Me and Harry P.

You don’t have to be a wizard to know that audiobooks are hot.

In 2014, sales topped $1.47 billion, up 13.5 percent from 2013, the latest figures from the Audiobook Publishers Association show. That number can only increase for 2016, considering that the world is still wild about Harry.

Harry Potter book 3The big news in audiobooks this past year was the addition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series at Audible. The slightly less earthshaking news was that I released my first novel, Peak Season, on audio about the same time.

Our sales numbers might vary. Same for distribution. So, for all the C.W. McCoy fans out there, I present Audible’s retail sample of said book.

Have fun, and don’t forget the wand.

Juggling the multiple voices in our heads

In Part 1 of our interview with  Peak Season narrator Pamela Almand, she talked about how a career in flying helped her second career as a narrator take off. In Part 2 she hones in on the joys and trials of audiobook narration. Pam and I talked about her career and her company, The Captain’s Voice, via email in late October.

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

I’ve always loved suspense and thrillers. Dave Baldacci, Harlan Coben, Vince Flynn, Grisham, Brad Thor. . . . Unfortunately, male suspense authors don’t often use female narrators unless, like in Peak Season, their protagonist is a woman. I love the opportunity to narrate strong female protagonists like CW McCoy. That is where my strengths and deeper voice can really shine, and I love books where I get to add a touch of sarcasm or sassiness to the character.

I also really enjoy non-fiction from Thomas Sowell, Bill Bryson, Charles Krauthammer and others, but don’t have a lot of time to read them. I’d love to narrate any of their books, though, and that is where a lot of documentary and e-learning work helps me. The non-fiction author has a purpose and motive for writing and my job is to capture his or her passion and enthusiasm for their subject matter. And I’d love to narrate Ann Coulter. Although I don’t always agree with her, I love the combination of dry wit, snarkiness and intelligence with which she writes.

Pam Almand recordingDo you have a favorite book or project?

That’s the toughest question yet, Jeff. I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed just about all my projects as new and interesting learning opportunities, with the possible exception of a very dry, 10-hour narration on rules and regs on the handling of toxic chemicals (but it paid very, very well, so I’m not complaining.)

Which characters are your favorites to play?

Strong female protagonists with many facets to their emotions and personalities . . . and I always enjoy doing over-the-top characters where I can play with crazy accents and dialects.

How do you prepare to perform an audio piece?

Since I love to read, and read fairly fast, many times I’ll have read a book in its entirety before I decide whether to audition for it. If not, I’ll read the book and annotate it at the same time; each character has a distinctive voice, and many times you don’t find out details about it when the character’s first introduced. Halfway through the book, there might be a note that “the slight hint of her German background was obvious when she shouted at him” or “that morning his high whiny voice just drove her nuts.”

I’ll also practice a particular voice I want to use for a character and record a sentence or two for reference and make a separate audio file for each character who doesn’t appear regularly.

Then I jump into the studio and start telling the story, to myself more than the listener.

When you’re narrating a work with multiple characters, how do differentiate among them?

I mark them with individual highlight colors and notations on characteristics I need to know and I kinda try to feel out each major character in different emotions in the voice I’ve chosen for them, if that makes any sense.

And I don’t try to sound just like a man but only to suggest the difference through a bit of gravel perhaps, a flatter delivery, maybe a more resonant delivery. One of the best things I heard from Pat Fraley in a coaching session was that men don’t all have low voices, women don’t all have high voices. Duh. It seems obvious but it’s a common misinterpretation. Pat is a great coach for the sheer number of distinct sounds he can produce from that smiling mouth of his.

What new and exciting projects do you have coming up?

The release of Peak Season in audiobook is the most exciting right now. Lots of marketing and promo for that and a couple of other audiobooks. And I have a documentary piece coming up for a Christian non-profit on sex trafficking as well as a United Nations video directed by a wonderful client in Barcelona. And then the usual smattering of other work that comes up in a normal week.

And, of course, I’m eagerly awaiting CW McCoy’s newest adventures. I love this woman and love getting to live her life vicariously narrating your novels.

Flying high with the voice of CW McCoy

Pamela Almand used to pilot 747s for a living. Now she’s flying high with a second career as narrator and voiceover actor.

The voice of CW McCoy in Peak Season, Pam has a voice and delivery perfectly suited to strong female leads in the mystery/suspense genre. I’m impressed with how she captures the spirit of CW McCoy and imbues each character with a unique voice. We hear the anguish of Anita Church and the flippant Jersey girl in CW’s neighbor, Cheryl Finzi. As for the male voices, Pam renders them with suitable gravitas but avoids descending into caricature. Hers is an expressive reading that captures every nuance of the dialog.

I interviewed Pam about her career and her company, The Captain’s Voice, via email in late October. Here, in Part 1, she talks about how a career in flying has helped her second career as a narrator take off. In Part 2, which will post later, she hones in on the joys and trials of audiobook narration.

Tell us a bit about the path you took to a career in voice acting and audiobook narration.

My career path has really run the gamut. After a BFA degree in graphic design from Colorado State, I took a flying lesson and got completely hooked. Although at the time there were no female airline pilots, I abandoned the art degree and built my flight time quickly. I did everything from flying single-engine aircraft solo across the Atlantic to being a production test pilot for a business jet manufacturer and eventually became an airline pilot.

In 1995, I was asked to do a national Tylenol TV commercial—fun and very lucrative—and that cascaded to jobs here and there: spots for Northwest Airlines, narrating training videos, doing occasional narration for clients all over the world, all the while toying with the idea of a full-time voiceover career.

When I had to temporarily stop flying for medical reasons, I built a professional recording studio and built my occasional hobby into a full-time business. Although I wasn’t able to go back to flying and finally retired this year, I’ve been tremendously blessed to have had two careers that I passionately love.

Pam Almand in uniformYou piloted a commercial airliner. How has that influenced your audio work?

You know, the perseverance and drive and just plain hard work it took to get on with a major international airline as a woman has served me well in building this business. And as a 747 captain flying all over the world, I caught a lot of grief and teasing from my male colleagues, which helped me develop a thick skin and a sense of humor, traits I find useful in just about anything I’ve ever accomplished.

The most tangible carryover from flying to voiceover is the asset, for a female pilot, of having a low-pitched voice. I think after hearing a few high, squeaky female voices on the radio frequencies I unconsciously deepened my tone, not only for the added gravitas, but for that air of calm authority you expect from an airline captain. I never added the stereotyped Chuck Yeager drawl, though.

And although English is the required aviation language, excellent diction is as essential in international aviation communications as it is for professional voiceover and audiobooks. Think about trying to radio your situation to a Chinese or Russian air traffic controller.

How does audiobook narration differ from your other projects?

Audiobook narration is far more of a storytelling style than normal voiceover work. And in commercials, e-learning, video narration and other voiceover work, I’m rarely called upon to be a male character or to carry on a conversation with myself.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

I truly think, to me, fictional audiobooks are a great challenge. You have such an enormous wealth of characters, personalities and voices possible in a span of an 8-12 hour book, it’s a job to keep them straight, to jump from character to character, and simply to keep the stamina required to do hours of recording without the energy fading.

My other voiceover work is broken up into 30-second, 60-second TV or radio spots, shorter narrations, phone messaging systems, e-learning projects (which can sometimes get as long as an audiobook) or videogame voices and it breaks up the recording and editing sessions into much shorter blocks. And, of course, those usually only involve being me.

What do you like best about your job?

That’s a hard one. What I think I’m most passionate about, though, is the variety of subject matter I get to read and learn about.

As a case in point, I had a week where I voiced the phone messaging system for The Hotels and Casinos of Monte Carlo; signed a contract to record a contemporary Christian romance audiobook called Come To Me Alive; narrated a series on medicinal marijuana; recorded pickups for a national infomercial for CamiShaper by Genie; and was the voice of Abraham’s 95-year-old wife Sara for a Biblical video game called Stained Glass. (I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered when they loved my audition for that one.)

Do you have any disasters you’d care to share?

Oh, many, but my clients are loyal and the only harm has been to my pride. On one of my very first audiobooks, a reviewer on Amazon said she couldn’t stand my voice and couldn’t listen to the rest of the book. Ouch. I later found everybody gets these occasionally, so I just worked on that thick-skin-sense-of-humor trait…but also modified a couple of things based on her other comments. I can learn from the nastiest of reviewers as well as the positive ones.

And, of course, I look back on some of my earlier work and cringe at things sometimes, but I do try to never stop growing and learning and honing my voice and my craft. I always learn from coaching sessions with Pat Fraley, Johnny Heller, Carol Monda, Marc Cashman, Paul Ruben and other narrators I really admire.

Next: juggling multiple personalities without going crazy.

Now hear this . . . tips on creating audiobooks

Kids aren’t the only people who like to hear a story.

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans listened to an audiobook in 2013. Adults with higher levels of education are more likely to have read audiobooks than those who did not attend college. And the vast majority of those who read e-books and audiobooks also read print books.

Good news for writers who like to listen to as well as tell stories.

Convinced audio could prove a way to boost my audience, I contracted with an Amazon service called ACX to produce an audio version of my first novel, Peak Season. ACX connects authors with producers and distributors of digital files, in this case, iTunes and Audible.com. It does not produce CDs.

ACX made it easy to import cover art and relevant details of the novel from Amazon. I completed a form with the specs I wanted–a female narrator with a voice in the lower range, speaking in American English with no regional accent. After uploading a short script that called for multiple voices, I listened to sample readings from producers, asked for auditions and even reached out to friends who have a flair for this kind of work.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Choosing a narrator from the auditions proved difficult. All of them sounded professional. Most handled the multiple voices well, even the male characters. A few got creative and tossed in southern or Jersey accents. Two producers offered to include a short musical segment at the beginning and end of the narration, just as traditional publishers do.

The decision was entirely subjective. At the risk of sounding deranged, it came down to a choice of who sounded most like the voices in my head. I chose Pamela Almand, who does business as The Captain’s Voice. (She’s a former pilot. More on that in a later post.) The Audible.com cover appears at left. The audio version of the book should be listed on Amazon by the end of October.

For those of you who’d like to hear your work produced as an audiobook, a few suggestions:

Research the format before you head over to ACX. These projects take just as much work and time as independent print and e-book publishing. Fellow writer Erika Liodice (Empty Arms) has written a pair of insanely detailed posts on creating and marketing audiobooks, Navigating the Next Frontier in Digital Publishing: Audiobooks and 9 Easy & Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Audiobook. The posts are encyclopedic.

Read the contracts. ACX says it delivers royalties of up to 40% but one example shows authors receiving a little more than $2 on a $30 audiobook. Audible gives free product to new customers and discounts to members, actions that will reduce the list price of your audiobook, and your royalty. Some producers will accept half of your royalty payments in exchange for their narration. Others want an additional stipend for narrating a book that may not sell enough to earn royalties. And unlike other Amazon services such as CreateSpace for print and Kindle Direct Publishing for e-books, ACX doesn’t allow authors to set the price of their audiobook, so you can’t control the profit margin.

Finally, learn from the experts. Indie author Joanna Penn offers several tips for creating and marketing your work as an audiobook. When it comes to running your writing career as a business, she’s one of the leading voices in the field . . . and well worth a listen.