Partnership Needed: Every Author is in Want of a Good Audiobook Narrator
Please welcome Leah Frederick to the blog today. Leah is the narrator for my first released audiobook The Unintended Bride. [I know, I know, why am I doing them out of order — it wasn’t on purpose, it is just the way things happen. The Fairy Tale Bride is approved and should be live and available in the next week.] This is a truly new frontier. None of my traditionally published books were licensed for audiobook by my publishers. In the “olden” days it was an expensive prospect — 8-10 or more cassette tapes or CDs in a case). But, as I keep reminding everyone (including myself) the digital age has changed everything about publishing.
Amazon and Audible have teamed up to let authors and narrators work together to make audiobooks through the ACX program. This means the author and narrator are the two people who do all of the work. I provided the manuscript, the narrator provided the audio talent and expertise. So far, I’ve listened to three of my books several times to ensure high quality audiobooks. Two more are in the pipeline, and two more will be finding narrators soon. This made me naturally curious to know how it worked from the narrator’s end. I asked Leah a few questions in an interview on my blog and got some very interesting answers. I wanted to spread the word, so I’m reposting here.
1. What made you decide to become an audiobook narrator?
My voiceover career came about rather serendipitously. Although I earned my degree in Vocal Performance and planned on a career as a singer, two years after graduation found me working as a project manager for an educational technology company. One day, my boss asked me to oversee the recording of some audio at a local studio. I remember sitting there, watching a very talented voiceover actor by the name of Scott Lange at work and thinking to myself, “Wow – that looks like a lot of fun.” Less than a month later, I saw an “Introduction to Voiceovers” class being offered through our local communiversity classes. Attending this class was rather a pivotal moment for me. It was as if a light bulb went off. I knew right there and then that I wanted to be a voiceover actor.
After receiving additional training from Voices for All, a very reputable voice acting company in New York, I started auditioning and booking a few voiceover jobs. My first audiobook was a nonfiction project called A Journey Well Taken: Life After Loss by Elaine Williams. This was a deeply personal book which dealt with the death of the author’s husband and the challenges of being widowed and raising three young sons. I found myself completely immersed in the telling of her story. But I wasn’t truly passionate about audiobook narration until I was asked to record a children’s book by Desmond Ellis, The Undergardeners. This was my first work of fiction and I was required to do character voices. What a wake-up call that was. I had never considered myself a character voice actor and thought my head would explode just keeping the delivery of the eight different voices straight. Still, after that project, I was hooked. Thus far, I’ve narrated over thirty audiobooks and can honestly say that each project has offered an opportunity to challenge my abilities and learn something new.
2. What is the biggest challenge for you in the process? The most fun part?
When I started narrating audiobooks, everything was challenging about it. When I started out, I never realized that narrating an audiobook is a serious vocal commitment. For example, I was recording the audio for The Unintended Bride over a three week time span. It’s very important that the narrator’s vocal delivery be consistent throughout so they don’t get in the way of the story. One thing I do to help achieve this is to record at the same time each day (or evening, as was the case on this novel). Also, I am very susceptible to “cotton-mouth” (aka dry mouth) and have allergies year-round so maintaining good vocal health can be a tremendous challenge.
Besides the actual behind-the-mic narration which is great fun, I enjoy creating the different character voices. When I begin a project, the first thing I do is read the book. In fact, I’ll usually have read the book three or four times before I deliver the final audio files. I take notes on each of the characters, detailing any pertinent information like their age, the author’s description, etc. Sometimes the voice will come to me immediately but occasionally, I’ll need a bit more help. On one recent project, I was stumped on how to interpret the antagonist so I asked the author which famous actor they would cast if the book ever became a major motion picture. Then I had to determine if the author preferred “The Silence of the Lambs” Anthony Hopkins or “The Remains of the Day” Anthony Hopkins. Turns out, the author wanted the “Howard’s End” Anthony Hopkins. It was a fun and informative exercise for both of us.
Also, I love working directly with the authors themselves. They can provide an unusual amount of insight which, frankly, makes my job easier. I have been incredibly fortunate to work with several very talented authors. It can be a tremendously rewarding experience when a true partnership of talent evolves.
3. Do you have help, or do you do all the editing work yourself?
I do it all myself. I have a ProTools studio set up in my home so the commute is a piece of a cake. However, the studio environment has to be extremely quiet so its location is of paramount importance. I live in Kentucky on the banks of the Ohio River so usually, I only have to contend with the occasional barge, train whistle, and my neighbor mowing his grass every Wednesday at noon. Editing is undoubtedly the most tedious part of the work but it’s a necessary evil and helps me catch any mistakes I’ve made.
4. Do you listen to audiobooks yourself? Who is your favorite narrator, besides yourself?
Actually, it’s very difficult for me to listen to audiobooks so I prefer just reading the books themselves. Since I coach other aspiring voiceover actors, it can be challenging to sit back and enjoy a story when part of my brain is automatically attuned to critiquing a narrator’s delivery. However, I do have a few favorites. John Pruden is one of my mentors and a top-notch talent whose audiobook “The Sisters Brothers” was named Best Audiobook of 2011 by The Washington Post. Dion Graham’s performance in the narration of “Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration” blew my socks off. And of course, every audiobook narrator aspires to the mastery exhibited by Jim Dale in his performance of the Harry Potter series. He did 146 different character voices in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. That man is very simply a voiceover god.
5. Writers need to protect their creative spark in order to come up with new ideas, new characters, and new books. How do you protect and nurture your narration voice?
Protecting and nurturing the narration voice actually manifests itself in two ways. First, there’s the physical aspect of maintaining good vocal health by drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest, and having the self-discipline to stop yapping so vocal fatigue doesn’t set in. Mentally, I am keenly aware that my voice is a vehicle for the author’s work and that I bear a tremendous responsibility in bridging the gap between the author and listener. One of my cardinal rules is to only accept audiobook projects in which I feel a personal connection to the story. If I don’t have an interest in the topic or find myself loathing the main character after Chapter 3 (it’s happened!), it becomes an uphill battle to do justice to the narration.
The other part of the mental process is feeling nurtured and supported. Being a narrator is a very solitary occupation so I’m fortunate in my friends and fellow voiceover actors. They can be painfully honest in their feedback but are the first to celebrate my successes. My family is very supportive as well. Of course, my parents think that everything I do is amazing so they’re not necessarily the best judges of my work. Still, it’s lovely to have such overwhelming encouragement in something I love to do.
6. If you were able to narrate any book ever written, which one would be your first choice?
I’m a huge fan of chick-lit and love reading the historical romances (so you can imagine how much I enjoyed narrating The Unintended Bride). I’m lucky that my vocal age and type works well in these genres. However, if it came down to one single, solitary book, I’d love to narrate “The Corset Diaries” by Katie MacAlister. Regrettably, I’d probably be giggling too much during the ectoplasmic fish scene to do it justice. Still, I’d like to try.
A professionally-trained voiceover actor and coach, Leah Frederick has narrated over thirty audiobooks in a variety of genres including romance, self-help, sci-fi, and children’s. Samples of her work can be found at www.LeahFrederick.com. Her latest audiobook, The Unintended Bride by Kelly McClymer, can be purchased on Audible.com, iTunes, and Amazon.com.
Thank you for your wonderful insight, Leah. Anyone have questions I didn’t think of? Anyone thinking of jumping into the audiobook narration business? I don’t think I could do it well, but judging by all the audiobooks I’ve read and loved, there are many talented individuals who can.