How Listening to a Book and Reading a Book Differ

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Until I read Jules Horne’s guest post on Jane Friedman’s March 25, 2019 blog, ­­­­­ , I had not considered how a listener of an audio book approaches a book as opposed to how a reader of the printed word approaches a book.

Jules Horne teaches method writing. She has even written a book about writing books for the audio audience:  Writing for Audiobooks:  Audio-first for Flow and Impact. I haven’t read it but maybe I should. If you’re interested in finding out more about Ms. Horne and her books, her website is Most of her work appears to pertain more to nonfiction than to fiction writing, but her guest post on Jane Friedman’s website gave me some things to consider as I write fiction.

I’m fairly new to listening to audio books. It’s a matter of personal preference, and it stems from how I learn things. I’m a visual learner, as a rule. A few years ago, having to listen to a book being read was torture for me. I felt like someone was talking “at” me and they wouldn’t shut up. It got on my last nerve. This became an issue because my sister is my traveling companion. She loves audio books and I hated them. That’s not a good combination on a vacation.

Over the past six or eight months I’ve made an attitude adjustment. I’ve listened to several books and enjoyed the experience for the most part. I am hearing impaired, so it is helpful to me for there to be few erratic changes in volume. That goes for people talking to me, the decibel levels on the TV, and very much so if I’m listening to an audio book.

All that being said, that’s not what today’s blog post is about. It’s about something called attunement. The above-referenced blog post by Jules Horne brought two important things to my attention as I learn the fine points of writing:

(1)          If the hook of your story is in the first several words of your book, the audio book listener might miss it. It takes a few words for a book listener to attune their ears to the sound of the reader’s voice – the volume, the pitch, the accents, and the cadence. A writer doesn’t want the book listener to miss the hook; and

(2)          The same thing applies to the transition into the next scene and the next chapter. The listener, more than the printed word reader, needs a few words of transition to ease into a new scene or point-of-view.

A comparison Ms. Horne makes is that of someone verbally giving us the news. Words like, “meanwhile” or “in other news” alert the listener to a switching of gears, a change in the story. Someone listening to a novel needs similar cues that give their brains a moment to prepare to hear something new.  

The current opening line in the manuscript for the Southern historical novel I’m writing, The Doubloon, is

“Sarah McCorkle dropped her sewing basket at the sight of her husband lying face down between the stone hearth and his desk, sending thread, needles, and thimbles crashing and scattering on the wide planks of the pine floor.”

After reading Jules Horne’s thoughts about writing for audio, I need to rethink that sentence as well as the opening sentences for each of my chapters and scenes. There are a multitude of things a writer has to keep in mind when editing the first (otherwise known as the “rough”) draft. I plan to address some of them in my blog post next Monday.

Since my last blog post

I let my rough draft of The Doubloon rest for several days, and then I started working on the second draft. I changed the timing of an event mentioned on the first page, and that meant adjusting references to that event throughout the rest of the book. 

Getting this book published is going to be a long process, but please stay tuned.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth and Stony the Road:  Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I’m listening to The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women compiled by NPR (National Public Radio.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer listening to audio books or reading the words yourself?

Do you prefer holding a book in your hands and turning a paper page or reading a book on an electronic device?

What do you think of the current “hook” in my novel? Do you think it would work as well if you were hearing it instead of reading it?


23 thoughts on “How Listening to a Book and Reading a Book Differ

  1. Thank you, Janet. It was an eye opener for me, too. I’m glad you liked it and learned something along with me. I hope you’re having a nice spring without the stress of blogging. Enjoy!


  2. I read books more often than I listen to them, but if a book looks kinda dry (boring), I’ll listen to it while cooking. It’d be inconvenient to stop the recording while cooking, so it forces me to keep listening! The last book I listened to was Spark by Ratey about exercise and the brain. Turns out it is a fascinating book, but yes, it is science-y and dry, so I’m glad I listened.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for giving your input, Priscilla. Like you, sometimes I like to multi-task by listening to a book while sewing or cooking. Thank you for finding my blog, and thank you for leaving a comment.


  4. I could have said the same thing a few months ago. My sister was always (and I mean always) listening to a book in her car. She started doing it when she had a long commute. It drove me up the wall! She’s retired now, but she still usually has a book on CD playing in her car. I have trouble sleeping, so I thought perhaps listening to a book would bore me to the point I would fall asleep. Unfortunately, the book I chose had a lot of variation in volume. Every time I thought I was about to fall asleep, the book reader would shout. I listen to a book sometimes when I’m scrapbooking or something of that sort, but I think I’ll always prefer reading for myself. Thanks for weighing in on this.


  5. Hi Janet,
    How lovely to find your blog about my attunement post! Thank you for your response – it’s great to see what you took from it.
    Can I make a suggestion for editing your opening sentence with audio in mind? Try breaking it up more! This would give more prominence to the husband on the floor.

    eg Sarah … dropped her sewing basket, sending … across the floor.
    Her husband was lying face down…

    I’m sure you’ll do it better – the idea is that readers can more easily “see” the husband – he’s otherwise a bit buried within the flow of the sentence.
    Try reading aloud/performing it 🙂
    It’ll feel more like ‘moments’, almost like a series of camera shots. There’s more about it here:
    All best,

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jules, thank you so much for your comment and advice! I see what you mean. I tried to pack too much information into that first sentence. So far, you’re the only person to give me feedback specifically about my opening sentence. I was afraid no one would address it, leaving me to wonder whether it was good or not. Thank you for sharing the link to your article about camera shots in fiction writing. I look forward to reading it and taking notes. Thank you for taking time to leave such a detailed and helpful comment.


  7. Hi Janet (apols, just spotted your reply!) Yes, exactly, too much in one sentence, and so the husband doesn’t get as much focus as he deserves in the mix. Reading it aloud, imagining it as an audio performance, helps to highlight this. Jules

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Jules, no apologies necessary. I wasn’t expecting you to respond with another comment. Just wanted to thank you for your input and advice. You’ve been a great help!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.