Mary Castillo is the award-winning narrator and author of the Dori O. Paranormal Mystery Series, whose decision to narrate and produce her first audiobook, Lost in the Light, led her into uncharted territory and ignited her creativity. Here’s the story of one author-turned-narrator finding her voice.
My decision to self-produce audiobooks started innocently enough. I had been listening to audiobooks, but not with the idea of producing one of my own. Many of my colleagues at the Orange County Chapter RWA were sharing how well their audiobooks were selling and how much they loved their narrators. When a fellow author said, “If you’re not creating audiobooks, you’re leaving money on the table,” I decided I wanted one, too!
The biggest roadblock (it was more like a sink hole), was the cost. Narration is everything in an audiobook. As a slightly addicted Audible listener myself, I’ve driven around the block a time or two and listened long enough to find out who the killer was. Some of my favorite narrators can effortlessly slip into different vocal tones and accents; others cannot—but they are fascinated by the story, and that’s contagious to a listener.
One night, I was reading to my son and niece, who later told me how fun it was that I got into the story and created different voices for the characters. So I started to wonder: could I do this on my own? Should I?
My backlist of ‘chick lit’ romantic comedies had been optioned for audio by my former publishers, but never produced. However, my backlist of independent titles in the Dori O. Paranormal Mystery Series was free and clear. Dear reader, I went for it!
On January 1, 2016, I ordered an inexpensive (ahem, cheap-as-heck) microphone and amp, built a sound box with an old pillow and cut up audio foam, and started tinkering with Audacity. I fell in love with narrating the first book in the series, Lost in the Light. I went all in—I watched YouTube videos of actors who I thought best personified the characters. I found a great book on creating accents titled Foreign Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors and Writers, and I read everything I could on audiobook narration, editing, and mastering (thank you ACX University!). I took to speaking in a British-Birmingham accent at the dinner table, which annoyed the heck out of my family (but a real British reviewer later said I did a bang-up job on that character’s voice!).
I must have recorded, edited, and mastered the first five chapters seven times. Finally, I gave myself a goal: launch a weekly podcast and prepare the first five chapters in advance. The podcast went live in March, and I faithfully posted a new chapter of the book every week for 36 weeks.
I won’t lie and say that narrating my own work didn’t have its cringe-worthy moments. It is a true feat of strength to get used to the sound of one’s own voice. And don’t get me started on narrating the love scenes. When I wrote them in the privacy of my own office, I was all in—but then I had to speak the words out loud and was reduced to the maturity level of a 13-year-old girl.
The Lost in the Light audiobook would’ve come to market much sooner if I’d invested in a narrator and producer, but a new skill in storytelling had opened up to me. After the audiobook was complete, I jumped into narrating and producing the sequel to Lost in the Light, titled Girl in the Mist.
As you go into self-producing your audiobook, I recommend that you recruit beta listeners. There were mistakes that I’d missed in Lost in the Light when I published it, so with the second project, Girl in the Mist, I reached out to my readers through my author newsletter, asking for beta listener volunteers. Five stepped up and they listened to the edited and mastered recording. They reported editing errors such as parts of the book where I had missed something, or background noise such as my pug snoring contentedly. The pug has now been banned from my recording space. Without my asking, these wonderful beta listeners also left great reviews of the audiobook once I’d published it!
When it comes to your home studio, do as I say and not as I did, and invest in high-quality equipment. My production of Lost in Whispers went off the rails when my cheap mic died. Then my neighbors decided to demolish their home, room by room, for a year. I now record in a converted playhouse under a pine tree. The Lost in Whispers audiobook, the third book in the Dori O. series, will be produced this fall with the fourth Dori book set to be published in October 2019.
Audiobooks injected new life into my business. The Lost in the Light podcast (no longer available), drove print and e-book sales. Audiobook sales of both titles have been my number one source of fiction income each month for the last two years, and Lost in the Light won the 2018 ABR Listener’s Choice Award in Mystery!
Audiobooks also opened my creative world. I continue to write novels and novellas, but I’m also developing audio projects. Other authors have approached me to narrate their audiobooks, and I’m developing a spin-off audio series with supporting characters from the Dori O. stories. Thanks to channels like ACX and Kindle Direct Publishing, we authors have more avenues available to us. Now our stories can take on new forms embraced by larger audiences.
Mary Castillo is the author and award-winning narrator of the Dori O. Paranormal Mystery Series. The titles include Lost in the Light, Girl in the Mist, and Lost in Whispers. She serves as vice president of communications to the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA), and is a member of the Gothic Romance Online Chapter of RWA. Mary lives and writes in Orange County, CA. You can check out her books and audiobooks at MaryCastillo.com.