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At a young age Shelby attended Interlochen Arts Academy, garnered several awards, and enjoyed such title roles as Juliet in Shakespeare’s star-crossed classic. She continued her education at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, in Paris at a prestigious avant-garde voice program, and with the top commercial and animation trainers in Los Angeles. After winning the inaugural narration contest for up-and-coming audiobook platform ACX, Shelby has been featured as a contributing writer on their blog and a panelist at a national voiceover conference alongside industry legends. She’s enjoyed producing numerous titles with self-published authors through ACX, as well as providing the voice for various Young Adult novels with established publishing houses Brilliance Audio and Random House. Her demo and select audiobook samples can be found at www.ShelbyVoiceover.com.
Why & when did you decide to do audiobooks? I’ve always been a sucker for voices – playing with accents or doing impressions of animated characters – so I came out to LA with the lively dream of getting into voiceover. Just as I completed my first demo and was ready to “go to market,” I attended a voiceover conference that happened to have an audiobook contest as one of its events. The contest was sponsored by Audible & Amazon to promote the launch of their audiobook fusion platform: ACX. So I auditioned… and won! This blew my mind since I’d never considered the audiobook section of the industry before, but after recording my first title – in which I played over 60 different characters – I was hooked.
In a way, the audiobook industry is just as hard to break into as any other, but ACX has succeeded in making it an accessible and rewarding process for everyone involved. I’ve gotten plucked here and there to do titles with established studios such as Random House Audio, but I continually return to ACX because I get to work with the authors directly, choose which titles I take on, and I’m able to work at my own pace. Reading out loud for hours and hours is harder than it sounds!
How do you choose which books to narrate? I consider these elements equally when choosing a book: the work, the sales, and the author.
First of all, I want to make sure I like the concept of the book and that it’s a natural fit for my voice. I’m a fairytale/fantasy fan, so I gravitate towards anything with a little magic, and I have a young, spritely, female voice, so Young Adult titles are right in my wheelhouse – and in my natural voice range. As a classically-trained actress, I technically could attempt a dinosaur erotica novel in a gruff Russian accent but… I prefer to keep it a little closer to home. And authors should too! The nearer the bulk of the narration is to the talent’s normal voice, the more consistent your title will sound. It can take up to 3 months to record a full audiobook, so you want to make sure nothing slips over time -- and accents definitely can. Lastly, it is icing on the cake when the audition sample is well-written (which translates to a smooth read) and the characters are people I’d like to spend some time with. Hint: Choose audition pages that contain a lot of dialogue so you can test how versatile your potential narrator is.
Next, I look at whether the book will sell. This is most important when I consider a Royalty Share, since no one gets paid until the book sells. So, if an author has a reputable Amazon sales rank, a decent social media and/or blog presence, and has an obvious excitement for and belief in their title, I consider that package a worthy investment. Hint: Show enthusiasm about your title and its prospects when soliciting narrators for auditions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a best-seller yet, but it certainly helps to know that you’re working hard and happily to become one!
Lastly, I need a collaborative author. Now that I’ve achieved a certain level of experience, I’m fortunate to be a little selective of who I work, and I ADORE when an author is energetic and communicative. The process of producing an audiobook is absolutely a team effort. It’s my job to bring the voices in the author’s head to life, and the more insight and tools I receive from the original creator the better! Hint: Write messages to narrators you’re interested in to audition for your title. We narrator/producers have a long list of titles to search through, but we are much more likely to audition for your title if we already know that you’ve listened to our samples and had a positive reaction to our performance. Voice actors are still actors, so… flattery gets you everywhere!
For all of these reasons, my latest title – The Labyrinth of Time – was a no-brainer to accept:
- The author messaged me, sighting that she’d listened to my samples and was “impressed with my versatility.” She politely asked me to audition, included the book’s details and a link to the title’s audition page, shared a bit of her plans for promotion plus and showcased her enthusiasm for the project. I liked her energy right away and couldn’t wait to respond.
- Next green light: the audition selection was well-written, full of different characters, and had a good balance of narration and dialogue. I wanted to keep reading once the excerpt was done, and that was a positive sign.
- The efficient communication continued when the author responded quickly with both an offer and another encouraging note of why my performance was such a great fit for her title. Not only did this boost my confidence before heading into the studio, it reminded me of what elements of my performance she responded to best and offered me a clear direction to work from as I began recording.
- REACH OUT. Let’s be honest, any artist loves to be complimented. Plus, I always take the time to consider titles that contact me directly.
- EXPLAIN. Tell them why you liked their voice. Most actors have a lot of different options to choose from in their toolbox, so giving them specific direction (such as “I like this sample of yours” or “The character portrayal in that sample is spot on”) will help them give you the read you’re looking for.
- GET EXCITED. If you get excited about your book, I will too!
- BE NICE! You’d be surprised by how many messages I get that are asking me to audition for their project and yet simultaneously aren’t that complimentary of my voice. I suppose it’s a negotiation tactic? But I just casually move on, preferring instead to work with uncomplicated, genuinely pleasant people who like what I do.
- SHARE YOUR PLAN. Especially if your title is a royalty share project, you are “auditioning” just as much as the narrator is. Your producer needs to know that their investment will pay off, so make sure to do a quick pitch of how awesome you are at getting the word out about your projects.
Recently a friend received several auditions on her book. She liked their voices, but thought the inflection was wrong (too little or too much). Is it appropriate to give feedback and ask for “re-auditions”? YES!!!! I’m so glad you asked this question. Actors should be flexible and collaborative, and anyone who gets “offended” by being asked to do their selection a second time is neither of those things. This attitude is a personal pet peeve of mine, and – especially on a platform like ACX – there is no room for it. Since your narrator is not only the talent but also the producer, you need to have an open, honest, team-minded relationship from the start. If they think they’re too good for your book, then your book is too good for them :)
That said, a way to politely cushion the blow when asking for a second read is to highlight what part of the performance you did like. Emphasize that you are giving them another chance for a reason, and that you respect their training and versatility enough to offer them direction. Specific direction allows performers to succeed! Just try and stick with actionable words when describing what you want more or less of, since those are easiest to implement from an actor’s perspective. Reference a vocal style you’re looking for – such as flirtatious, mature, warm, spunky, intimidating, etc. – or pull some active descriptive words from this GREAT list:
What makes you want to work with an author again? Communication and genuine collaboration – as I mentioned before – but also trust. I trust you as a writer to write, and it means the world to me when you trust me as the narrator to narrate. We all have our gifts and honoring those gifts allows the project thrive.
Is there any particular type of book you’d love to produce but haven’t yet found? What a delicious question! Hmm… The first thing that comes to mind is “Goddess Girls,” a young adult series set in Olympus at a time when all of the Greek gods & goddesses we know and love are only in high school! I adore clever, witty premises that are full of metaphors, magic and accidentally teach you something along the way. My ideal genre: “Fairytales with a Twist.” If I could narrate a series like this, then be a voice in its animated series… well, I would feel quite bless by the gods indeed.