Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Announcing the Winners + An Interview with the Voice Behind Whispers

Now that Whispers of the Bayou has been released as an audiobook, I've had fun with some recent posts, including: 

• A behind-the-scenes peek at the audiobook creation process from the point of view of the author and publisher. This week, we'll take a look at that same process from the other side, that of the Producer and Narrator. 

• An offer for a free paperback book of your choice as a "thank you" for joining through this link. That offer runs until August 15th, so there's still time to sign up! You can find more info here.

• A drawing for two free copies of the Whispers of the Bayou audiobook. Thanks to all who entered! And the winners are...

Carol Edwards and Patricia Jurado

Congrats to both–and enjoy!

Introducing Audiobook Producer and Narrator Jill Smith

I have a feeling I’m not the only audiobook listener who’s curious about how audiobooks are made. That’s why I recently asked Jill Smith, the narrator of the audio version of Whispers of the Bayou, if I could interview her for my blog. She graciously agreed, and this is that interview. Join us as we discuss the audiobook creation process from the producer’s side of things and what it’s like to be an audiobook narrator and voiceover artist. 

Producer and Narrator Jill Smith
Mindy: When you look at various projects open for audition, what makes you decide which ones you want to try out for?

Jill: I’m looking for projects that are a good fit for my voice but also challenge me in new ways. When I was starting out, I just auditioned for everything in an effort to figure out where my narrator strengths and weaknesses lie. Now I can be a little more selective. I LOVE when I find a book with strong characters whose personalities come across even in a two-page audition excerpt. If I connect with the characters in an audition, then I’ll happily spend 15+ hours with them in a booth.

Mindy: How much time do most producers spend creating an audio clip that they’ll submit for their audition?

Jill: I can’t speak for other producers, but I perform and edit an audition the same way I would a chapter in a book. I rehearse a couple of times, record (usually about a 5-minute selection), and then edit. That takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour, usually.

Mindy: Once you get a job, how do you approach the project?

Jill: I like to read the book and make some notes about the main characters. It’s very helpful when the author has production notes too, and then I can kind of merge my ideas about the characters with whatever the author has given me. I’ll usually record a few character samples for my own reference, and to let the author listen to if they want, in case they want a voice adjusted.

Mindy: Prior to recording, how much time do you usually spend preparing?

Jill: It depends! I usually spend the longest time on characters with accents, because I want to get comfortable enough with the accent that that’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m performing. For characters whose accents are different than mine, I don’t want to cheat them out of a fully realized performance just because I’m focusing so hard on getting the dialect right. I love the prep work, because I get to watch lots of fun YouTube clips and movies and TV shows to give me ideas for voices or help with a regional dialect.

Mindy: Do you mark up your copy of the manuscript in some way, for example making notes along the sides or color coding with highlighters the various characters, etc.?

Jill: I’ll usually make some notes in a separate document and reference that when I need to. A lot of times I‘ll experiment while recording. If I come across a line that I think could be read a number of different ways, then I’ll just record it 15 different ways and then go back and pick my favorite later.

Mindy: About how long does it take to produce an entire audiobook?

Jill: It usually takes me about a month. It depends on the length of the book, whether I’ve hired an editor or am editing it myself, how many projects I’ve got going at the same time, etc. But my preference is to take at least four weeks. I like having time to think through what I’m doing and experiment with different voices.

Mindy: How long are each of your individual recording sessions? What happens if you try to push it longer than that?

Jill: Haha! My voice lets me know when it’s done for the day. I can usually record for several hours at a time. But if I push too hard, then my voice starts sounding strained. Recording seems to work best if I do it every other day and have a day of rest between sessions, but that’s not always possible. A lot of things affect how long my voice can go: the weather (humidity makes it sound strained more quickly), what I’ve eaten, the time of day…it’s really interesting to suddenly notice things about my voice that I haven’t paid much attention to before.

Mindy: What do you wish you could say to authors whose books are being turned into audiobooks?

Jill: Ooh, hmm. I guess just that the more info is supplied up front the better. I love working with authors, so I’m fine with authors who have a very clear vision of what they want and like to be very involved in the process—but obviously, it helps if I know that vision from the get-go, instead of finding out sixteen chapters in that the author doesn’t think Character X should sound that way. I don’t think that’s ever actually happened. But it could!

Mindy: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Jill: I love recording. Is that too broad? I love the part where I’m actually being the characters. I can get lost in that so easily. If I’ve got a great book to work with, then it’s really exciting to feel the rising and falling action of a story as I read it aloud. I get that when I’m reading silently too, but there’s something different about performing it. I’ve recorded scenes where I was surprised by how completely swept up I got in the characters’ emotions (No spoilers, but AJ had a speech in Whispers that really got me). 

Mindy: Trust me, your reading of that speech really gets me—and makes me cry every single time I listen to it!

Jill: Thanks!

Mindy: So what’s your least favorite part of the job?

Jill: Editing! I usually hire an editor for about half my projects, and I do the other half. At first I really hated it, but now I’ll admit that I’ve become pretty interested in sound engineering. It’s still my least favorite part of the process, but I do like learning new things about it. 

Mindy: To my mind, the best narrators are also great actors, because you’re not just reading the story, you’re actually “becoming” every single person in that story. What other skills are required to be a good audiobook reader?

Jill: Patience! It’s a slow process. I do some commercial VO too, and I’ve had other commercial actors ask me why I do audiobooks—why not just all commercial all the time, since with commercials you’re usually recording in 30 second-2 minute segments, often for comparable money. But I love audiobooks so much. I think with audiobooks, you have to go in knowing that it won’t be over quickly. And that you’ll have days where you record for five hours, then go back and listen and realize you want to do 30% of it over again.

Mindy: How did you get into the business of audiobook production?

Jill: My mom is one of the most amazing readers I’ve ever known. She used to read to my brother and sister and me all the time when we were kids. I wanted to be just like her. We would listen to audiobooks too on car trips, and I always hoped I could do that someday. I wasn’t sure how to get into it. I got my BA in theater and had connections there who helped me branch into commercial work, but they didn’t know much about the audiobook market. For several years after college, I moved away from performance and focused on writing. It wasn’t until one of my own books was put into audio and I got a chance to meet the narrator that I learned about ACX, and how I could produce audiobooks independently. He showed me his studio and editing program and everything. I’m really grateful to him for helping me get started as a narrator.

Mindy: If someone were interested in pursuing this line of work for themselves, where would you advise them to begin?

Jill: If you don’t have a home studio yet, there are a number of blogs that can help you create a temporary or permanent recording space in your home for a reasonable price. I recorded my first auditions in someone else’s studio, but quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to afford studio rental prices, so I built my own studio. But I absolutely wish I had done that FIRST, and had a chance to experiment with different equipment/spaces before I landed my first book. Because the acoustics on the first book I recorded were terrible! If you set up your space first, and find the mic that’s right for you, and practice in that space, then by the time you start recording somebody’s book, you can focus on the performance, and not “Is this where my mic should be placed? Wait…let me try it here instead…or maybe here…”

So my advice would be to start with the space, then check ACX to see if there are any projects up for audition that interest you. Audition as often as you can, and don’t get discouraged by rejections, because every audition gives you a chance to hone your skills.

Mindy: Do you do other voice work such as commercials, radio, etc.?

Jill: I do some commercials, yes. I really like that too. It’s a different ballgame than audiobooks, and every now and then when I’m doing an audiobook I’ll listen to myself and be like, “Jill, you sound like you’re selling acne cream, not telling a story. Do it over.” J My next goal is video game VO. I think video games and animation sound really fun.

Mindy: That does sound like fun! One last question, when doing your own personal reading for pleasure, do you prefer print, e-book, or audio?

Jill: Print, 1000%. Sorry, trees. I think ebooks were an awesome innovation, but for some reason, for me, reading on an e-reader has never clicked. (I do love my Kindle for travel, though.) I’m such a book sniffer. I like to smell the books and flip the pages and buy old books that have other people’s names written in them and stuff. I love audiobooks too.

Mindy: Well, your love of reading definintely shines through in your performance, that's for sure. 

I really appreciate you answering my questions today and giving my readers such an insider's perspective on the audiobook creation process. Thank you so much, and best wishes on all of your future audio projects!

Jill Smith is a Chicago-based audiobook narrator and voiceover artist. Credits include the Open Tab series by JA Armstrong, the Adventures on Terra series by RA Mejia, and Game of Nations by Martha Carr. She has a background in theater and creative writing and is thrilled to have found a way to combine her love of books with her love of performance. She also narrates under the name J.A. Rock. You can find her at:



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