Monday, October 27, 2014

7 Questions For: Audiobook Narrator David Radtke

David Radtke is a man who loathes having nothing to do. It makes him really fidgety (and he hates it when he gets really fidgety). Luckily though, ever since David entered the world of audiobook narration, it has given him the important outlet he needs to release all of his pent-up energies — and some might even say —personalities.

David's signature is his attention to detail. From simple and matter-of-fact, storyteller, professional, to plain out wacky, David's personality shines through time and time again. He runs the incredible blog The Voice Actor's Notebook, which is worth reading whether you're a writer, aspiring narrator, or reader--basically, anyone interested in audiobooks.

His most recent audiobooks include All Together Now: A Zombie Story, Pizza Delivery, and the upcoming Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees (3 of my favorite books!). He's also narrated some books not written by me (meh) including The Noah Zarc series, The Bikings, The Sword of the Ronin, Setting Boundries, and Rainbows and Sunshine... and Zombies.

Having worked closely with David, I would absolutely recommend him to any author fortunate enough to have him narrate their book. He's a consummate professional, a great communicator and collaborator, and he's amazingly talented. I didn't know how brilliant my writing was until I heard David read it:)

And now David Radtke faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is always a difficult question to answer as I love so many. If you count the number of audiobooks I’ve listened to, that number would be over 500. Physical books I’ve read number just as many. So choosing the top three books out of roughly 1,000 books is a monumental task. So many stories by so many talented writers.

Instead of choosing my top 3 books, I’ll choose 3 books whose stories left some mark on my memory or changed my life in some way.
The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Ironically, I wasn’t a big reader as a child. Books never could hold my attention like playing sports outside could. But a very good friend of mine back in junior high school (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away) recommended this novel to me. He said, “It’s kinda like ‘The Lord of the Rings’.” To which I replied, “What’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’?” You can tell I wasn’t a well-read child. The Sword of Shannara caught me completely off-guard. It sucked me in. I feverishly read page after page and even became that stereotypical image of the boy reading under the bedsheet with a flashlight. My journey as a reader began…

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I clearly remember the day I listened to the chapter when the “secret” was revealed. I was walking down a chilly February street on my way to the store and actually stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the shocking statement about the final game. (The person walking behind me actually bumped into me.) I backed up the audio at least 5 times to make sure I had heard it correctly. That was about 7 years ago and I can still clearly remember it as if it were yesterday. To this day, Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite authors.

Stormfront by Jim Butcher
This is THE audiobook the made me decided to become an audiobook narrator. Until this point I had listened to perhaps 200 or so audiobooks by many talented narrators (whom I still respect and admire.) But it was the narration by James Marsters that made me crave to do what he did. His narration was simply fantastic. Every character in his performance had depth and dimension. With each book in the series, his performance became more and more diverse and enthralling, keeping me entranced.

On my website,, I have a voice sample called “Polka will never die” It’s an excerpt from the seventh book in the series, Dead Beat. It’s my tribute to the narrator whose performance made my career path crystal clear.

Question Six: What was the path that led you to become an audiobook narrator?

See above. ;)

But seriously…

Before I decided that I wanted to get into audiobooks, I had worked as a voice actor. My voice can be heard on TV, radio, the internet, company training videos, travel DVDs, telephone answering systems, and a bunch of other places as well. And while I still enjoy those projects, they don’t have the same shine as doing audiobooks.

I wanted to tell the story.

But one cannot simply jump into audiobook narration. Even someone with experience as a voice actor cannot just “make the switch”. Audiobook narration is an art and a skill, and anyone who tells you differently is either ignorant of the industry or trying to sell you something.

Training is required. Specific training in audiobook narration. And for many professionals in the business, we still get training from time to time to hone our skills or to learn new ones.

Question Five: What are the qualities you look for in the projects you choose?

1) No mistakes in the grammar or spelling.
Don’t laugh, you’d be surprised how many authors send samples of their novels for audition purposes that are filled with errors.

2) Many good reviews on Amazon and GoodReads
The more positive reviews the better.

3) A good cover
Yes, we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do when it comes time to buy a book. And since audiobooks are more expensive, the cover must make it look very high quality and professional. Otherwise people will spend their money elsewhere.

4) A well-written book!
If I’m going to spend approximately 5 hours to produce 1 hour of finished audio, then I want the book to be well written and interesting. Yes, it really does take a narrator about 5 hours of actual work to produce only one finished hour of an audiobook. So if your novel is about 100,000 words long, that translates into about a 10-hour long audiobook. Which is about 50 hours of work for the narrator.

So no, audiobook narration isn’t just “reading into a mic.” But a well-written book will make the job so much more enjoyable.

Question Four: What sort of book would you most like to narrate next?

Pretty much anything! As long as the story is interesting and the characters are diverse, then I’ll be happy performing any story.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about narrating audiobooks? What is your least favorite thing?

Becoming the characters. Telling the story. Unraveling it all for the listener. You see, before I even sit down and begin to record, I have to read the whole story first and take detailed notes. So I already know “who dunnit” before I begin to tell the tale. I feel like a little kid with a secret I just can’t wait to share.

 Least favorite thing?

Editing. Hours and hours of editing. People’s mouths are noisy, and I don’t mean in a speaking way. Pops, clicks, and smacks abound when we speak. The professional microphones narrators use pick them all up. And those noises have to be all edited out. Very time consuming.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to writers looking to work with an audiobook narrator?

Remember that the narrator you hire will be interpreting your work. So choose your narrator well. Sometimes the way the narrator performs a passage from your novel perfectly matches your image of it. Sometimes it will be a little different than your vision. And that is ok!  Micromanaging every single passage and tiny vocal inflection will actually take away from the narrator’s performance and not enhance it.

There are many excellent narrators out there. Choose someone who “gets” the majority of what you envision for your novel. And then sit back and let the narrator do his or her job.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Robert Kent. Why? Because he promised to buy me a beer. (Narrating is thirsty work.)

Okay, but I'll be buying lunch with money I made from your audiobooks:) --MGN

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