The team behind My Second Impression of You has been a true dream, especially because I’ve gotten to know many of the creators and artists working on the book in a way I didn’t with my first book. A few months ago I shared an interview with cover artist Jacqueline Li about her process, and today I’m thrilled to give you an inside look at the audiobook process with Kimberly M. Wetherell.
Before I get to the interview, let me just give you a quick intro to how things happened on the author side. About four months pre-publication, my editor sent me narrator casting options from the audiobook team. It included a file with each narrator reading the first chapter of my book. From the moment I heard Kimberly’s portrayal of Maggie, I was enthralled. She just captures Maggie’s dramatic voice so perfectly–as well as executing the voices of other characters and just all-around bringing the story to life in a way that makes me positively giddy when I listen. Fortunately she took on the book, and here we are!
You can listen to a sample of the first chapter on the Audible page (and get the audiobook there too 😉), BUT because Kimberly is extra awesome, I have a special treat for you here. Kimberly recorded a video of herself in her studio reading an excerpt from Chapter 10, when Maggie first enters the Best Day App.
Isn’t she so fabulous as Maggie? Also, I hope you’re now thinking about how the Best Day App would be customized to you.
But back to today’s topic, let’s get into how audiobooks are made! As always, I’ll note that not every narrator or publishing house works the same way, but Kimberly gives some excellent insight into her career and process, as well as how someone might pursue a career in narrating.
Please welcome Kimberly!
How did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I’ll spare you the LENGTHY backstory and give you the whittled down version: In 2018, after a series of Major Life Events, I found myself between careers. I was brainstorming a list of all things I wanted in a new career: creativity, flexibility, work from home or be able to bring my dog to work with me, something financially viable enough so I could live in NYC without needing a roommate (but also without working 16-18 hour days), be my own boss but not have to be the boss of anyone else—you know, really left field, ideal scenario type stuff. I was contemplating my list while knitting and listening to an audiobook (something I’ve done since the Books on Tape days) when it occurred to me that that was an actual job. Like, I could read books, out loud, for a living. The very next day, I called a studio in NYC that taught voiceover and voiceover for audiobooks specifically, and after about six months of training, I was ready to start auditioning! It’s been just over three years since I recorded my first book and I’ve not once looked back!
Oh, I love that! Because I feel like many people look around and don’t really think about how things are real jobs or that you can do them for a living if you find the right path. How does an audiobook assignment typically come about? How much information do they give you about the book? Do you audition specifically for the book or send in generic samples?
It depends. Sometimes a producer or publisher will send a narrator an audition, sometimes it’s a direct offer, sometimes a narrator will notice a certain book or series they love isn’t in audio and they will initiate the project. Most narrators have a healthy mix of each in order to keep the work flowing.
The majority of narrators have samples of their work on their own websites, and certainly one can always listen to a sample on Audible or other audiobook retailers, and you can occasionally be cast from those, but the bulk of projects I’ve gotten have been through auditioning for either the producer or author, or both!
I can only speak for myself, but when I am considering a project, I will do as much research about it as I can to make sure the book is the right fit for me, as much as I might be a good fit for the book. I’ll read up about the author, I’ll read “Look Inside” of other books to get a feel for the author’s writing style, I’ll do a deep dive on GoodReads and read the early reviews for character and story info, and if I don’t have access to the entire manuscript (which if I do, I’ll skim to suss out if there is anything I personally might connect with or object to) I’ll read whatever I can about it to make sure there aren’t any surprises before I accept the audition or offer. I’ve turned down auditions and offers when I’ve needed work because the material wasn’t right for me, and I’ve moved my schedule around entirely to work something in because I loved it so much. I’ve made a very conscious effort to curate my backlist from Day One, so that eventually, folks will know when it’s a “Kimberly” project from the jump.
I’m so glad My Second Impression of You is a “Kimberly” project! What is your process for getting into character? Do you read through the whole book before recording, take it by chapters, something entirely different?
I absolutely read the book before narrating it. I read it twice in fact. The first time, straight through for fun—to experience it as any other reader might. This not only feeds my book nerd soul, but it gives me the big picture scope of the book and tells me how the lay reader should feel at the end.
I then read it a second time as an actor/director, wherein I dissect the book: breakdown the chapters into dramatic beats, highlight dialogue, find/create distinct character voices, speech patterns, vocal inflections, accents, etc, and research any unfamiliar words or pronunciations I may run across. I also take lots of notes and write down any questions for the author/producer that I can’t answer from the text or my own research.
Then it’s into the booth to record it. I record it straight through from beginning to end. If I’m recording on my own and doing my own engineering, I generally average about 2 finished hours of audio per day, which takes me roughly 6 labor hours per day, not including vocal warm-ups, cool-downs, etc. If I’m working with an engineer and director, I can usually get 3 finished hours done in a day, because I only have to focus on narrating. It’s a godsend to have those additional people working with you, but it’s not the norm.
How is acting for an audiobook different from acting for the stage or screen?
Other than the fact that the entire weight of the storytelling is on your shoulders alone (or maybe a partner or two if you’re co-narrating), there’s not a lot different. You’re still trying to inhabit the life of a character and tell their story as truthfully as possible. It’s just that in narration, you’re telling anywhere from 20-200 people’s stories all by yourself!
Also, since there’s no camera, you don’t have to put on make-up and you can wear your pajamas to work!
Do you record multiple audiobooks simultaneously or focus on one at a time?
Oh gosh, only one at a time. I’m an excellent single-tasker, but downright dreadful at juggling them.
What’s the typical turnaround for an audiobook?
Again, so much depends on the publisher or producer. I recorded a book this past August that won’t be released until January 2023, and I recorded another that was on sale before I got paid! A very loosey-goosey timeframe might be anywhere from 2-4 months, depending on a narrator and engineer’s availability, length of book, publishing date, etc. It’s not overnight though. There are too many moving parts to coordinate and factors to consider.
Who is usually your main contact at the publisher when working on an audiobook?
The Big Five publishers have their own in-house audio departments, as do some smaller publishers. Otherwise, there are myriad excellent audiobook production houses for smaller and independent publishers to outsource production. This was the case with MY SECOND IMPRESSION OF YOU. The print publisher is Bloomsbury, but the audiobook was produced by Deyan Audio. So my contact is with Deyan, not Bloomsbury.
What is the process like once you’re contracted for an audiobook? Once you’ve submitted the audiobook, does the publisher provide any feedback or it is submitted and done?
This varies on a company-by-company, producer-by-producer basis. Sometimes I have to put together a performance sample for producer/author approval or to make sure everything is up to snuff with my home studio, and sometimes, I’ve worked with the producer enough that they know what they’re going to get from me and my studio and that’s not required. We rarely, if ever, get other feedback once principle recording begins. Narrators, in addition to being actors, often have to be our own audio engineers, and self-direct. Which is why it’s so important to get proper acting and technical/engineering training before beginning this career. You are more or less on your own, and there’s an enormous amount of trust and responsibility given to you once you are offered and accept a project.
I saw on your website that you produced and directed opera for years. How does that experience translate over to audiobooks?
The amount of crossover between opera singers and voice actors (and again, audiobooks, specifically) is HUGE! I was surprised to meet so many former opera colleagues at first, but then it made perfect sense. The Venn diagram of skills required to be a professional singer and an audiobook narrator are nearly a circle. Beyond the obvious things like vocal development, breath control, stamina, knowing how to live as a freelancer/independent contractor/gig worker (which is no small feat in and of itself), there is a musicality to the spoken word. Not just with non-English languages and dialect work (but that’s also a big part of narration, and folks with musical ears and language skills carried over from opera do tend to be quicker with those), but the nuance of how to tell a story. Tone, pacing, rhythm, cadence are all in the author’s writing, and having a musical background really helps you find it for a moving delivery. I did glean a lot of those things from my 15 years working in opera internationally, but I’ll be the first to remind everyone, I was specifically paid NOT to sing, so I had to play a lot of catch-up with the vocal and physical training for narration work.
You also directed and wrote short films? I so want to know more about that, but particularly how that may have led to audiobooks.
I don’t know that working in film specifically led to audiobooks, but what that experience did do, was teach me how to think about books cinematically. And since there isn’t a visual to lean on, as a narrator, you are not only the characters, you are also the cinematographer. You have to really set the scene for the listener with your voice as the camera. I’m a very visual person, so I see locations and characters very vividly in my mind’s eye when I’m reading a book, so I tend to think about each beat as a different “shot,” creating a distinct atmosphere for each moment to exist.
How is your studio set up? What sort of equipment do you use to record an audiobook?
I have a professional recording booth in my apartment, and all professional-grade audio equipment: microphone, audio interface, and recording software. (You can see it here: www.voxkimberly.com/studio)
The thing that’s most important is to have a good, quiet, well-treated environment—I started in my closet with clothes hung from the ceiling and tack-on acoustic wall tiles—and a microphone that’s well-suited to both your voice and environment. You don’t need a $1,000+ mic. There are many wonderful mics at the $200-$300 price point that are much more forgiving for a home studio (especially in a loud town like NYC), because they aren’t nearly as sensitive as those pricey mics made for fancy recording studios that can “hear a flea fart” as one engineer put it.
How do you take care of your voice? It must get scratchy at times!
One word: Hydrate! Talking, weirdly, takes an enormous amount of water for your body to do. Physically, your vocal cords need to stay well-hydrated to function well, and your mouth needs to stay nice and moist at all times. I drink at least a gallon of water every day – even days when I’m not narrating, and I usually add electrolyte/hydration tablets to my water, and by starting my day with a big glass of coconut water to help speed along morning hydration after a night’s sleep. I also keep a carafe of hot ginger tea in the booth with me and sip it throughout the day, as the heat keeps blood flowing in your mouth and throat. If there’s a cup left at the end of a session and a little bourbon happens to find its way in the cup to make an instant toddy, well… who am I to fight that?
What do you feel is your greatest strength as a narrator?
Hm. That’s a tough question. If I was being esoteric, I probably say my empathy. I get very emotionally involved in the story and the lives of the characters and I truly hope that comes though in my performance. On a technical level, I’ve got a very musical ear and I’m a quick study, which makes me quite good at accents/dialects.
Plus, you also direct audiobooks. How does that process work?
That’s a whole other questionnaire! Ha! The quick-and-dirty is that I’m “in” the booth (usually via remote connection from my home studio) with the narrator or author/narrator, and I act as a guide through the recording process. I liken it to the lady at the DMV who’s conducting the driving test: The narrator’s at the wheel, driving the car, but I’ll tell you to turn right if you’re veering left, and I’ve got a foot on the emergency brake, just in case.
What advice do you have for those who might be interested in narrating audiobooks? Is there a clear path for getting into the narrator business?
I tell everyone the same three things all the time:
- Take the “So You Want to Be a Narrator?” Test, found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPzPi-_0Xi8
- If you make it through that and still think, “Hey! This is AWESOME!”, then visit: https://www.narratorsroadmap.com/ Narrators Roadmap will tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about starting up a narration business, including links to reputable coaches who will not blow smoke up your skirt about making $1,000/day. (That simply does not happen for ANYONE—not even the most recognizable celebrities, and anyone who promises that is the only one making $1,000/day because they’re scamming you.)
- There are also wonderful (and downloadable!) narration courses at https://narrator.life/, including this FREE “reality check” https://narrator.life/courses/beginning-narrators-reality-check/
Do you work exclusively with publishers, or are you also available for inquiries directly from authors?
I work with publishers, production houses, and indie authors alike! If you’re going the trad pub route, all you have to do is request me! (Those are basically my favorite emails to get!) If you’re an indie author looking to collaborate, I’m easily findable on pretty much all of the social media sites (search @voxkimberly), or you can take a gander at my website: www.voxkimberly.com and shoot me an email directly from there (those are my second-favorite emails to get)!
Thank you, Kimberly!
I don’t know about you, but I found all of this completely fascinating! If you happen to be looking for a narrator, I highly recommend Kimberly.
On another note, my October newsletter is out today, and in addition to an abbreviated version of this feature, it also includes a giveaway for a paperback of Your Life Has Been Delayed plus a scrunchie. If you’re interested, check out the newsletter here.