CHAT WITH PAULA SLADE

Paula Slade, alumnus of Wisdom Bridge Theater, Players Workshop Second City and NBC-TV’s Daytime Writers Program, began her career as on-air announcer/reporter for radio station, WEFM, Chicago. She has served as head of the Literary Department Savage Agency, Hollywood, and developed radio and television programming for Blair Entertainment, New York. Paula’s acting credits include everything from Lady Macbeth on stage, to General Hospital on television. Today, she serves as VP/Creative Director and Audiobook Narrator for ARTISTIC MEDIA ASSOCIATES, INC. in the greater Boston area.

Time to chat with Paula!

Writers know how much effort it takes to get a book out (developing ideas, researching, writing, rewriting, editing, etc.), but most of us probably don’t know a lot about the process of turning our words into an audiobook. Can you tell us?

 The first step is to start listening to audiobooks, preferably in the genre you write. There are audiobook memberships from sites such as Audible, Playster, Audiobooks.Com and others, which offer trial programs and are good bargains. Or, check with your local library system. These days, libraries are increasingly following the public’s demand for audio, and it’s a free and easy way to become familiar with the general marketplace. An added benefit to your listening is that you’ll be aware of pacing and narration of different genres of books, and what works. Also, listen to book previews, which are free on Amazon.com and Audible.com, and check out ratings and comments. By doing this type of research and comparisons of styles, the process of selecting a narrator will be less daunting.

There is another excellent place to add to your knowledge base before taking the plunge into audio: Audiobook Creation Exchange, also known as ACX.com. On their website you will find a wealth of information geared toward authors as well as narrators and producers. I suggest you familiarize yourself with both sides of the fence, which will give you tremendous insight into the entire process. And, once you grasp the initial information on ACX,’s site check out their informative videos from ACX University, which are on YouTube.

How do authors go about finding a narrator and choosing the one best suited to their books? What is the average number of words you read for an audition?

 ACX.com is a good place to start your search. When you get to their web page, click on search (top of page/right side) then press on “Producers for Hire.” You’ll be taken to another page and in the section marked “Filters” (on the left side of the page) you’ll be able to request multiple narration requirements such as Book Genre, Narrator Gender, Language Spoken, Accent, Voice Age, Vocal Style and even Payment Preferences. Once you make your search selection(s), narrator names will populate the page, and when you click on any of the display arrows attached to the name you’ll hear a preview of the narrator’s voice. If you want to hear more samples of their work, just click on the narrator’s name and you’ll be taken to their specific ACX page, which will give you additional samples and tell you more about the narrator including a bio, credits, and pricing.

As far as the number of words in an audition, that is a rather dicey question. More often than not, authors who are new to audiobooks ask for extremely long auditions. (Personally, I consider anything over one thousand words too long.) Keep in mind, that as a rule of thumb, shorter is better. For a typical audition select excerpt(s) that are either critical to your book’s pacing, or character voices in dialogue that require significant interactions. Trust me on the audition length, as oftentimes you’ll know the best voice for your project in under a minute.

One of the first questions authors have about turning their work into e-books is cost. No surprise. Can you talk about the different options authors have when it comes to compensating the narrator?

There is flexibility here. Prices vary from straight Royalty Share on ACX to $1,000 per finished hour. Variances occur because of the narrator’s experience in acting or audio production and whether they are union or non-union.

For non-union narrators without previous recording or acting experience rates could very from straight Royalty Share to $50 to $100 PFH (per finished hour), or a combination of both if a stipend is involved.

For an experienced union performer who has expertise with foreign accents, character voices or a familiarity with medical terminology they will command a higher rate (anywhere from $200 to $1,000 PFH). Also, some narrators utilize audio engineers to perform editing and mastering, which is built into their fee and allows them to solely concentrate on their narration and acting. All of these factors play into the rate offered by the narrator.

Although royalty share is a popular choice and requested by authors, consider the following: To make it viable for all concerned, know that narrators will be taking many factors into consideration such as your Amazon Overall Sellers Rank (anything 100,000 or below is a good place to be); the number of customer reviews and the reviews themselves of the print or e-version of your book; your book’s cover art – does it draw the listener in?; the need for a strong social media and website presence, and finally be willing to share your royalties for a seven year period with your narrator. On ACX, you and your narrator will be splitting royalties 60-40 with Amazon/Audible, which will leave you and your narrator sharing 20-20 of overall sales. Also know, that unless you are an established well-selling author, many narrators will make PFH paid bookings a priority in their schedule so there may be a wait time before taking on your project.

A quick method of determining what you might expect to pay for your audiobook production vs. Royalty Share, is to figure that one hour of narration translates to approximately 9,400 spoken words per finished hour, which is the average rate determined by ACX. So, if your manuscript is 50,000 written words from title to closing credits, your audiobook would translate to nine hours and 32 minutes total. You would then take the narrator’s requested rate (let’s say a union person at $275 PFH, (price includes pre-production read-thru, author and producer consultations, studio recording time with engineer, as well as editing and mastering).

With all that in mind, your finished audiobook would be $2,563.00. That may sound pricey at first glance but bear in mind that it takes at least six hours to produce one finished hour of an audiobook. Roughly, speaking about 57 hours of work is performed in order to provide a 50,000 written word audiobook.

Are there certain genres of books that you prefer to narrate? Are there books that you won’t narrate?

I personally enjoy non-fiction as I always get to learn something new. But, a riveting horror, paranormal, mystery or sweet romance will always grab my attention! Erotica is the only genre I do not record.

How do you handle books with many characters, especially when there are many in one scene?

Before I get in front of the microphone, a complete read-through of the book is done in order to get a feel for each character voice as well as the narrator, if the book is in third person. Along the way, I make notes as to the character’s physical attributes and vocal/speech pattern as it is written by the author. During that process all characters are given a specific highlighted color on the text so that when I’m in the booth and recording, I am able to switch personas without stopping. I also note any specific delivery such as “he whispered,” or “she said snidely” etc.

If a particular book would be enhanced by ambient music in the background, whether it is horror, suspense, romance, adventure, etc., how does this work? Is there music in the public domain for such purposes? Are you able to add it?

Yes, to both questions.

There are many websites that offer royalty free use of music, but most require an initial payment in order to download.

However, one site in particular, Free Music Archive.org has a vast collection of music in many genres and is free to download. Each music track comes with specific licensing requirements depending on use. For some, there is no attribution needed under the Creative Commons License and for others attribution is required, which is added in your audiobook’s text and shared in the narration.

When you perform a search on Free Music Archive’s site and you find an appropriate piece of music, just click on the title and you will be taken to another page that will provide the licensing information.

A search for music selections by your narrator or narrator’s producer or engineer would be an extra expense that could be saved by DIY and sharing the information for production.

What do you do prior to narrating a book to ensure that pronunciations for all character names, places, etc. are correct?

When doing my initial read-through of a book I always make a list of names and places that include my phonetic ideas as to the pronunciations. After that is done, it goes off to the author for approval or corrections.

For text that requires specific terminology (medical and technical) I refer to Merriam Webster online and for variances in pronunciation (British vs. American English) I use the website Howjsay.

What are some of the common misconceptions about turning books into audio books? Any common mistakes that authors make during this process?

 As mentioned earlier: inordinately long auditions.

Next on the list are books that have not been properly or professionally edited. Good grammar usage and spelling are paramount as is word placement when read aloud. The latter is a problem I refer to as “the repeat-repeat syndrome.” That is when an author uses the same word (several times) in one paragraph. Here’s an example: “Harry met Mary in high school. They were completely devoted to each other from day one. Harry devoted all of his free time to Mary and Mary devoted all of her free time to Harry.” When this is read quickly and silently it is often overlooked, but becomes painfully obvious that other word choices could have and would have made the sentence much more interesting, particularly in audio. A simple change to: “Harry met Mary in high school. They were devoted to each other from day one and it was the hallmark of their free time together.” I’ve seen this problem often and it does not become apparent unless read out loud. These corrections are best made by the author prior to sending their book out for audition.

The third point I’d like to make is that when entering into a contract with a narrator, review each chapter as it is recorded rather than waiting until the entire book is finished, thus providing feedback if it is necessary as you go along. Any changes are more easily made rather than waiting for the entire book to be finished. A chapter review by the author is usually done within a reasonable time frame – 24 to 48 hours after the chapter is uploaded for your review. This way, you and your narrator are in sync.

Also, constant re-working of a chapter (more than one time) does not serve you or your narrator well. It is one thing to ask for a mistake to be corrected, but it is an entirely different matter to request a full re-reading. On ACX you are given the opportunity to review and approve the first 15 minutes of your audiobook production and that is the time to request any changes to pacing, sound levels and voices. After passing the first 15 minutes, your narrator will keep those ideas in mind.

Once your book is completely recorded on ACX, it will go through a final quality check to make sure all recording and sound levels meet their strict specifications. If there are any problems flagged it is the responsibility of the narrator/producer to bring them up to standard. Note: This rarely happens with narrators who have some mileage under their belt.

What else would you like us to know that I haven’t asked?

Have the marketing for your audiobook in place well before the launch and begin actively promoting once you are under contract for the production.

Also, line up professional reviewers ahead of time and make sure they are comfortable with reviewing your genre. On ACX you will be given promo codes (25 for U.S. listeners and 25 for British), which will allow a free download of your book for reviewing purposes. You also have the option to promote to friends and family through Audible’s 30-day free trial, which will allow them a free download of your book. If they continue with their Audible membership after the 30 day period, you’ll get a one-time bounty bonus of $50, which is payable along with your book’s monthly royalties.

Once you’ve selected your narrator, a brief expression of thanks to those who have auditioned for your book will go a long way. Again, this is not mandatory, but it is professional and nice to do.

Please know that the cover of your book will have to be modified, going from a rectangular to a square view, which is easily accomplished using Photoshop or similar programs. At that time, you may also consider adding the narrator’s name (“read by” or “narrated by”) to your cover. This is by no means mandatory, but is an optional gesture that is appreciated by the talent, plus the talent’s name may be beneficial to the sales of your audiobook.

Once you’ve gotten the entire audiobook process under your belt, you have options for your next book from sites such as Findaway Voices, which offer an extremely wide range for distribution and the ability to connect with narrators for a set PFH rate.

Keep in mind that audiobooks are a wonderful way to reach new clients and build upon your sales base. Take your time processing all of this information as your research knowledge base will pay off over the years. Happy recording!

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

Gummi Bears for comfort, but please never serve me kidneys!

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.

Albert Einstein, because I’ve always been fascinated with physics.

If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?

It would be s split among charities that cover services for children, which include health care, housing, and literacy initiatives.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I would love to be able to do large math sums in my head.

What music soothes your soul?

Almost anything classical played on a violin.

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

More books!

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

A single serving, which is (in all actuality) a full pint of Haagen Daz Coffee ice cream.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Love one another and live in peace. Listen to others without being judgmental. Take care of the environment, it is the only planet we have.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

The beauty of nature in all forms.

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