Accepting the Fact that Your Narrator is Going to Make your book His or her "own"
Fortunately, ACX.com's platform provided an extremely easy and straightforward way to achieve this goal. Once the manuscript was completed, I was able to upload a sample of my book onto the ACX platform and invite potential narrators to audition for the book. Narrators were then able to review the book and, if interested, send me a sample.
Once I joined ACX, it wasn't long before Steven Jay Cohen and I decided to work together. Steven posted a sample, I listened, contacted him and we agreed to move together in a partnership pursuant to the terms set out by ACX. Everything was straightforward---ACX provided a standard contract, terms, responsibilities and deadlines were clearly defined, and ACX acts as the intermediary splitting royalties evenly between Steven and me.
I was excited based upon the initial sample I heard and confident that I found a great narrator for my book. You never know when you agree to partner with someone how things turn out, but with Steven everything was easy. His work after we reached agreement was just as good, probably better, than his sample. As a side note, he and I did speak on the phone before I agreed to have him narrate the book mainly because I wanted to get a feel for what he might be like as a collaborating partner. He came across as a genuinely good guy, and his on-line presence at stevenjaycohen.com was more confirmation that I was dealing with a true pro.
I was stoked and excited about having him read my book. When the day finally came that the audiobook was ready for me to review, Steven posted it to ACX where I had the chance to listen to Steven's narration of it. I downloaded the files to my iPad and took the "book" with me on a business trip.
It was a bit surreal as I pressed play and heard Steven utter the opening line that I had hoped would be one that hooked readers-"Sober, Remo Centrella would have never tried to make the exit."
"Boom!" I thought, "he nailed it." But, as the words began to flow out of my speakers, I realized Hallways in the Night was no longer solely mine. Part of it now belonged to Steven. And his interpretation of the story, his reading of it, was different than I expected. Characters sounded and spoke differently than I expected and certain sentences, certain words, were emphasized in ways that were different than I would have done it. As I listened to the story, I realized that I wasn't just listening to my book, I was listening to to what Steven was creating based upon my work.
Truth be told, at times, his interpretation was a bit jarring. He read certain sentences, emphasizing certain words, in a way that I would not have done it. As a matter of fact, there were a few times as I listened to the book that I said to myself things like "he's emphasizing the wrong word here," "he's reading this part too slow" or "why is he rushing through that line that was supposed to be delivered much slower?" In other words, as I listened to Steven, I realized he had taken what had been solely mine and made it his own.
Which is just what a great narrator has to do. Anyone can phone in a narration. Reading a book out loud is not, in and of itself, an art. But bringing a story to life, that is something that takes work, passion and commitment. And that's what Steven Cohen has brought to the audiobook of Hallways in the Night.
Once I got over the fact that his interpretation was going to be different than how I would have read the book, I was able to let go and enjoy his performance. And as I did, I began to realize his unique reading of the book made it richer and more enjoyable for me.
While I did my best to add different speech patterns and language use for each character, Steven created a unique and different voice for each character. That's one of the things I think makes the audiobook such an enjoyable and fun listen--each character, even when two characters are engaged in a rapid back and forth, are clearly differentiated from each other.
It was only after listening to Hallway in the Night that I realized how many truly different characters are in the book and how different they are from each other. They run the spectrum from black to white, young to old, Southern U.S. to Upper Crust England, and Steven made sure that each character was given their own distinctive voice.
When I finished listening to Hallways in the Night, I contacted Steven to commend him on his work and to tell him that he truly was the "man of a thousand voices." I thanked him for the immense care and attention to detail that he provided to each and every character. His efforts and commitment to his craft truly brought the book to life in a way that I could not have imagined. He added a completely new dimension to my book.
Because of that, I have had to accept the fact that while I wrote Hallways in the Night, it no longer belongs only to me. Part of it now belongs to its narrator because he put in the work and applied the dedication that was necessary to take ownership of it.
It was a reminder to me of how much can be accomplished through teamwork and that sometimes what you give up in a partnership is often dwarfed by how much you can gain