Friday, November 20, 2009

Writing Journey: Audio Double Hockey Sticks

I entered the publishing world at a rather odd period: right as cassette tapes were making their exit and CDs were making their debut.

As a result, my first novel's audio was put on cassette. My second was available on both cassette and CD, and my third was only on CD. I was right at the transition period.

This was also a period where nearly every Covenant novel was available in both print and on audio. Slight problem, however: audio sells less, but has new costs like paying an actor to perform the thing, so they always insisted that the author abridge the book down to a particular length to help on production costs.

When the full transition to CD was complete, it brought me a slight measure of joy. This may sound like a small thing, but for a writer, it was huge: the CDs they used could hold 5,000 more words of air time than the cassettes could.

That meant less abridging. Instead of cutting my book down to 48,000 words, we had to cut books down to only 53,000.

Let's put those numbers into perspective.

Abridging my first two books wasn't too hard. Oh, at the time, I thought it was a hideous brand of torture, but I had no idea how good I had it. Those books were in the neighborhood of about 70,000 words. Cutting them to 48,000 was taking out roughly 1/4 of the book.

I could take out descriptions, condense paragraphs, summarize sections, and so on, but keep the entire story intact. It wasn't fun by any means, but it was quite doable.

With At the Water's Edge, I was particularly concerned about the Finnish words and names being pronounced correctly. I could do it, in theory, but I knew I'd probably talk way too fast and get ridiculously nervous and end up sounding like a fool. So I had them audition my sister for the reader, and they used her. Mel and I sound remarkably similar (to the point that her husband has mistaken me for her on the phone), so if you ever listen to the audio of that one, you can pretend it's me!

My next book, House on the Hill, clocked in at about 102,000 words. It was book #3, which, as you recall, was still on both cassette and CD. I had to cut it down to 48,000 words. That means more than half of the book had to be at the mercy of the delete key.

Entire characters and subplots from the original don't exist in the audio version of that one. I listened to my first two audios, but nearly 5 years after that one, I still haven't listened to it. I don't have the heart.

Next book: At the Journey's End.

In theory, I should have been dancing with glee, because this was when the transition to CD was complete, so I had an additional 5,000 words to work with, right? After all, I had to cut the book to 53,000 instead of 48,000.

Yeah, well, slight problem: the novel was 114,000 words. Ahem. So even with those extra 5,000 words, I still had to cut a higher percentage, because the book was so dang long. ARGH! I think I managed to cut it well enough, but again, I haven't listened to it. I hope it makes sense.

When you cut a book that much, it becomes almost a summary; you have to suck out any personality and flavor of the original. You lose the essence of the real thing. That's why I almost cringe when I hear that people have listened to my books; I know they have no idea what my writing and my stories are really like.

I just hope the audios aren't butcher jobs. (On one hand, I do count my blessings in that I get to do the abridging and not someone else!)

Next up: Spires of Stone.

The book and its rewrites and edits gave me fits for months on end. By the time I had to cut it for the audio, I was ready to torch it anyway. I think I managed to cut it all right. The audio part of the process was such a blur that I don't really remember. I just did it and handed it in.

Haven't listened to that one, either.

Now here comes the interesting part: Covenant has changed their tune. I don't know what was behind the decision, but I'm guessing they've realized that most people don't want abridged books. If they're going to listen to a book, they want the whole thing.

So here's the latest: Covenant's putting out fewer audio books (because they can't afford to put out everything unabridged) but whatever they are putting out is unabridged.

Can I hear a hallelujah?!

The result of this is that Tower of Strength had no audio at all. That was bittersweet. For once, I didn't have the misery of having to hack away at my own book and leave a bloody mess on the floor. (Especially since authors pretty much never, ever saw any royalties on audio books anyway. Long story there, but the whole audio thing was an exercise in futility. Something we had to do, but it really did no good.)

On the other hand, a contract clause was changed that meant I would now be far more likely to get royalties from an audio book, not to mention that with a book unabridged, people would be more likely to buy it. Plus I didn't have to abridge anything.

Regardless, I didn't get the audio on Tower. Like I said, bittersweet.

This time around, with Band of Sisters, I haven't heard either way whether I'll get the audio. That'll be a decision up to the marketing department, what other titles are being released during the same period, and which they figure will be most likely to sell audio copies.

For now, I am simply grateful that never again will I have to sit at the computer wondering, How in the world can I tell this story in so few words and have it make any sense whatsoever?! ARGH!!!!

Those days are gone! YES!!!

PS #1: Today is the 4A State Football Championship. My nephew is playing in it (He's #24 for Timpview). It's also my alma mater. Today's their shot for a 4th consecutive state title. Cross your fingers for the Thunderbirds!

PS #2: The Utah Chocolate Show runs today and tomorrow at the South Towne Expo Center, 11 am to 9 pm. Tickets are $7 at the door. If you see my sister Mel (the director) say hi for me! My other sister, Michelle, will likely be hanging around the demo stage and running stuff there. Say hi to her, too! Mel may need to jet at some point this morning to see part of the game. I don't know how she'll manage to even open the show while her son's in a championship game. Yowza!


Heffalump said...

I'm glad they aren't abridging the audio anymore. Abridgements in general drive me a little crazy.

Boy do I wish I was close enough to go to the Chocolate's probably a good thing that I'm not!

Don said...

Wow! That is downright brutal. The first of you books I ever "read" was the audio of At the Water's Edge and the reading seemed very rushed, which makes sense now.

I'm glad all your other books I've read have been the unabridged hard copy. I can't imagine what those stories would be like with so much taken out. Ouch!

Helena said...

Oh, man, that sounds hard all right. Yay for unabridged audio!

Stephanie Black said...

Hooray for unabridged audio! It hurts to hack out half of your book--been there. You feel like you want to put a disclaimer on the abridged audio--"I swear, the book was better than this." I'm so glad Covenant is doing unabridged now.

Charlie Moore said...


This conversion makes me think of converting a book like The Bourne Identity from a novel to a screenplay. The principle is the same, a lot gets edited out (here because of time constraints.) I liked the movie, but the book was better. And I don't buy audio books, except the scriptures, because I like old fashioned reading.

Good luck to your nephew. Go Thunderbirds!!


Anonymous said...

Annette, you're a better woman than me. I don't know how I could have lived through cuts like that. Hooray that you're done with them forever!

wendy said...

That just sound dumb to have to "cut out parts of your book" to accomodate the audio. That would leave out meaningful fun things of the story I think.

That's like baking a cake and leaving out the salt, and spices, cause there just isn't any more room...what??

You can't have a cake without those things and have it be the cake you MEANT it to be.

I know, I am not making any sense.

wish I could be at the expo

Annette Lyon said...

Wendy, you're exactly right--I don't PUT IN extra stuff, random stuff into my books. Every scene has a reason for being there. So cutting by more than half was particularly hard, because I had to figure out a way to make the plot coherent and logical w/out entire section of it even BEING there. Talk about a nightmare!

Blondie said...

I'm really glad I read this today. I picked up a book on tape at the library the other day because I have to drive to Logan this weekend. I didn't notice until later that it is abridged. I thought that perhaps it wouldn't be a big deal but now I learn it's a HUGE deal. Having never listened to an abridged book I had no idea of the story carnage involved. Removing HALF of a story?! That's outrageous!
I don't link I'm going to bother with those tapes now.

Sherrie said...

My husband and I listen to tons of audio books. He is a truck driver and probably listens to 2-3 books a week. He has gotten me hooked also, and I listen whenever I am in the car driving. We both absolutely hate it when a book has been abridged. I'm glad they have decided to do more unabridged, but very sad that they are limiting the number of books they put to audio. That is how we get our reading done most of the time. Interesting stuff!

Annette Lyon said...

Blondie, And that's the problem. I can't count how many times at signings I've had people say, "Cool! It's on CD! Oh, wait. It's abridged. Never mind."

I *KNEW* that if the publisher would just do more unabridged books that they'd sell more of them. Glad they decided to test it out.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Wow...I can't even imagine how torturous abridging a beloved book must be. So glad for you that you won't have to do it again!

Luisa Perkins said...

What a relief! I am one of those who would never buy an abridged audio. I'm glad Covenant has made this decision.

Jessica G. said...

Wow, I had no idea you had to trim the book down that much. That might explain that really awful young adult LDS fiction I got for on tape for Christmas years ago!

Do not speak of the Chocolate Show...I am too sick to go and I'd rather not think about all the wonderful goodness I am missing out on! so sad...

LeeAnn said...

I'm glad they've stopped making the abridged audios. I have always *hated* those except for those where the voice put me to sleep.

Amber Lynae said...

I didn't realize that the audio versions were so abridged. I like the convenience of audio books but if you are loosing half the story that isn't convenient.

But I am up for unabridge audio books that I can listen to on my ipod.

Cranberryfries said...

I never knew what abridged and unabridged actually meant. Other than less and more. An interesting look into a world that fascinates me.


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