With the surge of audiobooks popularity and the dramatization of fiction and non-fiction recitations, do authors plan for their books to publish their work as audiobooks too?

Additionally, if an author knows his book will be made into an audiobook, how does this knowledge alter the writing process? Does it affect the dialogue, narration POV, character casting, and the general format of the book? For instance, Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel is a well-written story in an interview format conducted by the MC. I think this enabled the audiobook to feel a lot more like a radio show than a book.

Furthermore, do audiobooks imply more constraints on proofreaders, editors, and publishers?

  • J K Rowling has been accused of getting revenge on Stephen Fry for in her view patronising her, by working the extremely rare phrase "pocketed it" into several of her books because she discovered he struggles with that phrase in particular. (They've both denied that's why she kept using it.) That's about the only "planning for the audiobook" I've ever heard of.
    – J.G.
    Mar 30, 2019 at 12:34
  • I recommend this episode of Writing Excuses. The authors there talk about their experiences with audiobooks, and some of the parts of their stories that worked, or didn't, in them, and what they've done in response. Mar 30, 2019 at 16:26
  • @ArcanistLupus, are you referring to 15:06 in the podcast where Brandon Sanderson talking about maps in The Way of The Kings? The hosts start discussing planning for audiobooks from then on. Would you like to turn your comment into an answer and explain some of the techniques mentioned?
    – iamtowrite
    Mar 31, 2019 at 6:24

3 Answers 3


Audiobooks impose certain restrictions on your writing. Here are some things you need to watch out for:

  • Homographs or homophone jokes or dramatic misunderstandings. If words are pronounced differently, the joke does not translate to audio. On the other hand, If your character confuses a word for its homophone and you keep using the "wrong" spelling to reflect the character's confusion and mislead the reader, the ruse won't hold for long in the audio version.

  • Backwards names (hard) and anagrams (impossible).

  • Proper nouns which sound like common nouns.

  • Unpronounceable things (e.g. a number sequence to simulate a computer glitch, an inscription in a foreign language).

  • Acronyms which are pronounced letter by letter.

  • Scientific or fictional sci-fi terms. The listener can't look up a word s/he can't spell, and it's harder to connect a made-up term to real terms by ear.

  • Sound effects. Suppose your protagonist is locked in a dungeon. The narration conveys her train of thought, interrupted at random intervals by drops of water. Cliche but effective in children's fiction. Now suppose it's an audiobook and the narrator vocalizes [drɪp].

  • Direct speech and thoughts. Suppose your character says one thing but immediately thinks the opposite - how'd that work? If you have several voice actors for characters and one for narration, who does the trains of thought?

  • Other formatting. Extremely short paragraphs as a means of expression. ALL CAPS, fonts, columns, tables, codes, forms, artistically placed page breaks, colored pages, blank pages, footnotes, references, typography art.

  • Pictures, obviously.

  • Ambiguous emphasis (artistic, or as a plot point). It's not ambiguous if you say it out loud.

  • The ability to easily go back and look up things is pretty much required for solving a mystery to be an achievement for both the audience and the protagonists, and losing it kills most if not all "fair" mysteries.

Should you anticipate an audiobook narration? This is up to you. Personally, I am thoroughly convinced an artwork that aspires to greatness should not tolerate a direct transfer to another medium by definition. Alan Moore's comics feature fake ad pages for in-universe products. Julian May's Pliocene Exile series uses wonderfully typeset vignettes to portray psychic powers. Peter Darvill-Evans' Spectral Stalkers uses page-turning as a special effect to convey its main idea.

When I write, I want Linux usernames to be in lowercase. I want cursive and vignettes and cthulhutext and line breaks. I want page numbers to suddenly start counting down to the pivotal event. I want section signs and cartouches and places of Sajdah. CMOS be damned, I want to end sentences with a dash. When I write, I want to make the best book. Adapting all the above to audio, or Braille, or Netflix series, or interpretive dance is simply not my job.


I don't think an author has to plan for an audio book, I would plan on getting published in print first. Trying to write a story that can be a book, a movie, an audio-book, a comic, and a Television series is adding enough handcuffs and shackles that Houdini couldn't finish a draft.

That said, if you think an audio-book is your best bet, I suggest you use the screenplay writer's trick: Read it aloud. Screenplay writers read all the dialogue aloud, and make sure it is "sayable". Some written sentences that glide by just fine, cause stumbles in speech just due to the physical movements (and necessity to breathe) involved.

It doesn't matter in reading, readers aren't reading aloud, even if they hear the words in their head, they don't encounter the physicality obstacles of actually saying it aloud.

But in an audio-book, you'd like the whole book to be "sayable," both dialogue and exposition. So read it aloud and edit until you find it all feels like natural speech.

Note that doesn't mean you should exclude words and phrases you would not SAY in normal speech. Use them. Most novels are using sentences and words we very seldom use in normal conversation. The point is NOT to make the whole book sound like a conversation you might really have, the point is just to avoid sentence lengths that leave you gasping for oxygen, and to avoid tongue twisters and words that are likely to be mispronounced, or unintentional homonyms (sound-alikes) that could be misinterpreted.

But I would also presume an audio-book will be voiced by a professional trained voice (actor or speaker) and they know the tricks to make things sound clear. (You can practice this if you want with voice recognition on your phone, and seeing which words it confuses for other words -- You are not saying those words clearly).


It is common advice to read your writing aloud when you revise. The purpose of this is to check whether your language flows naturally and has a pleasant rhythm. This helps, too, when your book is turned into an audiobook, but basically all books are audiobooks because when people read they always subvocalize. That is, even when readers read silently, their speech organs move ever so slightly as if they were imagining speaking the text, and in their minds they "hear" the sound of what they are thus subvocalizing.

Because they subvocalize, readers stumble in their reading when text cannot be easily spoken, so you should always write as if for an audiobook.

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