Joining Rekka and Brian are Karen White and James Patrick Cronin, giving authors a glimpse of the lifestyle, experiences, and process of voice actors.
Both are members of Screen Actors Guild / American Federation of Television Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). She started in theater and moved into audio book narration when she started to build her family. She claimed she was good with ProTools and editing to get the job (and then learned ProTools and editing). She went full time when her kids were a bit older. She also proofs audio books at home, comparing the early audiobook cut to the full original text.
James also started in theater and attended a union-sponsored event and met the head of casting of Audible studios. He had an informal interview and then a reading. He checked “Yes” for the “Do you have a home studio?” question and got the job (and then scrambled to get it set up).
A recording space needs to be as small as possible (while still letting you work) to reduce natural echoes and other sound issues. James has used pre-fab studios and walk-in closets.
You have to consider the sound you’re creating inside and keeping sound outside from entering.
Acoustic Foam, carpet, wind screens stops sounds from bouncing back at the microphone (breaking up the flat surfaces).
Keeping other sounds out requires mass and density (so interior rooms).
Audio book narration requires very quiet noise floors and succinct and clear speech. Most of the time you’re only hearing the human voice in audiobook narration and any additional sounds are obvious.
Some audiobook productions include sound effects or dramatizations, almost to the level of radio plays, as an effort to expand the audience by changing up the styles.
Karen has observed that audio book performance has trended away from a narrator aware of their audience, toward character voices and emotional performance. Listeners expect a one-person show. Brian blames The Song of Ice and Fire series for popularizing this, while three other people in this episode have actually listened to Harry Potter audiobooks.
There are page-turning techniques which must be practiced and perfected (or carefully spaced so the sound can be edited out)
Building the Narration from a Manuscript
Voice actors glean a lot of information about the characters they perform from the exposition written by the author, but they appreciate more input from authors rather than “complete freedom” to interpret everything (and then find out in book three there was an important accent detail they didn’t know about).
Frequently James doesn’t get to work directly with authors when a production company serves as liaison, so he keeps careful notes as he reads through to build the world consistently and do his best job.
Make sure you provide any known information to the narrator to make sure they aren’t caught unaware by a detail later in your series.
Even if you, as an author, think the pronunciation of an important name or word in your story is obvious, make sure the narrator is aware of your pronunciation preference. Pronunciation is regional and cultural, and often a word has multiple accepted pronunciations. Be clear, because things like this can slow down the production schedule or rack up a larger bill in the end.
Karen tends to take a break when chapters end but also, because she drinks luke warm herb tea to protect her voice and throat, plans around the capacity of her bladder. It may be 45 minutes up to 2 hours. She is careful to stretch and take care of her voice or her career could end earlier than she’d like.
James aims for 2-3 hours of finished audio in a work day. Anything more is unsustainable and doesn’t result in his best work.
~9,000 – 9,500 words = 1 finished hour of audio.
Non-fiction takes longer to narrate because there are more words to check pronunciation on, and the sentences tend to be longer and harder to parse.
Karen doesn’t recommend proofing your own book to save money on the process because an author will miss their own mistakes. Some issues are going to be caught by the narrator during recording because they engage intimately with the book as they record.
An abundance of dialog elements (he said, she exclaimed) starts to feel very awkward in audio where it might work fine in text. James believes if you’ve properly set the scene and focus on the speech patterns and the style of speaking, you don’t need to tag as many lines of dialog as you might think you do.
“Eschew Prolixity” – be simple.
Something to consider is whether to keep the audiobook and written text the same or experienced in specific, unique ways (with consideration of whether you want to be eligible for Amazon’s Whispersync).
48:00-ish mark: Karen and James each read a sample for our listeners. Karen reads from Little Comfort by Edwin Hill. James reads from the Death Mage (Book 4 Prof Croft Series) by Brad Magnarella.
James comes from a family of SAG-AFTRA members. He is a union member for humanity and professional respect. An author who goes to a union member for their narration is saying, “I respect who you are and what you do.” Authors help them maintain that level of professionalism and modest quality of life.
Karen asks authors to consider their investment with an audio narration w/r/t the quality and intended life of the book. Many listeners read in both print and audio and are buying your book twice. The only way you get the longevity out of an audiobook production is by going with an experienced narrator. It’s only through union organizing that narrators can rely on rates staying sustainable.
Notes for Authors Looking for Audio Narration
The quotes that authors will receive is per finished hour (PFH) and that is a fraction of the time spent by the narrator on the project. You’re paying the narrator (performance + 2 rounds of error corrections) and an engineer (editing / QC proofing / mastering). When you do it right, it shows.
Audiobooks can reach new audiences who are interested in the format over written (but will listen again and again).
An author with a novel should plan for production time of 4-8 weeks (from turning in the FINAL manuscript) to receive a retail-ready product. If your narrator is busy, you need to book ahead to get (as soon as you have an idea of what you want, and give them a prep copy to get on their schedule).
Karen suggests voice actors follow authors’ websites if they’ve been reading for their whole series in case there are announcements there and the publisher has neglected to give advance warning.
There are seasonal lows and rushes for narrators due to industry schedules.
Karen and James are both accepting new clients, so be sure to reach out to them (their contact info is below) if you would like to have one or both of them narrate your audio books!
About Our Guests
James Patrick Cronin is one of the most prolific narrators in the industry today, having recorded almost 500 titles in just over 6 years. He has earned seven Audie nominations and several Earphones Awards for his work in a variety of genres. He has voiced New York Times Bestsellers, Edgar nominees, Nebula Award nominees and a National Book Award finalist.
He holds an MFA in Acting from the University of Louisville and an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from East Tennessee State University.
Karen White has been narrating audiobooks since 1999 with more than 300 titles to her credit. Honored to be included in AudioFile Magazine’s Best Voices, she’s also a three-time Audie Finalist and has earned multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards (most recently for The Last Ballad by NC author Wiley Cash) and Library Journal starred reviews. She also directs audiobooks and writes, working from her home base in coastal NC. Karen is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA.