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Behind the Scenes of an Audio Book


Creating the Audio Book for The First Lie


Step 1: What Kind of Narrator?

The First Lie is written in the first person. Everything that happens is seen through the eyes of Selkie Moon, while the reader sees inside her head. So the first decision I had to make was what kind of narrator?

  • Gender was obvious: female
  • Age: young but mature
  • Accent: this was the tricky decision. Selkie is an Australian living in Hawaii, but not all Australian accents travel well and the audio book will be listened to all over the world. The narrator would need an ‘international’ accent.
  • Character Voices: The other characters in the book come from Hawaii, America, England, Ireland, Scotland … Did I want a narration with character voices, or a straight reading from Selkie’s point of view? I decided to wait until I’d found my narrator and see what her skills were.


Step 2: Listening to Audition Tapes

I joined the audio-book site ACX (which is not available from Australia but I was working with a small US publisher that made this possible. There are other options such as Listen 2 A Book). There are hundreds of narrators on ACX with sample audition tapes and you can filter them for genre, gender, age and accent.

You can also select your preferred vocal style (ie attitude!) from a huge list ranging from deadpan, engaging or flirtatious to snarky, hip or refined. It all depends on the style of book and the effect you’re trying to create. I played with several filters, listening to many short samples. This word worked best with the other filters: engaging.


Step 3: Making a Shortlist

Some narrators sound like narrators – perfect for delivering a story – but I needed someone who could slip inside Selkie’s skin and make her live for the listener. This essential quality combined with age and accent made it easy to eliminate unsuitable narrators quickly.

After hours of listening to sample auditions I had a shortlist of a dozen female narrators who I thought could be Selkie Moon – the character I’ve spent 15 years creating.


Step 4: Inviting Auditions

After posting an extract from The First Lie as an audition script, I sent invitations to my shortlist.  (This process also includes the offer: either a fee based on the finished hours of the recording or a royalty share on sales.)  I received a couple of “no thank yous” but most of the narrators didn’t respond. Luckily three agreed to audition – yay! – followed by their sample readings from The First Lie.


Step 5: Choosing the Narrator

Getting three audition tapes was very exciting. All three narrators are highly experienced professionals and each of their auditions was very different.

Narrator 1: This actor-turned-narrator is a mature woman with a strong American accent. She loved my book and did an energetic reading but her age and her accent didn’t sound like Selkie.

Narrator 2: I loved this narrator’s sample tapes and was thrilled when she agreed to audition. She’s highly sought after by the big publishers. I’ve heard her on a book trailer for a bestseller. Her reading was smooth and polished but her style wasn’t Selkie.

Narrator 3: I’d spent a lot of time filtering dozens of narrators and sending out invitations to the best ones. If the third narrator wasn’t Selkie then I’d have to start all over again. I had my fingers crossed that this narrator would be perfect. She was!

Not only did Katherine Littrell sound like Selkie – with a great individual voice and an international accent – her interpretation of the extract was brilliant. She got inside Selkie’s skin. She understood the nuances of my words and she didn’t deliver them, she lived them!


Katherine Littrell is an Australian-born, US-based audiobook narrator. She graduated magna cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Bryn Mawr College and immediately pursued a career in acting. Katherine has studied acting classes at Yale, RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), UPenn, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. She currently resides in Atlanta, GA, where she acts, reads, knits & makes her own furniture. She is beyond thrilled to combine her two major passions into one profession: recording audiobooks.


Step 6: Perfecting the First 15 Minutes

Katherine read the first 15 minutes of The First Lie for my comments on her reading style.

Wow. As soon as your book is read by a narrator you experience it from a whole different angle. Does the dialogue flow? How do you say that word? What’s the mood of that scene? What kind of voice does that character have?

Elements that a reader interprets from the written word are now being brought to life. And I’m only the author. Katherine had to make it happen by:

  • staying inside Selkie’s character throughout the 9.6 finished hours of narration
  • creating voices – consistent voices – based on the accent and personality of each character
  • bringing to life the interactions between the characters
  • interpreting the mood of each scene
  • pronouncing each word using international guides, including tricky ones like ‘pomander’ and ‘prognostication’ (I’ve promised Katherine never to use the word ‘pomander’ in any future books!)
  • pronouncing foreign words in Hawaiian and French

One change I asked Katherine to make to the style sample, was to increase the pace slightly. When she did, it brought even more life to her already engaging narration. 


Step 7: Preparing Character & Pronunciation Guides

I provided Katherine with a character list, detailing age, accent, background and personality. I also supplied a list of Hawaiian words with links to recordings of them being pronounced, but Katherine still had to track down a lot of pronunciations herself.


Step 8: What About Acting Notes?

The character list was a basic form of acting notes, but the narrator has to make insightful decisions at each stage throughout the 300+ pages of the narration. After hearing Katherine’s audition I knew I could trust her to think about each scene and bring her intelligent interpretation to my words.


Step 9: Listening for Corrections – Twice

When the 9.6 hours of narration was done, it was back to me to listen and make a spreadsheet of any corrections. As I listened, I was absolutely blown away by Katherine’s interpretation of my book.

But because I used to be an audiobook producer, my experience turned out to be a curse. I know what I’m listening to, but I hear every mouth noise that no listener will ever hear. It took me two weeks of solid listening and re-listening – I had to buy more comfortable headphones – to make a spreadsheet of important corrections, which were mainly pesky pronunciations.

Katherine made the corrections and I listened to each of them again, using the time code on the recording. We were done.


Step 10: Hit the Publish Button

The stunning audio book of The First Lie went live on May 28. You can buy it from audible, gift it to your friends and listen to the sample here.

Your can buy the books in the Selkie Moon series from your favourite store here.

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