The Voice Mama
By: Jennifer Wilson
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 www.voicemama.com 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 is the #1 Amazon bestselling author of the young adult New World Series. The gripping trilogy spans Rising, Ashes, 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 Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on her website.