I had the pleasure of meeting audiobook narrator, writer and director Tavia Gilbert at my local library last year. Struck by the beautiful tone of her voice and her vivacious personality, I was eager to learn more about possibly creating an audio version of my debut novel. Within two months of our meeting, Blackstone Audio had recorded Tavia’s reading of The Vintner’s Daughter! Tavia has received six Audie nominations, four Earphones, a Publishers Weekly ListenUp Award, a long list of stand-out reviews, and consistent placement on Top Ten and Best Of lists! You can connect with Tavia on her website: taviagilbert.com, her FB page: www.facebook.com/taviagilbertswords or on Twitter: @TaviaGilbert.
This guest post is by Kristen Harnisch. Harnisch is the award-winning author of The Vintner’s Daughter, the first novel in a series about the changing world of vineyard life at the turn of the twentieth century. Her next novel, The California Wife, will be released in 2016. Harnisch has been a speaker at the Writer’s Digest Conference and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children. Connect with Kristen at kristenharnisch.com, on Twitter @KristenHarnisch, and on Facebook facebook.com/kristenharnischauthor.
How did you become a voice actor/book narrator?
I specifically set out to become a narrator because I recognized the great opportunity in that career path. Working as a professional audiobook narrator would allow me to be a full-time actor, be engaged with story-telling and literature, connect to listeners and writers, have an independent business, and help me grow as an actor, writer, and artist. All those expectations have been more than fulfilled. I love my job, and feel incredibly fortunate to have made my living full-time as an audiobook narrator for the last eight years. It took a great deal of work — getting coaching specific to the craft of narration, setting up a home studio, cultivating relationships with publishers. I am still learning and growing as an actor, and hope and expect to do so for the rest of my life.
Why do you think audio books have become so popular?
Being told a story is a very intimate, tender experience, and no matter what age we are, we need that kind of deep, human connection. We’re wired for story. A wonderful audiobook is an absolute delight. The listener falls in love, in a way, with the storyteller and the story. Audiobooks comfort the lonely-hearted, the afflicted, the ill, the sightless. They keep busy lovers of language company when there’s little time available for the dedicated reading of a book in print.
Could you please describe the process of creating an audiobook?
I’m sent a digital manuscript of the print book by an audiobook publisher, and I open the manuscript in iAnnotate on my iPad. I read the manuscript closely, marking the script carefully with various highlighters and underline tools. For example, I mark every unfamiliar word or term I need to research in red. Every new character is highlighted in purple. Every bit of character description is marked in orange. In a scene with various characters in dialogue, especially those without attributions (“Jane said,” “Richard answered”), each character’s line of dialogue will be underlined in a different color, so I can visually track the flow of the back and forth of the conversation without missing a beat. Dialogue direction (“he growled,” “she hissed,” “she shouted”) is marked in green, so that I can deliver the dialogue with a touch of that suggestion. Character’s specific vocal qualities are marked in blue (“his textured baritone,” “her adenoidal squeak”), so that I know what the writer has offered for vocal characterizations. If the book has many characters, I’ll make a character chart where I break out different aspects of characterization, like attitude/emotion, tempo, pitch, placement (does the voice come from her chest? his throat? his stomach?), so that I can frequently refer to the chart throughout recording to ensure that the many characters are differentiated and consistent.
The largest cast I’ve read has been around 100 characters. I’ve done a lot of accents and dialects — French, Russian, German, Hawaiian, Welsh, Australian, Cockney, upper crust Brit, Manchester, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican…and the truth is, they’re not perfect. Some are more fully realized than others. But the imperative thing is that the acting is good, meaning real, authentic, human in every bit of character dialogue.
Once the recording of each chapter is complete, I upload it to my publisher. They edit and proof the recording, ensuring that my narration is word perfect to the script. They send a list of corrections, which I record and send, and then the book is ready to go out into the world!
What advice would you give to someone who’d like to break into voice acting?
I’d say that specific coaching is imperative. Find the right vocal coach for your desired goal — audiobooks, animation, corporate/medical/documentary narration, commercial work. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on coaching until you have confirmed that the coach is worth it. And then, if you’ve identified a great coach, be prepared to invest in their training. Don’t make a demo until you’re ready. Don’t think that things happen easily and quickly. Being a voice actor is being an independent small business. Take yourself and your business seriously. Read everything you can about the business of voice acting. Get involved in voice acting communities. Ask a million questions. Get to know the culture you want to be a part of. And thank everyone, sincerely and meaningfully, for their help and support. Gratitude and humility go a long way.
What advice would you give to authors, like me, who read their books aloud at book signings?
What a great question! SLOW DOWN. Don’t be afraid to take time to breathe. You don’t have to read like a freight train hurtling down the tracks. You can pause for breath, to swallow, to allow a pregnant pause. SLOW DOWN. Imagine the thoughts as the character thinks them, in real time. See the scene playing out in your mind in real time. SLOW DOWN. Breathe. Pause. Enjoy the opportunity to tell your story!
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.