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My interests are varied and I'm likely to write anything from funny to poignant to informational, so my blogs are organized by topic. Just choose your favorite topic on the left. I'd love to hear from you in the comments section or go to Contact and email me privately if you like. Thanks for coming by!page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
7/12/2016 11:10:47 PM
Audiobook Narration Interview with Susannah Jones
*Note: To learn more about Susannah and her road to becoming a noteworthy narrator, you can go to the first part of our interview.
Because I'd had so much trouble finding narrators who could do both comedy and the various accents in my stories, I was thrilled to discover Susannah Jones narrating a series of audiobooks I was listening to.
Now that she's narrated several books for me, I asked her if she'd let me interview her, both for the enjoyment of readers and to shed a little light on what she does for authors. Check the bottom of this post, after the interview, for a bit more information about audiobooks.
Thanks for answering more questions so my writer friends who are considering making audiobooks can understand a bit more about what you do, Susannah.
Sure, Nina, I'm happy to do it!
I guess my first narration-specific question is about your process. You seem so well-prepared and consistant in your characterizations. What is your process? Do you read through the book once and just know all the characters?
Thank you! I’m thrilled you feel that way. I do indeed read the whole book before I begin. It gives me a great sense of what the characters will sound like. If there are lots of different characters, I like to test out how each one sounds before getting into the studio where yes, there is an engineer there to guide me and help me remember what people sound like. And to stop me when I make mistakes!
How long can you work at one sitting? How do you keep track of each
character's voice and ensure it remains consistent? Do you ever get
embarrassed narrating love scenes while there are others in the studio?
Haha!! I DEFINITELY felt embarrassed the first time I recorded a romance. I collapsed into giggles one time with my engineer. And even now, having recorded about fifty romances, there are times when a certain phrase will catch me off guard and I’ll have
to pause to laugh. But mostly now I’m able to keep it together and tell the story, however sexy it might be. As far as keeping track of voices, the engineer will mark when a new character speaks so we can reference that sound clip later. And I record for about 5-6 hours at a time.
Wow, I'm impressed. I couldn't keep my brain or my voice long enough to read aloud for 5-6 hours, much less in the correct character voices. I noticed you have a really good ear for dialogue emphasis, too, as well as an understanding of comedy. What do you attribute that to?
Shakespeare training! In school we took a class in “verse and text”. My teacher taught us all about antithesis, ladders, scansion (which doesn’t necessarily apply to prose, but can still give you an excellent understanding of the way people speak), etc. And I think comedy just emerges when you understand the rhythm of what people are saying.
If it’s supposed to be comedic and you’re observing the correct phrasing of the line, then it’s funny!
It is funny. When you sent me the first book you recorded for me, No More Mr. Nice Girl, I thought, "Clearly I wrote an even better book than I thought!" Haha!
So, in a perfect scenario, what do you like to get from the author that will help
you perform the story and characters to the best of your ability?
You were by far the most thorough author I’ve worked with...
Actually, I'm a control freak, but "thorough" does sound a lot nicer. You should be a writer.
Well, I’ve never gotten sound samples before!
For those of you reading this, I bombarded Susannah with short recordings of Spanish word pronunciations (since she'd never taken Spanish, but I suspected, rightly, that she was a good mimic). I also sent her a paragraph about who each main character was, where they were from, etc. and a sentence or two about many of the lesser characters. In other words, more than she probably ever wanted to know.
But those helped a lot in informing me about how people sound in your head. Some authors just let me go with my instincts; others have specific ideas of how people should sound. I like both ways, honestly. I have fun when I have the freedom to decide everything, but I also like having more insight into how the writer perceives his or her own characters!
Well, it was clear that you read my notes and listened to the recordings, and I appreciated it. I also appreciated how accurate you were so there weren't a lot of sound edits.
Thanks, Nina. I appreciate you appreciating me.
And I appreciate you appreciating me appreciating you, Susannah. (You should give up now. I can do this all night.)
Ha! I give.
So, how can authors who want to contact you about your service do so?
Thanks again for the information, Susannah. I'm sure I'll be contacting you again soon!
Just a little more information for authors:
I have now gone about this process 3 different ways under my 2 pen names. I worked with a narrator who had her own sound set-up (as many do), who worked alone. Later, I hired a studio run by a couple in New York. They found the talent who came to their studio with a sound engineer.
The narrator working on her own was least expensive ($200 per finished hour), but the sound quality wasn't quite as good.
The studio who found the narrator for two of my other books (under a different pen name) was very expensive, at the top of the ACX range at $1,000 per finished hour. Luckily, those two novellas sold very well and I got my money back quickly, but one of them had been on the NY Times bestselling ebook list and they were connected to each other, so I wouldn't assume that would be the case with other books.
The thing that bothered me the most in both situations were the large number of misspeaks throughout the book and other issues that needed to be fixed. This meant I had to spend a lot of time listening closely and marking down the chapter, time within the chapter, the incorrect wording and what it should be. I felt like I'd had to do so much work, I put off recording more audiobooks for a while just to avoid the hassle.
This problem doesn't have as much to do with which type of setup you go with as it does how accurate and perfectionistic your narrator and/or sound engineer are. I found Susannah Jones to be both reasonably priced and accurate, so I only had to mark down a few edits and email the information to her.
Regardless, you should expect a novella or novel to be in the thousands of dollars to record. So far, both the ACX calculator and the producers have been pretty accurate in using my word count to predict how many hours the finished recording would be and how much it should cost, total.
You can hear samples of Susannah Jones narration by going to my book page and clicking on Not Dreaming of You, Always Dreaming of You or No More Mr. Nice Girl then click "Audio Book Sample." Or you can go to ACX.com and search her name.
7/12/2016 9:26:09 PM
Interview with Actress Susannah Jones
From becoming an actress in the Big Apple to love with her leading man.
I'm sooo jazzed about my new audio books, mostly because I found awesome actress-narrator Susannah Jones. It's no easy task for a narrator to interpret characters in a way that satisfies the author. After all, we've often lived with these characters in our heads for years. Yet, Susannah made them come to life in a way that's even better than I imagined.
In fact, I was so impressed by her, I asked her to do an interview for my blog, mostly so I'd have an excuse to ask her questions that would have been none of my beeswax otherwise. (See how crafty I am? Shhh... Don't tell her about my ulterior motives. I'm sure she'll never see this.)
Okay, Susannah, I'm trying to figure out how an awesome narrator is made so the scientists I keep tied up in my basement can do some reverse engineering and clone you. What's your origin story?
I was born in St. Petersburg, FL. My mom was a copy-writer at an award winning ad agency she ran with three other women. My dad is a book critic, previously of the St. Petersburg Times, then Newsweek, which morphed into what is now The Daily Beast.
Raised by two literary parents and surrounded by books, I developed a love of literature early on. I also have a younger brother who is sort of my polar opposite—he was the athlete in the family. I was always interested in performing arts—first ballet, then musical, then Shakespeare, and now pretty much anything and everything I can get my hands on. Although I will say that I don’t dance very much anymore!
Any relationship tidbits you want to share with us? Is there a guy/girl in the picture? (We romance writers are required by law to ask that question.)
I am with a great guy that I met last summer performing in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. He’s an actor and a poet. He played Sebastian and I played Olivia, who are lovers in the play. It's my first “show-mance”!
Okay, that's really romantic. How did you find out you were into each other in real life?
You know when you start talking to someone and the repartee is electric and natural and exciting? And then the person is really handsome on top of that? That's how it was when I met Jay Ben at the beginning of our contract for Mainestage Shakespeare last summer. He was so smart and witty and it didn't hurt that I got to watch him lift a lot of wood beams while he was helping build our set.
I was dating someone else at the time, but that came to an abrupt stop about three weeks in. A week later, all the actors were having one of our regular Saturday night parties and a friend of ours (who, it turned out, we had both confessed our crushes on each other to), orchestrated an opportune meeting on the driveway of our actor house. Because we were a little tipsy, we ended up lying down on the driveway (it's a miracle we didn't get run over).
We were next to each other, looking up at the glittering Maine night sky, talking about everything but the fact that we liked each other and were physically closer than we had been all summer, when he confessed that he really liked me. I looked over at him and smiled and we kissed (but that was it!) and the next day decided to start dating. It was one of the most romantic summers I've ever had, and it's still wonderful now a year later!
I understand you live in New York, home of Sex and the City. I guess before "Sebastian" came along, you led a swinging single life, just like we see on TV?
I’m certainly no swinging single!! But I am a sucker for “meet-cutes”. I met my first love in the library at NYU (my alma mater). I like telling that story because I’ve always thought of the library as a super-romantic place! And of course, performing opposite my current boyfriend in a Shakespeare play was a pretty ideal way to fall in love too!
Have you had any non-acting jobs that you were weird, quirky, or that almost drove you crazy for some reason?
Well, I had the requisite hostess job, which I hated. I lasted six months and then had to quit because those hours and that lifestyle just weren’t for me. I always tip at least 20% because I respect people who are in the service industry immensely.
I had a year when I thought I wanted to be a personal organizer (I LOVE to sort things—it really soothes me), but I realized it’s not as fun to organize other people’s stuff as it is your own. And then that ended around the time that I got into recording audiobooks fulltime! I also had a side job writing thank you notes for an office supply company that paid $.75/card. Lots of writer’s cramp with that one!
Darn, for a second there, I thought I'd have that narrator-slash-organizer I always wanted, until you said the part about only wanting ot sort your own stuff. Bummer. Anyway, how did you decide to become an actress? How did you get into narration/voice overs?
When I was three, I begged my mom to sign me up for ballet class. I always had a huge urge to perform. I took serious dance classes til eighth grade, when I realized I would rather dedicate my extracurricular hours to being in plays. I was a member of the Lullaby League in an elementary school production of The Wizard Of Oz and basically didn’t stop performing after that. In fifth grade I got to play Rosalind in As You Like It. And then I was in all the musicals and plays in school from there on out!
Voiceover wise, I actually recorded my first professional voice-over gig in second grade when my mom needed someone to voice a baby in one of her commercials! I didn’t do much else until after college when I wrote to Audible asking to audition for them. Soon after that, I started getting more and more work, and now I do it almost full time.
Do you have a favorite moment or high point for you as an actress?
One shining moment was being cast as Mother in the national tour of A Christmas Story-The Musical. I remember when we were rehearsing the bows. They were set to music, and when it was time for me to come out, it changed from sort of peppy and quick, to this sweeping, emotional strain, and I got to bow to an enormous theater in Kentucky and I thought, “Wow, this is actually how I dreamt it would be when I was ten.” That was a reallyspecial moment for me because I felt like I had “made it”.
I noticed when I say someone "whispers-sings childishly" in my books, you actually sing, just as I imagined it. (I totally got a thrill down my spine the first time I heard it.) Tell us something about your singing experience.
Singing was truly my first love. I grew up listening to my mom play the piano and I used to sing the songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella with her. It’s something I’ve always done and felt right doing. I can’t imagine my life without it. In fact, I’ve always been very confident about my answer to that silly question, “Would you rather be deaf or blind?” I would absolutely rather be blind, because then I could still experience music.
Hmm...deaf or blind? I'm rooting for none of the above for you because I need you to read my books, which involves seeing, and I would guess hearing yourself helps when you're narrating (because your deaf and/or blindness is all about me, of course).
Anyway...is there anyone who was a special influence in your life or career?
My mom was always supremely supportive of me. She comes to all my performances multiple times to this day. But she never pushed me into anything I didn’t want. I was always dragging her around to dance lessons and rehearsals. But, even though she had a full time job, she always took me because she knew I loved it and believed in me. So, she’s been a great influence in my life. I hope I can be half the mom she is someday.
As an experienced mom myself, I'd advise you not to shoot for that "half a mom" thing. It can freak little kids out, especially if the other half is a werewolf. Or a clown. Actually, the only thing creepier than a clown is half a clown. (I know because my neighbors actually had half a clown on their lawn as a Halloween decoration. Not pretty.)
So, you seem to be pretty busy, but do you have any hobbies?
I play guitar! And I write a lot. And I love yoga.
Hey, we have a lot in common! I used to sing and play guitar when I was younger. Then my daughter came along and wanted to slap at the strings randomly while I played. (Kids are rough on hobbies in general. They seem convinced they should be your only hobby.) And I write a lot, too! Oh, I guess you know that, since we only know each other because you're narrating my books.
Well, I'm really glad you took the time to answer all these questions, Susannah. Maybe I'll come to New York to meet you someday. I don't love New York, but can't recommend you coming down to Houston. Maybe we could split the difference and meet in L.A.? Regardless, thanks for stopping by!
Hear a sample of Susannah narrating No More Mr. Nice Girl.
Note: If you are an author interested in making audiobooks, I'd suggest you read my other post: Audiobook Narration-Interview with Susannah Jones.
My Experience Using 99Designs for my Book Cover
Note: This post is not meant to advise you whether to use or not use 99Designs. I'm posting this information because I had not heard any 99Designs user experiences from the members of my writing groups and thought this might be helpful to my fellow writers who have been very generous with their data over the years. I used the service several months ago (Winter 2016).
If you haven't already, you should first read my (relatively) short post about why I chose to use 99Designs even though I'd never felt I needed them before...
Okay, so, once I decided, I went to 99Designs and set up an account and a contest. It was fairly painless and that's coming from someone who often has trouble finding the "Sign In" and "Log out" buttons of sites I visit frequently.
In the boxes provided, I gave the title, explained the kind of book I was writing, how I needed something that still felt like it was written by Nina Cordoba, but different from my romantic comedies. And that there had to be something about this cover that could be carried through on the other covers.
I told them I wanted my title featured prominantly--Dead Men Don't Chew Gum--and that I probably wanted to go with a cartoon cover, but I was open to other ideas, too. I gave them links to my website so they could see my current covers and also links to Amazon pages containing funny mysteries and cozy mysteries, so they could get an idea of what was going on in the genre.
One negative about this process: Since the site is not just for book covers, they don't walk you through, asking you specific questions about your story, hero, heroine, etc. You will have to think ahead about what information the graphic artist might need in order to create a cover for your book.
You have options of how much you want to spend on the contest. The lowest award for a book cover contest is $299. I went for the next option, $499, because this is the first book in a series and I wanted more (and maybe better) artists to feel it was worth their while to enter.
I would not have paid this much my first time out of the gate publishing. In fact, previously I paid $15-$250 for my covers (under 2 pen names).
But I have a decent-sized email list now and proven salability, so I was pretty sure I could make my money back soon.
Keep in mind, I had the assurance from 99Designs that I did not have to pay if I didn't end up with a design I was happy with, so it was a no-risk deal for me (although some designers spent time designing for nothing, as I discuss at the end of this post).
I was surprised when contest entries started coming in within hours of setting up. After checking with 99Designs about what I could show here, I've decided to only display the entries in thumbnail for copyright reasons. These covers belong to the artists who made them unless someone buys the rights. If you happen upon designs or styles you like, you should contact the artist through 99Designs.
These were the first two entries:
I was underwhelmed. I questioned whether or not this would be a huge waste of my time for the next few days. However, I realized these artists probably ranged from amateur to professional and may not have ever done a book cover before.
You're supposed to give the entries star ratings (out of five) and you can give notes to the artist. I gave the artists feedback about what I did or didn't like about the designs. Some artists contacted me with questions.
I think on the first one, I said I liked the way the artist varied the font sizes, but it reminded me of a political sign. On the second, I said I liked the font style, but the image was kind of bland.
Then I received an entry from artist KostisPavlou:
This definitely wasn't the cover I needed, BUT it did have something engaging about it. I studied it and figured out I was responding to the bright colors and the movement.
Movement equals dynamic and that was what I was looking for. I thought about items in my book that moved. When I responded to KostisPavlou, I explained that the image didn't fit with my story. However, I liked the dynamic way he styled the font as well as the movement apparent in the image, and that a bright color scheme seemed right for my funny mysteries.
I told the him there was a red pickup truck that was an important clue in the story and the heroine even chases it at one point.
I hoped this artist would try again, but meanwhile, I got more entries:
4. 5. 6. 7.8. 9.
I thought #6 by Xdmaggy was kind of cool, although the woman on the cover is not like my heroine at all, and #7-8, by FWhitehouse7732 were intriguing, just not right for my subgenre.
I wish I knew who did #10 so I could mention him/her here. I think it's awesome. It just didn't feel right for this series. (If you're the artist, I will gladly update this post if you contact me.)
Meanwhile, I kept getting notifications that I had more entries.
12. 13. 14. 15. 16.
#12 and #15 are also by the prolific FWhitehouse7732--an artist who has won a lot of these contests and doesn't give up. I actually liked the way several of these designs looked, but they weren't quite right for my book. Again, I replied with specific critique if I possibly could.
Here's the next group that came in:
19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.
I liked 3 of these, but one of them stood out to me as being right for my brand. It was #21 by KostisPavlou. He'd taken the information I gave him from his earlier entry and nearly hit the nail on the head. However, It wasn't quite there yet for me. I asked if he could angle the truck and give it more motion--lines, smoke, something. I also didn't love the shape of the red behind my name. It looked like some sort of weird hat to me. I wasn't crazy about that color of red either, although I liked the red in the truck.
Next time I checked, I had more entries:
25. 26. 27. 28.
25 was nice. Number 26 left me a bit baffled, although it is pretty creative. #28 was pretty cool with gum stuck in the chalk outline of a man. #27 is from KostisPavlou again. I didn't like the new font my name was in, but I loved what he did with the truck. In general, the entries started getting closer to what I was looking for after everyone saw that I gave Kostis' 2nd entry (the first with the truck on it) 4 stars. Up until then, most had gotten 2 stars and only Kostis' first entry had gotten 3.
I quickly received more entries:
29. 30. 31. 32.
The competition seemed to be heating up now that the designers had an idea of what I liked. All of these covers had the dynamic font treatment I wanted and the color schemes were interesting. I still liked Kostis' design (#29) the best, but, again, had issues with the top.
33. 34. 35. 36.
Yet again, I liked KostisPavlou's the best, but the top still wasn't quite right. I asked Kostis to go back to something close to what was originally at the top, but with the darker red behind the author name and the pieces tilted differently. The other "skull" entries (#34-36) by Brightspark are kind of cool, too.
37. 38. 39. 40. 41.
Then I got a some odd entries that looked as if someone had taken a picture of a book lying on their coffee table. I wasn't sure what to say to the artists about those, but, the good news was, I wasn't paying per entry. KostisPavlou came through with 2 more options (#39-40) and I felt I had my cover.
Soon after that, some cool new ideas were introduced:
42. 43. 44. 45.
I liked #42-44 a lot. They're by Brightspark who had created some covers I liked earlier. However, I didn't think the design would carry over well to the rest of my series. Brightspark did end up winning second place, however, and is clearly a talented designer.
There are a few entries missing because they were taken down right after I rated them, but I ended up with 54 entries in all. I liked seeing all the different options. I never would have come up with such varied ideas on my own or even working with just one designer.
In the end, I had no problem paying the money for the first book cover in my new series. KostisPovlou was nice enough to give me all the Photoshop files for the final cover, which has been released successfully:
My daughter made a print version of the cover, which is easy for her, once she has the ebook version. Then, using this cover as a template and adding images I bought, my daughter made covers for the 2nd and 4th books in the Martin and Owen series:
However, we're having trouble implementing my ideas for the 3rd book cover, so I'm planning to ask KostisPavlou to work on it. You don't have to go through the contest process once you find a designer you like. I don't know for sure what the charge will be. I'll probably have him work on some other covers in the future, too.
The 3 things I think are important in order to have a successful contest at 99Designs:
1. Give the artists the genre, subgenre and as much pertinent information as you can. By "pertinent," I mean aspects of the story that could be depicted visually. In my case, I think the words "funny," "mystery," and "pickup truck" (plus the title) turned out to be the most important words I passed on to artists.
2. Rate honestly, then examine the entries and try to give the best feedback as you can. What specifically is it that you do and don't like about the image, the font, the colors, etc. In my case, telling KostisPavlou I liked the dynamic nature of his cover--the movement depicted in the way the letters were arranged and the image--were helpful to him, as well as coming up with the pickup truck--something from my story he could "make move."
3. Be encouraging to artists who seem talented by pointing out something you like so they'll keep entering new designs in your contest. On the other hand, it's possible that giving too much feeback to a designer who clearly doesn't have the skills or get the concept you're looking for could be wasting his or her time. Giving a 1 star and leaving it alone might be the kinder option in that case.
This brings me to the question about whether 99Designs is good for artists or not. Recently, I googled and found a few mentions of this type of site being bad for designers because they are working on spec. I've given this some thought because I try treat others as I want to be treated.
I think all of us in the arts are in the same boat. There are more people who want to be actors, writers, artists, and singers than there is demand. None of these vocations are "smart" to pursue if you look at the effort involved and the likelihood of success.
When it comes down to it, I write entire novels on speculation, never knowing for certain if they will sell. I'd written and rewritten 5 stories over eight years before I sold 1 book. Now, I'm writing an entire mystery series on spec. No one is forcing me to do it and as far as I know, no one is forcing the aritsts to enter these contests. As with writing, the more engaging art will be more successful and the artist who created it will earn encouragement and more money, while those not yet experienced enough or, perhaps, not capable of putting out the product needed will make little or no money (and maybe decide graphic arts isn't for them). Very similar to being a writer.
But, really, if money is the first priority, we should probably all be CPA's or computer scientists. Bottom line, I can see the argument either way, but the artist who won my contest made more than I normally pay for covers and I'll use him again. He was a perfect match for me and I never would have found him otherwise.
Regarding an argument I saw that people from other countries are allowed to enter the contests and you are paying them instead of Americans, I've never felt Americans have any more right to eat than anyone else in the world. My family came from England and Ireland on one side and Mexico on the other. Readers from countries all over the world are buying the books that I'm buying the covers for. In fact, some of my best (unpaid) promoters are in other countries, but are kind enough to share my posts and tweets. Therefore, I have no problem with my artist being in another country.
However, only you can decide what you're comfortable with.
So, that was my experience. Use the information as you will.
If you have private questions for me, you can contact me through this website.
Good luck with your covers, however they're created!
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