Poised Pen Productions
An Interview with Author Libby Fischer Hellmann and a Giveaway!
Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
I have a background in film and TV, so I am the “executive” producer and director of my audiobooks.
Here is my process:
Choose a narrator. At this point in my audiobook career, I have several narrators whose voices I love and, more importantly, love to work with. They are professionals in the business and deliver an almost finished product. I use them consistently in my two series. I have another narrator whom I use for my historical thrillers. Most are women, but I have found two wonderful and versatile male narrators. (ie different accents and inflections). They include Eva Kaminsky, Nan McNamara, Beth Richmond, Diane Pirone Gelman, Derek Shetterly, and Karyn O’Bryant.
However, if I was looking for a narrator, I’d use ACX. (That’s how I found all the above.) Most of all, a narrator has to be an actor. They need to throw themselves into several different roles or personas during the course of a novel, so I listen to several of their samples, to make sure they are versatile. They also need to have a solid resume, so I know they have a track record performing different genres and types of books. Finally, their fee per finished hour needs to be within or close to my budget. (It’s not cheap). Finally, they have to be familiar with sound quality (most have their own studios) so they can deliver a quality product that meets the specs of audio distributors.
If I’m using ACX, narrators will record a 1-2 page audition for me, which helps a lot. If not, I ask them for one. I usually choose a passage that has dialogue, so I have a sense of how they’ll differentiate the characters.
If I like the sample, we start talking. They need to be willing to check with me about words or expressions (I use Yiddish from time to time) they may not know how to pronounce. We also talk about tone, mood, and how I see the main characters. Most narrators appreciate this type of discussion, and I would never hire someone who does not.
If they seem amenable to everything, I make them an offer. Usually, I already know their price per finished hour, so I know what my cost will be. Occasionally, we might negotiate, based on the volume of work I’m giving them or the length of the audiobook.
Once they record chapters, they send them to me either by dropbox, Audacity (free audio software which I use a lot) or sometimes ACX. It’s up to them whether they want to record the entire story or send chapters in batches – I prefer the latter. If there are problems, or there are mis-pronounciations, we can fix them more easily if they send me, say 5 chapters at a time. Sometimes their inflection is off, and they’ll need to re-record a paragraph or so. But I ALWAYS listen to EVERY CHAPTER carefully before I approve it.
Once I’ve listened to everything and approved it, they send it to their sound engineer for “polishing” (Equalizing audio volume, clarity, and more). If they don’t work with an engineer, I can find one, but I’d prefer to have them use their own. That’s it. Then upload the audio to Findaway Voices or Audible, and wait for their approval. Because I work with professionals, there is rarely a problem. But when there is, I let the narrator know, and he/she fixes it.
Do you believe certain types of writing translate better into audiobook format?
I do. I think writing in which there is dialogue and different characters is far more compelling than a memoir or biography. (Although I did listen to Madeline Albright’s recorded voice for days and never had a problem). But drama usually captures my attention in a more visceral way than straight narrative. If I am listening to non-fiction, the narrator has to be VERY good. By that, I mean a voice that carries inherent emotion and expression without overdoing it.
Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
Because of my background in film, I’m conscious of writing a screenplay rather than an audiobook. In fact, I tend to visualize scenes and chapters right down to an establishing shot, a pan, a dolly, and intercutting between close-ups during dialogue. So yes, I am conscious of writing something that might be “performed” or “Seen” in another medium.
Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
Some books come from a vision. Others real life. EASY INNOCENCE (the 1st Georgia Davis thriller) came to me out of fear. My daughter was starting high school, I was recently separated, and I doubted my ability to be the single mother of a teenage girl. A hazing incident at a nearby high school had just occurred -- it made the national media – half a mile from our house. No one died, but several teenagers ended up in the ER. I started to wonder what would have happened if a girl had been killed instead. That was the premise of the book. Actually, most of my stories have a connection to reality, some more than others. I wrote DOUBLEBACK during a period where the Mexican cartels were getting a lot publicity about taking over the drug trade. TOXICITY was written when there was a lot of fear over toxic waste dumps. And HIGH CRIMES (whose title speaks for itself) was written a year after the 2016 election.
What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
Great question. When I was first starting out, I didn’t think I’d ever lose my enthusiasm or drive; when I was stuck on a novel, I’d write a short story instead, sort of as a palate cleanser, and then go back to my novel. Now, though, if I’m unenthusiastic about writing something, I don’t. The run-up to writing HIGH CRIMES is a perfect example. Before I realized that was the book I should be writing, I brainstormed two complete thrillers with my closest writing friends. One was set during the McCarthy era; the other was contemporary and had to do with concierge drug purveyors. By the time we’d finished brainstorming them, I just couldn’t write either.
Why not? Because there has to be a spark in my gut that fires when I know I’ve found the right story. It’s not logical, and I can’t explain where it comes from, but it HAS to be there. As soon as I started messing around with what ultimately became HIGH CRIMES, that spark fired, and I KNEW this was the book I had to write.
If this title were being made into a TV series or movie, who would you cast to play the primary roles?
It’s funny, because as time passes without a movie option, I need to keep changing actors so they aren’t too long in the tooth to play the roles. One of the first actors I thought of to play Georgia Davis was Naomi Watts. Or Charlize Theron. Now I’m thinking more along the lines of Jennifer Lawrence. Possibly Kirsten Dunst. I like Ellen Hollman, too. But my favorite would be Mila Kunis, if she would consent to be a blonde. Georgia’s half sister, Savannah, could be Dakota Fanning. Jimmy Saclarides is Zac Efron. But he could be a young George Clooney. The other characters depend on which book we’re filming.
What's your favorite:
Food – steak and salad; ice cream, pizza
Song – If I Fell (Beatles)
Book – Too many to choose from.
Television show — Sense8
Movie – And Now My Love (French)
Band – Beatles, Stones
Sports team -- Cubbies
City -- Chicago
Are any of those things referenced in appearance in your work?
Chicago, the Cubs, steak, ice cream. The rest are great ideas! I’ll have to work them in! Thanks.
Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?
The biggest tip I can offer is that unless you are an experienced actor or narrator, do NOT narrate your own book (In order to save money or out of ego.) I do have a lot of film and TV experience, so I offered to narrate one of my short stories for an audiobook collection. I only got through the first paragraph before I knew I wasn’t going to be any good at it.
What’s next for you?
I just started a historical fiction novel set in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. It’s written from the perspective of two Vietnamese sisters. The story begins in 1968 but jumps ahead twenty years. I’m very excited about it – it’s the first non-mystery I’ve ever written.
Your crime books and audiobooks cover many different subgenres within the crime/mystery genre: amateur sleuth, PI, historical thrillers, police procedurals, and even a cozy. Why?
I like to say I am “writing my away around the genre.” I love crime fiction in ALL its variations, because an unsolved mystery or questions about evil-doing is one of the most elemental plot drivers in literature. The answers to those questions opens the door explorations of good and evil; heroes and cowards, social and cultural institutions—in other words, human nature itself. So I enjoy trying different ways to get at those explorations. Of course, I have to do my homework and make sure the story is as accurate and faithful to the genre as I can, but that part is fun for me. The truth is that each story presents its own challenge, and I enjoy challenging myself.
How would you describe your protagonist, Georgia Davis?
Georgia Davis is a PI and a loner. She’s cautious, distrustful, and keeps people at a distance. She has baggage. While Ellie Foreman (the protagonist of my other series) will go out to lunch with you and give you TMI about her life, Georgia won’t go out to lunch at all. As a former cop, she doesn’t want you to know too much about her. She was in love once with a former cop, but he dumped her for another woman, so she is gun-shy where relationships are concerned. It took 4 books before she met the police chief of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Jimmy Saclarides, whom she dearly loves. She is very protective of her half-sister, Vanna, and Vanna’s son Charlie, but they both can drive her nuts. She’s not used to have a family and support system.
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Giveaway: $100 Amazon Gift Card
The second part of the Audiobookworm tour features NOBODY'S CHILD and HIGH CRIMES, and there is a way for you to get a FREE audio of one if you're willing to review it. To join the "Adopt-An-Audiobook" program, sign up, click on "Mystery-Thriller", get a free download code, & post a review when you've finished.
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