MOVING BACK FROM South Africa to American suburbia meant that my life once again would be spent in large parts inside an automobile while ferrying children to and fro. To soften the blow – or, more aptly, to turn lemons into lemonade – I began checking out audio books from the local library to help me pass the time.
In those long- ago days of 2013, those were often clunky affairs – volumes of up to 20 CDs that inevitably had scratches in crucial parts of the story, got mangled by the unfathomable technology in my Chrysler minivan, or melted in the hot Tennessee sun shining onto the passenger seat. Something always came between me and the story’s ending. I am notoriously cheap and slow to adopt new technology, but once I realized how easy it was to listen to audio books on my iPhone wherever I was, I splurged and got an Audible membership. For $14.95/month (or $149.50 per year), you get one audio book credit per month. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it has been enough to keep me supplied with good listening material without ever running dry*.
What started out as a way to make good use of time in traffic has now migrated to other parts of my life. It first made its way into the kitchen as I unloaded groceries, then while cooking and loading the dishwasher, and now the entire gamut of household chores. While I often get reproving looks when chopping onions while my thoughts are miles away with, say, Hemingway’s third wife in civil war-torn Spain and not able to hear the attempt at conversation on my husband’s part, this is made up for by the relatively clean state of the house he gets to enjoy because I continually find new spots to clean to extend guilt-free listening hours. I once painted our entire basement on the works of Amor Towles (A Gentleman in Moscow, among others).
Audible is more than just a book spoken onto tape. It’s like a movie production, without the camera. It harkens back to the days when radio was king, when scores of listeners got addicted to the weekly programming – not unlike Netflix today. A good audio book is its own work of art and entertainment. And the market for such works has exploded over the past few years. Producing audio books is becoming big business. What was a fringe market just a decade ago is now a booming and fast-growing industry. Renowned actors are flocking toward audiobook narration, and many audio books nowadays are original works, meaning the written book as a basis is often skipped altogether.
Because of all this, I’m beyond excited to share that Kilimanjaro Diaries is now available as an audio book on Audible (and other platforms), narrated by Vanessa Johansson. I hope you’ll go check it out! If you’re not already on it, you can start a free 30-day Audible trial by clicking here:
Or perhaps you’ll be the lucky winner of my giveaway, whom I’ll randomly pick and announce in my newsletter shortly.
If you’re a fellow writer, you might now be curious as to how this came to pass. While I’d like to say I worked tirelessly on finally finding a publisher for my book, I have to admit that I did absolutely nothing. For once, I was the beneficiary of good luck and good timing. Out of the blue, a representative of Tantor Media (one of the big four audio publishers) contacted me in April about the rights to my book. I briefly considered getting an agent (they are known to negotiate better contracts, and could be helpful in finding a publisher for the print version) but ultimately decided against it. I didn’t want new layers of communication at this point in my life, and I figured I was perfectly capable negotiating a better contract myself. I signed in May, helped in the audition process for a narrator over the summer, and approved the new cover art in August. The published audio book has been on sale for a couple of weeks. Tantor has been great to work with, I can highly recommend them. I even scored an advance, which for this one-person operation without expense budget was quite the windfall. Granted, it’s several stratospheres below what the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama got for their upcoming books, but in my little world it made me proud.
The surprise about creating an audio book? How hard it was to decide on the right narrator. When you work with someone like Tantor, they have an entire website full of profiles with samples to listen to (I’m sure the others do too). Finding enough qualified actors is not the difficult part, but picking one out of the many is. To me, it was very much like sampling perfumes in the cosmetics aisle: Once you’ve sniffed three different scents, they all blend together and you no longer have any idea which one you liked best. I though it might be a good idea to enlist some of my friends and loyal readers to help, but this proved just as confusing as the time I enlisted help in picking a title for Kilimanjaro Diaries. Back then there were strong feelings both in favor and against using the word “housewife,” and this time opinions were just as divergent. Some loved narrator A and hated B, and some just as strongly preferred B over A. I was no wiser than when I began.
The thing is, you want someone reading your book, if it’s a memoir, who sounds somewhat like you, just a better version (I have strong feelings against authors reading their own books, with a few exceptions, like Trevor Noah in Born a Crime.) The first audition was simply too slow for me. To say I’m a fast talker is an understatement. The second narrator was faster but sounded too stilted, like upper-class New England circa 1950s. This is when I took matters into my own hands to sift through the many samples on the Tantor website and was almost stifled by the overwhelming choice. But I eventually settled on Vanessa Johansson, without asking anyone’s opinion, and am very happy with the result. Take a listen to the sample below:
If you are a writer, I wish you all the best for your own foray into the world of audio book publishing. If you’re a reader, I hope that I’ve convinced you to invite Audible into your life. You can take it with you wherever you are in the world, and then you can let it transport you far far away into yet another world all its own.
* Sure, there are apps that let you connect to your library’s audio and e-book collection for free (such as Overdrive), but you’ll often find you have to wait for the 257 people in line before you before scoring the book you have an eye on, and then you have to hustle to get through it all before it’s back due. Audible is affordable and gives you instant gratification whenever you need listening material for your next trip or commute. You can also link between Kindle and audio via Whispersync, in case you want to keep listening to the same book that you’re already reading.