Becky Parker Geist will be presenting, “How to Bring Your Book to Life in Audio—and Make It Work for You,” on Sunday, June 23, 2 pm, at Book Passage, hosted by the California Writers Club Marin.

I asked her some questions on the phone earlier this week.

Q: Tell me about your journey to creating your audiobooks business. I don’t imagine that was your goal way back when.

No, it wasn’t. I started out training as an actor, and one of my first jobs after grad school was narrating books for Talking Books for the Blind. Through the Library of Congress.

I was living in Louisville, Kentucky, at the time, also reading scripts for the Actors Theater of Louisville. I fell in love with reading books out loud.

Most of the narrators for Talking Books were contracted one book at a time. Due to my popularity with listeners, I became one of the two narrators they hired full time. I narrated over 70 titles in the two years I was there. Then, in 1984, I had a baby and moved to California.

I wanted to start my own business, but at the time, home studios were not affordable. It was years later when the youngest of my three daughters was taking a voice-over class that I got back into it.

It was a master class, part of the Kids on Camera program, and I thought, hey, I do that. It stirred things up for me. Made me realize that I wanted to get back to that. I talked to my daughter’s teacher. We did a session. He said, “You are SO ready.” We did a demo, he introduced me to his agent, I signed and soon I was getting some work.

But after a few years, I decided it was time to take my career in my own hands. My friend Sandy Shepard told me about BAIPA. I joined in 2011, and started Pro Audio Voices in 2013. Now I do it full time.

Q: Don’t you also do some theater work — stage manager, props master, actor?

Yes, I love all the ways to bring stories to life. It’s good professional work, but audiobooks are my main focus.  

Q: Tell us about the process of making an audiobook. You’ve made an agreement with someone. What’s next?

The first step is casting. Sometimes, there’s also pre-production work, like preparing a manuscript that has pictures or exercises — figuring out the best way to handle each item that doesn’t automatically translate to the audiobook experience.

For your average novel, casting means one person, though our company does a lot of multivoiced projects too. What we do depends on the manuscript. For example, we did a zombie book that called out for music and sound effects.

Sometimes we have a book that’s in three parts. As a way of setting it apart, we might put a bit of music in between. We’re always looking for the best listening experience. That’s what sets us apart. We always have a producer, who asks questions and can make recommendations based on years of audiobook experience, like would you like music or what would you like your listener to do in response to this part of your book – things like that.

Q: So you’ve cast the narrator. What happens now?

We’ll do a call where we have the narrator and author together, so that the narrator can ask questions about the book. Learn about things like target audience.  The narrator will record the first fifteen minutes. The author listens to it, makes sure we’re on the right track. Then we record the whole book.

We have an editor who goes in and listens to the whole thing as well, takes notes. Maybe the narrator missed some key words. We expect the narrator to send in files that they believe are ready to go, so they do their own edit first.

If I’m narrating, and I’m reading a sentence, and I realize I have the emphasis wrong, I read it again, and then cut the first instance. Then the project editor gets it.

Q: Might that be like a writer who does a final edit of their own work and then gives it to a copy editor?  

Very much the same. The editor makes corrections. We sent it to the clients for any additional corrections and adjustments. Fix those and the author listens again.

Then we head into the submission process. We use Author’s Republic as our distribution services—they have the broadest range of distribution. We take a look at their metadata, keywords. Many authors are uncertain about metadata or really need help crafting a stronger book description. We review metadata to offer suggestions to make it stronger if possible.

Q: You need a different sized cover image than for the book, right?  

That’s right. 2400 pixels square.

Q: What kinds of books, or what elements of books work best for audiobooks?

It’s easier to answer what kinds of books don’t make good audiobooks. Like coffee table books, because they’re so heavily image-driven. Or reference books, which you don’t read from beginning to end.

Frankly, many nonfiction authors do not take advantage of opportunities that audiobooks provide. For example, creating incentives within the audiobook that makes listeners want to go to the author website. We also provide audio clips that authors can post on social media to drive people to their website.

Q: I’ve heard you do voices—on your answering machine. How you decide how to deal with multiple characters? For example, I have a scene in a kitchen with four characters who are talking to each other, over each other. How to distinguish who is talking in the audiobook?

We look for narrators who are actors, who have those skills to differentiate voices. So you can tell who’s speaking. The general rule is there’s one person narrating the full story. Usually, they do the of all the voices in the scenes. Another actor in the mix can sometimes be jarring for the listener.

We can do overlapping voices, though it’s not something we do often. It’s always a question of whether it will better bring the story to life versus being a distraction.

Q: What would you say to authors who want to record their book themselves?

I often have authors who want to narrate themselves. If they’re a local author, I give them a chance to record part of the book. Then I do the same narration, and have them listen to both. Even if you’re an experienced speaker, it’s a very different thing to work with a microphone in a studio.

Most of the time, they decide to have it professionally narrated.

But sometimes it does make sense for the author. Because they’re very good, or their topic and their voice is recognized by their following.

Q: What if they want to do themselves? What do they need to pay attention to?

There are a couple main categories. First is the physical studio setup. They need to create a space that is quiet enough. They need a decent microphone and professional audio software. And then there’s the learning curve of dealing with all those elements.

As for the performing side, the biggest thing I notice is problems with mouth sounds and audible breathing. Many people are not used to speaking so close to a mic. Listeners hear those sounds and it can drive them crazy.

From the acting perspective, many authors tend to read their material on the flat side. Because it’s so alive in their minds. They’re not used to having to translate that aliveness into verbal expression.

Q: Tell us about the audiobooks market. And marketing to it.

Audiobooks are hot now. Very popular. More and more people are listening. It’s a good place to be. Audiobook listeners are only going to find you if you have an audiobook.

It can be an expensive proposition. And you still have to be found. That’s why we created our Audiobook Marketing Program. We looked all over and didn’t find anything that already existed, so we pulled together a marketing team and built our own.

There are three main elements. First are the video trailers that we use as the hub of the marketing wheel. Second is we send out a weekly ten-minute marketing memo, with marketing tasks that authors can do in ten minutes or less.

For example, one week we might explain how to get your video onto Amazon’s Author Central.

The third part is community—for example, we ask authors to go watch someone else’s video on our Audiobook Authors YouTube channel and comment on that video and share it. Then follow the author. We leverage the community of audiobook authors to help everyone in it.

Q: What will you do at June 23 session at Book Passage?

I will be introducing writers to the audiobook scene. I’ll cover the things an author needs to know to make good decisions about the choices ahead then answer their questions. What’s the process? What are the challenges? Should I record it myself? I’m the audiobook world tour guide, but the audience will help direct where we go.


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