Maybe I should explain that a little. When I decided to bring Joe Tesla’s first novel, The World Beneath, out as an audiobook, I listened to a lot of audition tapes (a great way for an author to spend a day). Jeffrey Kafer’s voice got inside my head instantly. His performing style is understated and powerful; his voice the kind you could listen to all day. I wasn’t surprised when I did more research on him and discovered that he’s won awards for his work—from the Voicey Award for Best New Voice to the Halo Award for Best Sci-Fi Audiobook.
Here’s a sample of him reading the first five minutes of The World Beneath, so you can hear what I mean:
I was curious to find out how he did it, and I thought you might be, too, so I invited him here to find out!
Jeffrey, how did you come to be doing audiobooks?
I started about 6 years ago by doing some free short story collections for Podiobooks.com on a $5 karaoke
microphone (PLEASE do not go and find them). [Rebecca here: You know that’s practically too tempting, right?] There was next to no money involved, but it got me the attention of a couple of authors, most notably Jeremy Robinson and Gregg Olsen. Jeremy hired me first to do a Podiobook of his novel, KRONOS, and then another one titled BENEATH. These were both very successful on Podiobooks.com and when Audible bought the rights to some of his follow-up books, he asked Audible that I narrate them. They were my first truly professional titles. 150 titles later and I’m still narrating a large portion of Jeremy’s stuff. It’s been fun to see how we’ve both grown in our respective careers over the years.
Do you read aloud a lot in your spare time, or do your kids have to pay for bedtime stories?
I used to read all the time to my kids. And I would go into their classrooms and library to read, too. Now, not so much as they are pre-teen and teen. Had I known I could charge them for it, I would have.
What does your average recording day look like?
I’m in the studio around 9am doing office stuff: Returning emails, invoicing, goofing around on Facebook. Then at around 10am, I buckle down and start recording. I set a goal of 2 finished hours of recording per day. That takes me 5-6 hours. Then I send that 2 hours of audio off to my proofer for her to listen to and check for errors. By the time I’m done recording, the kids are usually getting home from school, so then it’s homework, dance class, and all the other good stuff. After the kids go to bed, I’m often back in the studio doing some extra work or finishing up what I didn’t get done during the day.
It’s an exciting life, as you can tell.
Speaking of Facebook, I have some questions posted by Facebook friends at the bottom. Not that I spend way too much time on Facebook myself. Not at all.
Anyway, what was the toughest part about reading The World Beneath? Was it all those random accents the crazy author put in? Or something else?
It actually wasn’t difficult. The accents were minimal and the thriller genre is in my wheelhouse. It’s my favorite genre to do and the writing was so clear that it was a real joy. I just got to go in and do my thing and it was very smooth sailing.
I have no problem with Edison speaking as long as you don’t mind him sounding like Scooby-Doo. Wait. You’re serious?
Maybe, maybe not. Doesn’t he look like he has a lot to say?
Based on your long book list, I can see that you are highly in demand as an audiobook reader. How do you choose the projects you work on?
I would love to say that I pick titles that speak to me on an emotional level or allow me to stretch and grow as an actor.
But really, I pick the titles that pay the best. I know, I know, that’s so terrible of me. My high school drama teacher is turning over in his grave right now. But honestly, this is a job. And I’m not so in demand that I can turn titles down or be picky. At the most basic level, I’m a freelancer and I’ve got bills to pay. I don’t have the luxury of turning down work.
How long does it take you to prepare a book? The World Beneath is 7 hours and change long. How many hours did you work on it?
The first step is prep: I have to read the book cover to cover before I record. Then once that’s done and recording begins, it’s about a 4:1 work ration. So at about 7 hours, The World Beneath took me about 28-30 hours to fully produce.
Do you do any warm up voice exercises? If so, what?
Not usually. By 10am my voice is ready to go. If I really need to warm up, I find dirty limericks do the trick.
Maybe you should post that warm up on YouTube. What’s your least favorite thing to read aloud and why?
Anything poorly written. I know, that sounds like a cop-out, but nothing makes my job more miserable than narrating some dull, stupid, or wordy tome. I get a fair number of text book authors asking me to make their books into audio and a lot of time, it’s just not possible. The stuff is too date-driven, math-heavy, or whatnot. That’s when the job gets tedious and loses all the fun.
What’s your favorite thing to read aloud and why?
I love all manner of fiction, but I seem to gravitate more toward thrillers and mysteries, simply because that’s what I used to love to read (when I actually had time to read anything for me). I also really enjoy doing YA titles. There’s something very rewarding about doing books that encourage young people to read. And YES, listening to an audiobook IS reading!
I count it. After all, everyone counts it when you read bed-time stories to kids, right?
Now I’m going to move on to the really tough questions, the ones posted on Facebook.
From Rebecca C (but not me):
How are they able to read for so long? I get tired after reading out loud for 10 minutes with my kids. Does he take a break in the recording after every chapter.
This is one of the challenges of my job: stamina. They key is to pace yourself, take breaks, but get back on it. It takes time to build up stamina and the mindset to keep pushing, and after 150 books, it can still be a challenge. I don’t know of any audiobook narrator who doesn’t struggle with the fairly grueling deadlines and their vocal stamina.
From Kay P:
Well, I’m a bit weird and reading the book made me want to go exploring old abandoned train tunnels, yes we do have some in Australia. Wondering if reading the book sparked your curiosity of the underground.
Actually, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this book. I’d heard about the mole people who live underground in the tunnels and the communities that they formed. So from the outset, this title piqued my interest. Now, I want to know how much of what Rebecca wrote about the tunnel system was true and how much was her imagination!
From Kieran Crowley:
does he have a subterranean voice?
If by “subterranean” you mean a bit pinched and nasally, then yes! Yes I do!
From Heather S: How he got started doing audio books. And any advice to other VO artists, on how to stand out.
[From Rebecca: I already asked about he got started above, but here are his answers to the other questions]
Listen! As voice people, we need to stop talking and LISTEN. Listen to how audiobooks are created, the pacing, the editing, the breathing patterns. Listen to commercials to see how they’re produced and what the actor is doing. If you have no experience, then take acting classes, because that’s what this job is all about.
I think that sums Jeff’s work up perfectly—a wonderful performance. Thanks, Jeff, for stopping by, and for lending your talent to Joe Tesla and me.
To learn more about the talented Jeffrey Kafer you can visit his web sites (http://audiobook-voice-over.com) and (http://JeffreyKafer.com) and follow him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jeffreykafer).