Like many other things, reader behavior has changed radically in the past two years, including a surge in the popularity of audiobooks. We caught up with local voice talent Anne Marie Lewis to give audiobook fans a peek behind the curtain: a look at how a narrator transforms words on a page into an immersive world in your head.
How did you get into audiobook work?
I am a voracious listener of audiobooks and eventually realized that most narrators were actors. Being a performer myself, and a lover of reading and of
audiobooks, I wondered how I might do such a thing. I took an entry-level voiceover class at a local acting school and asked questions about narrating audiobooks. The instructor sent me info for a class through ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) taught by a local Chicago actor/director.
When starting a new project, how do you prepare?
First rule of narration: READ THE BOOK! This is the only way to understand the author’s intent and style, suss out character traits and motivations, and find out if accents are required. (There are horror stories of narrators who did not prepare thoroughly, only to learn six hours into recording that the main character is Scottish and lisps!) When possible, I ask the author to provide information about the character’s voice qualities, if this minor character could become a main or recurring character in later installments of a series, their dream casting for the character... I do not impersonate an actor in my read, but knowing who an author might have in mind for a character helps me capture the essence of that character.
If there’s a required accent I’ve never done, I research it, call my dialect coach for one-on-one work, and practice! And there’s always researching names and terms to make sure pronunciations are spot-on.
What might people find surprising about audiobook production?
Making an audiobook is not just sitting in front of a microphone and reading. It takes five to six hours of work for each finished hour of audio, plus the time it takes to prep a script.
After annotating the script with pronunciations, making character notes, directorial notes, tone, and so on, I get in my booth and record. If I am very efficient, I can record one finished hour in 2 – 2 1⁄2 hours.
Once I finish recording the raw audio, it goes to a proofer who checks for misreads, mispronunciations, inconsistencies with voices, and so forth. I get a list of corrections called “pick-ups,” record those, and send them back to the engineer who then inserts them into the proper audio files, edits the book, and masters the files. At this point, the author or rights holder reviews the recording for approval, and the audiobook is sent on for retail. Depending on the length of the audiobook, the whole process could take about six weeks.
Do you have any audio narration heroes or a favorite performance that you return to?
Katherine Kellgren is one of my favorites. I think I have listened to just about everything she recorded. She passed away in 2018 but she inspired me to go into audiobook narration. I am also a huge fan of Davina Porter, who voices the entire Outlander series. That’s a TON of recording hours. I am slowly making my way through Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, which is almost 50 hours long! Also I just binge-listened to the Irish Village Mystery series by Carlene O’Connor and delightfully read by Caroline Lennon. Other favorite narrators are Sean Pratt, Johnny Heller, Therese Plummer, Edoardo Ballerini, Will Patton, and Robin Miles.
I’d also like to mention some terrific locally-based narrators, since you cannot tell where narrators are from when choosing audiobooks: Amy Deuchler, Lindsey Dorcus, Amy Johnson, Stacy Gonzalez, Shaina Summerville and Allyson Voller. There are quite a good number of us Chicago-based narrators!
Anything else you’d like to share?
I enjoy sharing my narration story and journey, and I’m happy to help. If you are interested in learning more about the process or you are an author looking to bring your book to audio life, I invite you to reach out. Even if I am not the right voice for your audiobook, I can point you in the right direction. We narrators are a tight-knit, well-connected group!
Anne Marie Lewis is a Chicago-based audiobook narrator and accomplished stage actor, with more than 30 years’ experience spanning theater to opera. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA. She can be reached via her website at AnneMarieLewis.com.