Ellen Archer was also at the luncheon we had in New York In May. Audio book listeners may know here from her work on audiobooks such as ROOM by Emma Donoghue, Sunday’s At Tiffany’s by James Patterson, The Penny by Joyce Meyers, and more. Please welcome Ellen to Book Journey.
My name is Ellen Archer. I am a New York City based actor and voice – over artist. I’ve been narrating books for over 12 years and have recorded somewhere around 175 titles. I say “somewhere” because I used an alias for some of my earlier raunchy titles and I’ve “forgotten” what the alias is. Now I’m on the straight and narrow and use my own name. I recently finished MIRROR SIGHT, the latest book in the GREEN RIDER series by Kristen Britain. These fantasy books are seriously good. She’s a wonderful writer. ROOM by Emma Donoghue and WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS by Kate Atkinson are also great books, and I loved recording them.
How are the books chosen?
About half the time, my agent sends me auditions for specific titles that I have requested to audition for by the publisher or the producer. These days, more often than not, the author chooses the narrator from the auditions submitted to him or her. Other times, publishers call my agent and offer me a book or series without my having to audition. I think I’ve only turned down 3 books in 12 years. That either reeks of desperation or is a testament to how well publishers and producers know me.
These days, more often than not, the author chooses the narrator from the auditions submitted to him or her.
When I am given a copy of a book, usually it is in a downloadable PDF so I can save a tree and work off my iPad. It took me a while to get the hang of not having the actual hard copy in my hands, as I like to write little notes in my horrible handwriting, replete with scribbles and arrows and different colored highlighting. I also like to write “to do” lists and funny things my kids says. I’ve found that the iAnnotate app, is not the enemy – now I can actually read the notes I make. Bonus!
I always read the book before recording. I try to read it as I would a book for pleasure. I don’t stop to make a slew of notes in a separate notebook or stop to look stuff up – I just read. I’ll underline passages that I think are important, put a question mark next to something for which I need clarification, make a quick note about a character to jog my memory later (maybe underline a particular line they speak). After I finish the book, I’ll go back through and look over all the pages on which I made notes and (try to) decipher what I meant. I’ll make a list of the characters and something to describe them/their accent or voice/their story. If they remind me of someone I know, or a celebrity or even another character I’ve done, I’ll make a note of that. Then, for that gem of a book for which I get a director, I make a list of questions for him or her (usually pronunciations for character names, but sometimes for regular every day words that big time smarty pants use, and I don’t know how to say). The director calls the author to get pronunciations on character names or places they’ve made up and then looks up the rest of the stuff. When I don’t have a director, (which is more than half the time) I do all that stuff myself. The more complicated the book is, the longer the process. Non fiction is way easier to prep, while a 27 hour-long fantasy book with 73 characters takes a bit more work. I also do a fair number of books that have long passages in other languages. Fortunately, the fine folks at the Boston Conservatory of Music required I take French, Italian and German to complete my degree in Opera and Vocal performance. I’ve been tempted to write the alumni committee a check more than once. They must know that somehow, because they send me a donation envelope every year.
What I enjoy most about narrating a book is getting lost in it. It is such a great feeling. I love the excitement of finding a character’s voice and it feeling completely right. I know I’ve gotten it right when I’m sad to read the last few lines and it’s over. I remember reading an amazing and deeply personal memoir called THE ORCHARD by Theresa Weir. It was beautifully written in first person. The director, Suzanne Torn, the editor, Tommy Harron and I called the author to ask her a few questions before we got started. It was a lovely two-minute conversation. When we finished the book four days later, I had the strongest urge to call Theresa and talk about what happened to “us” — ask how everyone was doing, how she was doing. I nearly picked up the phone before I realized that I actually don’t know Theresa. At all. I knew it would be completely inappropriate to ask her such intimate questions…but after reading her story for four days, it felt like we were friends. I was that invested. I did “like” her page on Facebook so, I guess we’re kinda friends now, right?
While recording my very first audiobook, I kept stumbling over a word. This was a very easy and unfunny word that I couldn’t say – something like “donut.” I’d get as far as “Let’s go grab a coffee and” (wait for it….) “BWHAHAHAH.” Then the engineer, Kay Ells, started laughing. It was that same feeling you get when you start to laugh in church and it just gets worse and worse. I simply could not get through the sentence without hysterical laughter. This went on for several minutes, as I, red-faced and gasping for air, tried to explain to the director why “donut” is so damn funny. She was unmoved. In the end, I had to read the line with my eyes closed so I couldn’t see Katy’s shoulder’s shaking. And, hey, they hired me back!
37 thoughts on “The BEST Part Of Narrating, by Narrator Ellen Archer”
I loved ‘ROOM’ when I read the book and it would be interesting to see what Ellen did with the audio. I think it’s cool that authors are involved in picking their own narrators. That’s a great way to make sure the character sounds how you wanted them to!
I loved it too – our book club read it and we had our meeting in a room the size mentioned in the book.
What a cool idea! That’s a great way to understand what that family went through.
Just yesterday someone mentioned the book Room and I told her that, although I heard it was great, it sounds too depressing 😦 LOVE the “donut” story 😀
ROOM is actually a fantastic book and audio – both are amazing 😀
I’ve been afraid to read ROOM.
Its not as bad as one thinks – it is sad yes, but all works out.
Maybe I’ll convince myself to crack it open some day.
I need to listen to it on audio yet but I heard it is fantastic.
I’m impressed by how much prep work is done. It makes sense though to know the story well. I think I will smile whenever I hear DONUT now.
Funny story for sure! I am surprised by the prep work as well.
These narrator posts are really making me want to pursue a career in audio book narration. I was in drama throughout high school and starred in several plays. My original plan back then was to get my performing arts degree and pursue a stage career in New York. Obviously, that did not come to pass. 😉 This would be something that could bring that old magic back. Ellen makes it all sound so wonderful and fulfilling. I wonder how one can break into this line of work?
Great question! I would think you could find info on line – Google – narrating starts or narrating jobs….
That donut story is too funny. I’ve been wanting to read or listen to The Orchard … now I’ll definitely listen. And thanks for the tip on the iAnnotate app.
I want to listen to that one too 🙂
I hope you get a chance to read The Orchard. It’s a beautiful and cautionary tale and Theresa is a wonderful writer. I had to laugh when the director and engineer for the “donut story” anecdote commented on my link on facebook and remembered it so clearly after 11 years. The audiobook community is pretty amazing and full of great people.
I’m a huge Green Rider fan – it was really interesting to see this piece from the narrator’s perspective.
Oh good 😉 Thank you for commenting!
Thanks, Aereal! Kristen says she is hard at work on Book 6. I can’t wait!
Thank you, Ellen, for making these books come alive for me. You have been the perfect voice for Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series (my favorite). I will be looking for more of your work, starting with “The Orchard”.
Great comment – thank you Rosona!
That’s so lovely, thank you Rosana! Recording the Green Rider books were a labor of love. Kristen and I just finished an interview at Random house that should be posted on their Sound Cloud soon. I’ll post here when it’s up. I’m meeting Kristen for the first time at a book party for Mirror Sight in Bar Harbor on July 17!
I bet you’ll love The Orchard. When the director Suzanne Toren saw this post on FB, she said she also was very moved and will wash apples and buy organic whenever possible. Me, too!
Terrific interview, Ellen. I really appreciate finding out your process for narrating.
Its been fun learning about audio through the narrators!
Thank you, Rene! And thank you Sheila for inviting me to contribute!
I love learning the backstory how audio is done even though I don’t do audio!
I have enjoyed it too 🙂
It is great getting to know more about our favorite narrators.
loved ellen’s evident sense of humour!
“more often than not, the author chooses the narrator from the auditions submitted” found this an interesting but wise step. who else would know the best representation of her/his own characters? and great that they have that option now.
The Green Rider books are great. I’ve never listened to an audio book, so I think I’ll need to make this series my first.
Hol — I hope you enjoy them. They were a lot of fun to record! -E
Thank you for your remarkable narration of The Chemist. I have listened to this book at least 5 times! How are you able to do such different voices, especially the men?