Friday, April 09, 2010

Writing Journey: Pronunciation Guides

Up today: Answering a question L. T. Eliot (also known as Lexicon Luvr) posed some time ago:

[Writers creating pronunciation guides for audio recordings] is a new phenomenon to me, and I've only ever heard it mentioned once. How long has that been going on?

I can't speak for other writers and their experiences with their publishers, of course, so what comes below is based on my experience.

For my first five books, Covenant released an audio version on either cassettes or CDs (in one case, both). In each case, the book was abridged.

My first two novels (Lost Without You and At the Water's Edge) are my shortest ones. I had to cut them down to 48,000 words, but since they were each right around 70,000, that wasn't terrible to do. It wasn't fun by any means, but I could cut out descriptions, shorten dialogue, delete actions and tags, take showing portions and make them telling, and the like. Abridging took out a lot of the voice and personality of the book, but the basic story was left intact.

And then . . . well, THEN I had to cut House on the Hill. It clocked in at 102,000 words. Remember, it had to be hacked down to 48,000.

Yeah. Had to cut that puppy by more than half. The final version had entire scenes and subplots stripped out. For example, readers didn't see Abe's father or even know much of Abe's background. There just wasn't time for it.

At the Journey's End was even longer, by more than 10,000 words (I think it was around 114,000 words total). By that point, they were toying with whether they'd still do a cassette version. If not, I'd get to keep an additional 5,000 words because CDs hold more. But the final decision wasn't made early enough, so even though that book is only on CD, I still had to cut it to 48,000.

Spires of Stone was a bit shorter than At the Journey's End, and I got to cut it to 53,000, so it wasn't quite as miserable to cut, but I still hated it.

If memory serves, Spires was also the first book they requested a pronunciation guide for, but what they asked for was relatively minor. I had to clarify any names or terms that might be confusing. I remember writing character personality descriptions, but not much else. That book was released fall of 2007.

In hindsight, had my sister not been the one reading At the Water's Edge (2004), I probably would have needed to submit a guide, because it has Finnish names and words that would totally throw off your average American reader. That's why I requested that Mel read it: she knows Finnish pronunciation as well as I do, so she didn't need a guide.

By the time Tower of Strength came out, a new decision had been made: Covenant heard its customers asking for unabridged books and agreed to do them! (And there was much rejoicing in the land!)

However, there was a consequence to that decision: unabridged books are (obviously) longer. Therefore, they cost more to produce (both in actual CDs as well as in paying for a reader and other costs). Ergo, they couldn't afford to put every book onto audio.

So while they'd have fewer novels on audio, those that got audio versions would all be unabridged.

The result: Tower of Strength (2009) wasn't given audio. I was rather relieved: no butchering of my book! On the other hand, if it had gotten audio, there wouldn't have been a need to butcher it. But cutting it down wouldn't have been as painful, since Tower is my shortest historical.

I didn't have a 2008 release, so between the small guide for Spires in '07 and no audio for Tower in '09, the first "real" guide I've had to do was for Band of Sisters. (Did you catch that? It's on unabridged audio!)

The pronunciation guide for Band of Sisters was rather involved. I was surprised at how many names and terms they wanted me to explain. I had to include actual pronunciation symbols based on Merriam-Webster's style.

I also had to describe the characters, but this time it wasn't only their personalities. I had to describe their voices. Does Nora have a high or low voice? What about Kim? Does Marianne have a noticeable accent? Does Jessie have a unique tone? What about Brenda? Does she talk fast? And so on.

I had to go reread portions of the book to really listen to my characters talk so I could describe their voices. (That probably sounds bizarre to anyone who isn't a writer, but to me, these women are real, and I can hear their voices in my head. No, I don't need medication.)

Back to the question: How long have the pronunciation guides been going on?

Short answer: somewhere in the ballpark of three or four years, and in that time (at least in my experience) they've become more specific and detailed.

That's a good thing, I think. I don't mind spending a little extra time on a guide since I'm no longer sweating over abridgments. And the guides really benefit everyone. The final product is better, since the actor reading the book knows going in how every person should sound and how to say possibly confusing terms, and the listener has a better experience with the story.

The guide avoids problems like the actor finding out 2/3 of the way through the book that whoops, this character has a southern drawl or this one has a gravelly voice, and this one speaks low for a woman . . . and that they've been reading it wrong the entire time!


CountessLaurie said...

This is one of those things you just don't think about when you pick up an audio book, but now that you mention it, it makes perfect sense!

Now, what are the chances I can get this as an eBook for my Nook? :-) I know, we fans are pushy!!!

Krista said...

Very interesting! Don't worry, I hear the voices, too. ;D

Helena said...


Heffalump said...

I have a new appreciation for the people that voice the audio books now!

Unknown said...

Well, all righty then! It's good to know this.

Now, I have a question. When do you capitalize words that are sometimes names or titles and sometimes just nouns? Is that the gauge you use - names vs. nouns?

For example:
"Hmmm...'Principal' Puffnstuff really needs to lay off the cheese danishes."

"No, that isn't a medicine ball on legs. It's Mr. Puffnstuff, our 'principal'."

"I attended Duh 'High School'."

"See that building next to the leaky power plant? That's my old 'high school'."

Is that how it works? Impart wisdom, oh great guru of all things wordy!!

Amanda said...

Denae!!! God bless your little heart :)

I was just trying to teach my 7 year old about this and I think I totally botched it.

Annette, please help us...for the sake of the next generation :)

Annette Lyon said...

I think we have our next WNW topic!

Anonymous said...

but to me, these women are real, and I can hear their voices in my head

You're not crazy at all. =D

Thanks for answering this one for me, Annette, and I'm so happy that you don't have to butcher any more books! Hooray!

NLS 1993 said...

This is so interesting! I had NO idea all that cutting had to happen. I can't imagine. Hard work, lady!

Lara Neves said...

I never would have thought of that. In general, I don't like books on tape, it messes with my own ideas of how characters should read. But I'm glad to know that at least the author's ideas are represented. :)


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