Friday, June 24, 2016

Chatting with Aimee Lilly & a GIVEAWAY!

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

YOU GUYS! I have such a treat for you today. One of my favorite things to do at Go Teen Writers is introduce you all to some of the fabulous industry professionals I've had a chance to work with. And also, GIVEAWAYS! I love giving away books.

Today, we're doing both! I have the privilege of introducing you to audiobook narrator, Aimee Lilly. I met Aimee when she was cast to narrate Dark Halo, the third book in my Angel Eyes trilogy. I was fortunate enough to chat with her at that time and we've stayed in contact since then.

Aimee was kind enough to let me interview her and I hope you enjoy her answers. They were very insightful and I know you'll appreciate reading about her journey--especially those of you with a theatrical flair.

So! Grab a cuppa, settle back in your chair and get ready to learn a little something. And when you get to the end, enter to win a copy of the Dark Halo audiobook!

Shannon: Good morning, Aimee! Thank you so much for joining us! First off, I’m dying to know about your journey. How did you get into audio book narration?

Aimee: Actually, that story is simultaneously pretty boring (oh, wow, she knew people who asked her to do stuff. yawn) and an excellent example of the way God works things out when we have no idea what He’s doing.

Here’s just a little background. In high school I was into everything music, speech, and drama. I loved public speaking, and knew that I wanted to do something with my skills. I went to college at Moody Bible Institute (MBI) and majored in broadcasting. I wanted to be the next big national news anchor, and firmly believed I would end up on-camera in NYC. God, however, had other plans.

My sophomore year, I was chosen to be the narrator for Candlelight Carols, my college’s Christmas pageant, which was attended by around 10,000 people and recorded for radio broadcast. One of the producers at Moody Broadcasting was there, and called me shortly afterwards to ask if I’d like to come up to the radio station and record a couple of commercials for them. I think my response was something along the lines of “um, I dunno, sure.” Another producer heard the spots I’d recorded, and called to ask if I’d like to be part of some two-minute radio dramas, and I said “um, sure.” That led to my getting involved in more spots, more radio dramas, and then working part-time on the radio.

A couple of years later, after graduating and getting married, I was working at MBI in the Academic Records department while still doing part-time radio work. A local production company was putting together an audiobook production proposal that they hoped to peddle to publishers. The idea was that they would provide both the production facilities AND the reader, and wanted to have three male and three female voices as options. The director contacted my Moody Broadcasting friends and asked for recommendations, and they threw my name at him. He called and asked if I’d like to be part of their V.O. “stable,” being paid only slightly more than peanuts but getting my foot in the door. And I said … all together now … “um, sure.” I had no idea what I was getting into, or what audiobook production was like, but I figured why not?

That was about 20 years ago, and since then I’ve recorded nearly 200 audiobooks from all sorts of authors, from Christian chick-lit to children’s stories (LOTS and LOTS of the Boxcar Children novels!) to self-help books to YA (and one of my favorites, Dark Halo!).

S: *beams* *hands Aimee a cookie* Flattery gets you EVERYWHERE with an author! Now, I have to tell you, I’m a sucker for processes. What does the process of recording a book look like? How long does it take? Do you read the book in its entirety first or do you read as you record?

A: You know, it sounds really glamorous (Hi, I’m Aimee, I’m a professional voiceover artist who records audiobooks!). But the reality is … well … not. It’s fun, though!

Generally, I try to pre-read the books as often as I can, although there have been many times over the years that I’ve recorded books “cold,” or without pre-reading. Since I do all the individual character voices and accents, it helps a lot to know ahead of time if Male Character A is from Atlanta or Moscow, or if Female Character B is 22 with a lisp vs. 65 and a smoker’s cough. (There have been times during “cold” reads that I’ve gotten several chapters in only to suddenly find out that a character I thought was from Connecticut is actually from England, or it’s revealed on page 64 that the name “Karen” is actually pronounced “Kah-REN,” and how exactly would I have known that? Having to go back and re-record every line or reference for a character is a real nuisance.) This also gives me the chance to find any words (most often place or character names) for which I need pronunciation help—sometimes I can look them up on my own, but sometimes the engineer will need to go back and contact the publisher and/or author to find out what they intended.

On recording days, I spend the hour-long drive to the studio doing choral warm-ups so that my voice is ready for anywhere from 3 to 8 hours in the studio. One of my responsibilities is to try to keep my vocal tone consistent for the whole book, and it’s hard to do that if I still have “morning voice” when I start. By getting my voice warmed up, it helps that consistency so that hopefully listeners won’t notice a difference between hour 1 and hour 6.

Once I’m in the studio, it’s a pretty simple process. I sit in a relatively comfortable chair in a small room, with an engineer on the other side of the glass. I read the manuscript either off my Kindle or off the studio iPad (gone are the days of 300 printed pages, yay!). I read straight through until I make a mistake; when I mess up (which happens at least a couple times per page), I just back up to the beginning of the sentence and start again. The engineer notes the errors on his copy so that the editor knows to clean it up later. We take a break about once an hour, during which I drink a lot of water, suck on mints to keep my mouth moist, and use the bathroom (see “drink a lot of water” above). Otherwise it’s just me sitting in a little room with my backside getting numb and talking to myself in different voices.

When I started doing this 20+ years ago, it took me nearly twice as long as the final product length to record. In other words, if the published audiobook was 6 hours, it would take me 10–12 hours to record it. I’ve improved on that time a lot! Now I spend about 1:15 in the studio for each finished hour—so if the final book is 10 hours long, I’ll be in the studio for about 12 hours. My reading pace is 2 to 2.5 minutes for each 12-point, double-spaced, 8.5x11 page. For the Boxcar children books, my pace is about a minute per page, so a 100-page book takes me just about 100 minutes to record. Those are nice and easy!

S: This is seriously so fascinating to me! I remember thinking how cool it was that I got to speak to you on the phone before you recorded Dark Halo. Do you chat with authors often?

A: Sadly, I don’t get to do so very often! Many times the books I’m recording are part of a “back catalog,” so the publisher is just wanting to get companion audio releases available for previously-published books. Sometimes authors have given over all audiobook rights to the publishers, and so it’s the publishing company making the decisions about who to hire for the audio version. But when I do get to talk to the authors, it’s always such a joy. They help me understand the characters and story a little better, and even just hearing the way they talk about their creation can help inform the way I perform it. Anything that gives me deeper insight into the book is a great help in making sure it’s the best possible final product!

S: It's such a treat for authors to talk to someone else working so hard on their novels. I hope you know that. Tell me, what’s the best thing about your job?

A: Wow. That’s a loaded question, with so many answers. The top thing, of course, is simply that someone is paying me to talk. How awesome is that?? I mean, come on. I’m getting paid to talk and to do lots of fun voices. If I could find someone to pay me for eating and sleeping too, that would basically cover my whole life! 

Another awesome thing is abstract but really important to me, and that’s the fact that audiobooks help spark the use of our imagination. In this culture of video games and cable and tablets and smartphones, we’re losing our ability to imagine. We’re dumbing down the world so that it’s reduced to sound bites and streaming, and we’re at risk of losing a chunk of our humanity in the process. We don’t read, we don’t imagine, we just pull out our phones and play Candy Crush. (And I’m not talking about one particular generation—it’s everyone!) But as we listen to audiobooks, we create a movie in our minds, imagining what’s happening in the story. Without even realizing it we create visual images for the characters, places, and events, seeing them played out as we hear the story. To be part of that, to help us rediscover the power of creativity and imagination, is an honor and a blessing.

Finally, I’m a voracious reader, and have been since I was a child – but many children aren’t encouraged to read, or try to read but get discouraged. One of the blessings I’m seeing as I do the children’s books is that kids are reading along as they listen, learning how to pronounce the words they don’t know, getting excited about being able to read. My hope is that I’m playing just a little part in getting them as thrilled about books and reading as I am! I’m SO GLAD you teen writers are doing what you’re doing, keeping the flame of the written word alive and thriving. I hope that someday I’ll have the chance to record one of your books!

S: I ADORE that answer! And feel like I need to steal quotes from it already! One more question before I let you go. Do you have any advice for young writers? Either about the books they’re writing or about venturing into the world of audiobook narration?

A: On the writing side, my advice is to remember that the people who read what you write are … well, they’re simply people. Like you. They have the same dreams, the same needs, the same burdens and high moments and the same capacity for joy and grief as you do. Most people want to immerse themselves in the story when they read, and that means it needs to feel “real.” The best books are those where you walk away feeling like the characters you’re reading about are real people, people you’ve *met* instead of just *read about*. As you create the characters, think about how you would respond in a particular situation. What would you feel? How would you react? How would your loved ones react? Let your characters feel and express those emotions, for good and for bad. You’re flawed – but so are we all, and when your characters are honest and realistic and flawed, then we can relate to them, and so get drawn even deeper into your story.

In terms of audiobook work, I’ll be honest – it’s a terribly competitive field, but it’s oh so worth it if you can get into it! So if you’re interested in pursuing it, here’s my advice.

First, work on the basics. Practice clear enunciation, good pronunciation, and varying your speech patterns. Figure out what your “vocal tics” are (we all have them, whether it’s “um” or “and so forth” or gasping every time you inhale), work to recognize when you do them, and then work to reduce or even eliminate them. Record yourself and listen to it—it’ll be weird, but you’ll hear things you don’t like and try to change them. (I still do this after 25+ years of voiceover work!) The smoother your delivery is, the less editing will have to be done, and the more valuable you’ll be to the producer.

Second, learn from others. There are so many books out there, and so many different voices. Listen to them, and when you hear something you think is good, mimic it! I’ve learned voices and techniques from many different artists over the years. Whether it’s a new character voice, or a way of communicating an emotion, try it out yourself. If you can master it, it’s a tool you can use to demonstrate that you’re ahead of the pack.

Third, always keep in mind that you’re telling a story. Remember when you were a kid and someone would read to you? How fun it was when they did different voices and really got into the plot, so you could get excited along with them? Remember that emotion, and use it to drive what you’re doing. You don’t want to *listen* to someone just droning on, right? So develop your sense of “story” and use it to bring whatever you’re reading to life. You may not need to be melodramatic, but there’s always a sense of drama, whether it’s a non-fiction self-help book or a mystery thriller. (The side benefit to this is that as you practice and develop this skill, you can use it across so many areas of life! You’ll be a clearer communicator. It will help you in public speaking. You can more effectively convey your emotions as you’re interacting with friends and loved ones.)

Finally, for both writers and readers: never be afraid to ask for constructive criticism, and accept and learn from it—but don’t get discouraged! I know that’s easy to say and hard to do. Just today I found two very different reviews on two books I recorded. One was brutal: “The narrator is pretty awful.” Ouch. But the other said this: “The narrator is awesome with the character voices; it helps separate the characters and keeps the listener engaged.” Now, it would be really easy for me to accept the first one as truth and blow off the second. I can still remember the harshest criticisms I’ve received over the last 25 years… and they still have the power to sting. But the truth is, you’re never going to please everyone – so focus on doing your absolute best, and trust your mentors to give you true evaluations. They have faith in you, and I have faith in you—so YOU have faith in you too, and never give that up! You can totally do this!

S: You are the absolute best! And you've given us all such great advice and insight! Thank you so much for taking time and spending it with us.

AND TO ALL MY GO TEEN WRITER FRIENDS, isn't she fabulous!? To celebrate Aimee's visit with us, we're giving away a Dark Halo audiobook with Aimee's lovely voice narrating. Isn't that awesome? Use the Rafflecopter below to enter. I'll contact the winner via email next Friday, July 1st.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

34 comments:

  1. This was such a cool post to read! I love listening to audiobooks, so hearing about how they're created was a lot of fun!

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    1. Isn't it awesome learning about other people and their processes? It's one of my favorite parts of this industry. So glad you enjoyed the interview!

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    2. Sarah, thanks so much! I love hearing that you love listening to audiobooks. :) Hopefully knowing a little "behind the scenes" info will make them even more entertaining!

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  2. I LOVE audiobooks! It is one reason I ultimately went indie with my books because I could make sure I had audiobook versions of my books. Audiobook narration is something I would love to do someday, and it is really neat to hear about it from a professional.

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    1. Interesting! I had never thought much about audiobooks because I get distracted when I try to do more than one thing at a time, but I have to tell you, these things are like the theatre for my ears! I've been so impressed and started searching out audiobooks for car rides and such.

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    2. Tricia, I love that you're so forward-thinking. I would love to see you be able to get into the field. It really is fun. If you've got any questions, please feel free to ask!

      And Shannon - YAY! We have another convert! Welcome to the dark side, friend -- we've got more cookies ... :)

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  3. I love audiobooks too! I hope a couple books come out.

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  4. Shannon, thanks so much for this opportunity! I'm so proud of what all of you are doing and hope my story is helpful or encouraging for you. I can check in several times today so if any of you have any questions, please feel free to ask - I'd love to answer if I can!

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    1. Thank you so much, Aimee! I've loved learning about you and your job! <3

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  5. Wow! Great interview. Thank you so much. Mrs. Dittemore and Aimee Lilly for making this come about. I love listening to audiobooks. It is a great way to "read" while doing chores. It was so interesting to learn how they are created.
    Thank you for this awesome interview.

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    1. For my part, Elizabeth, you're very welcome! I was thrilled to participate -- it was really fun to think through Shannon's questions (and she asks great ones), and I'm glad you enjoyed the discussion. :)

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  6. Have you ever heard of a type of speech called interpretive? For that kind of speech you take a piece of literature and play all the different characters in it by yourself. Is that what narrating audiobooks is like? Also, I have heard of authors narrating for their own books before. Does that usually work well?

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    1. Hi - and thanks so much for asking! I actually did dramatic oral interp in high school (I was on the speech team), and yes, that's exactly what doing the audiobooks is like. That's a great comparison! I use "my" voice for the narration, and then each character has a different voice. I use different accents, pitches, and tonal placement to try to make each one unique.

      Yes, a lot of authors choose to narrate their own books. Sometimes it works REALLY well -- obviously they have the best understanding of their creation, and if they can communicate effectively, it can be a fabulous result.

      Sometimes, though, the author has great understanding but not great communication skills ... they might read in a monotone, or read every sentence with the same inflective pattern, or have a really nasal voice. So those are less effective, and that's sad, because it's a great idea.

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    2. Some of you teens know so much about this! I'm amazed. The gal who wrote The Magic Treehouse books narrates her own stuff and she's fabulous at it. Her voice is perfect for the stories. I love that it's an option.

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  7. I've only listened to one audiobook in my life (Code Name Verity, which had incredible narration!) but I own a couple more that I can't wait to start listening to. This was very interesting, I've never read much about the process of making audiobooks before.

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    1. We usually don't even think much about process, do we? It was fun for me too as I thought through "how can I explain how this works?" :) I'm glad you enjoyed the discussion and I hope your audiobooks are even more rewarding to listen to now. You can picture the narrator sitting in their little room with lots of water and hot tea!

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  8. Ooh. Awesome. If I enjoyed reading out loud a little more I might consider audio book narrating. Unfortunately I prefer memorized speeches over reading. >.<

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    1. I'm REALLY impressed -- I hate memorizing! I did it all through HS and college, but once I started in radio and doing voiceover, I got lazy. :) Now if I have a script I'm fine, but memorizing is tough. Keep practicing memorization -- you'll never regret having that skill!

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  9. I have been so busy that just recently I have started listening to audio books instead of reading. It's interesting learning some about it. Thanks for sharing!!

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    1. Thank you, Keturah! I totally get that -- sometimes it's just so much easier to pop in an audiobook (and it's hard to read when you have to keep your eyes on the road, ha!).

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  10. I love that she has worked hard for her rewards, that she recommends working hard and also researching by reading and practicing.
    I LOVE that she is an Audiobook lover, they are one of my favourite ways to read.

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    1. Thanks so much for "getting it," Bec! If we're going to do it, we should give it all our all, right? Whether we're writing it or reading it, we want it to be the best it can be. And yes, I do love listening to them as much as performing them! :)

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  11. I really enjoyed reading this! Audio book recording sounds like fun . . . except the fact that I HATE my voice on recording. Yuck. But getting paid to read?? It doesn't get much better than that!

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    1. Hi Bethany -- I'm so glad you enjoyed it! And HA, you hit the nail on the head. Like I said, if someone would pay me for sleeping and eating too, my whole life would generate income! :D

      Honestly, I struggle to hear my voice on playback too. EVERY reader does -- you're not alone, we never sound right to ourselves! But if anyone ever says "you've got a great voice, have you thought about..." then by all means, go for it! Even if you never listen to the things you record, you'll still give other people enjoyment.

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  12. Thank you so much for this! I love listening to audio books, and it is a real pleasure to find out what it's like from the other side of things. Thank you!

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    1. I totally agree! Learning about other folks and the things they do in their creative occupations makes me giddy. And you're welcome, Lily! Happy Monday!

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    2. Thank you, Lily! Thanks for enjoying our discussion -- I sure had a great time, and it's been a wonderful chance for me to see a little bit about what y'all are doing too. I'm so impressed with all of you, your clear communication, excellent spelling and grammar, and awareness of the industry. I can't wait to see your names on the books I read. :) This has been a blast!

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  13. Audio recording sounds like fun! Aimee is so inspiring and her advice is amazing! I feel better about my novel already! :-)

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    1. And audio books are very helpful for my sister-in-law as she's dyslexic.

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    2. Sara - thank you so much! Your encouragement is such a blessing. I'm glad I also helped to encourage you! :)

      I'm so glad to know that audiobooks are helpful for your sister-in-law -- that's awesome. It's so wonderful that they actually *help,* and it makes me feel even better about the recording I do. Thank you again!

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  14. This is really cool! I've never thought about this side of the writing industry... And that's really neat you went to MBI, I listen to Moody all the time. :D
    Jeneca @ Jeniqua Writes

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    1. Jeneca -- thank you! And YAY that you listen to Moody! I still do commercials and promos for them, so next time you hear a warm female voice telling you about how to visit the school, or reading the Verse of the Week, it might be me ... and if it is, know that I'm waving at you! :) God bless!

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