Photo of Elizabeth by Claire McAdams Photography
Listen2aBook has just released Elizabeth Klett’s reading of Crane Mansions on Audible.
We thought you’d be interested in hearing about the behind-the-scenes of audiobook narrating. So we sent Elizabeth a list of questions:
You’ve been described to us as “a superstar of the narrating world”. How did you get started in audiobook narrating?
That’s a very generous description… I would modify it somewhat! I started as a volunteer for LibriVox.org, and read for them from 2007 until last year (when things just got too busy in the professional world and I had to cut back on the volunteer time). Hugh McGuire, the founder of LibriVox, started his own professional audiobook company in 2011, Iambik Audio, and asked me to join their roster. From there I made the leap to working with other production companies, such as ACX, Bee Audio, Listen2aBook, and Essential Audiobooks.
Tell us about the technicalities of recording. Do you record at home or in a studio? Do you read the text straight through or read scenes and then put them together as they do in films? How long does a project take? What’s the most complicated project you’ve been involved with?
I have a home studio, which is a closet that I’ve soundproofed and where my microphone and other recording equipment live. I read the text through first and make notes and ask questions about character names, pronunciations, and any preferences that the author might have. Then I read through beginning to end, rather than doing the kind of scene-by-scene editing that you mentioned. For me as a reader and narrator, I think the chronological experience helps me to create a coherent narrative arc. I read about 9,000 words an hour, but of course I make a lot of mistakes that need to be edited out! So if you add on the editing and mastering, it actually takes significantly longer to produce an audiobook than the finished hour count indicates. So a 10-hour book probably takes more like 30 hours total to produce. I think the most complicated projects I’ve done have involved large numbers of foreign languages, names, and accents. For example, I narrated a wonderful novel set in Afghanistan called Farishta, which necessitated a conference call with the author, Patricia McArdle. She was kind enough to read out the large number of Dari and Farsi words and phrases in the novel – and I recorded them so I could practice. The main character was a language expert, so I wanted to be sure to get it right!
How do you go about the planning of voices for different characters? Is it hard to keep the different voices clear in your head?
Some of the voices are determined by the descriptions in the text, some are requested by the author, and some I create just by an instinctual feel for the character. For instance, I love the character of Ena Vowles in Crane Mansions and her voice just came to me in the moment, which also helped to determine her daughter’s voice (as both similar and different in its way). Although the setting of the novel isn’t specified (since the place names are invented), I had this idea that it might be in the north of England, and Ena represented that very northern, earthy, skeptical voice for me. If there are a very large number of characters with distinctive voices (and there were quite a few in Crane Mansions!) I make a list with descriptions for reference. If I’m working on a series and there’s lag time in between each novel, I’ll assemble sound clips of each character’s voice so I can listen and replicate their sound to achieve consistency. It’s absolutely one of my favorite parts about narrating: doing all those different voices, female and male, old and young, and from different parts of the world!
Audiobooks haven’t really been at the forefront of authors’ minds but we’re told that here in Australia the market is growing rapidly. Have you seen a change in the five years you’ve been narrating for the major audiobook companies?
Yes, definitely! Audiobook revenues are growing exponentially every year, and more and more authors are looking to add audio to their titles. For narrators, it’s become more competitive, since those platforms also allow more and more voice artists to get involved in production, particularly since so much work is done remotely, rather than in a local studio. I’m a big fan of audiobooks myself (I’m currently listening to the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King) – although I don’t think they can or should replace print books, which are my first love.
Go to Elizabeth’s website to check out her list of readings: