Audiobooks are one of the hottest things in publishing right now, and I love listening to audiobooks myself, so I knew from the beginning that I wanted an audiobook version of The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother-Daughter Story. I was also pretty sure that I wanted to record it myself. In my twenties, my favorite job I ever had was in radio. I spent a year as a news reporter (not my favorite job) and then my 26th year as a daily radio talk show host for KRBD-FM in Ketchikan, Alaska. My show was live for an hour at noon every day and it was called The Brown Bag Café. I got to interview anyone I wanted: the mayor, the members of the city council, the town mortician—anyone. I had a ball on that show. I love interviewing, I loved pulling stories out of people, I love crafting the arc of the interview, I loved the warm and intimate sound of the human voice. It was the best job I ever had.
But it was in Alaska. And after two years living in Ketchikan, on a rainy, cold island—it rained 13 feet a year—I needed out. I knew when I left Alaska to head back to California that I was giving up my career in radio. I wasn’t willing to move from a small radio market to a slightly larger radio market to an even larger radio market to a moderate-sized radio market to an urban radio market over the course of the next ten years—a two-year stint in every place.
I hung up my headphones and stepped away from the mic.
But now the possibility of an audiobook was looming on my horizon.
I contacted Becky Parker Geist of Pro Audio Voices and I loved her warmth, knowledge, professionalism and genuine interest in my project right away. In our first conversation, she said I could either voice the book myself or hire an actor to read it. I asked if she’d give me an honest assessment of my voice, then recorded myself reading the first few pages of the book using the voice memo app on my iPhone and sent it off.
While I was waiting to hear back from her, I binged on Becky’s podcast, Audiobook Connection: Behind the Scenes with the Creative Teams, and there happened to be one episode that directly addressed the question, “Should You Record Your Own Audiobook?”
She began by saying, “The skillset of being a narrator, being that storyteller in performance, is a very different skillset from the writing of the text. You don’t necessarily have to be the one to bring it to life in an oral context . . . . A professional narrator,” Becky explained, “is skilled in bringing a story to life. How do you craft the performance in an oral performance way? You’d be surprised how challenging that can be. When authors record their own audiobook, they can sound flat. They often have a minimal range as to what they can do with their voice.”
Becky suggested that each author focus on their biggest goal for their audiobook. If it’s to get more speaking engagements to build their personal brand, then yes, they should record their own audiobook, even if they require extra coaching. “But if you’re primarily thinking of it as a way to save money,” Becky explained why that might not be the case. “Realize that if you can’t adequately bring your story to life, you’ll lose your listeners. And the post-production process often gets very expensive when a reader who isn’t experienced and trained stumbles along the way.”
Becky went through a whole checklist of things to consider in making the decision, and by the time the episode ended, my initial impulse had been reinforced. If possible, I wanted to do it myself.
But I also didn’t want to sabotage my audiobook with the hubris that I could pull this off or read my book as well as an actor. I waited for Becky’s assessment of the sample I’d sent in.
A few days later, we talked again. She told me I’d sent her one of the best non-professional audition tapes she’d ever received. “You can do this,” she told me.
But my book is filled with characters and vivid scenes with tons of dialogue. And while I was pretty confident that I could narrate my book and do my own voice, I wasn’t so sure about voicing the other characters—particularly my mother—she’s such a dramatic character, I didn’t think I could do her justice or narrate both sides of some of the epic fights we had.
In the course of doing my due diligence, I’d heard some clips of Becky voicing one of her client’s audiobooks. I fell in love with the warm tones of her voice and the varied characters she portrayed. I asked if she’d be willing to read my mother and all the other characters in my book while I did the basic narration and my own voice. She said yes, and I was thrilled.
But here’s the thing, how would we record this thing in the middle of a pandemic?
You’ll have to wait till next week to find out.
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