Wednesday, January 23, 2019

An Interview With Voice Over Actor Joana Garcia

by Grace Topping

During my years commuting in the Washington, DC area, the only thing that prevented me from giving into road rage was listening to recorded books, or as they are now referred to, audiobooks. My love affair with audiobooks has seen me through books on cassette, CD, and now as downloads on my iPhone. 

I’ve always been fascinated by how audiobooks are produced and wondered about the narrators or performers whose voices enthralled me. So when voice over actor Joana Garcia offered to tell me about her career and give me a tour of her recording studio, I jumped at the chance to go behind the curtain. With the popularity of audiobooks growing exponentially, writers should become familiar with what’s involved in their production.

Welcome, Joana, to Writers Who Kill.

With a background as a naval officer and a community activist, what led you to doing voice overs and book narrations?

Joana Garcia
I always say that sailors are the best storytellers. It is believed that sailors who are out at sea for months at a time weave long and exciting sea stories out of any mundane happening. After all, what else are they going to do while floating out in the middle of the ocean to stave off boredom, monotony, hunger, and even thirst? Of course, earlier sailors always had rum available, which made their stories even that more interesting.

You identify yourself as a voice over actor. How does that differ from a narrator?

I’m not sure there is a difference. I call myself an actor because regardless of whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, you are still telling a story AND you have to make it interesting, even if you are narrating a book about quantum physics.

Are different skills required to narrate nonfiction and fiction? If so, how do they differ?

My nonfiction coach says that nonfiction is much harder than fiction because regardless of content, the actor has to make the subject matter interesting and informative. For some nonfiction titles, that could be a tall order.

Is there training for people interested in getting into this field? 

Absolutely. The audiobook narration field has some wonderful coaches. I have studied under Sean Allan Pratt for non-fiction, Johnny Heller and Scott Brick for fiction, and Pat Fraley is available for coaching (I have not studied under him, although I would really love to.)

There are also wonderful voice academies and studios that teach voice acting, such as Global Voice Actors Academy (GVAA), Edge Studio, and several more. Voice acting classes can also be found at some colleges (you will have to look up your local college to find out). There are also workshops and meet-up groups available that can be found online. It takes some digging, but there is plenty of opportunity if you are willing to put the work in. 

Is it difficult to break into this field?

Yes and no. First of all, the audiobook community is one of the most welcoming, excited, and eager to help communities I have ever been involved with. Everyone is encouraging and willing to point you in the right direction. However, it can be difficult because, unlike regular VO, audiobook narrators don’t traditionally use agents or managers. What typically happens is that audiobook narrators work directly with the major publishing houses that have their own audiobook publishing departments, so you have to be well established and have a thriving narration business before ever approaching a publishing house. 

Another option is Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). ACX is an audiobook narrator and author exchange. It is a part of Audible, which is a part of Amazon, and is free for both the author and the narrator. There are a few things that need to be known before joining, but that is a whole other topic.

Where do you do your recordings?

I have a professional sound studio in my home. You would be amazed at what can be done to create a fairly decent environment to record. 

What type of equipment is needed to have a home studio?

I have an Apple laptop, a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 interface, an AudioTechnica 2035, and a pop filter, which are necessary. I also have a 44-inch flat screen to display my scripts and DAW (Digital Audio Workstation or audio software), and miscellaneous stuff to make it more comfortable. After all, I sit or stand for about five hours a day recording in a 4-foot by 5-foot room.

When doing your recordings, what are the biggest challenges you face?

My biggest challenge is being comfortable. Since I am in the booth for hours and hours, my legs tend to fall asleep or my feet start to hurt if I am standing. I don’t get bored since I love doing the work, but some days my voice will wear down quicker than other days. Breaks are a must, so I try and leave the room every hour or two just to get my blood moving.

Please tell us about some of the types of voice work you do. Which ones do you find the most challenging?

I do mostly audiobooks but have ventured out into explainer videos, public service announcements, and technical narration. Audiobooks are the most challenging, simply because of the time it takes to narrate. 

Do you have a favorite among them?

I do love doing audiobooks. I would like to get into promo work though. That is the person who says, “Next on Nightline…” or “Coming up…”, etc.

You’ve recorded a variety of works. Have you found some more difficult to narrate than others? 

Fiction for me is a bit more difficult. I haven’t yet established a repertoire of character voices, which is imperative for fiction. Not that they have to be cartoony or animation-like, but they have to be different from each other and consistent throughout the book. I will get there, though it just takes experience.

How do writers find and select a narrator? Do narrators audition?

Yes, narrators audition. Whether going through ACX or with a publishing house narrators audition. Now some narrators have a reputation and have hundreds of books under their belt, so they don’t audition. I am looking forward to that day. 

What types of contract arrangements are available to authors looking to have their books narrated? 

So far, I have used the contracts that are offered through ACX; however, there are individuals who have a service contract through their agents, managers, or individual lawyers.

With a goal of having an audiobook of their work done, what should authors keep in mind when writing?

One of the biggest challenges when recording a book that was not written with a narration in mind is the many, many speech tags associated with dialogue. When a book is narrated, the she saids get very cumbersome if the author tags each dialogue change. Obviously, any action attached to that tag, such as, she said, sighing is needed for the story. And putting the action before the dialogue line would help to indicate how the narrator should act for that line. 

An additional thing that authors have to keep in mind is that it takes four to five hours to record, proof, edit, and master one hour of finished audio. It takes about an hour to narrate 10,000 words, which translates into four to five hours to produce. So, if your book is 100,000 words, it will take about ten finished hours to narrate, or forty to fifty hours to produce. 

What is the difference between an author and rights holder or RH? Or are they the same thing?

They are not the same. The rights holder can be the publisher, the author, or another entity. It all depends. I recommend that every author consider what they want to do with the audio rights to their book when contracting with a publisher.

How much is an author or RH involved in the production? Do they have the opportunity to review the recording during the process?

The rights holder can be very involved or minimally involved. Most narrators would like direction before the start of the narration but then be able to interpret the acting during the story. I submit each chapter as I go, so the author has the ability to listen as I go. I don’t believe the authors I have worked with listen in real time; they usually listen to the whole book at one time when it is time to give their approval.

Similar to writing, doing voice work is an isolated form of work. How to do you stay connected to others in the field? Are their communities or associations of narrators?

There are several Facebook pages dedicated to VO and authors. There are also several conferences, workshops, and online instruction available.

Do listeners need a special device to listen to audiobooks?

You can listen to audiobooks from your phone, tablet, computer, etc. There is an app and other providers such as Kindle, Nook, and others.

Is there anything you wished you had known before you entered the world of voice overs and audiobooks?

I wish I would have known that it isn’t a simple process. Especially for someone who never had an acting class in her life. You really have to have acting chops. So if you don’t, you need to take classes or workshops, etc. Since starting audiobook narration, I have taken acting classes at the local community college, improv classes at a local improv theater, and a storytelling class. Over the past two years, I have also been coached by several voice over coaches. 

What advice would you give someone entering the field?

Have patience. Most people have said that they really don’t become full time for the first two to three years. It takes time to build relationships with fellow actors and the industry professionals who make decisions on who will book the job. But there is plenty of work to go around, just be patient.

What are you working on now? Do you have samples of your work available?

I just finished my latest recipe book, Keto Meal Prep by Alicia J. Taylor. Samples are available on my website:

Thank you, Grace, for the opportunity to talk about voice over and audiobook narration. It really is fun work, and audiobooks are just getting more and more popular. With the advent of Alexa and Google Home, an audiobook is perfect for background while making dinner or hanging out with family, or during a workout. Authors really need to implement a plan to convert their books to audio to reach a community that is only getting bigger.

Thank you, Joana.

You can learn more about Joana Garcia, hear a recording sample, or contact her at


  1. I loved to read more articles like this

  2. Fascinating! Thank you for your insights. Before my kids could read, they listened to audiobooks (and we read to them, of course). As they grew older, they would fall asleep listening to an audiobook, usually Harry Potter.

  3. Hey, Margaret, I still fall asleep listening to audiobooks. I plug my earbud in, turn on my audiobook, set the timer for 30 minutes, and turn over. Sometimes it puts me right to sleep, and other times it keeps me entertained until I can fall asleep. And if I wake during the night, I turn it on again. No thrashing in bed at night trying to sleep. It's just another opportunity to listen to a good book.

  4. Thank you, Joana, for telling us about the world of book recording. It truly was a lot of fun finding out what "goes on behind the curtain."

  5. What a fascinating and helpful interview! I love Audible and do almost all my "reading" these days that way so I can multi-task. Boring things like walking, driving, and getting ready in the morning are now a pleasure because I am immersed in another world. With that said, the narrator (or actor) is so important. One wonderful mystery series I love has the worst narrator (no names here--personal opinion). She manages to make every statement sound like a question and puts verbal emphasis on the most unimportant words (and, so, did, I). I feel sorry for the author. In this single case I would recommend not listening to the book on Audible. I've heard that the author has no say in choosing the reader and wonder if that's true.

  6. This was a very interesting interview. I have to admit I've never listened to an audio book. Well, I think years ago I did listen to one on a CD in my car. I have no idea where that CD is now though.

  7. A compelling voice actor makes or breaks an audio book -- how fascinating to have the curtain pulled back on this aspect of the creation. Fascinating!

  8. I always wondered how that worked. Fascinating.

  9. So great to hear from someone involved in this. I have never listened to an audio book (the idea if obtaining and figuring out yet another techie system is totally intimidating, and I'm sure something would change before I got it mastered, rendering whatever I learned & purchased outdated)but I know a lot of people enjoy them.

  10. Like you, Grace, I had long commutes and kept up on my professional (children's books) and recreational reading (adult books) by listening to Books On Tape and CDs. Some of the readers were excellent and I sought out those narrators as often as possible. Thank you for sharing a great aspect of writing and reading with us. This interview was illuminating and different. Thank you to Joana for helping us to understand the voice over business. Now we can appreciate our listening pleasure even more.
    Do you all know many new cars will not have have CD players. Then I will be like KM and have to learn a new technology: MP3 players, I guess...


  11. Good luck on making your sound effects and it’s really cool. Keep posting! Good Luck for your upcoming updates.