29 August 2019

How audiobooks make you a better author

by Hannah Mary McKinnon From Our Students, Writing Tips

Hannah Mary McKinnon took our six-month online novel-writing course back in 2014, she is now the author of three novels. Here she shares the benefits of listening to audiobooks and how they’ve helped her become a better author.  

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when I was a kid and cassette tapes were still a thing, I’d spend hours listening to Kasperlitheater, classic Swiss-German children’s stories. For years after I forgot about audiobooks, but fast-forward a few decades, add in some slick and convenient technology, and I’ve rediscovered my love of listening to others telling tales. Audiobooks have undeniably made me a better writer, too. Here’s how:

Who said that?

Authors don’t give their entire cast the same nationality, accent or speech peculiarities, yet listening to a narrator perform all the different parts makes this more obvious by far. Not only is it highly entertaining in a jaw-dropping “how on earth do they manage that” way, it also generates ideas for current or future characters, making them a more diverse, interesting and engaging bunch for the reader—or, case in point, the listener.

It’s not what you say but how you say it

I’m sure we can all agree reading broadens your mind and vocabulary, but how to be sure you’re using—or pronouncing—those unfamiliar words properly? Listening can make all the difference. Embarrassingly, when I heard Alex Wyndham’s wonderful narration of my third novel Her Secret Son, I realised I’d mispronounced wizened as “wise-end” instead of “whizz-end” for…years. Not so wise, after all. At least I’d used it correctly, but I wish somebody had pointed out my faux-pas (and yes, I’m sure about that one).

Rhythm & blues

I read my work out loud during the editing stages, and always while going over the last two or three passes. It helps eliminate repetition, improves flow and dialogue, and is a great quality-check for the novel’s overall cadence. However, it doesn’t eliminate every blind spot. While listening to my second novel, The Neighbors, I noticed how often my characters clear their throats (ahem, too often), something I’m acutely aware of now, and therefore rarely use.


We often pick movies because of our favourite actors, so why not apply the same principle to audiobook narrators? Find one you love, and chances are you’ll follow them into their next adventure. You’ll discover authors who are not only new to you, but who perhaps write in genres you’ve not yet explored. I found Daniel Cole’s novel Ragdoll, and the sequel, Hangman, this way (both expertly narrated by Alex). I know, I know—they’re bestsellers, and I must’ve been living under a rock. But all of this is food for the writer’s brain, imagination and creativity.

Books, books, glorious books!

I believe reading is essential to being an author, but I sit for hours when working on my novels, and felt guilty about sitting even more when reading for pleasure. The solution? Audiobooks! I listen while driving, cooking, and at the gym. In fact, I work out more frequently and for longer because I want to find out what happens in the next chapters. I get through more books every year, something my quads are quietly celebrating, too.

To me, it’s no surprise audiobooks have enjoyed double-digit growth in recent years. Narrators are wildly talented actors who put in hours of performing—and that’s not counting the amount of preparation to perfect accents and develop characters in order to bring a story to life—or the production crew who make everything sound so smooth. As an author, I’m thrilled and honoured to hear a professional team’s take on my stories, and delighted to improve my writing because of it. But I’m equally as excited to feel like that little kid again when I pop on my headphones, listen to somebody else’s books, and let myself be transported to a land far, far away.

Listen to Hannah Mary McKinnon’s latest novel, Her Secret Son here.

If you’re currently writing a novel why not apply now to our upcoming 3-month online novel-writing course taught by Suzannah Dunn. Or, our 3-month novel-writing course in London led by Charlotte Mendelson.

We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey, enrol today: Starting to Write Your NovelWrite to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.

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