Blogger: Wendy Lawton
The visiting author stood behind a table covered in stacks of her many books. She talked to readers and potential readers for much of the afternoon. She was a real professional. As we watched, we never saw her tire of talking to people. Until, that is, one woman came up to her, picked up a book, flipped it over to scan the back cover and said, “I don’t really buy books because everyone tells me I should write my own.” The author’s smile was just short of a grimace. The woman put the book down. “I’m really busy these days but if I could free up a couple of weekends I know I could write a book.”
You’ve all heard some variation on this theme. “Oh, you’ve written a memoir? Everyone tells me I should write my life story.” Or “I excelled in spelling and grammar in junior high school. I know I could be an editor.” Strange. You don’t hear someone coming up to a cardiovascular surgeon to say, “If I just had some of those tiny needles and fine suture, I could do that.”
Whatever happened to respecting a professional? In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he wrote, “10,000 hours is the magic number of greatness.” He gave example after example of people who only attained proficiency after about 10,000 invested hours.
This came home to me a few weeks ago in our staff meeting. We were talking about the importance of audio books and how some authors would like to record their own audio books. Hmmm. I listen to many an audio book and have become adept at judging the voice talent on each book. It takes the finely honed skill of an actor to read and record an audio book. The narrator may have to do several voices; male, female and child in one book. She or he may also need to do believable accents or dialects. Trust me, it is so easy to sound hokey. I’ve sent back an audio book and opted for the print version because the narrator was flat-out annoying.
One of the agents ended our staff discussion by saying, “Authors want readers to respect them as professionals. Doesn’t it seem odd that an author would believe he could pick up a microphone and instantly narrate a book?”
That agent was right. Narrating an audio book is much like writing a book in the first place. It takes a well-honed set of skills. Just imagine if we added up the hours spent on learning the art of writing in this blog community alone and added it together? How about the sheer number of words written before ever being published? Staggering numbers of hours or numbers of words. It’s the same for voice talent. The same for childrens’ book illustrators. The same for professional editors. It’s art– a hard won proficiency.
Don’t you wish people would respect the professional? Respect the hours invested in learning the craft? What comments have you heard that made you cringe?
I read Gladwell’s book a few years back and pondered his 10,000 hours. It seemed to be an impossible number, until I realized that I’d spent nine years at a job where I coordinated almost 20 meetings a month–including the minutes. That alone counted for 4000 hours. Yep, lifetime, I’m well over 10,000.
*A humble “mea culpa,” Wendy, to reading my own book. I thought I would be perfect–my own voice reading my voice.
*Looking back, it feels like I spent 10,000 hours reading Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein and Mother Goose out loud. It’s just not the same, I suppose (sigh).
Actually many times it is the perfect solution but it’s the “exception” and I was promoting the “rule.” I have recordings I treasure of C. S. Lewis reading his Four Loves, Garrison Keillor reading each of his books, Isak Dinesen reading Sorrows Acre, etc.
I’ve seen the 10,000 hours quite a lot and pondered on it. It was presented as gargantuan, but quick calculations revealed it isn’t.
Thomas Edison reportedly worked 16 hours per day, every day. That’s over 5,000 hours in a year. Wouldn’t really take long for him.
In an interview before the last Olympics, Michael Phelps’s swimming coach said Phelps trained everyday for his first ever Olympics appearance in 2004. Six hours everyday. Little wonder he dazzled still at the last appearance.
But then, if it really takes 10,000 hours to be proficient, I should be prepared for many years of writing and nothing else, as I am still at a meager 1,500.
I think that is the point: 10,000 hours is easy to get if you are full time at the work. Hard to get if you are a hobbiest.
And yet you can usually see the ease that comes at mastery. I’m reading a new-to-me author and since I’m a binge reader, I went back to her first books written 20+ years ago. They are clunky compared to the more recent books.
I’ve gone back to sculpting on the weekends as I’m making Christmas gifts. I’ve been a professional sculptor (meaning successfully selling) for 37 years. The ease with which I handle clay puts my early work to shame.
Great post, Wendy.
*I keep wondering how close I am to that 10,000 hours standard. I’m guessing I still have a ways to go. 🙂
I’ve thought it would be fun to narrate my own books, but I know that I would fall flat. The people who narrate books are often actors. Since that’s not in my skillset, I know better than to think I could be a narrator. 🙂
*People have said things along the lines of, “You’ve written a book? I’ve been told I should write one.” Or, “You started writing that book a few months ago? Oh, I could do that. It’s not that hard.”
*It’s easy to say we can do something new, but not always so simple to carry out the work of doing it.
And I’ve seen some of those books written in a couple of weekends. Yikes!
10,000 hours is indeed a major factor, but I’d add the caveat that those need to be good hours. I’m married to a musician who always restates “practice makes perfect” as “perfect practice makes perfect.” I know, I know, we can’t be perfect, but if our 10,000 hours are practicing mediocrity, the outcome is fairly certain.
I love this. Your husband is right. Bad habits are hard to break. (Says the girl who still wants to put two spaces between sentences.)
Damon J. Gray
I do the two-space sentence break as well. We were taught to do that! Indeed, we were marked down by the instructor if we did not do so.
What are your thoughts on a non-fiction author reading their own book if they have an acting and speaking background?
That would be a sweet package but it’s rare to find a writer who is a voice talent. If someone has those skills it would be like the power of a professional writer/ professional speaker.
One day Mark Twain visited the studio of his friend James McNeill Whistler to see the painter’s latest work.
-Twain looked closely at the landscape, and then, leaning in with outstretched hand, said, “I’d eradicate that cloud if I were you.”
– Whistler, aghast, cried, “Careful! The paint’s still wet!”
– “That’s all right,” replied Twain. “I’m wearing gloves.”
I love Twain quotes.What a character. Now don’t we wish we had him reading one of his books. Every Christmas we used to go to Angel’s camp for a dinner with Mark Twain. People came in costume and the Twain actor was superb. One year they had him debate with a politician. We laughed so much at the Twain snipes it was hard to eat.
I can’t even keep track of people that have told me they ARE writing a book. And by the way, could I give them my editor’s phone number??!!!
Only if you want your editor to kill you.
I’ve wrestled this muse for years;
the relationship’s not light and breezy.
She’s forced out blood, sweat and tears
so that readers can say, “That looks easy!”
Yes, I so agree. The hours invested. I’ve worked hard in many things, spent hours, but I still struggle with terms like writer, photographer, mother. It’s always hard to own a word … I’m always in the learning and trying stage, a forever student, it seems. I don’t know exactly when you arrive … maybe when people tell you so, or you just feel it in your heart. Or you hear, “I’m so glad you’re my mom.”
*I’ve always loved photography. I once had a friend notice a picture on the wall that I’d taken of the girls. She said, “Shelli, you’re a photographer.” I said, “Oh … no.” But I so enjoy it. The attempt alone makes me appreciate the professionals.
*Perfect voice? James Earl Jones 🙂
Shelli, your words are the definition of humility. I’ve met people who bought a first set of water paints and called themselves a watercolorist or those who substitute taught for 10 days and said they were an educator. Our culture does not know what to do with sincere humility.
I think it’s part of the Internet culture. Google makes everybody an expert on everything. Doctors face patients who’ve studied the imagined disease and plan to lecture the doc. Lawyers, pastors, theologians, authors… there’s no such thing as an expert these days. Why should I expend years of time, thousands of dollars, and blood, sweat, and tears to earn a degree? There’s a Youtube video to tell me how to take out a spleen, so no doubts I can narrate an audiobook. And writing a book in a few weekends? Why not? There’s a website that tells me how. There is no authority in the land, and we all do what’s right in our own eyes. Welcome to the Brave New World. Lord help us.
Amen, Brother Giovannetti. Amen!
When I was a girl, my ballet teacher used to tell us that it took hard work to make something look easy. Look at that arabesque – floating, airy, effortless. It took those 10,000 hours (or more) of hard, hard work for the ballerina to achieve that effortless look.
I think the effortless look of truly professional work lures the layman into thinking it can be easily attained. Thus, the avalanche of awful books, book covers, memes, audio narrations, etc. You can see the sweat and strain, same as you would if you watched me try to pose in an arabesque today. Trust me. Not pretty.
You hit the nail on the head, Sarah. (Does that make you a nail artisan? a hammer craftsman?)
Yet you don’t and can’t know beforehand whether that particular author has that particular skill. I know a published author who spent years in radio and doing commercial voice-over. You can’t suggest she’d be poor at it simply because she also write.
Also realize some authors, due to low royalties and decreasing advances, can’t afford to hire professional actors to narrate audiobooks.
Respect for the author also includes the agent/agency bringing true value to the table, rather than trying to dismiss everything which the authors work so diligently to produce.
Agreed, but a simple voice audition could make clear whether the author is a good narrator as well.
In my experience agents and editors are not trying to clip an author’s wings so much as making sure that the author rises to the top of his or her profession. If adding “narrator” to the resume is positive, then by all means do so. But if the narrating is poorly done, the author runs the risk of potential readers thinking the writing is equally poor.
Or even worse, annoying. It may be the best book in the world but when you get to that “I can’t stand to listen to another word” place, it’s the same result as someone throwing your book against the wall.
That is true, Deb. And in fact my author and I recently chose someone I’ve come to know only as a writer to narrate her books. We auditioned a number of professional voice talents and she was the best but she obviously has the background and talent.
If you are a writer and a voice talent it may be a perfect marriage.
Hey everyone, prayer request – Carol Ashby was in a rather serious car wreck. She’s going to be OK, and is expecting to be released from hospital soon (hopefully today), but suffered a broken rib and pelvis, and a concussion. She asked me to request prayers
* She was riding in a Silverado 3500 that was t-boned by a car that ran a red light, and the impact was on her door. It is by God’s grace (with an assist from the engineers at Chevrolet) that she is alive, so we might all, perhaps, pause and give thanks.
Wow. Glad she’s ok!
Praying for Carol right now. Thank you, Andrew.
Oh no! So sorry to hear this, but glad Carol is going to be ok. She will be in my prayers. Thanks for letting us know, Andrew.
Lord God, we pray for Carol’s recovery and praise you for her protection. If I may be so bold, Lord, transform the time her bones mend into a glorious writing season. Turn her discomfort into clarity of words that astound us all–just like you do for Andrew. Amen.
Oh Lord, thank you that Carol is alive. You still have more work for her to do. I ask that You would bless her in all the ways she needs, and that she’d heal quickly and it isn’t long until we can read her comments and insights. Thank you. Amen.
Janet Ann Collins
Wow, I just read this. Praying for her now.
Thank you Andrew for letting us know. Even if we don’t say we’re praying, everyone in this community will come to this place in the comments and stop to pray for complete healing and relief from pain and worry. I hope she has people to pamper her when she gets home.
Just saw this. Hope she’s alright now.
Michael, Carol is doing better. She’s home from the hospital and on the mend. God is great!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Some of you may know that my husband works with trees. He’s a tree scientist, specializing in…here’s an example of one study: the impact, sensitivity, adaptation and sequestration responses of natural and pedigree populations of at risk and/or keystone tree species to climate change, specifically morphological, allocation, and physiological G x E responses.
You want copies?
Stop shoving! This isn’t Black Friday at Nike!
Please form an orderly line!
And yet? A friend’s mother was convinced that by putting a tap in one of her maple trees, that the tree would die. But, she had a serious tonne of trees on her property and the friend was in maple heaven. FREE maple syrup!! So, the friend brought John over to explain the whole process, and how people have been tapping maple trees for as long as there have been people near the maples. That the Indigenous peoples of North America have been doing this same process and oh look, zillions of maple trees still grow far across the land.
Would she listen? No. Because how could a nail not kill a tree??? It would DIE!!! it was a nail! Nails kill trees!
John kept explaining that only the complete removal of the bark would kill the tree, not a piddly little nail hole.
Did she listen?
Nope. “That Major boy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Forget that people make zillions of dollars tapping trees. HER trees were going to LIVE!
Both my husband and his friend gave up. Why? Because she appointed herself the professional and ignored the man who actually knows what carbon sequestration means. And somatic embryogenesis.
For years after that, if John was puzzled over something at work, I’d say “Maybe you should ask Mrs. W****** about that.”
Then he’d growl really loud.
I used to think a nail would kill a tree, but then I watched our maple tree in the back yard continue to grow after having a nail in it. A maple tree in the woods thrives, even after another tree came down and scrapped half the bark on one side off. I thought it would die. No, that maple tree is still going strong, after 20+ years. To me, it’s an example of persistence!
Bwua-ha-ha about the Nike store. Yeah, Hubs and I stood in that line late on Black Friday afternoon. 🙂 Got great shoes for the boys, though. 🙂
*Other than that, great points about knowing when to trust an authority in a certain field. 🙂
I need your husband here in the central valley of California. Our redwoods are all dying. Drought? Salts leaching? We hear different answers all the time. But yes, don’t you love self-styled experts or scoffers?
I’ve noticed this will a lot of the creative fields. Somewhere along the line as the tools became more widely available, suddenly everyone with a Mac was claiming to be a filmmaker and everyone with Adobe Photoshop was a graphic designer. The funny thing about writing is that literally just about anyone can do it. But there are very few people who actually do. There’s not technology barrier. There’s no certification barrier. Really, the only barriers are skill and the conviction/willpower to do it. To me, that makes professional writers all the MORE impressive.
Perfect parallels, Jared. Happily people soon learned they couldn’t make cinema magic or professional designs and those industries began to shake out. (Except for self-styled book cover designers.)
You wrote: “There’s no technology barrier. There’s no certification barrier.” Exactly.
This gives me pause. Gulp. I’m planning to narrate my own books. I think my voice would connect me with my readers. I write nonfiction, which might make it more plausible. Umm. I might want to rethink this.
Just got released from hospital. Many thanks for prayers!
I suggest an experiment. Record a few chapter of a book similar to yours and see how you sound. Try it out on a few people. If you and they think you sound good, then record your own.
This is your opportunity to be pampered and cared for, Carol! Remember you are giving people the chance to be blessed by accepting their gifts of care. (If only we were a geographical community we’d all be heading over with casseroles.) 🙂 Heal well, friend.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Now, take care of yourself!!
Thank the Lord you’re home and able to visit here!
It is more commonplace for nonfiction than fiction. Make yourself audition alongside other voice talent before you decide. You want the best audiobook.
The thing with audio recordings is there are several things to learn, like how do you read an italicized word? What do you do when you come to a long quote passage? Do you break in to remind the reader you are quoting someone else? Will you use voices for the places you used fiction techniques. There are so many decisions to make.
Plus, you need to know how to modulate your voice so that when you take a break you come back on at the same volume, the same intonation, etc. I can always spot a newer narrator because you can tell where he broke for the bathroom. 🙂
This is an interesting post! Did you know that audible and ACX glorify the narrator/author and actually promote this saying that their #’s show that audio book listeners prefer this and are more likely to buy the book and review it positively?
Also, speaking of Gladwell, he is not an actor and does narrate his own books. Just thought that was an interesting note on this post. He’s the example Audible uses, in fact, to encourage authors to do their own narration.
I did not know that, Traci. Thank you. I listen to so many audible books I’ve come to recognize narrators I love. Just listen to Lisette Lecat, the narrator of the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Or listen to Max McLean read the Bible.
I just think it is very interesting. I have been a story teller and speaker for many years (well, you know, I might have a solid 7000 of my 10,000 hours in) so I feel comfortable narrating for myself. That said…I’ve only done it once, and it was a HUGE undertaking.
I wonder why ACX wants to undercut it’s narrators by suggesting authors do it themselves, if the general consensus is that it isn’t good practices…
I had something very similar happen to me at a book signing. A woman came up and said with a sigh, “I wish I had the time to write a book.” At the time I felt annoyed but I couldn’t put my finger on why. In retrospect I think it felt like she was saying I was a woman of leisure with time on my hands to dabble in writing. I’m sure that’s not what she meant. But I say no to lots of fun stuff so that I can write books. Time doesn’t grow on trees, to mix the favorite metaphors of parents everywhere.
Ooh, Jenny … yikes.
I know. Those people don’t mean to be gauche but it implies that the skill you have mastered by hours of intense study could be theirs with nothing more than a little extra time.
As an author seeking narrators for audio books, I’ve discovered a great difficulty. I can hear my characters. I know what they sound like and it’s not just a personal preference, it’s part of the essence of who they are. However skilled a narrator, they may not be able to replicate what I KNOW my characters sound like. It’s been a real problem for me, and I’m still on the quest to find someone else to be “that voice” I know so well, because I created it. And it’s about a lot more than tone. It’s about inflection and pacing. How do I get past it?
You have to have others listen to your auditions. It’s like with cover art. You see your character a certain way but that may not sell the book. But don’t forget, the audition is just that person doing it cold. They may be able to switch around the voices with your suggestion. I don’t see that you couldn’t say things like, “I pictured my main character sounding like a cross between this actor and that actor.” I’m guessing your agent would be happy to help you decide, Steph. 🙂
I just returned from receiving a haircut from a pro. Not only is she an experienced stylist, but she also just completed her art degree at one of the best art schools in the country. She and I got to talking about a book I had published a long time ago, and she said, “I’d like to read that book even now. Of course, your research is probably dated, so why don’t you just write a new version.” “Did you say ‘just write a book’?” “Oh, that was silly. That’s like people ask me what art project I’m working on, like I’m dabbling at something. Each piece I do takes about a year.” She then went on to add that one of her professors told the class, “A woman asked me what I was teaching, and I told her it was a class on illustrating children’s books.” Incredulous, the woman responded, “You need to take a class to do that?” Yes, m’dear, you do.
Reminds me, Janet, how much we like it when our clients go to other writers for advice instead of to a professional— like their agent. 😉
I have to confess that I’ve bought audible books because of the narrator, not the story. Some narrators can bring the phone book to life, and others are so annoying that it doesn’t matter how good the book is. Yes, leave the narration to professionals.
Wendy – Such a great post. Thank you for presenting this so candidly. It’s a good reminder to check our assumptions about ANY profession at the door.