Reading Your Own Book Is Harder Than You Think

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Phew, what a week it’s been.

A few days ago we flew into London from Thailand after a brief layover in Norway (a sentence I fully enjoy being able to write), and I hope you’ll forgive our lack of a post last week because I was in a studio recording the audiobook for Quit Like a Millionaire!

This has been a bizarre experience to say the least. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be sitting in a recording studio reading my own book, about my own life knowing that it was going to turn into an audiobook that thousands of people would later listen to.

To say that it was a nerve-wracking affair would be a massive understatement, but I’m happy to report that 3 days later we got through it! Woo!

But to my surprise, it wasn’t easy work. I thought this would be the easiest gig ever, but it turns out there’s a lot to unexpected complications that comes from being a voice actor. Namely…

There Is a LOT of Science to Recording Audiobooks

It’s not easy to record an audiobook. Actually, scratch that, it’s not easy recording a good audiobook. Any idiot with an iPhone can record themselves reading, but to do it professionally, there’s a whole lot of science that goes into it.

First of all, you have to isolate the sound of your own voice, and for that you really do need a professional recording studio. We recorded ours at a studio in London called Strathmore Publishing, which has a wonderfully sound-proofed studio with double-locking doors in which I did my recording. That thing is built like a submarine, and when you’re in there you really can’t hear anything outside at all. Plus, Sir Ian McKellen did his recording there, so I got to sit in Gendalf’s butt-print, so that was cool. Also, they’ve had a number of other celebrities come through here, including actress Helena Bonham Carter:

I also had a professional sound engineer working with me, and his job was to make my voice sound as warm and intimate as possible. I am not a warm or intimate person, so he had his work cut out for him.

In the end though, I heard the recordings we made and I really do sound like I’m just sitting next to you talking one-on-one. I’m not sure how they did that, but hey that’s why the pay him the big bucks.

You Realize You Suck At Reading

You’d think that reading your own book should come as second nature, but nope!

You end up tripping on your own words, or not emphasizing the right syllable, or the words not flowing together properly. When you read for extended periods of time, it’s easy for your eyes to glaze over and for your voice to drop to a dull monotone, and it’s actually quite common for recordings you did at the beginning of the day to sound completely different from the recordings you did at the end. Fatigue and monotony are your enemies here.

Fortunately, that’s where your producer comes in. She’s sitting in the booth with a copy of your manuscript listening intently to how your pronounce every single word, and her job is to make sure you give your best performance on every single sentence.

It’s her job to cut you off and make you do a reading over. “Again, but more emphasis on the word money.” “Let’s try to flow that a bit better.” “You just mispronounced your own name.”

And believe me, these directions came really really frequently for me. I think during my reading, I screwed up, on average, every second sentence, and our producer had to go back and re-record it.

And at the end of the day, they send these recordings over to LA so they can edit this giant mess together into a single reading that makes me sound like I know what the Hell I’m talking about. Again, they have their work cut out for them.

Reading all this is going to take a while…

You Become Paranoid About Your Vocal Cords

When we flew into London, our schedule was packed. Not only did we have the recording to do, we had a movie premiere to go to (we’ll write about that next week), and then right afterwards we’re heading to the UK Chautauqua. So our margin of error is nonexistent.

That made me extremely paranoid about losing my voice. The entire flight over here, I was eyeing everyone around me suspiciously every time someone coughed, and I was Purelling like I was about scrub into open heart surgery. “I can’t lose my voice, I can’t lose my voice” was all I could think.

But even after we landed and I didn’t get sick, I had to make sure I didn’t lose my voice while I was recording, which is apparently a really common thing. Fortunately, the studio had all sorts of herbal teas and throat lozenges to help soothe those aching vocal cords.

But the key, as it turns out from reading all these articles on how singers keep their vocal cords healthy, is to give your voice time to heal in the evening. So whenever we went out with friends after recording sessions and we were in a loud restaurant where we had to shout at each other, I had to make a special effort to stay silent. And that was hard, since we had flown all this way to see people and now that we were here I couldn’t talk!

Fortunately, Wanderer was there to take one for the team, and did all the talking for me. Whenever I needed to say something, I would lean over and whisper to him, and he would then shout it at everyone so they could hear. Wanderer became jokingly known as the “FIRECracker Whisperer.”

The GodFather Makes Everything Better

But in the end, help came from the most unexpected corner: JL Collins “The Godfather.”

I knew Jim was going to be in the UK, but as it turns out he had changed his travel plans to come hang out with us in London while we were recording!

Jim’s advice really helped me get through this, as he had done a similar marathon recording session when he produced his audiobook for The Simple Path to Wealth. Plus, he had generously agreed to come in to record his awesome awesome forword for us, for which we will be eternally grateful and possibly owe us our firstborn.

It Ain’t Easy, But It IS Fun

So in the end, we ended up making it to the end of our recording session without getting sick, or losing my voice. Phew! That’s a relief!

And while this experience was a bit nerve-wracking, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I got to record my own audiobook! How cool is that? Extremely.

I’d like to give a big hug and a thank you to Penguin Random House Audio and Strathmore Studios for having us. To Allie, our Grammy-nominated producer, thank you for forcing me to give it my all every single day, and to Joe, our audio engineer, thank you for making me sound awesome.

Oh, and by the way, thank YOU, our audience for supporting us during our pre-order campaign, because look at what happened…

Wow! That is amazing! And we haven’t even started our actual marketing blitz yet!

Awesome things are happening, my friends, and I for one can’t wait to share our experiences of it with all of you. So stay tuned, more awesome things are coming down the pipe!

FIRECracker signing off, for now.


UPDATE: Our Audiobook is now available! Check out a clip here!

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30 thoughts on “Reading Your Own Book Is Harder Than You Think”

  1. “Fortunately, Wanderer was there to take one for the team, and did all the talking for me. Whenever I needed to say something, I would learn over and whisper to him, and he would then shout it at everyone so they could hear. Wanderer became jokingly known as the “FIRECracker Whisperer.””

    That is pretty hilarious and amazing. I’m glad you were able to get through without losing your voice, and congratulations again on the book! So cool to see friends in the PF space getting their publications out there.

    1. No, I don’t think so. JLCollin’s book also has audio. Highly recommend it 😉

      And thanks, I’m back in London now from Thailand.

  2. “You just mispronounced your own name.”
    ???. I don’t know why I ever drink liquids while reading your blog – I should know better by now (cue spit take). Thanks so much for showing us the behind the scenes view – I’ve never thought about everything that goes into an audio book recording. And congratulations on topping the charts before the book even launches ?. Keep up the awesome work!

    1. Thanks, APL! Yeah, I had no idea how many things I couldn’t pronounce until I recorded an audiobook. I have so much respect for what goes into the making of one now.

  3. It was interesting to read about your experience in the recording studio. I can relate to what you said about being monotone because I sing and play guitar and do a lot of recording at home, a lot of the time I will zone out when I am recording and then listen back to it and I’m playing the right chords, it’s on pitch and I didn’t make any mistakes but my delivery is lacking so I need to do it over again. Sometimes I get my spouse to come into the room so I can sing to him because I do better with a live audience.

    This vocal exercise can help during times when you are worried about vocal damage. He doesn’t mention it in this video but in a different Q&A video he explains that it’s one of his favourite exercises because when you hum on the same pitch at a low volume for an extended amount of time it helps to moisten the vocal chords since drinking water doesn’t actually help moisten the vocal chords because they are too far down the windpipe so the water doesn’t actually touch the vocal chords or else you would choke on it.

    1. Ooh, super useful! Thanks for sharing. I’ll play that the next time I need to record an audiobook or need to do anything strenuous with my voice.

  4. Oh man, hearing my voice on my voicemail message is painful enough. I couldn’t imagine listening to hours of it. Ahhhh.

    Either way congrats, audiobooks are awesome. With this, people who are stuck working can listen to it and plot their escape while looking productive.

    1. LOL. Yeah, I had a hard time listening to my own voice too…good thing the sound engineers made it sound great (ditto with the FIRE movie. Really hard to watch myself but Travis and Scott did a great job). I hope the audiobook will help people save time when driving to work.

  5. I listen to a lot of audio books and sometimes my mind wanders, thinking about the person doing the recording and wondering how much of what I’m hearing is written down, how much is adlib, and how much was a nudge from the producer. I also wonder if the person gets bored reading their own work. Thanks for the insight!

    1. There’s definitely periods in which my energy level went down and the producers had to keep reminding me to perk up. So yes, authors can get bored reading their own books if they do it long enough. (who knew?)

  6. Congratulations on the marathon recording session! I can honestly say I never expected to read the term ‘Gandalf’s butt-print’ in my entire life. You guys continue to expand my horizons. A++ CONTENT ALWAYS

    Those sound booths are FREAKY. I got stuffed into a tiny one at an audiology exam a few years back — and I’d never realized just how the total absence of sound messed with my head.

    Have a blast at Chautauqua!

    1. Thanks, Adam! You rock (as always)!

      Yeah the sound booths are freaky but I’d imagine they’d be amazing for frazzled moms and dads (oh the sweet sounds of pure silence!)

      Chautauqua is amazing…as always. Having a blast!

  7. Congratulations on recording your audiobook! That’s how you know you’re Big Time now. That and the insane pre-order numbers.

    And now that you’re an established Voice Actor, maybe Funimation will give you a role in the new Dragon Ball series whenever it comes out.

    ARB–Angry Retail Banker

    1. Ha ha, I think this voice is only suited to reading my own book. I’d probably butcher anything else I read. But thanks for the vote of confidence 😀

  8. Fascinating reading about your experience reading your words. I am a recruiter turned career coach, and I always remind my job seeking clients to say out loud their interview responses, negotiation approach, networking pitch, etc. because what you draft in written form is not how you speak and you never want to hear your words for the first time in an important meeting — it’s too jarring, we don’t write the way we speak and vice versa. That sounds like the same phenomenon you had in reading the book you wrote.

  9. “Your order of “Quit Like a Millionaire: No…” has shipped!”

    Waiting with anticipation.

  10. Never ever did I at any point figure I would be sitting in a recording studio perusing my own book, about my own life knowing that more info about it turns out there’s a great deal to surprising difficulties that comes from being a voice entertainer not certain how they did that, but rather hello that is the reason the compensation him gobs of cash.

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