Audiobooks have taken off in the past several years, and we love that readers can experience their favorite books while they’re commuting, folding laundry, or working out. Sometimes readers will ask me questions about what goes into recording an audiobook…and I rarely know the answer. At Bethany House, we license our audio rights to places like Recorded Books to create and distribute the content, so there’s no sound studio down the hall from editorial where I can watch the process.
However, I’m excited to share this guest interview with you, from the talented Leah Horowitz. She’s narrated several Bethany House titles, most recently Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green, A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden, and The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright. (You can follow her on Instagram at @theLeahReport.) She graciously agreed to share about some of the behind-the-scenes of how an audiobook comes to be.
Amy: What made you explore audiobook narration? How did you get started?
Leah: I’ve been a professional actor, working in musical theater on Broadway, for (eek) about 20 years. But my very favorite thing has always been reading. I had been interested in narrating books for a long time, and finally got a chance to start about a year ago, through a friend in the business. Since I also have a lot of experience recording music and cast albums, I immediately felt at home in the booth, and I still can’t believe I get to read for a living.
Amy: What do you do to prepare for a recording?
Leah: The very first thing I do is read the book! That often surprises people, but of course I need to get to know the plot and the characters, instead of reading it completely cold. As I read, I keep a list of the characters, and I also jot down any words I’m not sure how to pronounce. These are often place names, character names, and words in other languages. As soon as I finish, I send my word list in to the research department, and they send it back to me with all the words written out in IPA (international phonetic alphabet).
In the meantime, I think about the characters. Sometimes I cast famous actors in these “roles,” or people I know; anything to help me differentiate them for myself and the listener. I have found that getting the essence of a character works much better for me than just thinking, “this character has a very low/high/scratchy voice.” The more specific, the better! Sometimes the author’s descriptions of the characters are so evocative that I know who they are right away. Then I go into the booth with lots of bottles of water and hope for the best!
Amy: What’s something that listeners might not notice about the final audiobook that’s a lot of work on your part?
Leah: Probably how much the narrator stops and starts during the process. I certainly never thought about that before I started narrating. And I do think, the more you narrate, the longer the stretches you can talk smoothly without stopping. But even if you don’t have to stop to drink, cough, or scratch your nose, there are always other reasons to stop. You might come to one of those words you aren’t sure of and have to stop to consult the research list.
Also, during the pandemic I’ve been recording at home, in a closet (yup!), and our house is two blocks from train tracks, so I have to pause a few times an hour to let a train go by. Or my husband will slam a door downstairs, or a motorcycle will zoom by. So you stop, wait, then pick up from right before the pause/disturbance occurred. And because of all this, recording an hour of a book might take 75 minutes or even 2 hours! And the listener will never know. Well, I guess now they do.
Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your world, Leah! Talk to us, readers: when do you enjoy listening to audiobooks?