Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Authors & Audiobooks – From the Narrator(s) POV

By Gillian Hamer and JD Smith

It’s a good time to be an author – indie or trad. In keeping with the theme of this month’s issue, exciting new opportunities seem to appear every month for writers: KDP, Select, Bookbub, Book Translation services, and one of the biggest events of the past twelve months into the UK market – ACX – Amazon’s audiobook service.

Here, we chat with professional narrators, Catherine O’Brien, who has worked with on the audio version of Gillian’s novel, The Charter, out later this month - and Paul Hodgson, narrator of the recently released, The Rise of Zenobia by JD Smith.

Catherine O’Brien




Hi, Catherine, Can you tell us a little about your background and how you became a professional narrator?

I was born and educated in England, and always had a love of storytelling and the dramatic arts. I worked for several years at the BBC and then moved to the US in 2010 to get married to an American! My husband encouraged me to take a course in Voice Acting at a Studio in New York, and while doing this I auditioned to produce a novel for ACX. Somewhat to my surprise I was awarded the project. That started me on my career as a voice actor, and I still narrate audiobooks for ACX, as well as my other voice acting projects.

What made you decide to join ACX?

Well, as I said, it was almost by accident, but after my lucky break with my first audition, I discovered how great it is to work with ACX.

How have you found the experience?

The whole process of matching the right book with the right narrator works incredibly well. I do work for other publishing companies and use other recording studio as well, but I have to say ACX makes is very easy to produce audiobooks in my home studio, which is wonderful!

What have been your favourite projects so far?

Oh, that’s so difficult! I have four favorites at the moment – The Charter (obviously!), a children’s thriller called The Ley Lines of Lushbury by Scott Hunter, a historical novel called Palace of Pugin: The Westminster Conspiracy by Nick Corbett, and a Regency romance called A Father’s Sins: A Pride and Prejudice Variation – coincidentally all new writers.

What genres do you prefer and why?

I actually love several different genres as you can see from my last answer! In fact I really enjoy the contrast. I like to alternate between non-fiction, fiction and children’s fiction. However, I do have a secret affection for thrillers!

Is there an element of ‘acting’ required within book narration?

Of course! The whole process is acting. In fact voice acting is far more difficult as the narrator has to convey the whole story without any visual assistance.

What have been your most successful projects sales-wise?

I have to say that the classics sell best of all. My most successful project sales-wise (so far!) has been “The Complete Little Women: Little Women, Good Wives, Jo’s Boys and Little Men” by Louisa M. Allcott. This runs to almost 40 hours (thank goodness for MP3s), and I loved every minute of this recording.

What do you think makes a successful, bestselling audiobook?

I think the key to a successful, bestselling audiobook is for the narrator to bring the story to life letting the words tell the story, without any vocal styles that may interfere with the author’s voice. That is what I always aim for anyway!

What do you look for when an author approaches you with an offer?

The main thing I look for is something that captures my interest and makes me want to know what happens! I then look for the quality of the writing – some writing styles are easier to narrate than others – yours is particularly good, and a real pleasure to narrate.

I know a lot of authors have concerns with their characters voices and how they are portrayed, how do you work on getting this right?

Whenever possible I like to work directly with the author so I can find the right tone and accent, etc. However, it can be a challenge when this is not possible, and in that case I choose voices that seem the most appropriate. I do a lot of research beforehand into the author’s style, any other books they have written, and re-read the text several times. When an accent or particular vocal style is called for the idea is not to do some sort of impersonation, but to just give enough of the accent so listeners know who is speaking.

The author gets to hear and approve the first fifteen minutes of the book, so has the opportunity to give whatever direction is necessary to the narrator before proceeding with the entire novel.

Without naming names (unless we can persuade you!) any projects that you wish you hadn’t taken on, and can you tell us why?

I am incredibly fortunate in that I’ve enjoyed virtually all of my projects – apart from one with ACX which shall remain nameless! Unfortunately the only interesting part of this book was the paragraph used for the audition piece… However, any author who has taken the time and effort to write a book deserves to be heard and I did the best I could with it. It does sell very well, so that is a consolation!

Are there any things within ACX that could be improved for the narrator or changes you would like to see made?

On the whole, I think it works pretty well. I have noticed that the time between ACX approval of the project and it going on sale has decreased considerably and this is a great improvement.

Do you think ACX is a good thing for indie authors, and authors who aren’t bestsellers, who wouldn’t usually have access to this kind of facility?

I do! I think it is a fantastic opportunity for indie authors, and authors who aren’t bestsellers to find a whole new audience. That has certainly been my experience.

Any tips for authors and narrators out there considering moving into audiobooks?

I know it can be a bit scary for authors to allow someone else to interpret their novel. However, ACX’s audition process makes it easy for you to find the right voice for your book, and allows you to give detailed direction to the voice actor. Keep an open mind – you might discover that someone else’s interpretation works even better than your own!

One tip for would-be narrators out there is please make sure you really like long form narration! Most of the books I have narrated have been between 7 and 15 hours, and bear in mind that it takes approximately three hours (including pre-reading, research and editing) for every one “finished” hour, you really do have to like what you’re doing.

My idea if heaven is standing in my recording booth telling stories to an imaginary audience, but I know that would be some kind of hell to many of my voice over friends!

Catherine O’Brien is a multifaceted actor with a love of storytelling. She has the ability to grasp the essence of a story and bring it to life. Her smooth and versatile voice is suitable for a diverse array of project types and styles: warm and friendly, cruel and cunning, professional and sophisticated.

Her experience includes works in such varied fields as romance, historical fiction, fantasy, biography, memoir, mysteries, children's books and other genres. She has voiced many types of characters both male and female, ranging from old people to children, sweethearts to cads, even angels to talking skulls.

Born and educated in England, she speaks with a natural BBC English accent, and having travelled extensively throughout Europe, she has a facility for languages and accents of many kinds.

Catherine worked for the BBC for several years, before moving to the United States and becoming a full time voice actor.


“I have to tell you that you amaze us. Your ability with different voices and being consistent with them throughout the book is phenomenal. Also, the emotions you express while reading is outstanding. I couldn't be happier.” - J Dawn King

Paul Hodgson



The Rise of Zenobia is available from Audible and iTunes

Tell us a little about your background and how you became a professional narrator?

I trained as an actor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama – not that I’m Welsh, they were the only ones who’d have me – and worked professionally in theatre, TV and radio in London for a while before moving on to a writing career. On moving to the US (I married and American in the meantime) I returned to acting and founded a professional company, The Everyman Repertory Theatre, in Camden, on the coast of Maine in the far North East of the country, at the same time as holding down a full-time writing position. When I got fired from that – who needs journalists any more – the consequent drop in income precipitated me into doing what people have been telling me I should be doing for a long time – reading audiobooks. I started with a mammoth 22 hour commission of Alec Waugh’s The Balliols – a much better book than anything Evelyn ever wrote, and just continued from there.

What made you decide to join ACX?

I’d been commissioned several times by Audible and by Macmillan but the work wasn’t coming as fast as I wanted so an actor friend recommended ACX.

How have you found the experience?

Apart from a few technical hitches, which were not difficult to fix, it’s been very easy. It was my first time with them and the steps were pretty intuitive. I think I only called the help line twice, just to find out where to upload the book once it had been mastered.

What have been your favourite projects so far?

Fiction. Always. I’ve done a couple of non-fiction titles, on things like statistics and nanobiotechnology, and while you learn a lot they are TOUGH to read.

What genres do you prefer and why?

I don’t have favourites. As long as I’m being hauled along by a good story I don’t care what the genre is.

Is there an element of ‘acting’ required within book narration?

Some narrators might disagree but there isn’t an element of acting, it’s all acting. You can’t just act your way through the dialogue or listeners will lose interest in the narration. You have to feel your way through all of it. You can’t just describe someone falling in love, you have to do it. If a book gives me catharsis, I want to be able to give the listener that same feeling.
What have been your most successful projects sales-wise?

I have absolutely no idea. You can tell with ACX, but not with other narrator projects.

What do you think makes a successful, bestselling audiobook?

I feel like I’m harping on about this a bit, but it’s always the story. You need a voice that people want to listen to, I’ve bought audiobooks before, and not been able to get beyond the first few minutes because of an irritating way a male actor does female voices, or an execrable French accent or something, but that was only because I wasn’t hooked on the story.

What do you look for when an author approaches you with an offer?

Enthusiasm and confidence that they’ve chosen the right person for the job. It’s a lot of work to record something only for an author to turn round and say… this wasn’t what I was looking for.

I know a lot of authors have concerns with their characters voices and how they are portrayed, how do you work on getting this right?

That depends. If they like what you’ve done in the first few minutes and those include the main characters then you are usually good to go and can just get on with it. If they have very specific needs then it’s just a matter of enough back and forth until you get what they are hearing in their heads. I once did a short story set in Cardiff – I was probably the only actor in America who can do a Cardiff accent because, let me tell you, they don’t sound like anyone else in Wales – and the author was a Cardiff native, and I’m still working, so it must have been OK.

Without naming names any projects that you wish you hadn’t taken on, and can you tell us why?

None so far, though that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Are there any things within ACX that could be improved for the narrator or changes you would like to see made?

It’s been going a while in the States so I think they have most of the problems worked out already. From my point of view I might wish it were a little easier to find books that are appropriate for my voice, but it’s still not that hard.

Do you think ACX is a good thing for indie authors, and authors who aren’t bestsellers, who wouldn’t usually have access to this kind of facility?

I’d imagine it was a bloody godsend!

Any tips for authors and narrators out there considering moving into audiobooks?

Authors: do your research. Listen to a lot of voices, don’t settle for anything less than the best. Narrators… don’t take on projects you regret, he said, smiling ruefully.


Paul has a BA Hons in English Language and Literature from Durham University in England, and an MA in Performance from Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Wales. His first professional role was as a clarinet-playing bandleader in a show for a small touring company in London. After that he went on to work in television and radio in the capital before moving to the US. He is currently the artistic director of a professional theatre company based in midcoast Maine, in the far North East USA - the Everyman Repertory Theatre - where he directs and performs in many of its productions. He also works as a freelance writer. He has regular columns with Responsible Investor Magazine, Fortune and on Motley Fool's website, and has had several plays professionally produced, one at the National Theatre of Wales, Sherman Theatre. He is a member of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain.

He has a number of titles on Audible, including The Rise of Zenobia, Pushover, an Amazon Single, The Improbability Principle for MacMillan, and Life's Ratchet. In between times he has been recording top secret projects for MindsEye Productions and was recently the lead in a radio drama for Final Rune Productions. Before that he recorded 22 hours of Alec Waugh's The Balliols for Audible.com. He has also done a large amount of cartoon and videogame voiceover work for Slimgoodbody Productions including a wide variety of voices and characters for cartoons commissioned by PBS, ranging from Rene Descartes to Albert Einstein.

5 comments:

  1. Links to the audiobooks would be useful. I wanted to listen to The Charter's sample, but can't find it on Audible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lexi, thanks for the interest, it has gone onto Audible today - here's the link ... http://bit.ly/1tAbDt7

      Delete
  2. Lexi, good to know you're wanting to listen. Second para it says that it's not out until later this month which is why no link is included.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for share this informative post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm not quite sure where to begin with this, so I'll just say this is a really good article. I've enjoyed reading it and pondering the many points you make.
    cheap voice overs

    ReplyDelete