J. Daniel Sawyer. 2012. Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks (And How to Produce Them). Fairfax: AWP Books .
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Audio fascinates me.
When I was a pre-teen, my favorite book was the Boy Engineer. As a kid, I was always building things. In about the third grade I built my first telegraph. About that time, my parents gave me a crystal radio kit and I began listening to The Joy Boys, Ed Walker and Willard Scott, on WRC radio through my ear phones. My fascination with the show went on for years and at one point my dad took me down to the studio to meet them . Later in graduate school, I spent years of Saturday evenings listening to a Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor .
Daniel Sawyer’s book, Making Tracks, taps into this same fascination.
Although I have never purchased an audiobook, most of the senior citizens that I know have. Commuters and road warriors are two other obvious listening groups. Successful authors are sensitive to the audiobook market because it opens up an entirely new reading market for their content . They often end up becoming addicted to podcasting because much the same equipment is needed. Interestingly, the audiobook industry started out as a government program to produce audiotapes to aid the blind (xvii; 22). Now, instead of tape, many books are entirely electronic (13).
Audiobooks require a bit of time and effort. Sawyer estimates that production of an audiobook requires 4 to 8 hours of work for each hour of finished audio, assuming that you know the ropes. Reading at a rate of 8,000 to 9,500 words per hour, that means that an 80,000 word novel is somewhere between 33.6 to 80 hours of production work—recording and editing (3).
Beyond simple reading, an audio drama requires a cast of characters to produce, much like a movie. Think of the production including: a casting director, a Foley artist (sound effects person), a music director, director, production engineer, art director, and post production engineer (9-12). Details. Details. Details. My head was spinning as I read on… A recent book trailer, for example, shows this kind of workmanship .
Daniel Sawyer describes himself as “a longtime award-nominated audio/video producer and tech journalist-turned novelist” . He writes in 6 parts divided into 18 chapters, including:
Part 1: The Business.
Part 2: Managing the Production.
Part 3: Acoustics.
Part 4: The Equipment.
Part 5: Production.
Part 6: Post Production (vii-xiii).
Sawyer’s discussion is detailed and engaging.
Under manage the production, Sawyer cites 5 points of vocal production:
- Breath control.
- Hygiene. And
- Inflection (48).
Remember all that good advice you got from your high school voice instructor? Now is a good time to review those lessons. Just like singing, the best way to read is standing up. Received pronunciation (BBC English) is a middle-class, Ohio accent. Sawyer suggests that speaking a mouth full of marbles is a good cure for “mush mouth” (49). Speak with conviction with good annunciation! (59) The list of helpful hints goes on and on.
Sawyer’s instructions on picking and using a microphone are priceless. He suggests, for example, that book readers probably want a dynamic microphone which uses a small magnet vibrating back and forth inside a coil (102). By contrast, a condenser microphone uses a charged piece of foil to pick up sound (101). The dynamic microphone is more durable and sounds more personal than a condenser microphone.
Daniel Sawyer’s Making Tracks is a gold mine for audio book producers, but other audiophiles may want to pick up a copy. Microphones, cables, sound boards, and sound-editing software are all discussed in plain English. Making Tracks is interesting reading.
 They were on the air from 1955 to 1972, but are still around: www.thejoyboys.com. What I did not know until I met them was that Ed Walker was blind.
 For example, take a look at: www.TheCreativePenn.com or http://MichaelHyatt.com.
Edward L. Throm. 1960. The Boy Engineer: A Popular Mechanics Book. Illustrated by Evelyn Urbanowich and Robert Pious. New York: Golden Press.