Inside scoop on audio book narration by Jeff Kafer
Tell us a little about Jeffrey Kafer, the individual.
I currently live in Seattle with my wife and 2 kids, aged 10 and 13. I enjoy movies, music, video games, my 2 dogs, and long walks on the beach.
How did you get into the business of narrating audio books?
I started doing voice over work while I was working at Microsoft. 3 years later, I was hit by layoffs and figured that I could either try to find a job, or transition my part time gig into my full-time job. Took the leap and five years later, I haven’t looked back. As for audiobooks, I got my start doing a couple of free books at Podiobooks.com. I got the attention of an author named Jeremy Robinson and he hired me to narrate two of his books. He was picked up by Audible for his next books and he requested that I narrate them. That was my foot in the door. Since then, I’ve narrated about 120 books.
What is the process like? I doubt if any of my readers (like me before this project) understand how this works.
The first step is to read the book. Cover to cover so I know who is who and what happens to the characters. This is also the time to look up words, names, and places that I might not know how to say. A lot of people try to skip this and just do it cold, but doing so successfully is a rare skill. As my pal Johnny Heller said, if you don’t know how the joke ends, you can’t know how to tell the setup.
The next step is recording. For me, it takes about 3 hours to record one hour of finished audio. I try to budget 2 hours of finished audio per day. Knowing this I can plan my time. If a book is going to be 10 hours, then I know I need a week to record it.
Next it goes to a proofer. This person is responsible for listening to the entire book while following along in the manuscript to make sure every word is correct. They also listen for stray noises or words I may have mispronounced. Basically, they are the last line of defense before the customer gets it, so they have a very important job.
Next, I fix all the issues that the proofer finds. And finally, I master it, which is a technical meat grinder consisting of EQ, compression, gating, limiting, blah blah. In short, it makes everything sound good.
And that’s it. Your book becomes listenable to people in cars, at the gym, gardening, etc.
I would think that keeping voices consistent would be a challenge, especially with a book that has a lot of different characters. Is there a trick? Does it just come naturally?
It does come naturally, especially as I get into the book. Just as the reader doesn’t have any problem keeping track of characters in their head, I can usually manage. Sometimes, I do resort to a trick, though. If I know a character shows up in the beginning and then disappears until the end, I will often snip out a piece of the character speaking, label it Bob_Smith.mp3 (or whatever the character’s name is) and save it to the side. Then I can refer to it later when I need to.
What is the most important skill a narrator must have?
Acting, plain and simple. It’s not about having a good voice, it’s about being able to tell a story in an engaging way with believable characters and emotion. An audiobook is a one man (or woman) play and the actor has ALL the roles. AND they have to be able to switch characters on a dime.
Have you ever narrated a book you didn’t like (don’t name names). If so, how did you deal with it?
Yes. Smile, do the job, cash the check.
As a man, how did you feel recording a romance? Did it affect your view of the genre?
I did a Harlequin romance once before, so I knew what I was getting into with AFTER THE FIRE. As a guy, I had no problem getting into it. Once again, it’s a story. And it’s my job to tell it. If I get embarrassed by doing love scenes or whatever, then I’m not being very professional. My job is to fully commit to the story and give it my best. That’s what I try to do every day, regardless of whether it’s romance, YA, mystery, or comedy.
You mentioned some experience with firefighting videos. Could you tell us about that?
I’ve narrated at least 50 or 60 firefighter training videos for a company called Health and Safety Institute. They really helped me to understand the lingo and be comfortable with some of the more technical aspects of AFTER THE FIRE. They’re interesting videos, but I find them lacking in romance and character development.
My books have explicit sex scenes and cursing. Have you ever felt squeamish about recording them?
Nope, I’m cool with all of it. These are the characters talking and doing things and it’s important to be faithful to the writing. If someone can’t handle adult subject matter, then maybe this ain’t the job for them. It takes a lot to scare me away and I’ve even done some erotica under a nom de plume. No, I won’t tell you what it is.
Do you listen to audio books yourself?
Ya know, I used to. When I was working at Microsoft, I was a voracious listener during my commute. The last book I listened to was Ready Player One narrated by Will Wheaton. My family and I listened over the holidays on a road trip. Now that I’m so busy narrating my own, I don’t get a chance to listen. Heck, I don’t even get a chance to READ books I want to read. I’m either narrating or pre-reading my next one. Not expecting any sympathy here, just telling you the way things are. After all, I READ BOOKS FOR A LIVING. How cool is that?
If you could record one special book that you love, that you have read over and over, what would it be?
FLOWERS FOR ALGENON. Of all the required reading from my childhood, this is the one that really sticks with me. It was the first time that I read a book and thought, holy shit, this is going to stick with me for a long time. Some others I’d love to do are BOY’S LIFE by Robert McCammon and THE CHOCOLATE WAR by Robert Cormier. Not coincidentally, these are all books that I read when I was a kid and nurtured my love of reading.