonorous quality of certain words and sounds
  • Dealing with an accent if you’re narrating your own work

You can find Jules Horne at Method-Writing.com and on Twitter @method_writing

Transcript of Interview with Jules Horne

Joanna: Jules Horn is a Scottish playwright, radio dramatist, and fiction writer, as well as writing non-fiction books for authors. Today we're talking about Writing for Audiobooks: Audio First for Flow and Impact. Welcome, Jules.

Jules: Hello Joanna and thanks very much for having me on the show.

Joanna: I am thrilled to have you here and this is such an interesting topic.

First up tell us a bit more about your background and why you love audio so much.

Jules: I am from a background in radio. I have a slight Scottish accent so I hope people don't mind that. I live in rural Scotland on the border between Scotland and England and it's part of Scotland which was famous for the Border ballads and supernatural tales.

I had a wonderful primary teacher who got me started in writing and he read us Animal Farm and The Hobbit and things like that at a very young age. So a love of listening and having the story read to me was, I think, really rooted there.

And then I went on to study languages at university. I studied French and German and again the voice and the music of language. I really loved it and ended up working as a translator. And then as a journalist translator, so I did a very convoluted route into radio journalism.

But all that time, I was always writing fiction and I took part in am-dram (amateur dramatics), which I was terrible at and I was also not the world's best newshound. I really wasn't totally into news features and storytelling was all much more of interest to me. My finest hour as a newshound was interviewing the Swiss version of Santa Claus, Sami Claus, so it was dramatized story even in even then.

And then what happened was I came back to the borders to be with my partner and really struggled to find work. The Traverse Theatre is an Edinburgh new writing theatre. They came to my area and they were offering playwriting workshops so it was fantastic. I just bit their hand off and it was absolutely life-changing. That got my first play commission and some short stories and plays on BBC radio and that was a quite long time ago.

I haven't had those plays on since but I still love audio and of course, it's coming back full circle now which is really exciting. And I was thinking about what I love about it and I think it's the music and the distinctiveness of voices partly and the humanity that comes across in voices. And when you do voice editing a lot, when you're cutting up interviewees and that kind of thing, you get the real feeling for breath and rise and fall in character and that whole thing of flow. I just find that really interesting to see how voices are shaped.

I think another aspect is now with audio, we've come back full circle to primal storytelling and if you imagine the original poet-bard-storyteller sitting around the campfire or even being read to when you're really young I think it's a very early sort of primal thing.

And you get that in books but with books, you're doing all the serious cognitive work. You're decoding the page and listening is more hypnotic. It's more like someone else in a hypnotic way and speaking to you.

Another thought is storytelling, you get it in theaters and you get it these big public arenas still but it's a public space and radio’s very intimate. So I kind of wondered if maybe audiobooks are a bit like an introverted version of theatre. It's kind of storytelling, you're connecting to people, but it's a one-to-one intimacy, which is nice.

And I think the third aspect is the pictures are yours. it's so imaginative because you make them in your own imagination and it really asks you to make those pictures.

There's one really brilliant radio play I heard, which is a lasting memory for me. It's one of these “stop the car the car and don't get out” kind of things. I think it was BBC radio and they had a version of Homer's Odyssey and there a bit where the man steals the cattle of the god Helios and they rise from the dead and the skeletal cattle come to life and creek and groan. It's just such a vivid image of this meaty barbecue of cattle and then that skeletal cattle rattling and all that kind of thing that is just brilliantly done that makes the pictures.

And what's really funny in radio and radio for drama which is the BBC is they're the main player really in the drama space is they might have a racy play for example and essentially it's actors kissing their own arms and that kind of thing. So it's not really that racy in the studio but it sounds racy and they get listener feedback because people are outraged at the racy nature of the scene. But the thing is it's them making their own pictures. Yes, it's a racy scene, but only because you thought it.

Joanna: Fantastic. You've given us tons there and I think you're right about things coming full circle with the technology that makes this so accessible and easy. Someone actually asked me a question recently: how do I get my audio on to CD? And I basically said, don't bother.

There's been a report recently from the Association of Audio Publishers that says over 90 percent now of audio is done with downloads. And I listen to so much. As soon as I hear about something, I'll download a sample or download a podcast or I will get audio first. And that is a real switch I found in my own behavior.

In fact, now I'm annoyed if I can't find the book in audio. It's moved that much for me in terms of my consumption. So I think you're right about there are so many different forms of audio.

You’re a writer but have you noticed your own behavior as a reader or other people's moving to this audio first idea?

Jules: I think it really is happening and it's happening so fast as well. And I think how people talk about reading as being an audio thing now was changed really recently.

A friend was talking about a book and wondering if I'd read it and we're talking about this book and she said and I said could I borrow it. And she said, Oh well, I've listened to it on audio and I thought wow. And this is a friend who's a voracious reader. I wasn't aware of her listening to books and then describing that as reading which I think is a shift. I think we're in the middle of a shift where that is maybe not traditionally perceived as reading but it's becoming that. So yes, very different.

And also that as you say that thing about on-demand and being much more “I want to hear this and I'm looking for that” I must say in the car I listen to podcasts, which I've set up in advance or rather than just switching on the radio and seeing what's on. So I think in the very short space of time, we've seen very big changes in behavior.

Joanna: I actually think that people who say listening to audiobooks is not reading are people who don't listen to audiobooks, because if you have listened to an audiobook you have to know that it is like reading it.

It goes into your brain. It's just another input method as such right now. Yes. So anyway, we are we're all audio fans here.

So let's come on to your book Writing for Audiobooks, which as far as I know I think it's the only book out there on writing for audiobooks. I think you're ahead of the curve on this one, because I've noticed as I have edited my own works for audio narration that there are lots of things that are quite different.

We're going to talk about that in detail, but let's start with something that separates audio from audio listening to reading on a page or even an e-book.

You talk about audio being like a train track, it moves relentlessly forward. What implications does that have for our writing?

Jules: I think the main thing for any kind of audio writing is it has to be really clear or you'll lose your audience. And so that metaphor is really useful one because it's an inexorable forward momentum and it's a bit also like say you’ve got a bicycle chain and it slips, you can lose the reader in that kind of way.

So thinking of it moving forward, keeping the audience on board, is a useful metaphor. And a really simple example of that kind of thing: imagine it whizzing past and losing it somewhere is long numbers for example or long URL strings. Short term memory will go “Ah! I missed that. It's gone.”

In live radio that's extreme, you literally can't go back. There are no second chances and it's not quite like that with audiobooks because you could stop and start, you could go back or I missed a bit. But on the whole, you don't.

You really need to keep the listener on board. You do need to think a bit about using some of those techniques from for example live radio. There's an example in live, you might switch on the middle of an interview and someone’s speaking and you'll think oh great, really interesting interview and then the presenter forgets to do a back announcement. So you've no idea who that was. That idea of back referral and little touches to keep the flow going forward.

In audiobooks, you’re typically not coming in in the middle of something like that. You do need to have these little touches just to keep reminding where we are. Just to keep it flowing forward. So that's definitely a radio technique that grows out of that moving relentlessly forward metaphor.

Joanna: I think that number thing, I've really noticed that. Again, it works fine when you write it and in fact, I have an example in my Public Speaking book, which I've just been editing for audio and then narrating. I have an example of some money examples for an event that you might run yourself. I really noticed that saying all these amounts in dollars out loud. I was like, ‘oh this really this doesn't work so I need to change this.' And so that was really interesting because they just don't go in and you miss the point. I guess if you do have examples like that, you can always have them in your downloads, which we'll talk about in a minute.

Let's start with fiction because we're going to do fiction and nonfiction separately.

What are some of the ways that we will need to adapt our fiction writing when writing for audio?

Jules: I think the obvious thing, and a lot of writers will do this anyway, is to read it out loud. People do this already but do you really perform it. That’s another stage of really trying to perform it.

When I say read it out loud, actually stand and really articulate every sentence and make sure it feels right to the mouth and it lands well. I’ll come up to some of these concepts a bit later.

One of the main things is sentences are much shorter in the spoken word. So if you were running out of breath, chances are the actor will be running out of breath and that's too long. So you chop it up.

A particular culprit for these things is ‘which’ clauses. So if you've got loads of which clauses, relative clauses, asides and that kind of thing they can very often be broken up quite simply just to give yourself more punch in the sentences. I was really shocked when I first got into theatre studio as a newbie playwright and the actors were reading out, cold-reading my play and I thought ‘Oh my goodness,' I thought it was written to be read but some things they were just going on and needed to be really quite brutally chopped. So I learned to write with that in mind.

And another thing is some different kinds of sentence attack. If you think of sentences as music and how easily we can get lulled by patterns. And sometimes I notice with writers that I'm working with you have a tick of a certain kind of sentence shape.

For example, they always start with the main clause and then the verb. That would be like “the protagonist did this and then did another thing” and so it has that rise and fall with that force at the beginning.

And other writers might have a tick which is always doing a lot of subordinate clauses first. So, “grabbing her thing from the thing she went off” and you see that shape of up and then down. If you get three of those in a row, one after the other in the paragraph, it becomes a bit too similar and you need to change them so that you've got a variety of speed, of pace, and sentence length, but also that music.

I think it's important here that music is often in the shape and the structure and not just in things like pitch, which you would imagine normally from voice and so on. It’s in the shape and the rise and fall of sentences.

There is a wonderful quote I read from Philip Pullman somewhere on line where he was saying when he was writing he was aware of where the sentence was going next in its music and its shape. He didn't always know fully what was exactly in the sentence but he knew that if he wrote it there might be some kind of shape that he was reaching for in his head and I just thought that was fascinating.

I thought that was really amazing because that feeling, that music, you're right, that's what you do with all your writing, I'd say.

Joanna: I think you're right there and it's interesting because even though as a writer when you’re self-editing or when you get in edits for the print or e-book, you will get repeated word issues, but I found with the audio it's repeated sounds.

Even though it's not the same word, it sounds the same way as you say it. There was a shape or just a sound that's exactly the same on the next sentence that makes it sound weird.

So I've ended up having a thesaurus and actually actively changing some words to avoid a repeating sound if I didn't want to repeat it sound, which is so different to how I've done it before, which is oh well it's a different word so I wouldn't even notice that.

I did want to ask about asides. You mentioned asides and many fiction authors use italics, for example, to have a character's internal thoughts or as you say an aside if you're speaking to yourself or something like that. so. I always feel like that can be too much in a written book regardless.

How much does that affect an audio performance?

Jules: That's an interesting one that would depend on the genre and what you were achieving with that because you can make the equivalent of italics if you think of the italics as interior voice and what's around about it is the narration.

What you sometimes hear, for example, in radio dramas if there's a character with an inner voice is – I’m going to try and do this but I don’t know if it’s going to work – is you've got a certain distance for the narration and then you've got this. I don't know what this sounds like because I'm not hearing it. But coming in close. Close micing is often used for the inner voice but I think in most audiobooks the performer probably wouldn't be working like that.

So basically you can easily render italics or let's say you know those inverted commas those air quotes aren't really easy to render and need that equivalent or you just need to think it through as a writer and make sure it works just to serve as a continuous text in some way.

So there are ways around it, as I say, maybe like close micing but I think that that could sound really intrusive and maybe a bit OTT if you did it like that. So I would steer clear of that.

Joanna: My other thing is commas. I think there is a real problem with comma usage in a grammatical sense and comma usage in a presentation sense or a narration sense, where commas can be used as breath when you're more narrating. But in your actual writing commas are not used as breath, they're used in a grammatical structure.

And so this to me is very interesting because when I have been editing for my performance I've ended up putting commas into my own books because they were missing them. And then when I put it through Grammarly or a proofreader, for example, those commas get removed or changed.

What are your thoughts on commas?

Jules: That's really tricky. So it's what’s primary. And there's also an interesting question about Whispersync because I would certainly mark up for a performance. I wonder if you're perhaps going on a similar route to me, which is writing the audiobook first.

In the future, I think I will always write the audiobook first because it's very cleanly edited then and then I probably wouldn't mark up with commas. I would put the grammar first and then I would prioritize the grammar so that it's right in the print a new book.

But I usually still read from a paper script so I would definitely put marks in and what I use is slashes instead of commas. So if sentences need breaking up I'll read it out with slashes for breaths, so that's my route. I'm sure everyone finds a different way around it. But I would prioritize grammar.

It's an interesting question because how is the writing of audiobooks going to affect how people write?

Joanna: Exactly. And it's funny you talk about paper. I've been using paper and I just had my eye surgery as we record this. And my close vision has changed. My far vision is fixed. I'm no longer short-sighted, but I ended up using an iPad, where you can obviously change the size of the text. I’m using an app called iAnnotate on the iPad, which I found actually really good. You can mark it up in the same ways. I just mentioned that in case people are interested.

Jules: I think one of the things I just wanted, as an aside, to say is that in audio things don't exist if they're not regularly referred to they kind of disappear. One of the things is keeping something alive by referring back to it every now and then.

For example, if you've got a scene with three people and two are talking and the other one is packing a suitcase or something and you don't hear from them for a while. And then they suddenly pop up you're really confused. Because they've literally disappeared from the picture. It's a bit like a firefly fading. Someone's literally not there when they're not there in audio.

So you have to keep these things alive. And I think that's true for nonfiction too just keeping the concepts and these touchpoints, I call them little touches, just to re-contextualize or remind people where you are.

Joanna: So let's talk about non-fiction now, which I think is even more significant.

What are some of the ways we need to adapt our nonfiction for audio?

Jules: Nonfiction is particularly tricky. Amazon does actually have a list of books they think aren't ideal for doing an audio format. There's actually quite a list and quite a lot of them are non-fiction, so things like cookbooks, diet books, engineering, and professional reference books. You would imagine they're not great.

Joanna: I guess anything that is image-heavy and lists, whether they're lists of numbers or lists of ingredients, that's just completely pointless by audio.

Jules: Yes. So it's worth checking if your book is in that genre, it's worth checking that out because it is advising that certain books don't lend themselves ideally to audio. But if you are doing, for example, an instructional book or something like that. Anything with numbers, charts, bullet points, and anything with a complex information hierarchy. Say you've got headers, sub-headers, and then bullets below that, I think that's quite hard to convey in an audio form so that might be either rewritten or are a layer of hierarchy taken out.

But there are ways around it. So what's really handy is that ACX lets you upload a PDF download for your book, so if you've anything that really falls into that category and can't be adapted like long URLs or charts or images or anything like that, you can offer that as an uploaded PDF. That’s a nice add-on for the reader. So there's that way around.

And also anything that might go out of date, like say resources or I don't know tech or anything like that.

And another thing you can do is, you were talking about numbers, and you can round them up and round them down. Just make numbers really simple simplified or use comparison.

This is another radio technique. You might say something wasn't 20 feet high but it was at the height of the London bus or something. Something that's visually iconic so that people are likely to know what that sort of size is. So it's a comparison. You have to be slightly aware of context and your audience because if it's a comparison like think in the UK they say a lot, “It was the size of Wales.” Unless you know what size Wales is relative to other things then it's not that useful.

Joanna: Yes, so be international in your reference says, which is also something I've been thinking about.

So the PDF download is interesting because what I do is drive people to my Web site so I'm not going to upload my PDF to ACX or Findaway Voices. I'm going to say to people, “You can download a companion e-book and list of resources at…” and then I use an easy to say URL to say that people can come to my website and then of course hopefully sign up for my email list and become part of the ecosystem.

Jules: That’s perfect.

Joanna: With URLs, what I'd say is I use a URL shortener called Pretty Links as a WordPress plugin so that you can make them easy to say. This is really important. I've said to people before, make sure your websites are easy to say and say out loud on a podcast or an audiobook. Any other thoughts on URLs and web sites?

Jules: I the old days we used to say w w w dot. And of course, that's just ridiculous. Just saying that on its own gets your tongue all tied up. Then “BBC dot co dot uk” is what became the norm. Just leaving off the w w w is a good starting point. And keep them short.

Joanna: Absolutely. We should go back to WhisperSync. You mentioned it. WhisperSync is an Audible specific thing. If your e-book matches your audiobook, within quite a small variance, if people have the e-book they can get the audiobook for cheaper. And also they can stop reading and start listening and stop listening and start reading and it will sync with where it was.

I've actually removed the w w w dot at the beginning of my URLs because I thought that might hit a variance on WhisperSync. So even in the print books now it's going to just be thecreativepenn.com forward slash whatever. Whereas before I would have written w w w dot. You don't need to do that anymore.

Jules: It's quite a thought isn't it. If you want it to be compatible with Whispersync, because I started in this gung ho way and recorded my first audiobook. And because of radio, and it was a factual book, I was automatically ending it adding in these flow words that you tend to it's like “so” and “moving on” and all that kind of thing. These linking words.

And then I screeched to a halt when I realized when WhisperSync said this isn't going to be compatible. So I had to go back and actually redo the print and e-book in that slightly more informal way because it wasn't going to work.

There are very different styles but I would say that as indies we have a great advantage in that we can go back and update the e-book and that's what I tend to do now is just go back and apply the new version in order to match it.

Joanna: Another thing that people often get confused about are things like appendices or acknowledgments. Anything that goes in the back matter of a book. Even some people say should I narrate the captions that were on my images. So I basically say no you don't do any of that. All of that disappears.

What do you think about that?

Jules: Yes, I would imagine that. You get rid of those things but then you have a little intro and outro at the end. You have a little a two-minute thing that you put up on ACX, which is the intro and your credits at the end, so there's an equivalent thing really.

Joanna: Exactly so that's where you have calls to action. “You can get all the extras at this Web address” and in that way, people can come and download what they like.

Jules: And as you say it's great. What's brilliant is as indies we can actually do that for ourselves. For example, if you want to add more into your credits or your outro if you've got a new book out or something, then you've just got one maybe two-minute audio clip to redo and upload. It's actually fairly straightforward.

Joanna: So some of the things that are also interesting, we mentioned the asides for example. But you talk about these tricky expressions and things that are fine to read in your head but hard out loud. And sometimes it's so weird because I stumble across these and you might read it four or five times and you just can't say it.

Why are some sentences like that?

Jules: It is funny in that it's very individual, isn't it? But also, you don't know what are the ones that are going to do that to you until they leap up at you, and quite often if you were reading the news or something

That's what you have to practice it because you don't know what those phrases are going to be. There was one I think I'd written “the necessary level of analysis”. And then another one which was “ACX as stringent tests”. I got it out there. But that's pretty hair raising.

And the really funny one which is common in radio news your and it's just so simple but it's “this is”. People tend not to say ‘this is’ but they'll say ‘it's’. “It's the first time.” “This is the first. It's the first time.” Just because it's got more attack and less sibilant s. And so it's just easier to say.

I think there are some letters that may be in proximity to each other are a bit more of a mouthful because there's more mouth gymnastics going on. For me, and it'll be individual as I say, it's Ss and Ts and to a degree Ls, for some reason.

Joanna: The point is that you just don't know. But also, if you are doing your own narration then you can step away. If I can't get it in four gos, I step away and take a break and then come back and if I can't do it again then I will rewrite that sentence because it clearly is wrong.

Jules: Or another tip is just to really break up the syllables. I find that with long names, for example, which maybe only pop up once and I don't know where the stress was, then I would have a technique of writing – here's one; innovative development – I would write capital IN and then break it up into all the four bits, which forced me to read them as individual bits. So I wouldn't be reading one word, I'd be reading IN Oh Vi Tive development, which is not a great example.

But if you imagine you had a word that was a name, for example, a proper name, you would be able to read it as its syllables and that would help you slow down. So that's another thing to try.

And also some things are more resonant than others and you were talking about rewrites to use certain words maybe more emphatically. I was reading Steven Sondheim’s book Look I Made a Hat about writing lyrics for songs and I learned that for songwriters certain vowel sounds are really lovely and resonant and can be easily sung. Things like oh and oo and ah better for projection.

He wrote this song, I think it was Send in the Clowns, which has the line “isn't it rich”. And if you think rich is not one of these. It is a really sharp little sound. It's not the same sonorous quality.

So there are some words that are less resonant to say and maybe to perform than others. It’s quite interesting.

Another important concept for performance is where does the sentence land?

So a sentence has an opening and its attack and where it goes and then it lands at the end somewhere. If you can look at your openings and endings, where it lands, for example, the sentence, “He lifted the knife and started to whittle busily, humming to himself.” The sentence runs out of steam.

But the image that you want someone left with is the character with the knife. “He lifted the knife and started to carve” that is a word that has a resonance and it lands really well so it has a space around it when you stop there. Sometimes sentences run out of steam a little bit and if you leave a little bit of space and land on a resonant word like that it has more to sustain it and that can be nice for impact in performance.

Joanna: There's so much to this and I think why I love this as a writer is this can really take your craft into a different realm almost because you are thinking about things in a very different way. And I will recommend Underland, by Robert Macfarlane. He's just an incredible British nature writer and it's a non-fiction book but it's narrative non-fiction. It's just beautiful and it's narrated in a very poetic way.

It was one of those moments when you listen to someone and you hear the writing and the narration you think oh my goodness, I will never be that good!

Jules: I don't know that book. It's interesting. And I think there's so much about the writer and their individual voice. There’s a kind of continuum of very poetically written and very musically written with that as a kind of aesthetic priority.

And then there's the other end of the spectrum where it's not that and it's maybe story and that's the priority and different kinds of characterization. And thinking of that continuum, if you go too full-on with musical effect and when I say too full on that's the writer’s decision, it's a particular aesthetic – you're in a different relationship to the writing as a reader. It's more about noticing the writing and enjoying the rhythms and the maybe the musicality.

But at the expense perhaps of a very heightened voice as a slightly detaching voice. So you might not be fully immersed in, for example, the story.

So a really simple example of alliteration and that I think lots of writers are natural alliterators. When you do Peter Piper picked a peck and all the Ps that repeat. Many writers love and do alliterate very naturally and certainly I do it naturally so much that I have to go back in and remove it. I have to go with all there's too many of those and pull them back, because it adds up and after a certain point, it becomes about the writing and not about the story.

It’s kind of looking at the writing and observe that rather than be immersed in the story, so there's a question for every writer where they want to be on that continuum of maybe very heightened poetic effect. And it’s just different forums and genres.

There are pros and cons but I think there's a kind of sweet spot when you're writing maybe a fiction book that's destined for audio where a bit more editing with performance in mind. Because I think it is a performance ultimately when you're reading aloud an audiobook does help to shape it better for the reader's ear, so you don't need to go all out with musical effects and that kind of thing.

But just to be aware of some of the things that can really help lift your writing and help it for the voice artist, for the narrator, or for yourself if that's you. It’s worth knowing about some of those tricks and techniques that people use now.

Joanna: Fantastic. And just a couple more questions because we're almost out of time. We could talk for ages.

You obviously you have a Scottish accent and you've talked about the distinctiveness of voice and personality. We absolutely acknowledge that everyone has a different voice. Accents I feel are a difficult situation. And when I say accents, I mean your natural speaking voice accent and everyone has something, rather than performing an accent, if you're an actor for example.

When should we celebrate and double down on our natural accent and when should we get voice coaching in order to improve the experience for the listener?

Jules: I think mostly accents are something absolutely to be celebrated. I was just thinking that when I do my really broad Scots or I'm speaking with family then that would be quite tricky for people to understand. So it's contextual.

But I think as long as you're clear, people will tune in eventually. There's a great example for me watching The Wire, that really brilliant TV series and the language was very rich and really brilliant, singing with character and energy. It did take a while to tune into.

My Scottish accent is tricky for some, but I think what you lose is the distinctiveness and color that makes your voice interesting.

And this is an interesting point in the context of A.I., which you've been talking about an A.I.’s reading books. For me, I think those nuances will be really important as a mark of authenticity. So I think that's one question. Celebrate accent and be clear.

And then for a voice coaching, I think it's maybe a slightly different question because clarity is one aspect of it, but I think it's a lot more about being at home with your voice and being relaxed and projecting well and that kind of thing. And just becoming aware of vocal tics and listening back to your recordings with a critical ear.

I may be making some strange sounds lately because there are some excellent voice training videos online which you can hear and then they teach you things like yawning to relax yourself and maybe tap into your natural voice and things to stretch your mouth. It's a good starting point, I think, to try some of those things.

I would really love actually to get a voice trainer. I think you've been you been doing that. I think it sounds like it's a really good idea. But for me, the trickier thing has actually been getting the tech set up. So that's on the back burner for now.

Joanna: For me, it was all-around confidence. You're very confident because you've spent years doing radio itself so you understand your voice as such. But I think often introverts, writers who don't do that can worry. So I think the voice coaching for me, I learned a lot of really interesting things. But at the end of the day, it's about putting the hours in on narration, which is similar to writing.

Jules: To be honest, this setup is very different from what I did in the workplace. So there's something about audiobooks. It's very measured and close in, whereas I think radio is more informal and doesn't need to be perfect. Podcasting doesn't need to be perfect. It can be quite messy and that's great.

There’s something about, first of all, the standards at ACX, but also the nature of it to be more performed. I found that really quite hard to get into. So it wasn't natural for me at all that actually took quite a bit of sussing out.

Joanna: Fantastic. Just to sort of think about writing straight to audio because we've talked about how to edit your own writing for audio, so start with the written and finish with the audio, but what about the potential opportunity for straight to audio writing?

You talked about playwriting, but not many playwrights publish. Their plays are written for performance but at the moment we've got this massive resurgence in Audible Originals and audio dramas, audio fiction style podcasts.

Any thoughts on writing for that audio first market? Do you think there is a big opportunity there?

Jules? I think this is where it's getting really interesting just now because for me it's really jumped out. There's such an opportunity because, as you say, there are lots of performers who write.

I see there are some of these Audible Originals or playwrights like Dennis Kelly have been invited to submit a play which when you listen to that is far more edgy and more theatrical type of writing than you would get on a BBC radio drama, which has got kind of different parameters for what's allowed. So there are those Audible Originals.

And also I think there's an opportunity for anyone who's a natural performer or storyteller, does spoken word and that type of thing. And in my case types of language, which are less commonly heard. It's quite hard to get Scots language books published and they're also a bit harder for people to read because we're not so used to hearing it as seeing it as a written form. But putting it out in audio form is eminently possible.

So that's one of the areas I'm really interested in, the fact that you could get Scots language books out there and there are very few of them if you look at your niche online at the moment because it's just getting started up there's may be very little going on in your niche so far. Definitely check out some of these audio areas. It's getting really exciting, I think.

Joanna: I really like that idea because of course there's a reason that a lot of people don't write in Scots. I met someone at a Scottish conference and she had a grant to do it because it's not exactly a high selling niche. But it doesn't need to be when you can perform it yourself and upload it and do an e-book. There will be a market and like you say it’s more of an oral cultural thing. So I really hope that that expands people's minds in the possibility.

I also think what is very interesting is when I wrote a screenplay for one of my novels the agent basically said this would cost 100 million. This is not going anywhere in screenwriting because it's too expensive. But what you said earlier, you said the pictures are yours in audio. So actually you can turn what would be a very high budget movie into a much cheaper audio drama because you don't actually have to do all of that stuff.

Jules. Absolutely you can get huge big budgets on audio. Think of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and how the whole space can be a book and that's just wonderful. Radio and audio are wonderful for these huge visions.

Joanna: Exciting times indeed.

Where can people find you and your books and your services online?

Jules: My site's called Method-Writing.com and it's got a hyphen and it's not entirely brilliantly conceived for audio but its method hyphen writing dot com. So I'd love it that people could have a look.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well thanks so much for your time, Jules. That was great.

Jules: Thanks very much for having me, Joanna.

Joanna Penn:

View Comments (2)

  • Interesting stuff, thanks for the transcript because I hate listening to things like htis! I can see I'm going to be left behind because I don't want to use an Alexa or Siri and things like this. But I have made a start on audiobooks, and must have got something right as I went through my book doing minor edits which I felt would help it flow better. Now I'll have to go and do it again!
    But you're right about the benefit here of being an indie. It may be a pain to do all the updates, but it's not hard, and it's free.
    Thanks for all the information and the discussion. Great stuff.

    • You don't have to use Alexa or Siri, but I'd suggest you do listen to some audiobooks. Like ebooks, if you haven't at least tried them, how do you know how readers interact?

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