Introducing Audiobook Narrator Eve Passeltiner

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Audiobook narrator Eve Passeltiner

Gifts sometimes fall into my lap from benevolent angels who watch out for writers. During a book appearance last summer, good fortune smiled on me.

The venue was an outdoor bar/café on the shoreline of the Swan River in Bigfork, Montana.

About 30 people sat on socially-distanced lawn chairs, noshing, sipping, and soaking up sunshine while listening to me and three other authors chat about our books. For most of us, it was the first gathering since the pandemic began and everyone’s spirits were high.

Afterward a woman approached me and introduced herself as Eve Passeltiner, a stage actress who’d performed for years in New York and New England. She’d recently moved to Montana, had read my work, and said, “I’d like to narrate your books.”

Well!

Although I was flattered, I sidestepped. Readers often ask about audio versions but I wasn’t ready to take the plunge yet.

When we later met for coffee, I let her know my concerns but, bless Eve, she persisted. She had more faith in my books than I did and convinced me that an audiobook was worthwhile.

Market stats back her up and mirror the continued rise in audiobook popularity. According to a June, 2020 article in Publishers Weekly:

The Audio Publishers Association’s [APA] annual sales survey found that sales from 24 reporting companies rose 16% in 2019 over 2018, reaching $1.2 billion. The survey also found that unit sales increased by 16%. The gain in 2019 was the eighth consecutive year in which audiobook revenue rose by double digits, the APA said.

Another PW article about the 2020 online BookExpo stated:

APA retail member Chirp reported an initial dip in listening during commuting hours at the start of the lockdown, but it rebounded quickly as people discovered their new routines at home, and listenership has in fact increased to above the pre-shutdown level.

Authors need to put ourselves into the minds of our readers and figure out what they want.

Although I personally prefer written words over spoken ones, many book buyers choose to listen.

Eve convinced me I need to consider those buyers…and the sales I was missing.

During more coffee dates, I learned that Eve had been a flashlight-under-covers young reader who saved her babysitting money to buy books. Her early love of reading provides a solid grounding for audiobook creation.

In addition to performing and directing theatre, Eve is also an accomplished voice-over actor (video games, commercials and more). One of her most treasured projects was being the featured voice actor for the Washington Post’s Webby Award Honoree multimedia piece “The Women of Kabul” where she portrayed three different Afghan women, bringing each to life with a unique vocal quality and energy.

Eve Passeltiner with her Audie medal

In 2020, she was part of audiobooks that were nominated for awards including the Audie (the Oscars of the audiobook world) and an Independent Audiobook Award from the Audiobook Publishers Association (think Sundance Film Festival). She has also been reviewed in AudioFile Magazine, the source for everything audiobook.

Because Eve has traveled extensively, lived in big cities and small towns, and speaks several languages, she is skillful with accents and dialects (British, Irish, Scottish, Spanish, German, French, Russian, New York, Southern and more). She says, “Accents are a wonderful flavor that add to the work, but they shouldn’t overpower the storytelling.”

What is a day in the life of a narrator like?

Like most narrators, Eve wears several hats—researcher, actor, director, and engineer. Roughly half of Eve’s jobs come from publishers and half from indie authors. Although she does the initial engineering to record the book, publishers either have in-house staff or contract out the final editing, mastering, and proofing of the audiobook.

When I visited her home studio, it was a beautiful, carpeted, walk-in closet with a high ceiling. Eve says its unusual trapezoid shape is ideal because of the way sound waves move, making it preferable to a square room.

Hanging garments, covered with curtains, surround a desk with recording equipment. Eve says, “Clothing is a great sound dampener, along with the carpet.” Sound-absorbing pillows and blankets give the room a tranquil feeling. The studio is in the center of the house which acts as a natural barrier to noises from the outside world.

“What you want,” she says, “is a good dead sound, not boxy [echo or hollow].”

Dead sounds appropriate for crime fiction, doesn’t it?

When recording, Eve turns off the furnace, leaves her phone in another part of the house, and shoos Marco the cat out of the bedroom.

“Narrators are always looking for the sweet spot in terms of hydration and eating,” Eve says. “I start drinking water hours before I record—but not too much. And, of course as far as food goes, I want to avoid stomach gurgles. It is amazing how many sounds the body can make once you tune in to them.”

Eve does extensive preparation before she even starts to record. She reads the book, maps the story, casts the characters in her mind, studies relationships, character and story arcs, and looks up unfamiliar words and locations. She does a lot of the same in-depth research that writers do.

One of her favorite tools is her iPad. From it, Eve creates the master document for performance and recording. Using a special application, she inserts character notes, differentiates narration from dialogue, and includes correct pronunciation of names, places, or foreign words. She adds either an audio clip with pronunciation or types out the phonetic spelling.

For example, the name Kahlil Sharivar is noted as Kaw-LEEL SHAH-ree-var. She’ll be saying that name a lot as she records Instrument of the Devil, the first thriller in my series.

For each character’s dialogue, she color-codes the script: women’s voices are often highlighted in pink, orange, or purple, with the female lead in yellow. Men’s voices are often blue, green, or brown. She uses harsher colors for dangerous characters.

In addition to the script on the iPad screen, she monitors another screen in her studio that displays Twisted Wave, an editing software program for audio. Punch and roll is the industry standard for recording long-form audio and allows her to re-record or make changes to the audio file. If Eve misspeaks, coughs, or hears a car drag-racing in the distance, she can go back, reset the cursor, and start recording again. This allows for a seamless wave file that is ideal for editing, mastering, and proofing once the book is recorded.

On the tech equipment side, Eve is a big fan of Audio-Technica AT4047 microphones (she has two, one as a backup) because it perfectly matches her rich alto voice. Her Beyerdynamic headphones are easy (literally) on the ears and her pre-amp (a magic box that is a conduit between mic and computer) is an Audient iD4.

She prefers to sit when recording because it gives a more intimate feel, like telling a story to a good friend over coffee. Sessions last between 45-90 minutes, usually to the end of a chapter. During breaks, she stretches and uses a foam roller for massage. Then it’s back to the studio.

When asked how long it takes to record an audiobook, Eve gives the same answer that authors often give when asked how long it takes to write a book: “It depends.”  Variables include how many accents, the number of characters, and the writing style of the author. Plus, of course, the length.

Similar to acting, the narrator “lives” in the world the author created. She must get to know characters well enough to portray them with convincing, engaging voices. To differentiate the sound of a character, she uses pitch, speed, and even body placement to create an individual voice. To indicate internal thoughts, she may change her tone or volume.

My Tawny Lindholm Thrillers are set in northwest Montana where both Eve and I live. To further capture the story mood, Eve went the extra mile, checking out locations in the series, including the classic Craftsman bungalow that I’d used as a model for Tawny’s home and Hungry Horse Dam, the scene of the climax in the first book.

As a self-described “student of humanity,” Eve travels extensively and has a lifelong love of learning. New experiences help her relate to characters and make them feel more real.

Eve performs in three dimensions as if she’s on stage. Her body position and facial expression reflect what’s happening in a scene, whether she arches her back or hunches over, is wide-eyed or squints, etc. She says, “Stage actors make great narrators because they have endurance and know how to inhabit the character.”

During one of our visits, I saw firsthand how convincingly Eve inhabits a character.

The male lead in my series is a brilliant, intimidating lawyer named Tillman Rosenbaum who’s 6’7”, with a James Earl Jones voice, and an intense, dark stare that skewers his opponents.

How the heck could this pretty, petite, blue-eyed woman pull that off?

At the time, she was reading the second book in the series, Stalking Midas. She mentioned how much she liked my female lead, Tawny, and hated to see her suffer.

I made the smartass crack, “Wait until you read the later books where I really beat her up.”

Eve’s entire demeanor changed. In a flash, she grew larger and imposing. She leaned toward me and pierced me with a stare that was so threatening, it sent a shiver up my neck.

She became Tillman—a man who would kill to protect his beloved Tawny. 

At that moment, any doubts I’d had about Eve’s ability to capture Tillman  evaporatedNow we joke often about the “Tillman Stare.” 

Hearing my book for the first time is an author’s milestone that feels much the same as the first time holding the physical copy of my published books.

Here’s a small sample performed by Eve:

I didn’t go in search of an audio narrator but, by good fortune, I found one. Eve is not only hard-working and talented but is also a genuinely nice person who’s become a good friend.

How did I get so lucky? 

~~~

TKZers: Do you listen to audiobooks? What do you like most about them? What, if anything, do you dislike?

Any authors with audio versions, please chime in with your experiences.

~~~

Stay tuned for the launch of the audio version of Instrument of the Devil. 

 

Meanwhile you can read ebooks or paperbacks in the series, Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with a Heart…and Sass.

For sale at Amazon and online retailers. 

This entry was posted in audiobooks, Writing and tagged , , by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the Zebulon Award. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, Dead Man's Bluff, Crowded Hearts, and Flight to Forever. Debbie's articles have won journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

36 thoughts on “Introducing Audiobook Narrator Eve Passeltiner

  1. Thanks for a peek behind the curtain, Debbie and Eve. I am not an audiobook guy — I can read faster than I can listen — but there are many, many people who are out of choice or necessity. Thank you for all that you do!

    • Morning, Joe. Thanks for stopping by.

      I too am a “reader” more than a “listener” so this is a whole new realm for me. Lots to learn–glad Eve is an experienced guide.

  2. I can’t process audiobooks, but I produce them. In fact, my latest Mapleton Mystery, Deadly Options, is in the final stages of production with my wonderful narrator Steve “Captain” Marvel. I got into audiobooks when there was no up front costs to authors, and narrators got a nice stipend for royalty share agreements. How times have changed! Google Audiblegate. Enough said.

  3. As a reader, I do not like listening to books. I have tried. Really tried. Of the books I’ve listened to on audio, I could not tell you one single thing I recall or learned from them. I simply do not process information that comes at me that way. That’s why I hate online seminars where the speaker has not bothered to prepare a slide presentation.

    From the writer’s standpoint, your post and several others like it have made me realize that no matter how much I personally hate audiobooks, it’s a segment I simply can’t afford to ignore because as bizarre as it seems to me personally, there are plenty of people who DO like books on audio, so why miss out on that segment unless there are really good and compelling reasons not to do so?

    • BK, we authors need to pay attention to what our readers want. Businesses that ignore or discount their customers’ needs are soon out of business.

      Going back a decade or so, how many people swore they would never give up print books to read on an electronic device?

      Audiobooks are just another flavor in a box of assorted reading chocolates–all different, all delicious.

  4. I used to think I wouldn’t like audiobooks, but an author gave me a copy of one and within a page, I was hooked. Being a slow reader, having access to audiobooks is the only way I can get through more than a handful of novels each year. I always have one loaded and ready to listen while driving, gardening, cooking, walking on the treadmill.

    However, I never just sit and listen. I’m far too ADHD to stay focused like that. Combining physical activity with the sound is key.

    A good narrator makes the story. A poor one ruins it. I picked up a cozy that might have been a good read, but the narrator’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard. I couldn’t make it past the first chapter. In another, the narrator was British, but the story took place in Boston. I kept waiting for the British expat character to appear, or some connection to the UK, but it never happened. I enjoyed the story, but this little glitch was annoying.

    • That’s exactly what happened to my book. The main character is Bostonian, yet the narrator started with a British accent which morphed into Long Island, New York. Ugh. Horrible. I stopped listening after that, but my brother said she never improved. I’m counting the days till the contract runs out.

    • Jeanne, thanks for your good observations. Just sitting and listening doesn’t appeal to me either. Combining an audiobook with physical activity does sound like the key.

  5. That was such an interesting peek behind the curtain of an audiobook narrator. Thank you, Debbie. Fascinating! Loved the sample, too, even though I’m not an audiobook listener. I’m so glad you’re having such a great experience. When my former publisher hired a narrator to record one of my books…well, let’s just say I still haven’t been able to listen past Chapter Two (it released in 2017). Sigh.

    • Thanks, Sue. It’s a learning experience.

      What a shame your narrator was a disappointment. Based on a few clips you’ve shared here at TKZ, maybe you should narrate your own books!

  6. I listen to 2-3 books a week, yet I’ve not converted any of my 16 books into audio. I know I’m missing readers, but the mountain seems so high to tackle. One of the series is 12 books in length (and growing) so I want the same narrator. I went so far as to fill out information for Findaway Voices, but haven’t done anything more like pushing the submit button. Debbie, you’re lucky the narrator approached you, and what a fascinating look behind the scenes! I also know I can’t narrate my own books as I lack the skill, and the ability to do accents. Oh well.

    • Alec, you’re right that the audio learning curve is daunting. The more we know, the more we realize we don’t know.

      More than a year ago, I “auditioned” a few narrators through Findaway and found one I thought might work. Then 2020 threw us off the tracks and I didn’t follow through. Now I’m glad b/c luck intervened in the form of Eve.

  7. Debbie, fantastic post. Thanks for giving us that peek behind the curtain.

    I don’t read audiobooks. I live in a rural area, but never travel more than 10 – 15 minutes. And my activities at home are not conducive to listening to a book. (chain saws, tractors, etc.)

    I can see this is something writers need to consider. Any recommendations where newbies (inde) should start to look for a narrator? Any ballpark estimates of cost (package, hourly, etc.)? And how many books do you have to sell to break even?

    Thanks for your many great enlightening posts!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Steve.

      Great questions, too. I don’t have answers but I’ll research for a future post.

      Please promise you won’t listen to a horror audiobook while operating a chainsaw 😉

  8. Great piece, Debbie! And well-timed. I’ve been thinking about audiobook versions of my growing title list, but the upfront cost—and time to reach breakeven—is holding me back. Any thoughts on that?

    • Those were my concerns also, Harald. Options like royalty sharing lessen the upfront cost. Narrators used to be quite willing to split royalties with the author but that doesn’t seem to be as common now.

      Good marketing remains key to good sales, whether in ebook, print, audio, or any other format.

      Bottom line: this is a business decision that involves risk, both for authors and narrators. It boils down to how much $$ and/or time you are willing to invest (and possibly lose).

      As I mentioned to Steve above, I’ll dig into specific costs and break-even points in a future post.

  9. Fantastic information, Debbie. I loved reading about Eve’s approach to narrating, and I enjoyed the snippet of your book.

    I listen to audiobooks (along with podcasts and lectures on writing) when I’m outside running, doing chores around the house, or running errands in my car. Although it’s a different experience from reading, I find it engaging.

    My first novel was also produced in audio and the narrator did a great job. I got a Chirp promotion (Chirp is the audio arm of Bookbub) and that resulted in a lot of sales. I actually have more reviews of the audiobook of “The Watch on the Fencepost” on Chirpbooks than the print book on Amazon! I think that’s proof that audio listeners are serious readers.

    We’re currently working with Findaway Voices to have the second book produced in audio.

  10. Fascinating look behind your audio book scene, Debbie. I really appreciate this piece – stepping into the audio world is possibly out there for me, but it’s the learning curve and expense that’s got me chilly. It ‘s quotes like this that warm me up though, “Authors need to put ourselves into the minds of our readers and figure out what they want.” BTW, your short clip shows how professional your narrator is. Good for you!!

    • Thanks, Garry, and I know Eve appreciates your kind words, also.

      I won’t lie–this project is daunting. But my new year’s resolution for 2021 was to focus on marketing and make my books available on other channels. You (and Terry) convinced me to go wide. Now it’s my turn to lead you astray…I mean, in a new direction.

  11. Love this look behind the scenes of producing audio books, and the way in which you connected with your talented narrator. I loved the sample you shared. I don’t listen to audiobooks at the moment, but I used to when I had a commute to work and when I worked out at the gym, rather than working and exercising at home. My wife and I’ve discussed listening to audiobooks during our jigsaw puzzling, so I might be resuming soon.

    I’d love to see my novels produced in audio, and in fact have been approached by narrators online in the past couple of years, but my self-published books, while doing decently at the small press equivalent level, just haven’t sold enough to justify $150-300 a produced hour. Hopefully that will change in the future, because I love the idea.

    Thanks for this fascinating post! Have a fine day.

    • Thanks, Dale. Meeting Eve was a great stroke of luck for me. Hope you’ll be as fortunate when you find your narrator.

      Audiobooks sound like the ideal complement to jigsaw puzzles.

  12. I absolutely love audiobooks!
    As a listener I have one loaded in my phone at all times and listen several hours a day while working or driving.
    As an author I love that there are so many mediums with which to share our books
    As a narrator I absolutely LOVE playing all the parts and speaking life into the story

    I AM THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD!

    (as a matter of fact my latest series, ICE HAMMER, just came out in an audio boxed set today! all three stories, 35 hrs of heart thumping action and thrills in the mountains of Alaska)

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