Today we’re happy to welcome audio fiction narrator Linda Jones with some thoughts on the process and experience of narrating an audiobook. Dig the article, then stick around after the cut to check out a sample of the audio narration of John C. Foster’s novel, The Isle. Linda has a stellar and engaging reading voice and it won’t take you long to know that you want a copy of this sucker quick. Hell, I want a copy and I’ve already read the book. And don’t forget to check back here this Friday (April 26) for a very special announcement and a chance to win some awesomeness.
NOTES FROM THE NARRATOR
Narrating a book is an intimate and somewhat solitary experience, not unlike writing.
There is a scratchy and worn vinyl record of ghost stories read by Vincent Price that Dad picked up when I was a kid – we still pull it out every Halloween. And there was the voice of E.G. Marshall, introducing “Mystery Theatre” on those night drives home from Marblehead, radio tuned to WEEI Boston, me in the backseat with my head against the window watching the stars. My first school play was an original work from my 4th-grade teacher Mr. Lemaire called, “Equal Frights.” It started with:
“Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble,
After midnight pay us double.
Equal pay for equal frights –
Witches of the world: unite!”
It was the 70s, after all.
I was 10 when I decided that the only career for me was telling stories.
As an actor my focus has largely been new plays and development (see also: 4th-grade, Mr. Lemaire). Somehow I’ve managed to distill that down even further, bringing together two of my favorite things: the quiet pleasure of holing up with a good book, and the physical joy of words & language rolling around my mouth and escaping into the air. Now I get to do both.
Doing horror and ghost stories and spec fiction too? Bliss. Utter and total icing-on-the-cake bliss.
I am often asked about narration by writers who are curious about the process. Even my cohort John C. Foster, author of The Isle, who lives with his narrator, had questions. Among the most frequent – Do you read it first? (Yes.) Is there a director? (Not usually.) What’s the process? …
It starts with me and the words. Because my job is to serve the text and the writer – to reflect the story forward to a listener in a way that is (hopefully) mostly invisible, to let the words work their magic, I have to understand the material first. I start by reading the book – once over, front to back, letting the story wash over me without worrying about anything performance related. Then I do a deeper more targeted read. I ask questions, look for the places where I felt unclear and try to discover why. I think about the shape and pace, where the story moves or jumps or lingers. I think about tone and voice. The music of it. I map it out. I list all the characters (*all* the characters), along with who they are, what their story is. I mine the text for information and mark up the manuscript as needed. I review any accents or dialects that might be required. I look up place names or words I might not know how to pronounce. Any remaining questions? I ask the writer.
Recording days are steam powered and physical: a hot shower, stretching and a bit of exercise to get the blood moving, a cup of hot ginger tea. In the booth there is a bottle of water, a box of kleenex, lip balm, and a pillow to muzzle my stomach if it starts answering back (it’s all very glamorous). On average it’s about 2 hours in the booth for every hour of finished audio, and 6 or 7 hour days are lovely, giving me a chance to find a rhythm, get into a groove. (Past that and my concentration begins to flag, along with my voice.)
Not every narrator is the same, mind you – everyone’s process is a little different, and some prefer shorter recording days – but this is what works for me. That said… there are times when life forces a break in the schedule.
My home studio is at the back of our Brooklyn apartment, away from the noise of the street. There is no escaping the flight path to JFK and LaGuardia, however, and some days there are a LOT of planes in the air. There are occasional trucks that rumble, occasional dogs that bark, and the very occasional, but very near, snoring John C. Foster. Usually, it just means a pause and a sip of water but if it’s relentless, I take a break, walk the dog, stretch, breathe. Then I get back to work.
I avoid dairy before recording because it makes my voice ‘gunky,’ I avoid citrus, because phlegm. Coffee can dehydrate causing mouth noise (clicky, sticky, pops and snaps), but my deep, dark confession? I very much need my first morning cup. A tart apple is a good antidote… but can cause stomach rumbles and should be used with caution. Lunch is a cautionary tale.
Like I said: glamour.
And I absolutely love it. It’s the most intimate acting work I’ve ever done. My voice to a listener’s ear – and we spend hours together – direct, immediate, and personal.
My most fervent wish, my hope, my goal is that they forget I’m there. That they forget there’s a voice, an actor, a person – that I reflect the author’s intent so completely that they can just hear and respond to the words.
When the recording is done, I send those raw sound files to an audio engineer to proof, edit, and master. She proofs them against the manuscript, sends any necessary edits back to me – a missed word here, a flip or a mispronounced word there, maybe an errant noise in the background – and I record pickups. Once done, she works her magic, editing, sweetening and mastering the final product. (I am in awe of Audio Engineers.)
Of course, the process is slightly different when I’m working in an outside studio with an audiobook publisher, but the prep and the set-up and the basic tenets are the same. There’s just no snoring John C. Foster to distract.
For you and your audiobook: make sure it’s happening. It’s a fast-growing industry and one that allows you to reach a whole new audience. If your agent or publisher is doing it through an existing audiobook publisher, you’re golden – they will choose a talented and experienced narrator that suits your work.
If you’re publishing it yourself through a platform like ACX (Audio Creation Exchange): look for a narrator who is a partner – someone who ‘gets’ your writing voice and style. You want someone who can run with it, whom you can trust with your words and your intent. That actor will be spending hours telling your story. Don’t be afraid to ask questions up front; there are a lot of narrators out there and you want to find the person who’s right for your work. Be sure they’re professional, that they’ve got a process, a proofer. You should also expect questions in return – especially if you’re embarking on a Royalty Share agreement, which is a 7-year contract. They’ll want to know how your book is doing and what your marketing plans are, so they can make an informed decision about taking on a project of many hours for deferred compensation. Those projects can be very successful – but all parties should go in with eyes open.
Finally, once you’ve found your narrator? Let ‘em run. Trust that they know how to lift the words off the page and engage the listener. That’s their job.
My playwright friends know well this terror: entrusting your work with the actors who will embody the characters onstage. It is a true leap of faith to give your words to another, to let the actor speak. But then there’s the glee of hearing those words escaping into the air.
I pulled up an episode of “Mystery Theatre” moments ago, just to see if it was all I remembered. It was. The creaking door, the music, the voice – I was transported to another time and place. That’s what good audio can do.
Listen to Linda Jones reading from The Isle
About Linda Jones:
Linda Jones is an NYC narrator who’s done horror (The Isle), modern fairy tale (The Grimoire of Kensington Market) and romance (Yours Forever), among other titles. She lives in Brooklyn with writer John C. Foster, their dog Coraline, and an apartment filled-to-bursting, floor-to-ceiling, corner-to-absolute-corner with books.
Pick up The Isle on Audible.
Find more about Linda Jones on her website.