What it's like to audition for your own audiobook
In a break from my weekly humor pieces, here’s a look into the process behind my debut book, This Won’t Help, in stores everywhere and available now.
This week, I’ve been recording my audiobook at a studio in New York, directly above Ellen’s Stardust Diner near Times Square. For the unfamiliar: All the servers at the Stardust Diner sing and perform through every meal. You may be surprised to hear that I decided not to take my lunch breaks there.
I’ve never recorded an audiobook before. It is exhausting.
And during this process, I’ve realized that I don’t talk enough in my personal life — at least not enough to know what multiple days of six hours of talking would feel like. I should’ve spent the last few months doing the throat-equivalent of running up and down stairs. What would that be? Saying “How now brown cow” every night until I fall asleep? Humming loudly for hours on end? Lifting dumbbells with my larynx?
(Hats off to the folks downstairs at the Stardust — they’re probably for more prepared than I was to record my audiobook. Maybe I should try singing at dinner from here on out.)
In spite of my sedentary vocal lifestyle, I think I’ve done well for myself. I have yet to get raspy, or lose my voice, or suddenly develop a new way of speaking midway through recording that sounds nothing like the first half of the book. That could be funny, though. I’ll consider it.
And to give some life to the various dialogue-heavy pieces in the collection, I’ve even deployed a bit of my performance background (improv comedy, and more importantly, middle school musicals). I’ve been excited to take this project on, and I think I’ve done admirably — I’ve even gotten a few laughs out of my very supportive sound engineer, and I believe that’s what the New York Times Best Seller list is looking for.
As I wrap up the audiobook, I’ve found myself enjoying the process so much that I wish I had more to record. Next time, I’ll make the book twice as long.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. What is an audiobook?
Well, it’s a book, read aloud — perfect for listening to during your commute home, and then tuning it out as you try to discern what the couple across from you on the subway is arguing about.
And how do you land the starring role in your own audiobook? You tell Steve Martin, “No.” Though in my case, Steve Martin didn’t ask to record my audiobook, so we didn’t have to burn that bridge. A win-win! (Steve, if you’re reading this, we can toss anything I’ve recorded so far in the trash — you just say the word.)
My contract gave me “first consideration” as the narrator for my audiobook, but I was still required to send in an audition. This was, I assume, in an effort to make sure I am 1. A real person and 2. Not going to come into the studio and scream every word.
I won’t tell you how many takes I did before sending to my book’s publisher to pass along to the audiobook’s publisher, but it was at least 6 and actually it was at least 14.
I imagine that, for memoirs, auditioning for your own audiobook can often feel, vaguely, like auditioning to play yourself in a movie. But as my book is a bunch of
silly little hilarious and important essays and stories, I felt instead as though I were auditioning to play the voice in my head. Given that most of us can’t hear our own voices the way the rest of the world hears them, I was both the closest to the source material and also the furthest from being able to know if I was doing it right. At the very least, though, I proved that I was both real and not going to scream the entire time.
And maybe that’s enough.
Praise for This Won’t Help
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