Audiobook Week – Day 2 – What’s in a Review?

Welcome to the second day of Audiobook Week. Today’s topic as provided by Jen at www.devourerofbooks.com is:

So You Want to Review Audiobooks…
Discuss the essentials of audiobook reviewing. What do you make sure to include? What do you want to see when you read other people’s reviews?

I firmly believe the answer to the questions above is… “it depends.” There are some very high level standard items that should be included in any audiobook review but there’s also some information that’s dependent on who your (I’m going to just use a general “you” so I don’t have to keep typing “the audiobook reviewer”) audience is. I’m writing this post with the assumption that the review is intended to help me make a choice about whether to listen to an audiobook and I’m speaking mostly from my perspective as a listener.

I always like to read some type of story summary, even if it’s very brief. I know there are differing opinions on whether to include one but as long as you put it in your own words, not only do I often find unexpected plot information in there (I don’t mean spoilers, just things that might catch my interest that the back cover copy doesn’t include) but I also gain insight into what you found important enough to bring up or what caught your attention. I also like as many specifics as possible regarding what you liked and didn’t like about the story. I want to know your thoughts on characterization, plot progression, how unique the story was, and quality of writing. Hopefully you’ll give me specific examples as well as commentary on your general tastes and how the book met or didn’t meet them.

Although I like to read random reviews, what I really enjoy is to get a sense of your preferences and try to figure out where we match up and where we don’t. Honestly? I follow just as many reviewers whose opinions rarely match mine as ones that do because I find just as much value in picking up an audiobook that a reviewer I’m similar to went all fan-girl over as I do staying away from an audiobook praised by someone whose tastes differ from mine.

It’s the part of the review that deals with the audio and narration that are critical for me because realistically, I can find reviews of the text anywhere but I can only get a sense of the narration from you, my trusted (or, you know, not, please see above) audiobook reviewer.

Ideally there’s some basic bibliographic information such as abridged/unabridged and length of the audiobook. At a minimum, I absolutely need to know the narrator’s name and whether you liked their performance or not. I won’t come back for another review if the first one I read doesn’t have that.

The next level of detail I look for includes:

  • Did the narrator clearly differentiate the characters?
  • Were the emotions in the story conveyed to the listener?
  • Did the men sound like dudes, the women like..er, women, and the children childish? Even small pitch changes can accomplish this so I’m not necessarily talking about overall vocal range
  • Were there any sound or production issues like a hiss to the recording? Poor editing where you can hear a splice between sections or a significant change in sound quality? Real-world noise bleeding into the recording? Annoying mouth noises? Rampant mispronunciation?

Finally there’s the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty details of the narration. We’re now talking about my nirvana of audiobook reviews. I’ll try to summarize but everything I’m going to talk about now can be found in this amazing post by audiobook producer/director Paul Alan Ruben. He outlines a suggested reviewer’s template and while there’s a lot of density to the information he gives, it’s worth a close read. He talks about specific performance markers that define how the narrator connects with the listener.

As a reviewer, I may write a review that doesn’t specifically reference any of these performance markers but I always have this list sitting on-screen next to my review while I’m typing to remind me to really think about why a narration worked or didn’t for me and try to explain it to the reader.

These performance markers (including my poor attempts at describing them. Really, go read that post. I’ll still be here when you come back. Promise.) are:

Chewing the syntax

Does the narrator give each word the author wrote their full attention and effort? They wrote those words for a reason.

The here and now

Does it sound like the narrator is experiencing events RIGHT NOW rather than reporting on them after the fact?

Point of view

Do you believe the narrator actually is the person speaking or are they just reading to you?

Discovery (playing the ‘wow’)

Do you hear the story unfolding? Does the way the narrator speaks sound like the natural flow of dialogue that’s being spoken miliseconds after it was thought or are they ignoring punctuation and true-to-life inflections?

Emphasis

Does it sound real or is the narrator just manipulating his/her voice to try to make you feel or understand something?

Dialogue

Do these characters sound like they are responding to what the other person just said and in a way that takes into account not only the emotional state they are supposed to be in but also any past history they have?

Accents

Do the accents sound real? Do they match the style of the book? Sometimes a light accent works better than a thick one.

 

All of this is really just about finding a way to analyze and describe why a narrator’s performance works for you or not.

Most of that is about what should be included but what about what shouldn’t be? That goes back to who your audience is. Strictly as a personal preference, I avoid reviews with a lot of unnecessary pictures or flashing GIFs (but then, I’m old(er) and crotchety). I love amusing or clever reviews as much as straight-forward factual ones but I’m still looking for information to help me make a decision; I respect your opinion and how you want to present it but bashing an author/genre/narrator doesn’t really help me as a listener find my next audiobook so a certain amount of professionalism is helpful. I always hope there aren’t major spoilers or that they are clearly marked if you need to include them in order to talk about the book effectively and I think the general rules of good grammar, spelling, and clean formatting make a review easier to read in its entirety.

Thinking outside the box of just words on a page, what are your secrets to writing reviews? How about in terms of process or organization? Are there any website formats, plug-ins, or WordPress widgets that you think make it easier for a reader to navigate a review site?

Here’s a a bit about how I write and organize my reviews and posts; think of it as getting to know me better…or maybe just as a strange little glimpse of how my mind works.

I use a program called Scrivener to keep my reviews and anything post-related all together. It’s basically a word processor on steroids and I didn’t get it with the intention of using it to write audiobook reviews but I’ve since set up a separate project file for that. It works for me because it’s a very flexible writing program that keeps many smaller documents (posts, notes, ideas, web pages, etc) all in one place and in one file. Why not just write directly in WordPress? For one thing, it’s amazing the number of misspellings or similar structural problems you suddenly discover when you move text from one font/format to another.

Below is a  screenshot of my Scrivener audiobook file open to a review that will post later today. If you want the full “in your face” size, just click on it but the key elements for me are as follows:

  • You can see a template file in the top left. I use it as the format for 99% of my reviews (although not the review that’s in the screenshot – it is the 1%)
  • Right below that are files where I jot down sentences I might want to use to describe an audiobook at some point
  • Below that are ideas for future non-review posts
  • Reviews are ordered by year and then grouped in month folders under that
  • Each file in the research section actually opens in a built-in browser window and is a link to the publisher’s web page for that specific book so I can check the sample, pull an ISBN, refresh my memory on the story blurb, etc. Research documents can also be cover images, sound files, or just general documents
  • The notecard section in the top right has basic information on who published the audiobook, who narrated it, how long it is, and anything else I might need to quickly reference
  • The yellow-tinted section is where I keep a list of the Performance Markers (and their full definitions) covered earlier as a reminder to put some thought into why the narration worked/didn’t work
  • The small open window on top of the review is a built-in word analysis tool that I use to try to rein in my tendency to overuse words like “story”, “narrator”, “cadence”, and “characterization.”
  • I often use the search window at the top right to see if I’ve used a particular description in any of my other reviews without having to go to my blog and search

I would love to hear how you organize your reviews or what your writing process is; I’m always looking for ways to improve.

Comments

  1. Wow – comprehensive!
    I mostly agree with you, although I don’t mind more opinionated or subjective reviews. I mean, really, how objective can one be when talking about a book/audiobook?

    And your ‘Scrivener’ software looks interesting. I’m looking for a better way to organize and write my reviews, and this might be worth looking into.

    • You are absolutely right. I really should have included a section about my need to know how the audiobook made you feel as well as acknowledging that a lot of reviewing is very subjective. That’s what causes me to read a lot of reviews by each reviewer to try to get a sense of how closely my opinions match the reviewers.

  2. I love your review tips and techniques! Thanks for enlightening me and pointing me to the Paul Alan Ruben article. It had a lot of useful tips. Thanks for translating it into layman’s terms.

    Dorothy – The Alaskan Bookie – Squeak
    Blog ~ http://alaskanbookie.blogspot.com/
    Twitter ~ http://twitter.com/AkChocoholic

  3. Those performance markers are really helpful!

  4. Another excellent post on audiobook reviewing, and as a narrator, it is just making my day to see so many reviewers taking on today’s discussion! I love the detail you’ve got going in this post, and thank you for linking also to Paul Ruben’s post on performance markers, and then summarizing them! That summary is just perfect!

  5. Good job!
    I really like your comment “bashing an author/genre/narrator doesn’t really help me” as this is something I see far too often in reading reviews. Many narrators pay attention to blogger reviews and are looking for constructive feedback. They want to know what worked and what didn’t work for the particular blogger/ reviewer. Civility in reviewing is always a good thing.

  6. Excellent post! I especially appreciate your summary of the performance markers. You can be sure I will refer back to this post for future reference. Thank you.

  7. This article is from AudioFile Magazine that offers “words” to describe how narration sounds.
    http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/features/fea1007.html#_lex008

  8. Wow. Seriously excellent post. You’ve given me allot to consider.

  9. I’m not familiar with Scrivener but love the idea of it! I have about 250 book posts on my blog and hell if I can find what I’m looking for. ;)

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