Audiobook Narrator Karen Commins Is A Gift from a Fairy Godmother – Part 1 #Audiobooks

romance narrator

I swear that my fairy godmother helped to connect me with Karen Commins, the audiobook narrator for my chick lit romantic comedy Fooling Around With Cinderella. (Storybook Valley #1). As soon as I heard her audition, I knew she was perfect for the project. I wasn’t disappointed. She captured the humor in the book, nailed the cast of quirky characters, and had me laughing with her comic delivery – and I know the book by heart. I was so happy to welcome Karen to Storybook Valley, and to my blog for an in-depth two part look at what it’s like to be an audiobook narrator and what goes into the process of bringing book recordings alive.

Part 1:

How did you get involved with narrating audiobooks?

I knew in 5th grade that I wanted to be a voiceover artist. I originally dreamed of being a cartoon character’s voice, talk show host, or even a baseball play-by-play announcer. I earned my BA in broadcast journalism because that was the only route I knew at the time to get into voiceover. I was already working a full-time job in an unrelated field when I finished college.

audiobook narratorLike many people, I put my dream on the shelf for a better paying job. I landed a position as a programmer at my employer. I went back to school to earn my MS in computer information systems. I became a network and email administrator, followed by technical specialist and finally communications specialist for an IT department. I ended up in an IT career lasting 27 years.

However, the voiceover dream was still with me all that time. I volunteered as a reader for the Georgia Radio Reading Service for the blind and print-handicapped for 5 years. In addition to reading books, I also did live reads from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday newspaper. Meanwhile, during my 60-mile round-trip commutes to/from my day job in downtown Atlanta, I listened to audiobooks and developed a passion for the medium. In 1996, I wrote to Frank Muller, a superstar narrator who sadly is no longer with us, to ask a few questions about how he obtained work and where he did it. He graciously answered me, and I knew that I wanted to record books. In 1998-9, while still working my IT day job, I took a voiceover workshop from a leading Atlanta voice actor, made a voiceover demo under his direction, and started marketing myself as a voiceover talent. I did a few audiobooks for a small publisher early in the millennium, but most publishers were not hiring narrators outside of NY and LA at the time.

In 2011, created, which, as you know, is a free marketplace where authors, publishers, and narrators can meet and create contracts for audiobook production. I was excited when they asked me to be a beta tester on the site and thrilled when I received my first contract through that venue after a successful audition. I worked at both my day job and my business for 12 years until my employer offered me early retirement.

What other kinds of voice work have you done besides audiobooks?

I’ve done some local/regional radio and TV commercials, but I was mostly hired for narrations for e-learning modules and corporate videos. I decided a few years ago that I want to solely concentrate on audiobooks, and I couldn’t be happier!

Have you been drawn to any specific genres as a narrator? Which ones and why do they appeal to you?

I strive to only narrate books that do not contain graphic sex or violence and have a low number of, or, even better, no curse words. I believe that you can tell a great story without all of those things. For that reason, I adore performing cozy mysteries and sweet romances! I am most delighted when I’m recording books that contain a lot of humor. I love to laugh! I understand the comedic elements and work on my delivery and timing so that my listener will enjoy the humor, too.

I know narration is ACTING, but I still won’t give creative energy and life to ideologies that I don’t embrace. I won’t use a pseudonym, either, as it’s still my voice and my life’s experiences inspiring my performance. An audiobook is permanent, and I choose to make mine also a thing of beauty. I also enjoy narrating various non-fiction genres, especially self-help and biographies/memoirs.

What kind of voice training do you have, or is it something that developed naturally?

I had a number of speech classes while in college. I’ve also taken many performance workshops in voiceover and audiobook narration from noted coaches in both fields.

I saw on your website that you did your first recorded TV PSA in fifth grade. I got serious about writing stories in fifth grade also! Can you tell us about your childhood narrating?

Oooh! That question makes my childhood sound much more exciting than it actually was.  I only did that 1 PSA, and I was selected for it because I won a contest. Sometimes, I’m envious of people like you who began doing their art as a child.

Do you ever do voice warm-up exercises, or need to take measures to protect your voice?

I probably should, but I don’t. I read that my idol Barry Manilow doesn’t warm up, either. Like him, I concentrate on using my voice to convey the emotion of the scene. Protective measures are a different story!

We wish we could be like Bubble Boy on Seinfeld and just stay in our own bubble where people can’t bring their colds. I also don’t scream at Barry’s concerts (I’ve been to 54 in 21 different cities!) or on roller coasters any more. I stay away from smoky venues and places where people are talking so loudly that I can’t hear myself think. Talking over that kind of noise will strain my voice.
On days that I’m recording, I use a personal steamer before starting and during breaks to keep my vocal cords moist. I also drink hot tea sweetened with lemon.

Could you tell us where you record books and what that process is like? Do you have a director? Editor? You work closely with your husband, don’t you? Is he a narrator also?

I have the great joy of recording in my custom-built, soundproof studio! I am blessed and grateful that my husband Drew is my director on every project. He catches my misreads, offers suggestions about text interpretation, and runs the computer controls. If I make a mistake or want to say a line a different way, we stop recording, back up a few seconds, and start again with me saying take 2 (and, unfortunately, sometimes take 6!) of the line.

Before I accept a new ACX project where I am also responsible for producing the retail version, I plan due dates with my editor. When an audiobook publisher is producing the book, I’m only responsible for my narration. The publisher will do the editing and mastering.

In either case, I plan out my recording days in advance based on the number of pages in the book, so I know how much material I need to record each day. Upon finishing the last chapter and credits, I upload the recordings for the editor to a designated site on-line. For instance, when I’m producing, my editor and I share a Dropbox account to transfer the files.

My editor also proof-listens, meaning he is listening intently to ensure that I said all of the words on the page, in the order they were written, without adding, subtracting, changing, or transposing them, using the correct character’s voice. Whew! When he finds a mistake that Drew and I missed in the recording phase, my editor marks the text and creates a sound clip in iAnnotate to explain what I need to change.

Drew has done the male voices in 5 books with me, and he also voiced 2 solo narrations that I directed. However, he says narration is not his passion, so he probably won’t get behind the microphone again anytime soon.

But narration is Karen’s passion, and in Part 2 of her interview we’ll talk more about her process as well as give you a behind the scenes look at recording Fooling Around With Cinderella! Find her on the following sites:
Audiobooks on Audible
ACX profile
Follow 1 or more of her Twitter lists of audiobook folks

About Fooling Around With Cinderella: What happens when the glass slippers pinch Cinderella’s toes? When Jaine Andersen proposes a new marketing role to the local amusement park, general manager Dylan Callahan charms her into filling Cinderella’s glass slippers for the summer. Her reign transforms Jaine’s ordinary life into chaos that would bewilder a fairy godmother. Secretly dating her bad boy boss, running wedding errands for her ungrateful sisters, and defending herself from the park’s resident villain means Jaine needs lots more than a comfy pair of shoes to restore order in her kingdom. First in the Storybook Valley series, a blend of sweet romance, chick lit, and fairy tale fun.

Buy the audiobook version on:

Karen Commins is a professional audiobook narrator who has given voice to over 50 audiobooks. She is an Audible Approved Producer who specializes in performing cozy mysteries and sweet romances. She especially shines in books containing humor and/or Southern voices. Karen also has excelled in narrating biography, history, self-development, and other non-fiction titles. In addition to earning a BA in broadcast journalism and MS in computer information systems, Karen has completed extensive specialized training in voiceover and audiobook narration technique, as well as digital audio production. Visit her web site to hear demos, see a list of her titles, and watch a video demonstration of her stunning soundproof studio. In addition to writing articles about audiobooks on her blog and other sites, Karen curates and maintains information for authors seeking to create audiobooks.

For more interviews with audiobook narrators and authors, visit Stacy’s Audiobook Corner.

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  1. Karen is one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve met in VO. So glad to see this interview with her! :)

Stacy Juba