Interview with an author

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I was curious what the process of making an audiobook is like on the (rights holder/) author’s side, so I asked!

Nicholas Nicastro writes richly developed historical fiction, and I’ve been lucky enough to voice two of his recent works, Hell’s Half Acre and Ella Maud.

1 You have produced several audiobooks through ACX despite being in negotiations with publishers.  Why did you choose the process you did?

Publishers are usually willing to produce an audiobook only if a print or ebook sells beyond a certain number of units. And in my experience, publishers almost never invest resources to get to that number. Little or nothing for advertising, getting reviews, etc. They’d rather the author do all that work for them. I wasn’t willing to leave an audiobook to the chance my book would stumble on its own audience. I also prefer to have control over the final product.

2 How many auditions did you receive in the time you left it up?  (How long did you leave it up?)

Typically, as many as 60 or 70 in the course of a week or so.

3 What would you say was the average length of auditions you received?  Did you listen to them all in entirety, or only a few seconds to some?

They ranged from around 3 to 10 minutes. I would listen to all of them, unless the person submitting didn’t follow the specifications I listed—such as wrong accent. 

4 What were the characteristics that said "definite no" to you?

See above. If a producer can’t follow the specifications in a listing, I sense he or she won’t take direction very well during production, lack attention to detail, etc. There are other, performance-related problems that can also make me pass on someone.

5 What were the qualities that you heard that made you interested in a narrator?

Part of casting is a matter of chemistry. Sometimes certain voices just “speak” to you for reasons that aren’t easily explained. But one quality they tend to have in common is taking deep care of the language. The words, after all, are all we have in a book. And I can tell when a producer is inhabiting the work, really  present and swimming in it, so to speak. If I sense someone is just getting thru the material, with their minds a sentence ahead, it comes thru pretty clearly to me. It sounds rushed. It sounds perfunctory. And if the narrator is just plowing thru the story, why should the listener care about the words either?

6 What do you wish were different with the process (of ACX or the whole audiobook production process)?

I’ve mostly had a good experience with the platform. Sometimes quality control makes questionable objections, like calling music “extraneous noise”. I also think Audible prices audiobooks too high. I want more control over that. But, in general, I’m happy.

7 What has frustrated you with working with narrators?

Having worked with actors on films, I can say that working with narrators can have the same frustrations. Poor communication. Resistance to taking direction. Coming to the work not being adequately prepared. But overall I think I’ve been pretty fortunate.

8 What is the most important characteristic of narrator's work or dealings with a rights holder?

There isn’t any one characteristic. It’s the package: talent, communication skills, attention to detail. Liking and respecting the material helps. If a narrator enjoys what he or she is performing, that quality makes a difference. It may be subtle, but it’s there.

9 What do you wish narrators knew or understood about your side of the process?

If anything, it’s that most writers work alone, so collaboration can be entirely new territory. It’s sometimes hard to let someone else into this universe you’ve created, in so intimate a way. It’s like inviting someone into your mind. That can be a challenge.