Emily Woo Zeller Explains Audiobooks
February 18, 2015
IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Nomination
November 26, 2014
Authors for Indies 2015
March 27, 2015

D o you know how voice actors prepare for narrating an audiobook? Neither did I. So who better than to interview than Emily Woo Zeller, the actor who was chosen to record the audiobook of Three Souls? Emily graciously took time from her busy life to explain her approach to projects, give some advice to aspiring actors -- and audience-shy authors!

Welcome Emily!

JC: Why do you think audio books have become so popular?

EWZ: Digital media. When people start having entire libraries of music and movies available on one device or one platform and podcasts that help to popularize non-music or visual art-centered material included in digital libraries, books seem to be a very natural next step.

In a world where time allowed to complete anything is shortened, attention spans are shortened, and almost everything is digitized, audiobooks offer a way to enjoy a story without having to look at a screen; they potentially help to complete books faster and possibly more thoroughly. It is another way to enrich life with books; it is also a way to gobble up more stories/information more conveniently in this Information Age.

The most frequent comment I get from people new to audiobooks and who love them is that they can listen while they drive. I like to listen when I'm out for a jog, too. Whether or not one also reads print or digital books, audiobooks offer a way to experience more books in your life because you can do other things while listening, although I think it is really nice to just sit and listen too. Digital media helps the books take up less space and weight on your person as well as be personalized to you so you can be mobile or take it in your vehicle or public transit.

Another aspect I appreciate is that listening to someone tell you a story is the oldest form of storytelling. It is just so nice to hear someone tell you a story. I think we get very isolated in our electronic world, watching and interacting with each other through gadgets, and, despite being a part of that world, audiobooks are refreshingly intimate. The narrator's voice is right there with you. I'm hoping the radio play will come back into the mainstream, too!

JC: What’s your process for working on an audio book? Could you describe this from when you first approach the manuscript to the production stages?

EWZ: First step is to look at the synopsis and length of the book, judge the approximate amount of time it will take to work with it and how much time I have to work with it.

Then, dive in. Read the book. As I go through, I make note of characters and character traits, age, development, prominence, etc. I note terms I may be unfamiliar with. I also make note of when characters appear in the book and who interacts with whom.

Once the book is read, I do any research I need to do on accents or dialects, pronunciation of names of things/places/people, etc. If I need to build more around a character to give the character voice, I will do that, too.

At this point it's time to take the book into the studio! Once all recording is done, the audio gets sent to the publisher or production team for quality control. They come back to me with any audio that needs to be re-recorded, I do that, and then it's back to them for mastering and final production.

JC: You have to switch from one character to another, and also maintain a narrative voice. How do you prepare for all the “roles”?

EWZ: By training as an actor and keeping my breath and body healthy. I am constantly working to keep my skills sharp and the tool bag full.

JC: What’s the best part about being a voice actor/book narrator?

EWZ: As a voice actor, I regularly use my skills with sound and penchant for performance in a setting that does not rely on my body maintaining a certain aesthetic and I love that. I have to constantly work/update as mentioned earlier and also must keep my body healthy, most definitely, but I don't have to spend hours getting made up, for example, or worry about my appearance outside of being studio-appropriate and healthy.

Recording audiobooks is also a very lonely activity, particularly when recording from home. It is the quiet of the studio, the hardware, the software, the book, and me. And, for the most part, I love that aspect, too. I spend a lot of time by myself. It does require some balancing in other areas of life to maintain social connections and seeing the light of day, though! Another awesome part of the job: by recording books, I get to read all the time!


JC: What advice would you give to someone wants to get into voice acting?

Train as an actor, train with breath work. Learn vocal technique and microphone technique. Learn your strengths and weaknesses, what you like and what you don't. Learn as much as you can about the industry. Take it slow. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. This is a competitive industry and it is difficult to get a foot in the door and keep it there. Be prepared to work hard, be flexible, and detailed. Stay healthy. Train, train, train.

JC: Any advice to authors who have to give readings?

EWZ: Authors have the amazing ability to write. As a narrator, there is nothing like a well- written book to read aloud. First of all, I would say to authors who give readings to trust the words you've written. Then, consider coaching if you don't have a lot of experience with public speaking. Coaching from an acting teacher could be a helpful way to gain some extra skill and confidence.

Emily Woo Zeller is an award-winning audiobook narrator, voiceover artist, actor, singer, dancer, and choreographer. Her voiceover career includes corporate training and advertisement, description for animated television series for the visually impaired, character voices for animated film and television, eLearning, and commercial work. She began her voiceover work dubbing for film and television in Southeast Asia, where she resided, although her training as a performing artist began in her native Los Angeles, California.

Audiofile Magazine named Emily as one of the “Best Voices of 2013″ for her work Nonfiction and Culture. Awards include Audiofile’s August 2013 Earphones Award for narration of TIES THAT BIND, TIES THAT BREAK by Leslie Namioka, April 2013 Earphones Award for narration of GULP by Mary Roach, the 2009 Tristen Award for Best Actress as Sally Bowles in CABARET, and the 2006 Roselyn E. Schneider Prize for Creative Achievement.

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