As audio enthusiasts we often wonder about routine decisions made by production companies. How are audiobooks and narrators chosen? What are the considerations when matching a narrator to a particular book? Do they take listeners’ requests seriously? What is a general production schedule? Why is notification of upcoming releases often such a mystery?
Over the next few months, Speaking of Audiobooks will feature a number of columns to address those questions and more. First in line is Tantor today, followed by Harlequin and Audible in May, Penguin in July, and a Narrators’ Forum in August. There’s more to follow in the fall but we’ll get to that later. Right now, it’s time to talk about the most exciting news of the day.
Slave to Sensation Giveaway and Group Listen
If you’ve been hanging around Speaking of Audiobooks lately, you know we’re excited about Tantor’s decision to release all ten of Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling Series (over a period of 4-5 months) starting with the release of the first the series, Slave to Sensation, on April 25th. In our last column, we announced that Slave to Sensation is our next Group Listen (see more details below) and to celebrate it all, we’re giving away ten audiobook copies of Slave to Sensation courtesy of Tantor.
Place your name in the hat by commenting on this column by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on Friday, April 22nd. Due to the cost of postage, the giveaway is open only to listeners in the U.S. and Canada. We encourage multiple comments, but you will only be entered in the contest once. If you review for another Web site or blog, please refrain from entering. The winners will be notified by email on Saturday morning and will have 24 hours to respond. Another winner will be selected on Sunday morning if a winner has not responded. Audiobooks will be mailed to winners on Slave to Sensation’s release date.
Moving on to our narrator discussion, I’ll start by explaining that it includes two segments and both focus on the process of choosing a narrator. The first is an interview with Karen White about the narrator’s side of the process, as well as insights into the audio industry in general. The second segment features a look from the production side as Tantor comments on their efforts to select the right narrator.
Visiting with Narrator Karen White
We often think of the selection of a narrator as the responsibility of the production company, but what about the narrator’s role in this first step of choosing the right reader for the right book? It’s not as passive as you may think. Karen White has graciously agreed to share her thoughts with us today.
Karen has narrated more than 90 audiobooks including memoirs, sci-fi, mystery, nonfiction, children/young adult, and much more. We in romance audiobookland probably know her best for her performance of Julie James’ Just the Sexiest Man Alive. When I reviewed JTSMA for our column in 2010, I had nothing but praise for her performance stating, “Karen White excels in her narration… White perfectly portrays Taylor’s attitude towards Jason.” Let’s welcome Karen and jump right in.
How did you come to narrate audiobooks?
My background includes an MFA in Acting, plus training to teach vocal production for the theater, as well as a lot of stage performance, from comedy improv to Shakespeare, playing everything from children to old women to men to dogs. At my wedding, a friend from Seattle suggested I look into recording audiobooks, and hooked me up with her friend, who happened to be the venerable Kate Fleming. After a wonderful phone call with Kate, I started to look for work, and long story short, I ended up working as an editor for Dove Audio, then as an assistant to Dan Musselman at Books on Tape where I edited, directed, ran casting sessions and finally began narrating.
Is there an actual audition for a new book or do producers decide through listening to your previous work?
Both – some studios, like Random House/BOT, actually hold auditions and actors (who have been recommended or sent in demos) are invited in to read a sample script. Once you have a relationship with a publisher, you might simply be offered a book, based on previous work. Or, you might be asked to audition for a specific book, especially if the author has input on the casting. I had to audition for Rita Mae Brown’s Animal Magnetism, for instance, because it was important to her to have a narrator who could do a real Tidewater (Virginia) accent.
Have you even campaigned for a particular book? Do you have genres that you prefer over others?
Yes, I have, quite a few times. As a life-long animal lover, I have successfully campaigned for quite a few animal books: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz, Saddled by Susan Richards and You Had Me at Woof by Julie Klam are all books I knew I would connect with, which I think makes a difference. I also seek out books that take place in VA, KY and NC, where I grew up – people tend to think of an American Southern accent in one big lump, but each area really has its own sound. Also, I think my truest storytelling voice comes out when I do stories about my home states. Overall, though, I love that I’ve been able to narrate a big range of genres. After working hard over a deeply intellectual book, it’s such a relief to do a romance!
Once you are chosen to record an audiobook, can you take us briefly through what happens next with a timeline?
These days, there are so many audiobooks coming out as simultaneous releases with the hardcovers that the timeline gets quite squashed! Basically I am sent a copy (often not a final) of the manuscript so I can start my research. This includes: pronunciations of words, names and places, specific accents or dialects called for and — for me anyway if it’s fiction — character descriptions. I do spreadsheets for the pronunciations, and a log of every descriptive thing said about each character. I will also mark the script if there are descriptions of how a person is speaking in a particular passage, for instance: “Come on over here,” she said with a smile.
Once I get the final manuscript I begin recording, working 4 – 6 hours a day. My brain and voice can’t really handle more than that! I record “punch in”, which means that the book is basically edited as I go, but an editor still goes through to remove extraneous breaths and adjust timing in places. (Some studios record letting the tape just roll, and a director marks the script for the best takes. This requires a lot more editing work.) Then it goes to quality control where a proofer will listen while reading the text to make sure I haven’t made any errors and to check for background noises or accidental sounds. After that, I will re-record corrections, then it goes through some magical final mixing and mastering and is put together for release! This all happens in a matter of weeks.
Julie James’ Just the Sexiest Man Alive is a tremendously popular book among romance readers and listeners alike. With your outstanding narration, I heard Jason evolve and Taylor’s attitude change over the course of the book and your performance of the humorous scenes provided many “laugh out loud” moments. What are your thoughts on narrating a romance? Did you prepare for it any differently than other genres?
I don’t prepare any differently really – In all my work I aim for: Clear characters, emotional honesty, and most of all, being present moment to moment. When I create a character for a book (just as I would for a play), I internalize the descriptive images of the person, and let the voice come through that “mask,” and play the actions of each “scene” moment to moment. For me anyway, if I were to start with the sound of the voice, I think the result would be a caricature instead of a person. If I do the homework, and I know where that guy or gal is in my body, all I have to do is be in the story and trust my instincts. Otherwise, I’d be listening to myself and worrying if I “sound right” which would be no fun at all! And if you’re not having fun in the fantasy of a romance, then what’s the point?
With that explanation, I can easily see why your characters remain true to themselves even during times of great change. Thanks Karen for taking the time to visit with us today!
Tantor – A Production Company’s View
When I talked with Tantor’s Marketing Coordinator, Jennifer Sullivan, and their Studio Director, Hilary Rose, the subject matter was narrators and although we more or less stayed on target, we strayed a bit as well.
As we visited about the first stage of an audiobook’s production (dare I say the birthing of an audiobook?), I discovered that the choice of a particular audiobook mainly rests with their Licensing department that researches and acquires their titles. It looks like those digital rights issues drive the selection of audiobooks as much or more than we suspected, just as the process of choosing a narrator is not the cut and dry assignment of a book we listeners sometimes fear. For Tantor, it resembles fitting the pieces of a complicated puzzle together. To quote Hilary “a bit of research, familiarity with each narrator’s likes and strengths, and a familiarity with the topics and books.”
Many of us wonder out loud in the discussions here at Speaking of Audiobooks if production companies will take heed of our suggestions for narrator choices. Jennifer had the following to offer when asked the question:
“We value the input and opinions of our listeners since they are the ones who enjoy our product! Ultimately the final decision is influenced by several factors—one being whether or not the author has narrator approval. Another huge one is narrator availability—which is not just scheduling. It encompasses things such as, will the narrator work well with this type of material? Has the narrator done many books in this genre lately and would like a break?”
Both Hilary and Jennifer emphasized throughout our conversation that Tantor is always open to suggestions and requests of their listeners (email your requests to Jennifer at Jennifer@tantor.com).
We know that a narrator’s interpretation of the book they are performing can make a funny book funnier, a funny book a drama (not emphasizing the humorous passages), a considerate hero into a gruff old bear, and a likable self-deprecating heroine in print into a bitter character in audio. When I asked Jennifer if Tantor asks for the author’s input in choosing a narrator, she fleshed out the question nicely to include all author input:
“In selecting a narrator? Not usually, unless it is stipulated in the contract. We do enjoy forming good relationships with our authors, as it helps with exposure. We also encourage contact between our narrators and authors as the narrators want to do the best job possible to bring the story to audio, and often times need help with pronunciations, have questions about a character, wanted to let the author know they really enjoyed the book, etc. Our narrators take their jobs very seriously—they are recreating the author’s work, so to speak, but don’t want to do anything to detract from the author’s intent. It’s a big responsibility.”
While we were talking, I couldn’t keep from sneaking in a question to Jennifer about Tantor’s plans for romance audiobooks. Does she see Tantor producing more audiobooks that fall within the romance genre?
“Absolutely. We have over 100 titles in romance right now, and are always on the lookout to acquire more. We’ve realized that romance is a genre that is not only popular, but also attracts a wide variety of audiences, due to the many sub-genres, including the ever-popular urban fantasy. We’ve had so much success with authors like Yasmine Galenorn, Lara Adrian, and Chloe Neill. In fact, we just signed Laura Wright’s Mark of the Vampire series #1 & 2 this week (Eternal Hunger and Eternal Kiss, respectively). As for historical romance, we have acquired Anne Stuart’s House of Rohan series (which is how we found out about AAR!) and we know that there many excited fans out there who were waiting for this to be released on audio. It’s great to see so much anticipation about a series release and it’s been wonderful to connect with fans via social media—finding out their interests and alerting them to breaking news.”
Thanks to Jennifer and Hilary for talking with us today and referring Karen to us as well!
There it is – a look from both the narrator and the production side. Please take the time to share with us other questions you have for those in the audio industry. Little by little we are piecing together the bigger picture.
Our Group Listen
Our Group Listen of Slave to Sensation begins upon its release on April 25th in CD format. Although Tantor doesn’t know the exact date of its release at Audible, they anticipate the timing to be within a week of the 25th (they’ll keep us updated). At this time our group discussion of Slave to Sensation is planned for the end of May. However if Audible’s release runs significantly behind the April 25th date, we’ll make adjustments to the time of our group discussion.
We hope you will join us in our Group Listen! It’s our third in two years and each time I’ve found it to be just plain fun. You’ll find many positive comments on narrator Angela Dawe’s past performances both here in our previous discussions and over at the Speaking of Audiobooks Goodreads group.
For those like me who plan to continue with the Psy/Changeling Series beyond Slave to Sensation, Jennifer from Tantor has provided us with their release schedule:
Slave to Sensation (1), pub 4/25
Visions of Heat (2), pub 5/9
Caressed By Ice (3), pub 5/23
Mine to Possess (4), pub 6/13
Hostage to Pleasure (5), pub 6/27
Branded By Fire (6), pub 7/11
Blaze of Memory (7), pub 8/29
Bonds of Justice (8), pub 9/5
Play of Passion (9), pub 9/19
Kiss of Snow (frontlist), pub 5/17
Time for Your Thoughts
Do you have questions about the choice of narrators you want us to ask production companies in upcoming columns?
Are you planning on joining our Group Listen? Will you be listening in CD format or as a digital MP3 download?
And as always, do you have any recent audiobook successes or failures to share with us?
Remember, to enter to win your audio copy of Slave to Sensation, comment to this post by Friday, April 22nd at 11:59 p.m. eastern time.
I’ll be back again later this month when we discuss May audiobook new releases.
– Lea Hensley