When I first started auditioning narrators for my Hope Springs audiobooks, I had a vague idea of what I was looking for: someone with a warm, pleasant voice, who also had the ability to portray the deep emotions of the books. I listened to dozens (maybe hundreds) of samples of Christian and sweet romance audiobooks and made note of the narrators I particularly liked. Then I put the first book, Not Until Forever, up for audition and invited ten of my favorite narrators to audition. They all did—along with 100+ other narrators! Let’s just say, I got to know the parts of my book that I’d chosen as an audition script very well as I listened to all of those auditions.
In the end, I narrowed the pool down to two narrators, both of whom had been on the list of narrators I’d specifically invited to audition. And then, just as I was about to make my final decision…I received another audition. This one was from a narrator I hadn’t come across before. But the moment I listened to her audition, I knew. Because her voice was perfect for the tone of my books. Her emotion was spot-on for both the lighthearted scenes and the heart-wrenching ones. Most of all, listening to her felt like hearing the book in my own head. I ran her audition past my husband as well as a trusted reader/listener, and they both agreed. Emily Norman was the voice of my books.
Today, I asked Emily to stop by and give us some insights into her process for bringing a book to life.
Hi Emily! I’ve been having so much fun working with you on these books. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started narrating audiobooks.
Hi! Thanks for having me! At the moment, I have a very full life. I’m married with four young kiddos and feel blessed to be able to pour my creative energy into narrating audiobooks in the evenings or when the children have been whisked away to grandma’s for the afternoon. I have always been an avid reader and performer, so narration has been a great fit for me. Different kinds of performance have been sprinkled throughout my past. I am a trained opera singer, have been in plays, musicals, on camera, and on the radio. After our 4th child was born, I started seriously looking into what it took to be a narrator. I had always thought about it, but I had no idea how to actually go about it. I did a ton of research, created a home studio, hired a narration coach, and I haven’t looked back!
It sounds like you were born to perform! How do you decide which audiobooks to audition for?
I am on the pickier side. I have to genuinely want to read the book and be excited for my name to be associated with it to audition. The factors that contribute to that are cover art, payment, genre, and content. In terms of content, I audition for books that are well written and fit the attitude of my voice. I have a kind, hopeful quality to my voice, so I tend to gravitate toward uplifting stories. Christian Romance is my FAVORITE!
Christian romance is our favorite here at Inspy too! What kind of prep work do you do to get ready to narrate a book?
I read the whole book cover to cover and make a LOT of notes. I am constantly on Merriam Webster’s website because you can actually listen to the “correct” pronunciation of a word. I normally know what words mean, but I often second guess how to say them. Neither, route, bouquet… all words I’ve had to look up multiple times. I live in the South and am married to a Brit, so I have lots of different accents in my head all the time. In addition to pronunciations, I make notes about characters and also when there’s a shift in tone or perspective.
I can totally relate to looking up a word even though you already know it. I do the same thing when I’m writing. What is your process for narrating a book? Do you record as much of it as you can at a time, or do you have a goal for how much you record each day? How long does the full process take?
I am still fine tuning this. Since I can only record when it is dead quiet, I have to wait until my kids are asleep. I aim for getting 30 minutes of finished audio done each day. I will record, then listen back and make edits as I go, marking what lines I possibly need to rerecord due to a mistake or a weird noise. Then, I send the audio to my proofer to double check everything. Thou shalt not proof thine own work is a narrator commandment. The full process takes a long time. 3 hours of work per 1 finished hour of audio. At least.
Complete silence can be hard to come by, especially when there are kids around! I can definitely tell all the hard work you put into the books because they turn out beautifully. As you work on a book or a series, how do you keep the characters and their voices straight?
I keep a separate audio file just dedicated to the characters of each book. Fun fact, narrators do something called “collecting” voices. As we go about our day to day lives, we listen for interesting voices. The other day, I was at a Bible study and the lady sharing had such a great Texas accent and a really strong presence as she spoke. I thought, if I ever have to voice an extraverted, tough love Texas lady, I am going to do Muriel’s voice.
I love that! Writers may be guilty of doing a little voice collecting ourselves. Where do you work? Do you have a studio?
I narrate out of my home studio! I worked with a handyman and sound engineer to create a great home studio within our master closet. Especially since Covid, most narrators record in their bunny slippers at home.
Gotta love getting to work in your slippers! What do you find to be the hardest part of narrating a book?
Although I am proficient at the technical side of recording, I find it a bit tedious. You need a specific kind of microphone for narration work because it’s a very intimate medium and you want a full sound, so the mic has to be really sensitive. Unfortunately, that means it picks up everything. Every stomach growl, lip smack, neighbor’s dog barking, plane flying a million miles away—the mic hears it and you have to rerecord little sections. I even turn off our air conditioning/heating the whole time I record. I want it to sound as clean as possible with no background humming.
It’s amazing how many sounds we probably don’t even notice on a day-to-day basis…until we need complete silence. What’s your favorite part of narrating?
I love getting lost in the story, and I come to genuinely care about the characters, even if they’re fictional!
Oh yes, I think we can all relate to that! What do you like to do in your free time?
Oh man, I have practically no free time! But in the little pockets of time that spring up, I love having deep conversations about ideas, feelings, faith, etc. That really energizes me. Also, I normally have a book in my hands whether I’m reading to my kids, reading for fun or prepping something I’m about to record.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Emily! It was fascinating to learn about your process! If you’d like to learn more about Emily, be sure to visit her website at www.emilynormanvoiceover.com.
And if you’d like to hear Emily’s excellent narrations of my Hope Springs books, you can find them here:
Not Until You
Let’s talk audiobooks. Was there anything that surprised you about the process of making an audiobook? If you listen to audiobooks, what do you love in a narrator?