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Spotlight: Audiobook Narrator, J. Scott Bennett

Behind the scenes of the audiobook industry:

An exclusive interview with narrator, J. Scott Bennett.

J. Scott Bennett holds the narrator record for the most number of audiobooks listed with AudioFreebies.com. Scott is a husband, father, middle school teacher, Vespa scooter enthusiast, Air Force veteran, self-confessed book nerd and Audible-approved audiobook narrator.

Welcome, Scott!  Tell us about your journey as an audiobook narrator. 

I’ve been making audiobooks for about 4 ½ years now (started in summer of 2015). My latest count is about 215 – but a few of those projects were box sets of other books I had produced, so right around 200.

How did you come to be an audiobook narrator?

I was a middle school reading teacher looking for a way to fill my time during summer vacation. I began reading books for Librivox and noticed mention on the forums about ACX and how one could make books for Audible and actually get paid doing it.  I thought it would be something to explore to supplement my teaching income – glad I did. I already had set up a pretty decent home recording studio doing the Librivox books, so I was ready to make the transition.

What else do you do besides narration?

I continue to work as a public school teacher. Now, however, I teach world history instead of reading. (One has to be flexible in the school system to meet the needs.)

What have been some milestones in your career? 

Getting coaching from some experienced pros helped immensely.  Becoming an “Audible Approved” narrator was a cool milestone. I was also a finalist twice for an Audiobook Listener Award (2018, and 2019).

What does a typical audiobook production day look like for you?

One of the things I love about producing audiobooks is that each day is different with each new book. From the work side of things, I do have some routine though. During the week, when school is in session, I start about an hour after I get home, and record for 3 to 4 hours. On weekends, I work most of the day on Saturday, and for a few hours on Sunday afternoon.  In the summer when school is not in session, I stay busy constantly. My production really picks up then.

What aspects of narration are fun?  What do you love about what you do?

I enjoy getting to read so many wonderful stories. For me, some of the greatest joy is when I’m pre-reading the book and mapping out the book and playing with different character voices. Of course, actually getting to record the books are a lot of fun too.  I really enjoy the performance aspect of the job.

What aspects are not so fun.  What do you like the least?

Getting a cold and having to wait to record is very frustrating.  No fun there. Recording pick-ups can also be a drag when I discover how many mis-reads or mistakes I made.

What is your favourite genre to narrate?

I like most genres and have recorded a variety of different style books. However, I suppose my favorite would have to be Fantasy, LitRPG. I enjoy these, because there is often such a variety of characters and fantastic situations.  Action is high. But there really isn’t a genre I don’t like.

How much input do you get from the author of a book you’re narrating?  

I’ll take as much input as the author or rights’ holder is willing to offer.  But I always like the challenge when an author hands over a book and says “do your thing.”  It gives me a lot of latitude to interpret things the way I envision a reader might.

Where do you find inspiration or get clues as to how to narrate the book? 

I try to listen to a lot of different audiobooks, and learn from what others are doing.

Tell me about the voices you use for different characters.  How do you decide what voice to give each character?

If a character is well-written and the author describes him/her well, I try to stay as true to that as I can. If not much is said about a character, I like to use my imagination a lot, and give a variety of voices.  Naturally, I want to give the characters enough of a unique voice so that the listener isn’t left wondering who is talking.

Do you ever play against type or against an obvious choice? 

I do like to play against types from time to time. That can be a fun challenge. But in the end, I try to inhabit the character, and make them “real people” and not stereotypes. I spent several sessions with a good acting coach on this, and it was very helpful.

Is yours a creative job or a technical job, do you think?

Mostly it’s a creative job, I’d say.  Sure, there is the mechanics of recording and such, but my guess would be that 90% of it is just plain old story-telling and trying to  keep the listener interested.

Do you love or hate doing foreign accents?

I don’t love it or hate it, per se; I do like it sometimes, though.  If there are too many foreign accents (and some that I’m not comfortable with), I will try to find out ahead of time.  That can affect whether I accept the book.

Probably my biggest challenge is not sounding too southern (since I am from Tennessee). I always get a laugh when someone reviews a book and says my southern accent sounds phoney.  Ha!  As for the other accents, I try to give the hint or suggestion of them. But I have taken courses on different accents – but it’s always tough not to slip back into my regular voice.

What’s the strangest thing about doing what you do, compared to other jobs?

Sitting for hours in a padded box gets old – fast. It can be very lonely too.  And if I don’t remember to open the door and get ventilation it will affect my voice. Also, if I don’t take frequent breaks to rehydrate and refresh myself mentally, the performance can suffer.  I like to play a song or two on my kalimba in between sessions. I’m not very good, but it’s fun and gives me a break. Also, recognizing when I’m “done” for the day is key. The voice gets tired after a while, and even if I want to push on and get “just one more chapter” done, sometimes I have to force myself to quit.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become an audiobook narrator? 

Get coaching, even if you don’t think you need it.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get a “perfect” read.  Be prepared to record some books that you end up not making a lot of money on (if it’s royalty share), but keep going.  One will come along to make up for it (hopefully). Read as if you are actually talking to someone and telling them a story (because you are – an audience of one.  It’s very intimate – one on one listener at a time).

Most of all, have fun!

What advice would you give to an author wanting to get an audiobook produced?

No narrator is going to perfectly reproduce the “voice in your head” that you had when you wrote the thing. Let it go.  Let the producer be creative and be himself/herself. Be prepared to spend money on a nice cover.  And for the love of all that is good and wholesome – hire an editor or two! That said, mistakes will inevitably slip through.

What’s the favourite book you’ve narrated so far, and why?

It’s so hard to pick just one. It would either be the Sorcerer’s Saga (a six-book series), Tourists of the Apocalypse, or the Montana Mail Order Bride series. (There were about 20 books in that series, and I did most of them.  I came to love the characters so much, that I missed them when the series was finished.)

What are you narrating right now?  (Or what has just been released/ is about to be release?  Or what are the book/s you’re going to narrate next?)

I am currently recording the third Paxton Locke book – Come Seeling Night. It’s kind of a cross between the X-files and Stranger Things.

Next up is the second book in the Dark Path LitRPG series. I’m really excited to begin it too.

AudioFreebies thanks Scott for making himself available for this exclusive interview.

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