Interview with Andrea Emmes, Audiobook Narrator

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind-the-scenes while narrating an audiobook, take a listen to our interview with audiobook narrator, Andrea Emmes, where she chats about her favorite titles, how she gets into character, and sheds some light on the audiobook recording process. Let’s start out with how you got into narrating audiobooks.

Andrea: That’s a good question. I’ve been a performer for most of my professional life, actress or dancer. In 2006, I actually was in a bad accident in a stage show I was in and ended up getting a pain disorder, so I had to regroup and find something else to do. So, I went back to college, got a degree in video game design and art design and was a Game Designer at Disney Interactive for a couple years, but then got laid off.

I was like, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?” It’s so hard to find another job, especially with my pain disorder. I don’t even remember how exactly I was looking and my husband went, “Well, why don’t you look into audiobooks?” Because he listens to audiobooks all the time. “Oh my god, that’s a great idea.” because I have my voice over equipment and my mic—I still had all my equipment, so I started researching it and I found an article on ACX that Sean Allen Pratt, who is a coach and a narrator, wrote, reached out to him, and kind of started from there. Very cool. So, when it comes to recording audiobooks, what is your process for getting into character?

Andrea: Ou, that’s a good question. It’s so interesting because when you’re doing a book you’re every character, right? Right!

Andrea: So, we have to flip flop back and forth constantly kind of like Sybil, if you know that movie reference? I might’ve dated myself.

I do a lot of prep work beforehand. I have this whole spreadsheet where, as I’m reading the book, I write down all the characters—information about them, their quirks, their age, certain vocal qualities or accents that are listed in the book, or other attitude attributes. So, I have them kind of locked in at least there, so I have an idea of who everyone is before I actually go into the recording studio. Because it’s kind of a constant switch back and forth, sometimes there’s a lot of stopping and I have to go back to my spreadsheet, take a moment, “Oh yeah, that’s right, where we are in the scene,” until you finally get into the flow of being able to switch back and forth.

A lot of times it’s just a matter of, “Okay, I’ve got this one character who is quirky, but she’s a little bit jealous of the main character because she wants that guy or whatever.” Then, I try to just say, “Where would I find that emotion?” Or, I’ll actually have this list of character references to say, “Maybe it’s Rachel McAdams from Mean Girls that I’ll kind of pull that attitude from.” Or Reese Witherspoon from Legally Blonde if I’m looking for something that’s really bubbly and positive. That’s very cool and on our end, when you listen to it, it just sounds like a natural flow from character to character. Sometimes you don’t think about what goes into it.

Andrea: Yeah, and that’s the hard part. To me, it’s slow, and sometimes it’s a matter of the editing part. Sometimes like, “Oh, wait,” I have to stop, pause a second because I went out of voice. Sometimes it’s easy to blend the voice from one to the other when you’re going back and forth [between] accents. If I’m speaking in an Irish accent and then the next character is Texan I might leak that Irish into the Texan. I’m like, “Okay, hold on a second,” Let me pause, say a little sentence to get myself back into it and then dive right back in and then make sure that the edit is nice and clean. Of course, the professional editors clean all that stuff and make it really pretty. Yeah, it’s an art and a science. Yeah, it sounds like it! What are some of your favorite titles that you’ve narrated so far?

Andrea: That’s a good question and there’s many, but if I had to narrow it down to a couple…I’m very much into the geeky stuff, having been a Game Designer in my previous life, if you will, before I got into audiobooks. I was also big into comic books, so one of the books I did not too long ago was The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin, which is this amazing book where you’ve got the strong female character, MG, who is a comic book artist, but she also ends up becoming a consultant for the police to help find this vigilante who’s going around and causing all kinds of havoc. It’s a really great, funny, light-hearted, but yet action-packed book. That was super fun!

I also has a really good time doing Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, which is for middle graders. That was such an awesome book because you’ve got Maxine Einstein, or Max, who’s a 12 year-old genius and she ends up working with a whole bunch of other kid geniuses from all over the world. They’re doing good deeds around the world and helping…I’m trying not to give away the book…doing a lot of great things for the world using their genius, which is in different areas. Of course, there’s an evil villainy guy that’s trying to muck everything up. It’s just a really great book for kids, I think, and hope it’s inspiring, not only for them to read more, but to get into science and be excited about doing things for their community or their world or trying to make the world a better place. So, I think that’s probably one of my favorites.

I guess, lastly, this is kind of on the flip side of this. I also really like Flights of Fancy by Jen Turano, which is a historical, clean, Christian novel. It’s just a beautiful love story back in the 1800s that’s very funny and whimsical and also very light, but romantic. For sure! It sounds like you’ve done a variety of things.

Andrea: Yeah, which is nice because it kind of changes up things. Not too long ago I did a LitRPG and then I’m back to doing another Christian romance and then back to doing a mystery or a non-fiction book. That’s exciting for me because it keeps things from getting too monotonous. Yeah, exactly. Something new each time.

Andrea: Yeah, yeah! I guess this is kind of a related question. If you could narrate any book, which would you choose?

Andrea: Something, I think, geeky. I mean, I love the YA genre a lot. I feel like that’s my jam. I feel I can really get into the snarky angst place that they live in and I just love how things are just worked out in a different way, especially if you do something that’s paranormal because I love the paranormal kind of stuff.

I did a LitRPG series, which is wonderful, but really, honestly, when it boils down to it I just want a really good story. If a really good story happens to be a cozy mystery I’m all over it. For sure, yeah. Okay, coming down to a few of the end questions. What’s something about the audiobook production process that listeners might find surprising?

Andrea: That listeners might find surprising? How much I belch during recording, but that never gets in. You know, and that’s actually a true statement.

It’s very tedious. You start the prep where you get the book and then you should read it and go through it, make all your notes and make sure you, especially if there’s a bunch of words you don’t know how to say, make sure you look them up and you have that for reference, check with the author or publisher if you have any questions.

Then, the recording process—you’re sitting in front of this computer screen and you have your editing software. I use Studio One recording program. I don’t just go in there and record and don’t have to worry about any of the editing stuff when I’m doing home studio working from home, so I have to be sort of Engineer, Director and Audiobook Narrator, so it’s a long process.

There’s a lot of mistakes, there’s belching, sometimes there might be cursing if you mess up that is is all wonderfully edited out. Yeah, I guess that’s really it is just it’s a longer process.

It’s not just get up to the mic and read because there’s a lot of acting you have to put forth or making sure like, “Oh no,” like I said before, “what was that voice again? Let me stop.” Especially if I’m doing a series and I’m like, “Oh, Jack was in book one, but he didn’t show up again until book three. What was his voice again?” Then I have to go back to my archives and find out what was his voice.

Or a lot of times, like in Max Einstein, I had 12 different accents I had to learn, so I had to spend a lot of time with Kenyan, Swahili, Chinese, Irish, Mumbai, and Texan…I’m telling you, there was a whole bunch. Taking the time before I even get into the booth to do and listen and study all I can to do the best that I can for that accent. It’s a lot, a lot of work that goes into it. It’s fun! It sounds super fun and it’s like you said, “an art and a science.” It’s not like rolling up to a microphone.

Andrea: Yeah, I mean, those moments are awesome. If you go into a studio and they have everybody over there at the publishing office and all you have to do is just perform, it actually is a lot more freeing, but when you’re in the studio yourself at home sometimes it’s hard to focus. You have to really work to not over micro-manage yourself, so you can stay in the moment and be the moment. Like, “Ah, man. There was a weird gurgle my stomach did. Let me stop, go back, delete that, and start over.” That seems like quite the process, but it turns out well, so that’s good.

Andrea: It does! It’s amazing to me to know an eight hour book might take 20 hours in the studio to record. When you hear it all done, especially once the editors and the proofers have all tightened things up, the end result is like, “Ah, man, that’s awesome and fulfilling!” Exactly, so cool to hear the end product all shiny. Okay, then finally, do you have any other projects on-the-go that you can tell us about?

Andrea: Sure, well, I just mentioned another Christian book. I’m doing the Amish of Pontotoc series by Amy Lillard. I just recorded books one and two, A Home for Hannah and A Love for Leah. Not sure when those are coming out because I just finished them.

I’m excited about that and on the docket, Max Einstein, book two is coming out…Oh, oh, oh, you know what, talk about geeky stuff sort of, The Hashtag Hunt, by Kristina Seek. I’m super excited about that. Actually, I start that in two weeks, which is about this character who is trying to win $10,000 to help her with her business by doing this contest called The Hashtag Hunt. She ends up getting these text messages saying, “I need you to find a hottie in the wild.” There’s a bunch of rules she has to do and in doing so, she ends up on this grand adventure that’s kind of out there and crazy and there’s a little love involved. Super fun! I can’t wait to start that. Super cool. It sounds like a good listen.

Andrea: I hope so! It was a great read because I’ve already prepped the book. Yeah, that sounds amazing. Okay, well that’s all the questions I have. You went into great detail and I’m very excited to listen to anything upcoming from you!

Andrea: Thank you! I appreciate the time to chat.

Click here to check out titles narrated by Andrea →

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If you’re a fan of dark, twisted psychological thrillers, Jody Gehrman‘s Watch Me: A Gripping Psychological Thriller, will leave you guessing until the very end. Listen to our interview with the author to find out the inspiration behind the story, her advice for aspiring narrators and authors, and more! Watch Me is a psychological thriller about how far obsession can go. Where did the inspiration for the novel come from?


Jody: I’m a professor at a small college and I’ve been teaching at the college level for two decades, so I’ve seen a lot of changes on campus and was thinking about how much fear had entered into the campus equation in the last two decades. We were doing trainings about active shootings and what to do if God forbid that ever happened, and I was thinking about that and wanted to find a way to personalize that fear, to express it through two characters. At the same time, I had been thinking a lot about women – and certainly this happens to men, too, but especially women – when you turn a certain corner in your life and you no longer feel very visible or relevant. You start to feel less seen, and I realized how vulnerable that can make a person feel, especially if there’s someone who does give them that attention. You describe yourself as a lifelong audiobook lover. What ignited your passion for audiobooks and audio in general?


Jody: My obsession with it predates this wonderful renaissance we’re going through with audiobooks. I found a collection of tape cassettes at the library ages ago that were old, 1940s radio drama. I just fell in love with this form of storytelling and drama. there’s something so nurturing about coming home, doing the dishes, and having someone tell you a story. it’s the most fantastic, nurturing thing to just shut off and become the listener. Absolutely! So how did the opportunity to narrate your own novel arise?


Jody: I let Macmillan Audio know that I listened to one or two books a week and am really obsessed with [audiobooks], and had all kinds of ideas about narrators. They were open to that and I sent them a list of narrators. As I was listening to possible narrators for the role of Kate, I couldn’t fight this nagging feeling that I wanted to read it myself. So I told them I really do understand that sometimes, the author is not the best person to read their work. But I wanted them to audition me on equal footing with other narrators just to pick the person they felt would work best and so they asked me to do it. I absolutely loved reading my own work and kind of visiting it from that angle. It was a completely different perspective on the book for me. What do readers gain from listening to the audiobook that they miss out on if they just read the print version?


Jody: One of the things that struck me in listening to especially Holter [Graham]’s section was that he really brought out a lot of humor in the character, Sam, and he’s not inherently a funny character – he’s a really demented person, rather a scary brain to inhabit. i love the way he was able to make me laugh out loud. i don’t know that i would have that experience just reading the book. What advice would you give someone interested in narrating, writing a book, or both?


Jody: I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but because I do listen to so many audiobooks, I notice a lot of things narrators do well and things they do not so well. I think a big part of it is trying to sink into the spirit of the work and not overdramatize.

Part of what a good narrator does is they disappear; they’re no longer thinking about their voice. they’re lost in the story.

The temptation for actors much of the time is to really have a huge variation in the voices – for example, for a man to go really high on the woman’s voices or vice versa for women. I think that’s mostly distracting. In my opinion, less is more.

If the hope is to be a novelist because you love to write, because you love to write more than anything, that’s the biggest secret to making it – indulging that love and writing as often as you can. I know most of us have busy lives and it’s hard to carve out space. Figure out a daily practice to keep working and use that love of writing to balance out the more crazy making aspects of the industry. For example, pitching, promoting and selling your work are necessary, but they’re not the heart of being a writer. The actual heart is writing. Do you think you’ll narrate any future novels you put out into the world?


Jody: I would love to. I don’t want to force it. If I write a character that isn’t in the right age range or demographic, I certainly would prefer that someone who fits better would be the person. But I’m also getting more interested in the issues of being in your late 30s and 40s and experiencing the changes you go through in those time periods, so maybe I will fit the right demographic. I certainly would love to do it again.


Watch Me.

Kate Youngblood is disappearing. Muddling through her late 30s as a creative writing professor, the follow-up novel to her successful debut tanked. Her husband left her for a woman a decade younger. She fears no one will ever truly look at or know her again. Except for Sam Grist, her most promising student. A talented writer who gravitates towards dark themes and twisted plots, he’s not just there to be a great writer. He’s been watching her. Wanting her. Working his way to her for years. As he makes his way into her life, they enter a deadly web of dangerous lies and forbidden desire.
Read more and sample the audio.


This interview has been condensed and edited. For the full interview, listen here.


4 Narration Considerations when Choosing an Audiobook

Audiobook lovers know the importance of a good narrator. Narrators have the potential to expertly enhance a book, or, unfortunately, to sometimes drag it down. It can be tricky for audio publishers to find a voice that suits both the book and everyone’s preferences. (A sweet, bubbly voice doesn’t belong in scenes of gore, just as ragged, ominous voices have no place in light-hearted fairy tales.)

As listeners, we need to know ourselves and our narration tastes in order to opt for books that suit us, so we’ve come up with a quick guide to test a narrator. While listening to samples as you’re browsing for your next audiobook, here are some things to consider.

Does the narrator match your preferred pace? Are they reading too quickly during scenes that need better build up? Do they take too long during descriptive paragraphs? If the pace doesn’t quite fit, try changing the playback speed to see if it improves the experience.

TECH TIP! To change playback speed, tap the 1x icon on the player screen in the app. 

Pitch and Intonation:
Very important in regards to narration is the delivery. Is the reader too monotone? Do they exaggerate dialogue to the point where it’s cheesy? Is the pitch of the voice suitable? Even if the pace suits you, inappropriate intonation could make a potentially great audiobook personally unbearable.

This one is a little more difficult. You may have a preference for certain accents during general narration, but when it comes to dialogue, accents are an important part of the character. Depending on where you’re from, you may be more tolerant of narrators putting on certain accents. Those accustomed to a North American accent may cringe if a British narrator fails to imitate a Southern character. Similarly, people in the UK may be distracted from the story when an American narrator portrays someone from Ireland.

Background noise:
While this last one isn’t in the narrator’s power, it’s worth considering that some audiobooks have sound effects and music in the background as a way to enhance the audio. To some, this is a welcome addition that turns the experience up a level, but others find it distracting and unnecessary. Determine the side you relate to and listen for it in the sample.

TECH TIP! To sample an audiobook before committing a credit to it, simply press play on a title in the app. After the set sample time is up, you’ll be prompted to apply a credit and keep listening, or choose to keep browsing. 

What do you think? Do you look for similar factors when sampling audio? What are your listening preferences? Let us know!