I always wanted to narrate an audiobook – just never got around to researching the process.  This is a handy insider’s post on what authors encounter in the wild shopping around for that perfect narrator.  Enjoy!
Barbara Venkataraman
-Author of the Jamie Quinn Mystery Series &  the “Quirky Essays for Quirky People” Series

Audiobooks ‘R’ Us!

Making an audiobook with a narrator is like marrying a total stranger and hoping it all works out. As in a marriage, the participants start out starry-eyed, but soon discover each other’s idiosyncrasies and quirks, realizing with a sense of dread that they are now stuck with each other–at least until the project is finished. That’s why it makes sense to choose a narrator with experience and a stellar reputation, one who has completed at least one project and done it well. Or you could fly by the seat of your pants like I did. Boy, did I get lucky! After hearing other authors’ horror stories and seeing reviews of badly done audiobooks, I realize just how lucky I was/am.

Unlike many authors, I write in two unrelated genres, humor and mystery, specifically, cozy mystery. Ideally, I wanted to find a narrator with the talent and skill to handle both genres. It needed to be a woman (my mysteries are told in first person by a female protagonist) with a sense of humor, someone who “got” my jokes. She had to be able to do a range of voices to cover all the characters in my mysteries and, one more thing, she needed to work for free! Now, when I say free, I don’t really mean free; I just mean that I couldn’t afford to pay her anything.  I figured I’d have to be the greatest sales woman in the world to convince a total stranger to spend hundreds of hours recording my self-published, unproven books as unpaid labor, OR, I could find a narrator through ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) who was willing to royalty-share (spend hundreds of hours recording my self-published, unproven books as unpaid labor AND split any future profits, assuming there were any).

I started on my quest to find the perfect Jamie Quinn (the star of my Jamie Quinn mystery series). I stumbled through the labyrinth known as Audible.com and, throwing caution to the wind, posted two projects simultaneously: a book of humorous essays and my first Jamie Quinn mystery. I listed both as royalty-share projects and put them out for audition. I must add here that ACX allows you to choose the qualifications of your ideal narrator and it’s enough to make your head explode! First, you chose the gender and the language. Easy enough. Then, you choose the accent, which can range from British to American to Boston, Irish, to Southern drawl to…well, you get the picture. Now come the hard choices. Do you want a voice that’s warm? Scientific? Authoritative? Matter-of-fact? Sexy? And so on and so on…I hate to admit it, but I hadn’t given any of that much thought, nor did I want to. I hoped I could pick the right one. But what if I couldn’t?

I got exactly three auditions, all of them very nice women, none of them Jamie Quinn material. I felt so bad rejecting them. The only thing I’d gotten from ACX so far was a truckload of guilt. Then I realized that I didn’t have to wait around, I could listen to the demo recordings posted on the site. There were only a bazillion of them, no problem at all. I realized that many of the demos were repeats as in the same narrator putting herself up for different projects: here’s me narrating a romance, here’s me narrating a thriller, etc. I listened to many women reading many different passages until I started questioning the whole project and wondering why I always had to do everything the hard way. Finally, I heard a “maybe” voice which gave me a little hope, enough hope to keep trying. I kept slogging through until the heavens suddenly parted and I heard an angel sing, only she wasn’t an angel, she was Carrie Lee Martz, an actress who did voiceovers. Her demo wasn’t of her reading a book, it was a voiceover demo in which she showed off her range of voices. She was perfect! Hallelujah! I made her an offer for both books and she accepted them both. Oh, happy day! Then, I had a sobering thought, what if she didn’t like the books? I told her to look them over first and then decide. She decided yes. Then we had an e-mail exchange in which I confessed that I’d never done this before. She confessed that she hadn’t either. We said we were both game and we jumped right in. We are now recording our fourth book together (when I say “we”, I mean the “royal we”–Carrie is doing all of the recording) and I’m not going to say that it hasn’t taken a lot of effort. And we did hit a few bumps along the way, like when I sent her the wrong version of the second Jamie Quinn mystery and she had to re-record the last 5 chapters! But I am thrilled to report that we are very happy with our arranged marriage and we’ve even started making some money! So, if you’re thinking of making audiobooks, I hope you find the right narrator and that it’s love at first listen.