Between my recent addiction to listening to audiobooks and the release of my very own audiobook, I have become quite fascinated with the narration and production process. This week I sit down with friend and narrator, Nicol Zanzarella, to discuss: (1) the benefits of audiobooks and their rise in popularity; (2) producing your own audiobook and how best to work with an audiobook narrator; and, (3) tips and insights on how to become a narrator. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!
~ AUDIOBOOKS AND READERS ~
A lot of readers (shockingly!) have not yet tried audiobooks. For me, I love how voice narration can make a story come to life in a completely different way than in written form. Why do you love audiobooks and why should readers give them a try?
You know, I must admit, I do still love and value an actual book of pages in my hand. I am one of those readers who loves to mark up books and underline and make notations when the spirit moves me, even if I am reading for pleasure. I think a love of audiobooks has to begin with a general love for a good story in any form. And certainly, as one who loves her job as a narrator, I think the right storyteller can elevate the experience of taking in a good book. It can really bring another dimension to the process. The other reason I think they provide a great value is actually in relation to your next question…
We live in a busy, busy world. Audiobooks allow me to read more! I can listen while I drive, do chores, shop, exercise, etc. This is one reason I think we are going to see an uptick in audiobook popularity. Where do you see audiobooks in the future?
…I agree with you, I see so much room for audiobooks to grow in popularity, and for all of the reasons you bring up. So often, we hear people say they don’t have time to read. Audiobooks allow people to reclaim that time. In this world, when we have to do at least three things at once to be able to keep up on some days, audiobooks not only allow us to catch up on the ‘reading’ we need or want to do, but might even enhance our experience doing those things. I don’t know about you, but sitting in traffic or house-cleaning can actually become fun adventures with a good story weaving its way through your mind.
~ AUDIOBOOKS AND AUTHORS ~
As an author who has recently put two books into production, I wonder, what do authors need to know (and do) to make working with a producer easier?
I would say that communication is the key. This means an open communication on all fronts: story, tone, characters (their sound and their journey). If you are working directly with the narrator as producer, it is also important to be clear and upfront regarding payment arrangements and time expectations.
Once you feel good that you and your narrator are on the same page – a willingness to trust and let go is also key.
For authors ready to hire a narrator, what should they look for in a narrator before they hire one?
I would say, be sure you are listening for what you really want to hear:
- Choose a narrator whose voice/sound quality feels like it will match the tone of your story. Pay attention to the style and feel of the voice. Listen to how they work the narration because that is how we view your voice as the author.
- Listen to the character voices, both male and female. If you have special dialect needs be sure the narrator can handle those needs.
- It is also important to listen to the quality of the recording. If all of those wonderful performance traits are there and exactly what you’re looking for, you want to be sure your readers/listeners can hear it clearly and without distractions or noises.
In the end, it is your story. We are an instrument used to enhance the telling of that story, and hopefully help your story reach a wider audience. If you stay true to your vision of how it should be told, I think the right narrator choice will be clear.
I used Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to find and hire my narrators. Is this the main forum for this or are there other places for authors to meet potential narrators?
Our industry is evolving, so there are a few ways this can work.
It used to be that narrators would be hired directly through publishers or producers and this practice still exists There is great value in the talent pool and quality of the finished product when going this route.
We now also have the creation of ACX, which is a melting pot of novice and veteran narrators and where the narrator also takes on the task of producing. This is currently the main forum for authors who aren’t working with a major publisher or don’t have a budget for hiring a liaison producer, to hire narrators for their projects. It gives narrators a chance to seek out work from authors as well.
I think you will always find room and ability for communication between authors and narrators, whichever avenue you chose to pursue.
~ BECOMING A NARRATOR ~
I’m intrigued with the process of recording an audiobook. Walk us through how you do it.
I am sure we all have our own little nuances, and particular habits, but the first rule, of course, is to read the book in its entirety before going into the studio. Aside from the obvious reasons of being sure we know the journey of the piece, we also need to do this to be able to have a complete understanding of who our characters need to be and what they sound like. Sometimes we are halfway through preparing the book before we might find a note on the sound of a character’s voice or the kind of accent he or she might have. If you start recording before you have all of that information that equals quite a lot of wasted time for everyone involved. Or a lot of pick-ups at the end of the process…
We usually only have time for one detailed pass through an entire book so, while I am reading, I am marking the text and taking notes on the side.
I mark the text for any notes I need as to how the narration should flow. I am also, at this time, distinguishing the dialogue for each character so that when I am recording, I don’t have to stop and try to figure out who is speaking when and to whom. I look for any words that I might need a definition or pronunciation note for, or any research of that sort.
Simultaneously, I take notes on each of the characters and look for clues that might tell me how they sound (tall, short, muscular, out of shape, from Massachusetts, smoker, smooth voice, etc…) or who they are. If it is a complicated story arc, I might also make some chapter notes.
Lastly, I keep a separate note page for any questions or clarifications I may need from the author or author’s representative. It wasn’t always the case that narrators were in direct communication with the authors so this opens up the collaborative process.
The day before I go into the studio, I review the characters to make sure I am confident in who they are and how they sound. I make one last pass through my notes to be sure all of my questions are answered and then I get into the recording booth and go…
I know a lot of people who would like to do audiobook narration. I would think those who are more theatrical would be best suited for this kind of career (or hobby). What do you believe are some of the pre-requisites for an individual interested in doing this?
Many of the narrators I know come from a variety of backgrounds. Producers will often look for people with a strong theatre resume, experience performing heightened language (i.e. Shakespeare or classical theatre), an MFA, voiceover work, radio or broadcast experience, etc…
These things are not always a prerequisite. Audiobook narration is a different beast than any of them. However, it is imperative that you have some ability to perform, to tell a story, to feel a rhythm and keep people engaged.
Along with some talent for storytelling, narration requires a certain amount of stamina and self-discipline. You are often alone for hours on end talking to yourself in a very small room. You must respect your voice as the instrument it is. You will cut evenings short, give up chocolate and cheese (at least on recording days), cancel on friends hanging out late in a smoky bar (do those even exist anymore?) and you probably shouldn’t scream for your favorite team at a baseball game the night before you are heading into the studio.
Actually, Sean Pratt, a fellow actor/audiobook narrator who offers coaching services for actors and narrators, has a terrific blog post about a ‘test’ he developed for folks who are considering this line of work and I think it really sums up what our daily routine is like:
I offer that this is not a job for the faint of heart, but if you love and revel in the process, you are more than halfway there.
For those ready to start, what do they need to know and what online (or offline) resources should they look into?
The answer to this question is near and dear to my heart. I will beg your pardon if this sounds like a sales-pitch, but to me, the answer doesn’t make sense without a bit of the story: Bob and Debra Deyan of Deyan Audio (http://www.deyanaudio.com/), multiple Grammy and Audie Award Winning audiobook producers, are the people who gave me my start in this business. Years later, they are mentors and people I consider family. We just recently lost Bob Deyan to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). As a way to carry forth Bob’s legacy of excellence and dedication to our art form, Debra, along with some talented colleagues, decided to form The Deyan Institute of Voice Artistry and Technology (http://www.deyaninstitute.com/).
This is a perfect first stop for anyone who might be ready to jump in. They offer beginner classes on the creative narration process and the technology behind recording (as these days we are both narrator and producer), a well as master classes and workshops for experienced narrators or voice artists, classes on the business aspect of our industry, and even seminars for authors on making your book into an audiobook.
Along with ‘classroom’ education, I recommend really listening to audiobooks; visiting the various websites, blog posts and articles written by narrators, authors and publishers alike; and keeping up with developments in the business practices and technological advancements within the industry. Our narrator community is a wonderfully generous and chatty bunch. You will most likely find some great information and advice this way.
I’m always impressed with the crisp and clear sound quality. I’m assuming narrators must have special equipment?
There are varying degrees of home studio set-ups and types of equipment. Much of this will depend on the kind of space you live in and what kind of budget you are working with. Sound quality is key though, and, in my opinion, should be the first thing taken into consideration before making a decision as to what will work best for your particular space and budget. Some people build a studio in a closet or a room in their home. Others have free-standing isolation booths built into a space in their home or office.
The very bare basics, which also come in various qualities and prices, include and are not at all limited to a condenser mic, pre-amp, up to date computer system that can handle the most current programs, a monitor, and audio production software (i.e. Pro Tools).
~ ABOUT YOU ~
How long have you been a narrator and what made you start?
I have been a narrator for almost three years. It was something I had been interested in for quite some time. I actually grew up around the radio business. My father ran a local radio station in the county I grew up in and I would sit for hours and watch the djs talk into a mic. Years later, in my acting life, I had a secret love for reading stage directions for great plays. I loved getting to showcase the overall framework of a play and move, vocally, along with the shifting tones of a piece as it progressed from beginning to “The End.” Sometimes, when it was right for the play, the stage directions would serve as a character in and of itself. The only drawback to doing that job as an actor is that you always want the opportunity to dive into a specific role and act!
Narrating an audiobook is the merging of those ideals for me. I get to tell the story AND dive into the lives of (ALL) the characters. It is indeed my dream job. And when I walked into that studio on my first day I felt a huge piece of my heart open and I just knew I was home.
What do you know now that you wish you did when you first began narrating?
When you start a new job you always worry that there is something you won’t know how to do, or do “properly.” I wish I trusted myself a little more right off the bat. It is only now that I am learning that I don’t have to be afraid of my own style, my own way of doing things. I have a better understanding of my sound, my rhythm, my process, and those places where there is (always) room to improve.
I wish I could have relaxed into “who I am” as a narrator right away. Although, without that road to travel we don’t get to grow into who we are to become. It is such a lovely community of storytellers and we each, all of us, literally have our own voices, our own styles – and in this particular community, we celebrate our differences, make room for our similarities, and learn from one another… it’s a very nice place to belong and I feel privileged to receive such a warm welcome.
Where can readers find books narrated by you?
Please feel free to visit my website: www.NicolZanzarella.com
Or, you can also find my work on Audible.com or iTunes…
Where can authors interact with you about potential new projects?
I would love to interact via email at: infoLittlePest@gmail.com.
You can also find me on Facebook (Nicol Zanzarella StoryTeller) or on Twitter @NicolZanzarella
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Just how happy I am to have connected with you and your work. I truly thank you for being interested in sharing a piece of my story. Have a great day everyone!
As always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.