Photo of narrator in sound booth

 Recording Audiobooks At Ooligan Press

The Audiobooks Department is heading into its second year at Ooligan Press, as audiobook production was previously overseen by the Digital Department. Audiobooks is now organized as a separate department because of the time intensive scripting, recording, and editing process required to produce audiobooks. I, Paige Zimmerman, am currently the second-ever Audiobooks Coordinator at Ooligan Press! My goal for this year-long role is to prepare as many of our books as possible for recording, and then set the department up for the future process of regularly recording audiobook versions of our books, which will improve the accessibility and availability of our books to readers.

Our ultimate goal as a department and press is to publish all versions of a book (print, ebook, and audiobook) on the same publication date. This has not been so easily accomplished in the history of the program, as we do not yet have our own recording space, and collaborations with recording studios can be expensive, especially for our student-run press.

This year, Ooligan Press is taking on its first attempt to record an audiobook without hiring the services of a professional recording studio and producer. We are starting with Faultland by Suzy Vitello: a compelling family drama set amidst a natural disaster in Portland, Oregon.

Last fall, the script for the audiobook was generated by students by taking the final manuscript and separating out different character voices from the narrator and tagging them with specific colors to signify a voice change to the narrator.

During the spring term, Ooligan students auditioned to narrate the manuscript. Then, similarly to other decisions made by our democratic press, students voted to choose the narrator of Faultland, and Jillian Bowen was chosen to narrate.

We are working with KPSU, Portland State University’s campus radio station, to record Faultland. The manager of KPSU, Ned Tillbrook, and the technical director, Carly, have assisted us with setting up the equipment we use for each session and finding the right spaces to work within the environment of the KPSU studio and offices. We are using Adobe Audition to record audio because Ooligan students already use the Adobe Creative Suite to create social media posts, book cover designs, interior book layouts, and other marketing and production documents.

Rather than use the same sound booth as the radio DJs, which only allows for one sound board operator at a time, we are utilizing a larger soundproofed room which features multiple microphones which have been used previously for podcasts and radio talk shows. While our narrator sits in the sound booth and reads through the audiobook script, I take the role of director and read along with the script on the other side of a window into the booth and provide clarity on pronunciation and line delivery as needed. Because the booth is soundproofed, the narrator and I use microphones and headphones connected to the same audio interface so we can hear each other. This audio interface is also plugged into my computer to record the audio.

Finally, once the process of recording the audiobook is complete, I will turn my attention to editing the recording to remove any extraneous sounds and errors in the narration. Once the audio is fully edited, the audiobook will be uploaded to distribution websites and will be available for purchase.

a person holding a notated script and sitting at a table.

How to do Audiobook Scripting Part Two: Formatting and Special Considerations

Photo credit to Ron Lach

Ever wonder what narrators do to avoid making mistakes while recording audiobooks? One of the answers is that they have scripts!

If you’re just starting to learn about the audiobook recording process, or already have some experience in the process, this suggested step may come as a surprise to you; but this step isn’t too widely talked about outside of the industry. This is part two of a series on audiobook scripting. In the previous post, I went over why you should make a script for audiobooks and how to do quality assurance for it. In this part, I’ll address how you can format the script and some special considerations for it.

Formatting

There are tons of ways to format your script, and unfortunately there is no set standard because every book and narrator are different. You can borrow a lot of principles of formatting from genres such as screenwriting that you see for film, but understand that it is not a straight cross-over. There are a couple of reasons why:

Different way to annotate: Some narrators may want their characters’ changes noted by color, some by underlining, some by bolding. (Though I would avoid italics as they are generally used in the text itself to indicate interior thoughts.)

Dialogue tags: This is probably the number one reason why you can’t convert a book straight into an audiobook script using basic screenwriting formatting. Unlike a traditional script, where the speaker is naturally indicated by the formatting, audiobook narrators have to read dialogue tags to match the book itself.

  • For example, the narrator would have to read this full sentence, “‘He said, “I hate eggs. They smell disgusting to me.”‘” And the narrator would most likely have used two voices for that, the narrator and the voice of the character, we’ll call him Walter for this example.
  • In a typical script, the sentence would have read, “Walter: I hate eggs. They smell disgusting to me.”

On a related note, the point of view of the book can drastically change the formatting of a script. Depending if it is first, second, third person, or even with narrative frames like the unreliable narrator, it can drastically change the look of your script, how dialogue tags are handled, and how you would want to annotate it.

Depending on the scenes in the book you may see that you end up unintentionally revealing surprises earlier than you would in the book in its traditional format.

As an example, in Lord of the Rings, narrated by Andy Serkis, when the characters Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn come across who they think is Saruman. If the listener is paying attention, they realize it is Gandalf (spoiler alert: who everyone thought was dead) due to Serkis’ acting. This revelation happens several lines before it is actually revealed in the book.

Special Considerations

Depending on what the book is about, and what elements there are to telling the story, there may be some other odd things to format in the script:

  • Texting/email bubbles
  • Lots of internal dialogue, hearing voices, or telepathic conversations.
  • Sound effects and songs (which you may not get the rights to).
  • Signs, pictures or visuals

I know that may be a lot to take in and keep in mind when making an audiobook script, but just remember, take it one chapter at a time. Not all of these special cases or logistics may apply to you and your audiobook. You’re also not in this alone. Have a conversation with the author and narrator, see what they think and what preferences they may have. It may save you a lot of work in the end!

a person holding a notated script and sitting at a table

Audiobook Scripting Part One: Why You Should Do It

Photo credit: Ron Lach

Ever wonder what narrators do to avoid making mistakes while recording audiobooks? One of the answers is that they have scripts!

If you’re just starting to learn about the audiobook recording process, or already have some experience with the process, this suggested step may come as a surprise to you, but this step isn’t too widely talked about outside of the industry. Here we will go over why you should make an audiobook script and some of the logistics of it, including why you should make a script, the importance of quality assurance, how to format a script, and some special considerations. This will be part one of a two part series explaining this subject. In this part I’ll address why you should make a script and the importance of quality assurance.

Why should you make a script for an audiobook?

If you’ve ever edited audio before, you know that mistakes and retakes are an inevitable part of the process. But have you ever wanted to do less of those? Of course you do! That is when scripts can help.

You may be wondering why the narrator can’t just read the book out loud when recording. And that’s a fair point. Some narrators might even have that as their preference. But, the advantages to making a script are as follows:

  • It’s easier to read. The spacing between words and lines of dialogue are easier to read than in a traditional book, and therefore easier on the eyes, which means fewer mistakes.
  • The extra space also allows the narrator to use the script to study their part(s) however they see fit. They can color code, underline, highlight, or annotate the text however they like without it becoming unnecessarily overcrowded. And the less overcrowded the script is, again the easier it is on the eyes.
  • If some of the characters have accents, or use difficult words, you can insert pronunciation notes into the script versus having to make a separate document.
  • Words like “in this book” can easily be changed to “in this audiobook.” If your book includes a lot of pictures, you can insert phrases like, “please refer to Appendix A, figure 1 for the diagram.” This will help in the overall navigation of your audiobook.

This all being said, if your narrator prefers to have no script and just to read from the book, then go with what they prefer. After all, they’re the ones that will have to stare at it for hours on end to study the material and then record.

If your narrator would like to have a script, here are some things to keep in mind. Quality Assurance, Formating, and some Special Considerations.

Quality Assurance

In terms of where this process happens during the book production, you will have to wait until the copyedit is done to start on the script. Optionally, you may want to do a quality check to make sure the script matches up with the book. But even if you still do this step and you have recorded the book, you will have to make sure you do one more quality assurance check to make sure your audio matches the book. As always, when one messes with a completed text, it is always possible to introduce errors in each new format it takes.

If you do go through the trouble of making a script, your narrator should be expected to study and use it. If they don’t study it, it defeats the purpose of making one to reduce possible errors when recording.

In part two, I’ll go over how to Format a script and some Special Considerations for scripts.

secret door bookcase

Literary Easter Eggs

Artists, programmers, and other professionals have been known to hide signatures in their work. In computer programming, it’s the “easter egg” you find in many video games; for example, there’s a reference to Star Wars in Skyrim if you know where to look. Authors and publishing professionals are not immune to this urge to leave their mark on their work.

Lewis Carroll left the name of the person who inspired the character of Alice in Alice in Wonderland hiding in a poem within the novel. But it’s not obvious to everyone who reads the book—it’s a little hidden secret left to be found because there is simply a joy in finding these little references.

Every Stephen King novel references at least one other Stephen King novel. For fans of the author, it can be a fun detail to spot in each novel, especially since they are stand-alone novels that can be read in any order.

Another literary easter egg highlights a friendship between authors. In her book, King’s Cage, Victoria Aveyard names two guards “Caz” and “Brekker.” To those who aren’t a part of the readership overlap between Victoria Aveyard and fellow fiction writer Leigh Bardugo, these names likely seem like odd fantasy names. Within the overlap of their readership, it’s an obvious easter egg pointing to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows character, Kaz Brekker. There was excitement and questioning from fans over this easter egg, but it was confirmed by the author on her Tumblr.

I experienced my first dose of literary easter egg excitement recently, which is what got me thinking about the idea in the first place. I spent my spring break reading Christopher Paolini’s To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Having read the Inheritance Cycle novels that he had written at the start of his career, I spotted something that really connected with me: a reference to a character from his earlier novels, Angela.

As a reader, I see literary easter eggs as a little signal to the fans. It’s like an inside joke. A way to let their readers know, “Hey, I see you.” Or at least that’s the feeling I get when I spot them.

As the Digital Manager, I primarily work in computer coding, though I can say that it’s easy for me to hide little jokes in the code for other programmers to find. There’s a joy in creating easter eggs in our work, just as there is joy in finding them. To all my fellow authors and publishing professionals, have fun with the little marks that you once worked on that piece, even if it’s only for you. There’s a real joy in it.

Digital Skills Empower Publishing Professionals

In a digital skills class for Portland State University’s Book Publishing Program, the graduate students create websites from scratch, host and manage a domain, and practice collaboration, courage, and innovation as we make choices about the content and style of our personal and professional websites.

As a preteen, I played games on MS-DOS, saved hundreds of megabytes of angsty poetry to 3.5-inch floppy disks, and Mavis Beacon taught me to type. I dialed-up to access the web in order to download music from Napster. I liked computers and was good at using them. Unfortunately, computers were largely regarded as a hobby for guys who liked to tinker around in musty basements. In high school, I was never advised to take courses in computer sciences; all things tech were marketed toward men and boys.

Computer science has evolved into a critical skill in the twenty-first century, and educators have known for decades that digital literacy empowers learners. As a former elementary school teacher, I provided students with digital tools and took the time to teach basic coding skills. I watched them create interactive stories and video games with nothing but a text editor and the internet. Students’ commitment to their projects had everything to do with the satisfaction and enjoyment they got from their work. That same empowerment can, and should, be realized by publishing professionals.

Historically, publishers have created printed matter like books and newspapers, but today what and how we publish is largely digital. Karen Christiansen, founder of Berkshire Publishing, wrote that “anyone employed in publishing today should understand how code is written, and even know a computer language or two.” She talks about meeting “experienced professionals who feel like dinosaurs because up till now they got by doing things the way they always had.” Honing digital skills will increase the value you add to the projects you work on as a publishing professional.

While we are busy checking the weather, looking for love, and consuming book reviews, algorithms are coded to keep us on these platforms as much as possible, resulting in what Professor Shoshana Zuboff coined to be “surveillance capitalism,” and the exploitative “profiling and targeted advertising” detailed in a report put out by Norwegian organization, Forbrukarrådet. Zuboff says that “unequal knowledge about us produces unequal power over us.” In acquiring a basic understanding of the language lurking behind the scenes of the web, we can take back some of the control. One of the most responsible and accessible ways to push back against this blatant consumer manipulation is to intentionally work toward understanding the language of the computer scientists who create it.

After sharing “The Scary Power of the Companies That Finally Shut Trump Up,” Dr. Kathi Berens opened up our digital skills class for a discussion about the complexities surrounding digital media platforms, synthesizing the article with her belief that “basic code literacy is an extraordinarily empowering skill set that…gives users a level self-control and freedom that people don’t have if they rely entirely on third parties to represent their public speech.” Her point parallels one made by Michelle Goldberg in the aforementioned article: while she agrees with the decisions made that ultimately de-platformed the former President, she also states that people “don’t have a constitutional right to have their speech disseminated by private companies,” and that it is “dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not.” We are not political leaders, but publishers are global leaders; how, and on whose terms, we use our voices matters.

I set a goal to reach proficiency in HTML and CSS within twelve weeks using codeacademy.com for three hours a week. Comment on this post with your digital literacy goals, and perhaps we can inspire each other to hold ourselves accountable!

I hope you will set a goal, though I acknowledge the many ways reality can interfere with this quixotic hope. There is a gap between the haves and have-nots regarding digital inequities. The Brookings Institution reported last July that “tens of millions of American households cannot access the digital economy due to physical gaps in local broadband networks, unaffordable subscription plans and personal devices, and a lack of digital skills.” COVID-19 has exacerbated this divide. The absence of reliable technology significantly impedes access to the empowerment of digital literacy, leaving those who have-not—particularly those groups that are already marginalized—unjustly vulnerable.

Single Narrator or Full-Cast in Audiobooks—Which Is Better?

You’re probably reading this article because you either have a book that you’d like to make into an audiobook and are wondering how to go about it, or you’re just curious about the factors that go into deciding what an audiobook will sound like.

There are two logistical factors that should be considered first: budget and the experience of the editor.

Large full-cast productions can become pretty pricey, not just because you have to pay the individual actors, but also because you will spend a lot of time casting and splicing together audio files during the editing process. Of course, all of this depends on the overall logistics of your project. You may also have to factor in that your editor may not have the skill level to complete all of these tasks at the level they need to be completed. If they are up for the challenge of learning this process, they will most likely need extra time to complete the tasks, so that needs to be taken into consideration as well. I recommend taking a hard look at these factors before even considering if you want to do a full-cast or a single narrator for your audiobook. You can check out this article for some more guidance on the logistics for casting audiobooks.

If you’re still contemplating a full-cast versus a single narrator audiobook, next you should consider your genre, target audience, and personal taste.

In terms of genre, most people prefer to have nonfiction books read by a single narrator, not only because the genre tends to use the third person, which lends itself naturally to this type of narration, but also because it provides a similar feeling to being read to or attending a lecture. This is an experience that the reader is usually familiar with.

Fiction, however, is a little more tricky. This genre is where factors such as target audience, personal taste, and narrative style comes into play.

There is a lot of debate among readers, producers, and reviewers on the preference of a single narrator versus a full-cast. The points of contention between the two mostly revolve around if characters of a different gender than that of the narrator are voiced well/badly, and if a full-cast audiobook sounds too much like the audiotrack of a film instead of a book.

To clarify these two points, those who are fans of a single narrator are usually fans because it replicates the feeling of being read to like we were as children. It also provides a more traditional book experience—it feels like an extension of the reader’s own inner voice is narrating the book. Those who are opposed to a single narrator usually worry about things like having a male narrator who isn’t able to do feminine voices convincingly or vice versa.

Fans of full-cast audiobooks like the added immersion and suspense of having multiple voices, which makes the experience seem more life-like. This can also add some clarity to the story for books that use multiple perspectives, timelines, or unknown narrators. Those who oppose full-casts usually feel like the line between a book and a performance are blurred too much for comfort; they feel like the audiobook sounds more like a play or movie instead of a book.

It’s understandable if you still feel confused on what to do about casting for an audiobook. With that being said, there are some trends in publishing that might help steer your decision: fantasy and science fiction titles seem to gravitate towards full-cast audiobooks, as do younger readers such as millennials. Older readers, however, seem to prefer a single narrator. Whether the story is told in the first person versus third person also makes a considerable difference, with the former usually done by a single narrator and the latter being either/or.

All in all, the decision to do a single narrator versus a full-cast audiobook is dependent on the project and the company, as well as to the taste of the author. If you are still unsure of what to do, you could always go for the happy medium of having a male actor for male parts and a female one for female characters.

How Goodreads Helped Me Find My Memories

An unsettling thing happened when I went home to Colorado for the holidays last year. While my family sat around a fire in Summit County, trading stories and recent news, my sister asked me about a time she and I had shared that she remembered vividly.

“You don’t remember that?” She stared at me emphatically, as if asking the question would light the match to the memory that had clearly grown cold and damp in my mind. No such luck. In fact, I couldn’t recall even a portion of the memory she described to me—a memory that wasn’t from too long ago, but distant enough that it’s not tangible anymore, something vaguely familiar.

I don’t know when I started noticing gaps in my memories of things, but it became more pervasive and embarrassing in my early 20s. Large swaths of time suddenly go dark, dissolve from within me. It starts small, with a drive home from a late shift that I couldn’t really describe, to a song that sounded like something I knew but couldn’t pinpoint who it was. People waving and saying, “How are you?” who I didn’t recognize or couldn’t name. Then more of those questions:

“Remember that time?” “What year was that?” “When did you get that tattoo?” Significant portions of my own timeline were missing. I became skilled in leading conversations away from my frustration and increasing anxiety over these lost portions of time. I started leaving myself notes around the apartment.

“Don’t dry the tan, wool shirt!” “Remember your sister’s birthday is on the 13th, CALL HER.” “There is spinach in the fridge, if you don’t eat it, it will go bad and you will feel like a failure again.” While some of these were reminders about small tasks, I started to wonder if this was how my life was just going to be now. The problem for me wasn’t just why I couldn’t remember, but how I could get these memories back.

My partner and I were talking about books we had read in 2019; books that blew us away and books that we wished we had put down sooner. I knew I had read stellar books last year, but I couldn’t pinpoint those titles. I reached for my phone, as many of us who need to remember something right away do, and opened my Goodreads app. My “2019” shelf sat, neatly and chronologically ordered for me to peruse. Month by month, the books I had slogged through and the books that shone brilliantly awakened in my memory, but something else happened too. I began to remember other parts of my life in those months, what I was doing while reading The Song of Achilles, or where I had been sipping a particularly delicious sticky rice tea in Sellwood while devouring La Fronterra in June. One by one, my memories filtered back in, and as I looked further and further through my Goodreads archive, pieces of 2017 and 2016 came together before me.

It turns out, it’s not just me; our memories are getting worse and that’s largely due to the
Google effect, in which the ability to look up or search is so readily available to us that our minds have “decreased dependency on internal memory storage.” I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve been thinking of a word for something or a fact about so-and-so and just Googled it. While I was briefly euphoric at the discovery that Goodreads had carefully catalogued the past three years of my life for me with dates and metadata to support the timeline, I wonder about the accuracy of archival memory. It’s unsettling to consider that memory may become something that lives on a server farm somewhere, susceptible to be infiltrated, altered, or vanished. But there is a rather simple solution: write more. Research has shown that writing things down is essential to memory retention. Perhaps the digital cataloguing of the books I’ve read in some way has captured those memories within the pages of those books. In rereading the titles, I am able to relive those parts of my life with more clarity, and to engage again with my life through the “written” lists of how my past was spent.

The Next Page: How Kickstarter Bridged the Gap of Publishing Conferences

In publishing, the ability to network can make or break careers. Whether you’re an author looking for representation, an agent looking for the next big talent, or an editor extending their reach into different genres or styles, networking never really becomes an optional part of the job. Though digital solutions for networking exist in the form of social media or dedicated (often private) chat channels, they are not quite enough to eliminate the barrier for aspiring or incoming publishing professionals who are looking to join the workforce.

Most publishing professionals find themselves at industry conferences at least once a year, given the chance. Whether they’re keeping up on trends or looking for a new position, the ability to attend a conference can make or break someone’s career in publishing. Tautologically, they are also very difficult to attend in person without already having a job with a press- or a publishing-adjacent company that can facilitate attendance. Travel costs, lodging, and tickets themselves are extremely cost prohibitive to some people, and that’s provided the event isn’t by invitation- or industry-only. So how, then, are incoming professionals meant to find the connections and information that would grant them access to those events, or to the industry as a whole?

That’s a question that’s too large to have a single answer, but on May 11, 2019, Margot Atwell, Director of Publishing at the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, sought to find a solution with The Next Page, a publishing conference that had no precedent. Working under the belief that, despite huge gains in the past decade, publishing “is not representative of the world we live in,” Kickstarter partnered with Fireside Fiction to try and change it with their first ever two-part publishing conference.

The one-day event, held at Kickstarter HQ in New York City, hosted some of the brightest and most respected voices in publishing today, including Portland publisher Joe Biel and former Ooligan editorial professor Dongwon Song, to discuss the future of publishing in an ever-changing landscape. The panels, in almost every sense, were very close to other publishing conferences, each about an hour long and spanning an array of four different topics: finances, representation, technology, and community building. The panelists and moderators were vetted professionals not only in book publishing, but in magazine, comic book, and web spaces, providing a colorful and varied view into today’s current publishing climate, and a not-inconsiderable audience who attended the conference at the Kickstarter HQ in Brooklyn.

From left to right: Margot Atwell, Dongwon Song, Amy Stolls, Joe Biel, and Ruby sit on panel 'Paying the Way: Economic Sustainability in Publishing.'

From left to right: Margot Atwell, Dongwon Song, Amy Stolls, Joe Biel, and Ruby sit on the panel ‘Paying the Way: Economic Sustainability in Publishing.’

But what made The Next Page truly unique was its choice to livestream each panel for free to the public, requiring only an RSVP via the Kickstarter website. After following the livestream link to the Kickstarter YouTube channel, digital attendees could watch and participate in conversations through a live chat (which I was honored to be asked to moderate), send in their questions via chat or email for the panelists, and have the conference experience in pajamas in bed or sitting at their kitchen table. It didn’t require taking time off work for travel, finding lodging in an overwhelmingly crowded city, or handling all the little extra expenses that come with most out-of-town conferences.

Moreover, the addition of a digital format allowed The Next Page to truly address accessibility and the limitations barring so many people from joining the industry. Not only did they live-tweet parts of the panels, which is standard, they archived the videos for later viewing for those who could not attend, and, after reviewing concerns from participants, moderators, and attendees, ensured every video provided closed captioning for the hearing impaired. At a time when accessibility for panelists with mobility aids is often overlooked until it’s too late, Kickstarter didn’t shy away from the extra time or money it cost to ensure they were practicing what they preached.

So the real question is, why don’t more conferences do this? Whether for established professionals or those trying to find their footing, the concept of using technology to bridge gaps and lower accessibility barriers for audiences isn’t new for publishing. Having been a part of this conference, I can only think about how much stress I avoided not having to rush around a convention center, how much money I saved by participating from my home office, and how many connections I made through the live chat with participants despite being hundreds of miles away, including one that eventually landed me a gig. While I wouldn’t suggest industry-only conferences throw their doors open as free events, tools certainly exist to ensure the target audience is in attendance while also encouraging greater engagement. Digital solutions shouldn’t and do not have to be exclusive to those with the extreme financial flexibility that seems to be a prerequisite for a successful publishing career, and I hope that other conferences were watching closely.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, we saw an abrupt shift as the world moved their classrooms, conferences, and workdays all into a digital space. It’s unclear if Kickstarter will be hosting The Next Page sometime in 2020, but one thing is certain: this conference filled a gap where it was needed, a genuine way to uphold publishing by sharing information, knowledge, and community in an industry we feel strongly about, made all the better by the earnestness with which it attempted to level the playing field. And there’s no question at all that Kickstarter walked so the rest of us—publishers, editors, and writers alike—could run.

The Next Page 2019 archives can be found via their website, and I have it on good authority that it’s more enjoyable if you stay in your pajamas.

Listen and Learn: How Audiobooks Helped Me Get through College

I’ve known for a long time that I learn best through listening and through verbally discussing a topic. My favorite classes have always been the ones where the professor was a great orator, because it meant I could just sit back and absorb what they were lecturing on. All I ever needed to do was jot down some key words or phrases in my notes, and when I studied later the entire lesson would come flooding back. People thought I was crazy, but it worked for me.

Unfortunately, while entering college meant a lot more lectures, it also meant a lot more assigned readings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fantastic reader—I wouldn’t want to go into publishing if I wasn’t—but only when it comes to fiction. Nonfiction, on the other hand, is a completely different story.

When I try to read any nonfiction, even if it has a narrative component, my brain decides that it can’t focus on the words and I get distracted every other sentence. So trying to read so much nonfiction for my classes—sometimes hundreds of pages a week—was just agony to get through, and on top of it all, I could never remember what I had read.

In my sophomore year of college, I noticed my dad had the audiobook version of a book I had to read for class. Instead of renting it from the campus bookstore, I just logged in to his account and downloaded it to my phone. I plugged in my headphones, set the reading speed to 1.5, and sat back to start listening. An hour or so later, I was completely done with the readings and had even gotten a jump start on the next week’s assignment. I could even remember and understand what I was supposed to have learned. It was like something just clicked into place in my brain.

Listening instead of reading allowed me to experience nonfiction in a way I never had before. When I’m reading, I have no concept of the author’s voice, but when I’m listening, it’s as if the author is casually explaining everything to me in a conversation. I started by just listening to assigned books for classes, but I quickly began consuming books about any subject I found remotely interesting. From the fascinating technical explanations in How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg to the deep insights about life found in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, I listened to it all.

Interestingly enough, it seems like I’m not the only one who’s recently discovered audiobooks. According to the Association of American Publishers, revenue for the nonfiction category has grown by 28.4% since 2013, and “nearly 150 million more adult nonfiction books were sold in 2017 than in 2013.” When possible, every nonfiction narrative should be released as an audiobook. The numbers don’t lie: there’s a whole legion of people out there who are just like me—about 30 percent of the population, in fact—and I guarantee they would love to listen to these books if they were made available in audiobook form.

The Changing Face of Marketing in Academic Publishing

When most of us think of “bestsellers,” we tend to think of celebrity memoirs and genre fiction titles by big-name authors. What we don’t normally think of are scholarly works published by university presses. To the average reader (and perhaps even the average trade publisher), the world of academic publishing may appear to be a closed-off realm in which scholars exchange dusty monographs with their colleagues, showing little interest in attracting readers outside their field. After all, it’s hard to imagine a riveting book trailer promoting a specialized work like Nan Z. Da’s Intransitive Encounter: Sino-U.S. Literatures and the Limits of Exchange (a recent title from Columbia University Press).

But the reality is that university presses make important contributions to society by disseminating knowledge and upholding high standards for factual accuracy; and in order to remain economically viable, they have to market their books just like everyone else. In the face of modern challenges like widespread digitization and shifting priorities in higher education, university presses are getting creative in their efforts to promote their books and connect with readers.

In order to understand the evolving marketing strategies of university presses, it’s important to know what kinds of books these presses publish, and where these books have historically been sold. In addition to academic journals, university presses publish monographs (highly specialized works directed at a narrow academic audience) as well as trade books (titles that are expected to attract a wider readership) and midlist titles (books that fall somewhere in between). Historically, university presses relied on university libraries to buy and stock their journals and monographs. However, this has changed in recent years as commercially published journals have begun to claim a much larger share of library budgets, which are already shrinking due to cuts to higher education funding. On top of this, university administrators facing budget constraints have grown increasingly skeptical of the importance of university presses (which are usually subsidized by their affiliated universities), and some of these presses have even been shut down. Finally, the onset of the digital era has changed the game, forcing university presses to rethink their well-established marketing and sales models.

So how are university presses adapting to all these recent challenges? One of their key strategies has been to embrace the social media revolution. A quick perusal of the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for Duke University Press, University of Chicago Press, and Columbia University Press (just to name a few) shows how these century-old academic presses are keeping up with the times by engaging with readers on digital platforms. Social media allows university presses to promote their books and journals outside of academia, thereby expanding their brands and reaching a wider audience of non-scholarly readers who are interested in their midlist and trade titles. Rather than relying on libraries as they did in the past, university presses are focusing on marketing directly to a diverse readership.

Another platform that university presses have begun to utilize in recent years is YouTube. Oxford University Press, in particular, has been very invested in marketing through videos: according to an article in Publishers Weekly, as of 2014, the press’s marketing department had more than forty staff members working on video production and related projects. That investment seems to be paying off: as of January 2019, OUP’s YouTube channel, The Oxford Academic, had over 48,000 subscribers. This may come as a surprise to some, since the channel’s content (which includes a variety of interviews with authors and academic experts) focuses on the press’s more scholarly works. Similarly, the Harvard University Press YouTube channel features a video of a talk by mathematician Paul Lockhart (author of the HUP title Measurement) that has garnered over 47,000 views.

These examples show that despite recent changes and setbacks, university presses can still appeal to large audiences. People are still hungry for the thoughtful, high-quality content that university presses have to offer—it’s just a matter of finding a modern platform that will help presses engage with those readers.