As authors we are always on the lookout for ways to improve our craft—to help our writing rise above the slush pile and connect with readers. And once it’s in readers’ hands, we want our work to ring true, to stick with people long after they put it down. We read articles, watch webinars, scour Twitter threads for advice, and even lay down ample funds for conferences and coaching. But what if I told you one of the best tools at your disposal is inexpensive, easy, and right at your fingertips? Enter, audiobooks!
1. Audiobooks help you read more
Maybe you listen to audiobooks already, and if this is true, it’s undoubtedly improving your writing. Reading is essential for authors not only to learn good writing, but also to stay up to date with publishing trends. If you want to sell your work, it helps to be aware of what’s selling. It also helps find accurate recent comp titles when pitching your books.
Audiobooks are a great way to get more books into your brain. A UC-Berkeley Gallant Lab study found your brain creates meaning from words in the same way whether those words are read or listened to. Sure, keep reading print or ebooks too, but if you have an audiobook on while you drive or do the dishes, you’ll likely end up consuming more words, and I am a firm believer that authors should read deeply and broadly. Fall asleep reading nonfiction in print? Put it on in the car. Prose too dense to get through on the page? Try listening!
The more books you read, the better your understanding of what makes good writing will be, so pop on your headphones and get reading!
2. They support authors and publishing
Audiobook sales increased in 2020 and are becoming increasingly popular. As the publishing industry continues to shift and evolve, it will likely continue to rely on audiobooks to thrive. Libraries, too, deal increasingly in digital content, and audiobooks are a big part of this. When you buy audiobooks or borrow or request them for your library, you are supporting the industry as a whole, which makes it a more viable space for your own work. A rising tide lifts all boats, and writers’ support for one another is essential.
3. Audiobooks can help you find your voice
In addition to letting you read more, audiobooks are one of the best tools for finding your own authorial voice, as they let you listen to literal voices. When you read text, you likely still hear your own voice saying the words in your head. Hearing audiobook narrators helps distinguish between different authors’ work.
Neil Gaiman, in his Masterclass, recommends the following exercise for finding your authorial voice: Attempt to write a paragraph about the same event in the voice of several different authors. Then, write it in your own voice.
To add an audiobook twist to this exercise, listen to a clip of an audiobook from each author before you attempt to imitate their voice. After you write it, see if you can imagine it in that narrator’s voice. Make any adjustments you need.
When it’s time to write in your own voice, do so and then read it aloud. Does it sound right in your own, literal voice? How does it differ from the narrations you listened to and imitated?
4. They can help you find your characters’ voices
Many audiobook narrators are excellent at using variations in their voice for different characters’ dialogue. Some use full casts or different narrators for different points of view. It can be easy to let your characters blur together, becoming indistinct from one another, but even minor characters should have unique voices and quirks.
As you listen to audiobooks, pay attention to the shifts in narrators or in a narrators’ voice. What shifts in the authors’ writing do these reflect?
5. Audiobooks can help you learn to write with rhythm
Finally, as an author, you don’t just want the meaning of your writing to be clear. You want it to sound good in readers’ brains or aloud. When you hear prose aloud, you hear the rhythm of the words and sentences and, thus, are more likely to listen for these in your own writing.
I was first introduced to this concept when I read Gary Lutz’s essay, “The Sentence is a Lonely Place,” but the how didn’t click until I thought about Lutz’s charge to “combin(e) the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence” while listening to an audiobook.
As you listen, pay attention to the way the sentences sound. Are they clipped and bouncy? Soft and rolling? Lutz describes words that “fizzed and popped and tinkled and bonged.” How do you want your sentences to sound? The actual sound of your work should reflect the feeling of the scenes you’re writing.
Try listening to an audiobook without paying attention to the story. I do this sometimes as I’m falling asleep, letting the words of a book whose story I’m not necessarily interested in absorbing wash over me. Can you hear the words as they flow? Do the sentences sound smooth or choppy? Does a rhythm begin to emerge? Can you hear the rhythm of your own writing? Are there words to add that make it better? Words to take out that break the flow?
Audiobooks, especially modern ones with professional narrators or full casts, are a fun, entertaining way to read. But more than that, they can be used as a tool to keep you up to date on the publishing world, support fellow writers, and take your craft to the next level.
Becca Spence Dobias lives in Southern California where she writes frantically as her children sleep. Her short stories have been featured in two Writing Bloc anthologies, Inlandia: a Literary Journey, and A Short Guide to Finding Your First Home in the United States. Her debut novel, On Home, will be out August 24, 2021 from Inkshares. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon or Bookshop.