Interview with an Audiobook Narrator

Relay Publishing
9 min readApr 17, 2024

Tamar Crane, COO of Relay Publishing, and Andrew Tell, Audiobook Narrator extraordinaire, were excited to finally meet after working together to produce multiple post-apocalyptic audiobooks for Grace Hamilton.

What struck Tamar about Andrew was his enigmatic character, gregarious nature, and of course, his smooth-talking voice! Without further ado, the following is an interview with Andrew Tell, Audiobook Narrator, Producer, Creator!

So, who is the man behind the voice of Andrew Tell?

I’m just a middle-aged dude living in Los Angeles! I have a couple of kids. I used to do graphic design for TV and film for about twenty years. I went to art school in college. I was attracted to Los Angeles for all the reasons everyone’s attracted to it, and I’ve been here for thirty years.

I’ve been recording audiobooks for about nine years now, with over two hundred published. I have a background in acting and performing, and I was also interested in writing, being a big reader and all. So it seemed like a really good fit, putting those two things together, and I happened to have a pretty good knack for it!

The longer story is that I wrote a short book, and Amazon picked it up for one of their imprints, which was really cool. It was for Kindle Singles at the time, and they said they were going to promote it on all devices around Christmas. I was so excited and started researching, thinking, “Oh, I should have an audiobook too.”

I probably would have tried narrating it myself, but the story was from a woman’s point of view. So, I decided to find a female narrator. I found someone, we chatted, and I learned about the process. Then, I listened to the audiobook she had done, and she encouraged me, saying, “You’d probably be pretty good at this with your background.” It was exactly the push I needed.

I had also done a stage show where we recreated old-time radio shows from the ’40s and ’50s, which involved a lot of narration. So, unknowingly, I had some preparation for narration. Once I started, I found it really fun and interesting. I got really into it and just went after it. All the technical stuff with audio was new and fascinating to me. It was an intersection for a lot of my interests and you know, I’ve just been having a good time doing it.

It sure sounds like it’s your full-time gig. How long did that take, you know, for it to pay the bills?!

I mean I was pretty lucky, and you know, extremely talented as well! I think it was within a year but I held onto my old job freelancing until about year two when I finally gave that up. I was really driven to start something new and was working on it every day, and within six months I could see that I was well on the way to establishing a new audiobook career.

What’s your process?

When it comes to preparing for an audiobook project, especially for indie authors and small publishing companies, there are a few steps I usually take. Since I work a lot with fantasy and sci-fi genres, I would start by looking in those online communities for indie books that are popular but don’t have an audiobook yet. I’d reach out to authors saying something like, “Hey, would you like to turn this into an audiobook? Here’s a sample.”

Additionally, I would contact casting directors from production companies like Podium Audio and Penguin Random House. You can simply email them, saying, “Hey, I’m available. Can I get on your roster?” Sometimes, as I’ve done more books, people find me, which is a great luxury that I don’t take for granted.

As for preparing for a specific book, I would start by reading the book, though these days it’s more of an intense skim due to time constraints. Usually, this is enough for me to get a good grasp of the story. I might also refer to character sheets if they’re available, especially for series where I might need a refresher on who’s who. Knowing the primary characters and their arcs is crucial, as it influences decisions about their voices.

For characters who might only appear briefly, I consider how long they’ll be in the story and adjust their voice accordingly. Doing some pronunciation research is also important, especially for words or phrases in other languages that I don’t want to terribly butcher.

When it comes down to it, about 80% of the work is being in the moment, in touch with the tone and intent of the material, sentence by sentence. It’s about finding the emphasis and intent, communicating that through the narration, and ultimately, helping and supporting the author’s vision.

I can tell that you’re proud of your setup, do you want to tell me a bit about it?!

I have an indulgent setup in my studio! I use a StudioBricks booth, which is made in Spain. It’s like Legos, easy to transport and put together. Recently, I moved, so it was perfect. The booth is beautiful, but I redid the inside treatment because the default setup was a bit minimal. I built all these sound absorption panels myself.

My microphone is a Townsend Labs Sphere. It’s a microphone that can emulate other microphones. It’s a bit crazy, I admit, but it’s fun to mess around with. I’ve even built some microphones myself, which is enjoyable because high-quality microphones can be really expensive — ranging from three thousand to fifty thousand dollars. My emulating microphone can mimic those, and it does a pretty good job.

So, for different types of books, I might choose a different microphone. For a post-apocalyptic book, I might go for a mic that gives a deeper, more intense vibe. For a contemporary piece of literature, I might just use my normal, present voice for a straightforward delivery. These are subtle adjustments that most listeners, who might be doing dishes or listening on their AirPods, won’t consciously pick up on, but they add to the overall quality and immersion of the audiobook.

For the rest, it’s just a nice Mac Mini and an audio interface. I have a universal audio Apollo, which is a nice interface. And a really good water bottle!

How about the post-production aspect? You’re obviously using your technical skills to do your own edits.

The technique I use for recording is called punch and roll. I work with a software called Reaper, which is a digital audio workstation (DAW). There are several great DAWs out there, and this is the one I prefer. Here’s how it works: I record, and if I make a mistake or need to take a breath, I stop recording. Then, I can roll it back to where there’s a natural break in the sentence or paragraph. I hit record again, it plays a bit of the previous audio, and then I jump right back in seamlessly.

This technique essentially does the editing for me as I go along. If I’m careful and meticulous enough during recording, I might not even need a separate audio editor. However, I do have to be somewhat technically minded because I deliver finished audio to clients. This means I handle processing, cleaning up, and making sure the audio is top-notch before sending it off. This way, the final product is polished and ready to go.

It all kind of gets processed in Reaper. There’s a little bit in Izotope, some software that’s specifically to remove mouth clicks and little sounds. So that’s something that a lot of us use. And occasionally, I might pop in some other program, but that’s to repair little things. But usually, honestly, if I hear something weird, it’s faster for me to re-record it and just insert it.

Getting to this point where I can handle all aspects of audiobook production took time and working with editors to understand what was needed. Initially, it might seem simple — just reading aloud — but there’s actually so much more going on than meets the eye. It’s like when celebrities say audiobook narration is some of the hardest acting they’ve done. You’re cold reading, reading ahead, listening to yourself, and managing technical aspects all at once. Your mind is in multiple places, including managing breath and a million other things. So, technically, it’s very challenging.

Each aspect — acting, technical work, and the business side of things — is a huge area that requires time to learn and master. For newcomers, I’d advise diving deep into these areas. It’s true, there are likely many talented individuals out there who’ve never recorded a book before, and that’s where they might need guidance and mentorship to excel in this field. It’s not just about having a good voice; it’s about mastering all the intricacies of audiobook narration.

So, if you had to highlight the pros and cons of audiobook narration, what would you say?

Well, the pros are pretty great. I mean, it’s a highly creative thing, you know? It’s like a performance every single day, and honestly, it’s probably the most acting I’ve ever done in my life. Plus, you get to dive into these amazing books and connect with some really cool people. Being your own boss is a big perk too, usually.

But, there are some cons too. I mean, being your own boss means you really have to stay disciplined. And in terms of making money, voice-over work can be a bit on the slower side, you know? It’s steady work for the most part, but it takes time to build up.

Then there’s the whole working by yourself thing, which can get pretty isolating at times. And as an independent contractor, it’s project to project, which some folks might not dig. But overall, it’s not too shabby. Even when I have my gripes about a book or a project, it’s still mostly a blast.

What advice would you give to aspiring audiobook narrators?

I think there’s definitely an element of luck involved, but it’s still a business. So, a few things come into play, especially the performance aspect. Hopefully, individuals have a background in acting, and if not, getting into some acting classes is crucial. Your voice matters, but what’s more important is the acting — being able to interpret material. Essentially, you’re cold reading for hours at a time, even if you’ve read it beforehand. That’s a huge component. If you have that base, and then work on building relationships with casting directors and publishing companies by auditioning for projects on platforms like ACX, that can make you stand out.

It’s about focusing on what you can control. Get as much acting experience as you can. Make your auditions sound as polished as possible; it should sound like a finished product, not something recorded at your kitchen table.

I would also recommend some specific audiobook coaching, at least a few hours to start. There are certain technical aspects that are crucial to know. While you can discover them on your own, it’s much better to have guidance if someone needs it. These coaches can provide insights into pacing, tone, character differentiation, and other important elements specific to audiobook narration. So, getting some coaching can really help set you up for success in the audiobook industry.

The audiobook community is fantastic. It’s a welcoming group of actors. We recently had the Audies — the awards for audiobooks, last weekend. There were a lot of events here in LA, and it was a great time.

Thanks so much for your time Andrew, it was great to put a face to the voice that has been narrating so many Grace Hamilton books for us. You’re a pleasure to work with and I hope we’ll continue to produce audiobooks together long into the future.

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Republished with permission from Relay Publishing



Relay Publishing

Relay has founded a collaborative environment for literary creatives to exercise their skillset and develop their craft across a multitude of fiction genres.