Meeting the voice inside my head: the creation of an audiobook

microphoneI am an avid audiobook fan. In fact, most of my non-fiction reading gets done via audiobooks which I listen to on my iPod while I walk to and from the gym every day. I wouldn’t get around to half the books I’ve enjoyed without audiobooks. I LOVE THEM!

And so, now that I think about it, it’s rather odd that it took me so long to look into getting an audiobook done of my first Garden of Allah novel, The Garden on Sunset. Maybe because it’s fiction and I tend to associate audiobooks with non-fiction? At any rate, I was reading one of my favorite blogs on self-publishing –, who is about as savvy as savvy gets – and she talked about a website called Audiobook Creation Exchange which pairs authors with voice over actors.

acx-logoI signed up straightaway.

I was excited at the thought of having my own audiobook for sale and happily filled in all the usual fields—copyright owner’s name, book category and genre—but then was stopped cold by the section which asks you to:

Describe the ideal narrator’s voice:

I’ll admit that more than a couple of times in the past, I’ve daydreamed of having my novels translated to audiobooks, but at no time did I stop to think about whose voice the books would be read in. Like most of us, I find it hard to stomach the sound of my own voice so all I knew was that the voice of my audiobook wasn’t going to be mine.

Fortunately, ACX has a list of options to help narrow down your choices. That is to say, it is a help but the list is virtually endless.

Under GENDER, they have three choices—male, female and either. I’m a male so I always assumed the narrator would be male. But then again, two of my three lead characters are female so why not have a woman narrate it? So I chose Either.

Under AGE, they have seven choices, from Young Child to Elderly.

Under LANGUAGE, they have six choices, including Arabic and Japanese.

Under ACCENT, they have 30 choices, including six different American ones, as well as both Australian and New Zealand. To Aussie and Kiwi ears, the accents are different, but I’m surprised Amazon knew that.

Then came the big one: STYLE. No less than 62 choices of narration style are offered. The previous categories weren’t hard to choose, but faced with selecting just out of 62 possibilities suddenly became paralyzing.

I did have a voice in my head, but what did it sound like? Did it sound like me but more Professional? Authoritative? Inspirational? Persuasive? Or was it someone else altogether? And if it was, what did he sound like?

I knew I didn’t want it to be Sultry or Velvety or Spooky or Melodramatic or Submissive. I wasn’t even sure what a submissive voice sounded like although I guess the audiobook of Fifty Shades of Grey probably found it handy. Maybe I wanted Engaging or Versatile or perhaps even Quirky? Wistful? No. Storyteller? Perhaps. As two of my lead characters are female, Male Narrating A Female Part was a possibility.

I pondered this one quite a lot. As a frequent audiobook listener, I knew first hand that the quality of the narration directly informs the listening experience. The wrong voice can wreck an audiobook so this was an important decision. I decided that I wanted the listener to be fully involved in the story so I chose Engaging.

With all that decided, it was now time to find my narrator. ACX has over 11,000 narrators listed on their site. Their website allows you to narrow down your options according to the genre of books the narrators have listed themselves as being able to perform, as well as the languages they speak and the accents and styles they can do.

That left me with a list of only 159 narrators that could possibly be a good match. But it was better than 11,196 so I started at the start and spent about an hour listening to the sample recordings posted on their page. Six or seven voiceover actors later, I realized that it only took a maximum of fifteen seconds to know if this person was right or not. Usually more like ten.

John C. Zak - voice over artist / narrator

John C. Zak

After a while I began to wonder if perhaps this voice inside my head only existed inside my head. It dawned on me that it was quite possible that nobody had the voice I’d conjured. I needn’t have worried. On the fifth page I found John C. Zak who had everything I was looking for – depth, warmth, authority, fluidity. His samples were both articulate and friendly, soothing but engaging.

But would he be interested?

Recording every word of The Garden on Sunset—and be word perfect—would take him hours and hours and hours. Although you can offer your narrator a one-time fee, I assume most writers like myself choose the other payment option: going 50/50 on the royalties. A project like this could take hours of effort with no or little remuneration but there was no harm in asking.

John emailed back almost straight away and told me he’d be delighted to take on the project. He said that he had three other books to complete first which I didn’t mind. In fact, I was glad to hear it. Evidently, I’d chosen someone who was in demand.

So I made an official offer which he officially accepted and we set an official schedule for deliver of the first chapter—just to make sure that I liked what he was doing before he spent 9451 hours doing a voice I don’t care for.

But, again, I needn’t have worried. In due course John posted the first chapter of his narration and it was exactly what I wanted. Right off the bat! I gave him the go-ahead to record the rest of the book and the other day he announced to me that the audiobook was completed. So I listened to it and loved what he’d done. He put a lot of effort into giving my audiobook a narrative style that was at the same time crisp and clear, engaging and involving. He’s delivered an audiobook that’s highly listen-to-able (if that’s a word) and I’m very happy to make it available now to via


"The Garden on Sunset" by Martin Turnbull - Audiobook cover

About Martin Turnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author of a series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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9 Responses to Meeting the voice inside my head: the creation of an audiobook

  1. William M. Burns/Marlea Evans Burns says:

    So interesting…..will listen. Bill would have been better. He needs to submit to Amazon, as, well, what category?

  2. Jaye says:

    You always make me laugh. Submissive… Congratulations, Martin. This is wonderful news. I’m very happy you found your voice-mate.

  3. Linda Mansouria says:

    Martin, this is extremely interesting. I had no idea that the thought for a Book on Tape was something you were pursuing. Congratulations and I’m pleased you found your voice partner.

  4. James says:

    Way to go! I pinned this page on the Hollywood Book Chat!

  5. Pamela says:

    Congratulations! I’m working on ACX on two books right now, and I’m so excited to hear about your success with your voice mate 🙂

  6. Diane Clark says:

    Way to go Martin! There is a great audience for audio books out there. I used to play them in the car when I had a long work commute. And my dad was legally blind for the last 10 years of his life, so I’d send him audio books whenever I ran across some that I thought he might like. Interesting to hear about the process of selecting “the voice.”

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