As an author, you’re probably used to working with editors, proofreaders, and cover designers. But when you put on your audiobook publisher hat for ACX, you’ll meet a new type of creative person: the actor. To ensure you cast the right actor and can effectively direct them on your audiobook’s needs, you need to know how to communicate. Read on for our expert advice on the subject and helpful forms you can use to guide your actor to a great performance.
Casting the Actor
Casting the right actor is the important first step towards getting the best performance. ACX features a wide range of talented actors, and you’ll want to narrow that list down to those with the specific vocal attributes you’re looking for in your audiobook. During the title profile creation process, you’ll come to an area with the following options:
This is where you’ll set the overall tone of the narration. If the book is set in England, or the main character has a heavy Spanish accent, now’s your chance to note such details. You should also begin thinking about the more specific aspects of who your characters are, and how that plays into their personalities. You can include some of this information in the “Additional Comments” field of your title profile.
Directing the Actor
Any actor worth their salt wants to produce the best audiobook they can, providing their best performance while honoring the material and the vision of its creator. As a rights holder, you can help him or her achieve this goal by providing detailed notes on the characters.
How can you help your narrator get the characters and tone right? Start by thinking back to when you were writing the book. Dig deep into your characters’ origins, histories, and motivations. Try to answer some of the following questions to get a sense of who your characters are:
- Where do they come from?
- How were they raised?
- How do they act when happy/sad?
- How do they react to adversity?
- Are they book smart or street smart? Perhaps neither?
- Are they generally upbeat or pessimistic?
- What motivates them to take make the decisions they make throughout the book?
Thinking about these things and communicating them to your actor will not only help ensure you get a great read, but will help you better understand your own writing and characters! Also, make sure to think about any tricky pronunciations, either place names, names of people, or made up words or names from a conlang (we’re looking at you, Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors).
A Good Example
Check out these character descriptions from a recent Audible Studios production:
The romantic leads:
- Jessica: She has a slight southern accent – nothing over the top. If we don’t have a soft southern lilt, then a soft, clean, alto voice. She’s a teenager and should sound like one.
- Kayne: Slight Scottish brogue. Sexy. He’s the lead male in this book.
- Sonyaza, The Mephilum King (aka The Bad Guy): Strong, deep, dark, old voice; he’s been around for a while (20,000+ years).
- James: British. steady. He’s one of the crew’s moral compasses, so a moral-sounding voice.
- Norris: His voice is a superpower, so it needs to be very resonant; the kind of voice that can command people. Preferably a deep voice.
- Mary-Beth: Neutral young woman, maybe with slight ‘valley girl’ undertones. She’s a fun person.
- Eden: Smug, sensual, earthy.
Use this handy Audio Information Form to provide your actor with the information they’ll need to succeed.
The 15 Minute Checkpoint
The 15 Minute Checkpoint sets the baseline for the recording and performance quality you need. We’ve covered reviewing your audio for technical issues previously, so now we’ll delve into tweaking an actor’s performance.
When it comes to guiding or correcting your actor’s performance, remember two key points about your collaborator: he or she is an adult, and he or she is a professional. And like any adult professional, he or she should be able to handle constructive criticism when given respectfully and directly. Keep the following tips in mind when communicating your needs to your actor:
- Be clear and confident in your vision. You’re going for respectfully direct, not wishy-washy.
- Use a well known actor to guide your examples. “This character should be charming and romantic, like James Marsden.”
- If your character is based on a friend or colleague, describe that person.
- If you can’t describe what you want, try describing what you don’t want.
The Final Audio
If you’ve followed the advice above, you should reach the final audio review stage with very few, if any, notes on character voices and scene tone. Make sure to plan time to review your final audio, and if you have notes, communicate them expeditiously to your producer. It will only become more difficult for them to re-immerse themselves in the world you’ve created as time marches on and they move on to other projects.
Be sure to make reasonable and specific notes. Requesting a complete change to a character voice you approved in the 15 Minute Checkpoint is probably not a reasonable expectation at the final audio stage, but it’s OK to ask for tweaks to a key scene or a few lines of dialogue over the course of a book. You can make things easier for yourself and your actors by making use of the Audible Studios audio review form, found here.
Remember, an audiobook production is a collaboration between two creative parties. Setting up your partner for success will help ensure that you have a productive creative relationship that results in a great sounding audiobook.
Producers: What kind of direction do you find the most helpful? Tell us in the comments!