by Grace Topping
Audiobooks is the fastest growing area of publishing. In 2020, over 71,000 audiobook titles were produced in the U. S., and narrating those books has become a major field of work for thousands of narrators. Voice over actor, Joana Garcia, who was recently named one of the Latinx Narrators You Should Listen To by Libro.fm, talked to me about her career and gave me a glimpse of what’s involved with producing an audiobook.
Welcome to Writers Who Kill, Joana.
You’ve been in recording field for a few years now. Please tell us about the types of voice work you’ve done and the volume of your work that is now available to listeners.
Which ones have you found the most challenging?
I think that all audiobooks are challenging. It is difficult to read for 4-5 hours a day depending on your voice stamina, the subject of the book, how warm it gets in the studio, etc., etc. For example, I did a book that had loads of Aztec and Navajo words and names. So, I had to research each one, watching YouTube videos, looking through printed books and on and on. I ended up hiring an Aztec language expert. Another book that was challenging is a book I did on Jeffrey Dahmer. It was a very good book but did go into detail about his crimes.
Do you have a favorite type among them? Or does that change all the time?
It changes all the time. I really get into the books I narrate. I am committed to finding the voice and the intent of the author, so it is imperative that I have to pay attention 100 percent to the words used and the context in which they are used.
Are different skills required to narrate nonfiction and fiction? If so, how do they differ? Which do you find more challenging?
Yes. As my nonfiction audiobook coach, Sean Allen Pratt says, “Nonfiction can be dry and slow. It is up to the narrator to keep the listener engaged and eager to continue to listen.”
What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen since you started in this field, both in the industry and for you as a performer?
What do you do to prepare for a recording?
When I receive a book to narrate, I first read the book, start to finish. I look for how the story evolves, how the characters are described, and figure out how they interact with each other and the world around them. Since the majority of my books are nonfiction, I read through the book looking for words that I may not know how to pronounce. I go to the internet to look up how to pronounce a word accurately and put a note next to that word so when I do narrate it, it is right there. So when I get into the book, I don’t have to interrupt my process to look up the word.
Where do you record and how long does it take you?
I have converted a walk-in closet in my basement into a professional recording studio. It really is ideal and is perfectly isolated to maintain the quality of sound needed for audiobooks. I have really cut down the amount of time for my process. In the beginning it would take me 3-5 hours of recording time for 1 hour of narration time. I am now down to 1-2 hours.
When doing your recordings, what are the biggest challenges you face?
My biggest challenge is vocal fatigue. I can narrate for five hours or so, but some days I can only get three hours. My vocal fatigue is manifested as going hoarse, and I lose the ability to vocalize every word fully. So my voice will change purity and cut out halfway through a word.
In performing fiction, you must use a number of voices. How do you manage to make the voices distinctive?
Fiction is really fun to do. After reading the book all the way through, I take note of each character’s physical attributes; whether they have an accent; their gender, of course; and what age they are. It really is astounding how you can maintain each character’s voice throughout the book.
I understand that the field of movie/TV dubbing is growing. What accounts for this and have you gotten involved with it? How does dubbing differ from narrating?
Yes, there is a push to take movies and TV shows from across the world and dub them into English. I just think it is the business looking for some fresh content. Dubbing is acting to picture. So, while watching the actions done on the screen and matching the emotion, pace, etc. on the screen, you are also tracking the words that need to be said. It is not easy but it is a lot of fun.
You’ve worked on collaborations with other narrators. What does that involve?
The collaborations I have done are specific chapters that are from a certain character’s point of view. So I will narrate that chapter in that person’s voice and attitude and send in my section. The publishers will then assemble the chapters that each narrator has recorded in its right place.
With a goal of having an audiobook of their work done, what should authors keep in mind when writing—things that would make things easier for narrators?
What new things are you seeing in the voice recording field?
There has been a significant shift in the commercial side of voice over. Instead of the announcer having a sales pitch tone and attitude, commercials now have a casual, “I’m talking to my friend,” sort of vibe. Dubbing has certainly taken a big shift in popularity and is providing a significant increase in opportunities for work. Video games are more popular than ever.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get into this field?
Do your research. There are lots and lots of books, YouTube videos, coaches, etc. out there with lots of great information. Also, realize it takes years to get yourself established and hone your skill. It isn’t just reading a book out loud. It is telling a story as if you are sitting around a camp fire with your buddies and making that story intriguing and enjoyable to listen to. That holds true for both fiction and nonfiction.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a nonfiction book about parenting and another about narcissism. And I am exploring getting some further coaching in dubbing. I would like to expand my voice over skills into new genres, and dubbing is such a challenge and quite a rush. And I just recently was included on a list of “Latinx Narrators You Should Listen To” by Libro.fm, which is the first sort of “award” that I have received for my work. I am so excited about that.
Thank you, Joana.
To learn more about Joana Garcia and hear samples of her work, visit her website https://www.voicesbyjoanagarcia.com