Posts Tagged ‘audiobooks’

Interview with Sandra Murphy

The Voice Mama

By: Jennifer Wilson

Sandra Murphy
Sandra Murphy – AKA The Voice Mama

Audiobooks are a fast growing staple of the literary world. I myself devour at least three audiobooks a month. Readers still love the hardy feel and ink-stained smell of a good tome, but with streaming services, booming audiobooks are on the rise. They ease long drives, are great when walking the dog, out for a run or even while cooking. Especially now, as we are all stuck inside, audiobooks are a great escape, allowing people to still be productive while listening to an amazing story.

And it’s not just the Big Five publishers taking advantage of this growing trend either. With the launch of ACX, indie writers are now joining the game without breaking the bank. But this is a whole new construct from what we writers are used to, so I’m pulling in expert Sandra Murphy —AKA The Voice Mama—to dish on everything from her process to resources to how to find the right talent for your book.

Q: Sandra, it’s wonderful getting to connect with you today. Thanks so much for taking the time. First and foremost, how are you doing in this new world we’re all adjusting to?

A: My pleasure! The biggest change is that there is no quiet time to narrate which I would usually have when my husband was at work and the children in school.  With the entire family home, we’ve instituted quiet hours when I record.  I do my best to stick to that time frame and we converge as a family and make plenty of noise when I’m done.

Q: Tell me, what do you love most about narrating audiobooks?

A:  I get to play ALL the characters!!  There is no type casting in audiobook narration.  As an actor, it’s so freeing to play fairies, ogres, Mexican hit men, Ukrainian circus performers – roles I would never be cast in on stage or on camera. 

Q: Do you have a ritual or routine you do before sitting down to record the audio (such as vocal exercises or donning your lucky unwashed socks)?

A:  Pre COVID-19, I’d head to the gym in the morning which would function to wake up my body, release tension, and get me in touch with my breath.  After doing my vocal warm-ups and before heading into the studio, I always make a cup of apple cider vinegar and honey “tea” to have with me in the booth, which helps clear mouth congestion.

Q: What genres will you always say no or yes to, and why?

A:  I will always say yes to books in the mystery genre – from cozy mysteries to police procedurals to thrillers – if there’s a dead body, I’m interested.  I’m an active member of Sisters in Crime Colorado and love to attend events like “Night with a Coroner” or tour the CBI building to increase my understanding of the genre.

I will always say no to Erotica.

Q: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

A:  I love literature and good writing is what really pulls me into a project. 

The Flats Junction series by Sara Dahmen is my first venture into historical fiction.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed narrating this series.  In TINSMITH 1865, Marie Kotlarczyk must learn to become a female tinsmith in the Dakota Territories.  In WIDOW 1881, Jane Weber, a proper Boston widow, must choose how she will truly reinvent herself and where she belongs.  Two vastly different female protagonists, two different time periods, but both stories take place in the same frontier town of Flats Junction.

The character development, character arcs, and conflicts in this series are masterful. 

Q: A lot of authors don’t realize how long it takes to get their book babies into audio format. Can you talk about how much time it takes to produce an audiobook and how that breaks out? (ie prep, studio time, editing…)  

A:  The quick answer is 6-8 weeks.  It takes roughly 8 hours of time – prepping, recording, editing, mastering – per finished hour of audio to produce an audiobook.  So, for a 93,000 word book, which would be a 10 hour audiobook, 80 hours of time went into producing the finished product.

Q: When selecting a narrator, what are the top 3 things an author should do?

A:  Define the Voice of Your Brand:  When you select an audiobook narrator, you are choosing the voice of your brand.  When talking about this topic, I like to give the example of the James Bond movies.  Many different actors have played this role and they all bring something different to the character.  Each narrator will bring something different to your audiobook.  You know what your brand looks like since you worked with a cover artist to create your book cover.  What does your brand sound like?  Sophisticated, gravelly, prim, urban, etc.  Need guidance?  Check out audiobooks from other authors in your genre.  If you can find one or two words that describe of the overall narrative tone you are looking for, it will help narrow down your search for the right narrator.

Do Your Research: Do your research and listen to the narrator’s audiobook samples.  Do you like what you hear?  Check their websites and social media presence.  Will they be a good business partner?  How are their reviews?

Trust the Creative Process:  There is a point when the baton of creativity is passed from author to narrator.  If you’ve done your research and found the voice of your brand, trust the audiobook narrator to bring their unique voice and creative vision to your work.  Trust me—the voices will NOT sound like the ones in your head, no matter whom you choose.  If you’ve chosen your creative partner correctly, they will honor your characters and your writing.  You might even be pleasantly surprised to hear a different approach to your work.

Q: Where are the best places for an author to connect with a quality narrator?

A:  If you are traditionally published and like a particular narrator, you can make a recommendation to the publisher.

If you are independently published, you’ll be looking on sites like ACX, Findaway Voices, or Spoken Realms for narrators.  Listen to samples, look at reviews, check social media feeds, visit websites to ascertain a narrator’s body of work.  Membership to the Association of Audiobook Publishers is a good indicator the narrator is committed to the audiobook narration profession. 

If you listen to a lot of audiobooks and are a fan of a particular narrator, you can reach out to them and ask if they would be interested in narrating your work.

Q: How do audiobook narrators and directors decide what kind of tone to use for each character? 

A:  All of the clues to what the character should sound like are in the book.  In THE WHISPERING PINES MYSTERY series by Shawn McGuire, the character of Morgan Barlow always takes the protagonist by the arm when she wants to talk with her.  I stood in the booth with my arm in a similar manner to what was described in the book and when I said Morgan’s lines, her voice just naturally came.

Q: How do you connect with each character, theme, and emotion?

A:  One of my favorite characters is the cantankerous Granny Apples of THE GRANNY APPLES MYSTERY series by Sue Ann Jaffarian.  This character reminded me of Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, so I used that as a jumping off point to create her voice.  Granny Apples has a certain tilt to her head, facial expression, and twang for her voice to come out just right.  Her spitfire personality is very fun to narrate but I’m glad people can’t see what I look like when I do it.

Q: Haha! Understandable, I make similar expressions when writing. If in a coffee shop, I probably look crazy. What is it like reading different characters’ dialogue lines?

A:  It’s just two people talking to each other so you switch between voices.

Q: Do you ever laugh at yourself as you’re testing out voices?

A:  Occasionally, a voice comes out that totally doesn’t work and I have to start over.

Q: As a professional voice actor are there special techniques you use to care for and condition your voice? 

A:  Hydration.  Sleep.  Wellness care.  I drink a lot of water to make sure I’m hydrated – it makes a huge difference in your voice.  Getting 8+ hours of sleep is essential as is taking very good care of yourself.  I usually wear a scarf in crisp weather since the common cold can take my voice out of commission for a good 6 weeks.  That’s a disaster.

Q: What audiobook do you love to listen to and what about that narration makes it special?

A:  Johnny Heller is one of my favorite audiobook narrators because of his creativity and commitment to any project.  His narration of the evil genius guinea pig, Gizmo, in the WEDGIE & GIZMO series by Suzanne Selfors always lifts my heart and makes me smile.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to become an audiobook narrator?

A:  Audiobook narration is first and foremost an acting profession.  Just like acting for stage or film, one should start by taking acting and improv classes.  The more you understand the foundations of acting and how to break down a scene, the more successful you will be as an audiobook narrator.

Q: Okay final and most important question! Where can our readers find you and your work?

A: On my website at you can sign up for my newsletter or type my name in the Audible search engine to find my audiobooks.

Sandra Murphy, the Voice Mama, is an award-winning audiobook narrator known for her compelling, sophisticated narration and sarcastic female protagonists.  Fictional characters include an uptight lisping beaver, Ukrainian circus performer, Polish settler, snarky female detective, and a whole host of Mexican hit men.  Non-fiction narration includes parenting and women in leadership titles.   Sandra provides entertaining workshops on audiobooks for self-published authors. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of the young adult New World Series. The gripping trilogy spans RisingAshes, and Inferno. Jennifer is constantly on the move, always working on her next story line and drinking way too much coffee. When not writing, she is enjoying life in Colorado, rock climbing, camping, exploring new foods, playing with her golden retriever, Duke, and sharing life with her heroically supportive hubby. You can connect and nerd out with Jennifer on FacebookInstagramTwitter and on her website.

Audiobooks – Now’s the time!

by: Jennifer Lovett

Do you have a book out? Have you turned it into an audiobook yet? Audiobooks are exploding on the market and now is the time for you to jump in. Do it! Just do it!

Why? Because everybody else is doing it!

  • In March 2018, Pew Research reported a seven-point increase in Americans who listen to audiobooks.
  • Another study found drivers admit to listening to podcasts and audiobooks while sitting in traffic.
  • And yet another study found that Harry Potter was the most listened to book on Alexa in 2017.

Use the commute!

People are admitting to listening to ebooks while working out, cleaning the house and taking a walk. Besides the fact that everyone is doing it, providing an audiobook is also an excellent way to exploit the daily commute. Studies show that in the United States today, the typical commute is 24 minutes long. If you live in Denver, that commute tops 45 minutes–Fill that void baby!

Meet Big Daddy ACX

Before you decide whether you want to read it yourself or pay someone, you need to know about Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). It’s the dragon in the Amazon, Audible and iTunes’ moats. There are other peeps trying to get in on the distro business but for now, you’re stuck with ACX. Go ahead and just accept it and create your account, then upload your book cover, input your product description, list price and distribution options. Then upload your file. Hit publish and market as usual.

Yes, you could go with Overdrive (the library distributor) or or even Downpour but then you’ll lose high royalty rates on ACX. This goes into the big debate about being wide or exclusive to Amazon.

Just how techie are you?

ACX has a pretty stringent set of requirements. If you hire someone, they’ll make sure your file has all the correct technical requirements. If you do it yourself, you’re on your own. Because I don’t want to scare you right off the bat, I put them in the DYI section.

BUT BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, you have to decide how you want to go about producing these things.

To create an audiobook file, you have several options:

  • Record it yourself
  • Partner with a narrator and pay up front
  • Partner with a narrator and pay in royalties
  • Partner with a narrator and pay by the hour

DYI – If you do it yourself, you need to consider a few things. First, it’s easier for nonfiction authors because they don’t have to be in character. Second, are you comfortable reading your work? Do you have any voice or acting training to help with emotion and character differentiation in your reading? Are you comfortable editing audio? Third, just how techie are you?

 If you answered yes and you’re ready to go, this is what you need:

  • Editing software. I recommend Audacity. It’s free and easy to use.
  • A good dynamic microphone. I recommend ATR2100 rather than the Snowball I use for podcasting. It will pick up less extraneous noise.
  • A very quiet space. Recording at your kitchen table isn’t going to cut it. Pad the walls of a small room in your house with egg crates or set up a tent (seriously) and throw a blanket over the top of it. Now, listen for things like the humming of the air conditioning, traffic on the street, or the dripping water at the sink.
  • Decrease noise on the audio file. Before you start recording yourself reading your book, record the “silence” in the room for five to ten seconds. When you’re done recording, highlight that section, go to the Effects menu and click “Noise Removal,” then click “Get Noise Profile” from the drop-down menu. Then select the entire audio on the track and click Noise Removal. Adjust any settings or go with the default, click OK and you’re done. This should help eliminate any ambient noises you may not have noticed while recording. This step is key because Amazon won’t take an audio file that has extraneous noise.
  • Tech specs. Here’s how your files need to be composed:
    • Be comprised of all mono or all stereo files
    • Include opening and closing credits
    • Include a retail sample between one and five minutes long
    • Section titles must be recorded
    • Be a 192 kbps or higher MP3 file
    • Each file must have a running time of 120 minutes or less
    • Measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS and have -3dB peak values

If you’d prefer to use a narrator, ACX has an exchange of narrators and producers. These folks are professionals and will offer you an “audition” reading of your work. Using professionals who are trained to record audiobooks will ensure your book sounds professional and will increase your credibility. It also cuts down on your learning curve.

There are three ways to pay a narrator: pay by the job up front; pay through a percentage of royalties; or pay by the hour. I do not recommend paying by the hour because it can take upwards of 20 hours of reading to get a normal-sized book read for a file. As a totally broke writer, I like the small percentage of royalties but over time, that could screw you. So, the ideal way if you have investment funds is to pay for the job up front. And let’s be real: audiobooks are NOT cheap! They can range anywhere from $1500-$3000. Are you choking? I did when I found out. BUT, if you can figure out a way to get it done, it’s a pretty big bang for your book over time.

Final word on this from a famous-type guy: Dave Chesson from Kindlepreneur says, “The audiobook market is growing at a rate of 30% per year, which nearly quadruples the growth rate for eBooks.

Don’t you want in????

Jennifer Lovett

Jennifer Lovett Herbranson is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. With 17 years communications experience, she regularly writes on social media, internet marketing and face-to-face publicity. She currently lives in South Korea and travels around Asia for fun. You can find her on her WebsiteFacebookTwitter, and Pinterest: @jennylovett