Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hotel for Dogs

Hotel for Dogs
by Lois Duncan
narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Scholastic Audio
3.45 hours

Hotel for Dogs is the story of two children who have been re-located across the country to a suburban home on the East Coast and, encounter a number of dogs that complicate their lives. Lonely, living as guests in their fastidious great aunt's home, trying to fit in at school, and defending themselves against the neighborhood bully, twelve-year old Bruce and soon-to-be-eleven year old Andi struggle to adjust in/to their new environs. To matters more difficult, some dogs come to Bruce and Andi's attention, dogs that need care. Unable to shelter the dogs in their aunt's home, Bruce and Andi come up with a plan...

Hotel for Dogs is a children's book that plays out fairly realistically when it comes to portraying the relationships between all the characters. The parents are authority figures, not best friends in disguise; The threats of the bully provoke concern; Bruce and Andi are average kids, not precocious child prodigies... The overall feel of the book is somewhat Disney-fied though: the children a have a bit more autonomy than children would have in real life, there's a surprise revelation about prissy old Aunt Alice and, of course a HEA ending.

Katherine Kellgren raises the bar when it comes to narrating children's titles. Character voices are delivered expertly and without condescension. The range of her character repertoire is excellent not only in terms of vocal range; but in terms of conveying the right emotion behind the lines. Ms Kellgren doesn't pull back and what she delivers is a compelling story. [So compelling, in fact that my eight-year old insisted on sitting in the car until the story had finished.]

There is no bad language, sex or extreme violence; but there is tension, white lies and, the kids do things they know are wrong. One of the dogs is hand-struck by a bully. Parents may need to explain film cameras, slide projectors and, animal shelters (why Bruce and Andi are reluctant to surrender the dogs to a shelter.)

Other Stuff: I purchased a digital dnload copy of this title through iTunes.

This book qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. Hotel for Dogs is set in the fictional town of Elmwood, NJ.

View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map

Also, even though there are dogs on the cover of the book, it doesn't make you cry and, no dogs die in the story :-)

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Pink Chair: The Audiobook Demo, The Candidate's Cold Call

In the telemarketing industry, a cold call is an unsolicited phone call made to a home or business. No prior relationship exists between the caller and the person picking up the phone. As the recipient of the phone call, you have the option of putting your phone number on the national Do Not Call Registry, hanging up on the caller, getting a cell phone (no solicitation calls are legally permitted to cell phones), or executing an elaborate vendetta to have the caller brought to the Florida Keys a la Nature Girl (by Carl Hiassen; narrated by Lee Adams.) In the audiobook industry, the unsolicited demo is the equivalent of a cold call and, just as in the telemarketing industry wherein only about 2% of the calls yield any results, the unsolicited demo is a long shot. At the company I work for, we get a couple of hundred of demos a week. Most of these demos are e-mailed to the studio director; but a not-insignificant number of these demos are flash-drives and CDs sent to the office. Following are a couple of observations about the material sent to the studio director's office:

  • There must be a course or class or workshop out there that takes people's money and tells them that branding is key. And that branding means spending a lot of time on a print image and packaging. A lot of CDs come into the office with elaborate photoshopped covers that tell the studio director's office very little if anything about the candidate other than s/he had a lot of time on their hands to create this package. The Studio Director is going to be listening to the sound samples, not judging the book by its cover. The CD that comes in with Sharpie scrawled all over it is going to get the same opportunity as the slickly packaged demo. That said, there was one over-produced demo that worked against the candidate: The packaging was so terrible that the first thought crossing our minds was, "[S/He] had better be really good if they sent us this." That candidate had to work against the packaging to start with. On the other hand, I received possibly the best demo package ever from John McLain. He walked up to me, said he liked to narrate Westerns and, gave me a CD that had an image of a cowboy boot with a headset on it. John McLain, Westerns and the cowboy boot are forever linked in my mind.
  • HELPFUL HINT: Branding is about your working reputation. Period.

  • Quite a few demos come in pieces. There's the CD or flash drive, a cover letter, a resume, a headshot, a business card, a QR code and sometimes even a promotional bit of kitsch like a bookmark, magnet or toy. That's a lot of stuff to keep together. And guess what? A lot of times this stuff gets separated - unintentionally, but it happens. The more pieces to the submission that there are, the more likely it is that pieces will be lost. Worst case scenario is when we have a great demo in hand, but can't find the contact info that accompanied it. Best case scenario, everything is in one unit, a business card slid inside the jewel case or contact info printed on the CD or flash drive.
  • HELPFUL HINT: Keep it simple. n.b. There are no pieces to be lost in an e-mail. Also, consider using an file upload service like

  • Some demos arrive with a cover letter addressed "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Friends." Really? You couldn't take the 30 seconds to google the correct contact person? Or a minute to make a phone call to the company to find out who to send the demo to? But you want us to spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to listen and evaluate your demo? Don't think so. Hate to say it, but these demos often do not get any consideration at all.
  • HELPFUL HINT: Make the call. Google it. Find out who you're sending your demo to.

  • And finally, a word about follow-ups. Owing to the volume of demos received, it can take eons to get to your demo. A candidate may become discouraged after not hearing from the audiobook publisher after days, weeks, months... If you're wondering if we've even received your demo, you're best bet would be to pay for Delivery Confirmation from the United States Postal Service. For my part, I'm working on a standard e-mail acknowledgment of receipt --- one that doesn't lead the submitter to then expect immediate feedback and/or work. Still, continually checking up to see where your demo is, if we've listened to it yet, if we have work for you... does nothing more than clutter up the voice mail and e-mail inboxes. This is a common sight on Monday morning: Inbox.
  • HELPFUL HINT: Be patient. We're working on it. Really.
Next up on The Pink Chair:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?

Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?
by Steven Tyler with David Dalton
narrated by Jeremy Davidson
13.0 hours

If you've ever been caught singing "Dream On" while strumming on an air guitar and listening to your Walkman...; If you were one of those staring in hurt bewilderment at a Joe Perry Project logo stenciled into the sidewalk outside of the Narcissus nightclub in Boston...; If your heart soared at the sight of a flying piano... Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? is for you!

Ostensibly the memoir of Aerosmith's lead singer, Steven Tyler, there is no denying that it has to be a history of the band as well if only because Steven Tyler has been the lead singer for over two-thirds of his life. Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? is a recounting of a life of seeming cliche: drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll; but it is much more because it is the story of an icon who helped forge the cliche into the consciousness of every burgeoning American adolescent mind. The excesses described are not for the prudish. Hardly an apologia, Steve Tyler describes his rock 'n' roll lifestyle and the circuitous route to the man he is today. It's a fascinating look into Steven Tyler's mind, like dipping your toe into a stream of unconsciousness.

Jeremy Davidson does a remarkable job, for all that he is not Steven Tyler, of narrating this memoir. While purists may prefer authors to narrate their autobiographies, the choice of Jeremy Davidson is a solid one. Mr. Davidson has a more distinctive New York (?) accent than Steven Tyler, but the spirit of Steven Tyler's oral history is so strong, the free-form scat so distinctive, that the listener can hear Steven Tyler through Jeremy Davidson. Jeremy Davidson speaks clearly, attentively and, does not get in the way of the text.

There is a bit at the end if the book in which Steven Tyler talks about the book itself. While superficially seeming to be a free-associative ramble, the monologue is actually structured to highlight the key themes of the book. It also inadvertently gives props to David Dalton for organizing Steven Tyler's story into the book and, to Jeremy Davidson's clear rendition of the same text. Early in the listening experience of the memoir itself, one might think that Steven Tyler's words were tempered by either/both David Dalton and Jeremy Davidson; but it becomes clear in the monologue that both men served the text well and were about as transparent in delivering their respective trade crafts as you could want. Steven Tyler might have brought in some added value as the narrator of his own memoir, but while he could probably have gotten away with singing the lyrics embedded in the text; he wouldn't have been singing the whole text, i.e. Steven Tyler is a singer, not a narrator. His distinctively raspy voice and verbal pauses might not have worn well over the thirteen hours. It's also had to imagine him being tethered to his own text, even if he did write it himself!

Other Stuff: I received a review copy of Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? upon request from Harper Audio, Inc.

Wordless Wednesday: Aerosmith "Pump" Tour T-Shirt (Reverse)

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Pink Chair: Casting for an Audiobook

A few weeks ago, I mentioned "The Cattle Call" and "Auditions" on twitter and one of my followers wanted to know the difference. What follows are a couple of brief and general descriptions of the types of ways an audiobook can be cast:

THE CATTLE CALL: Every once in a while a studio may throw open its doors and take in live auditions. This is not casting for a specific book nor is it a search for someone specific in terms of type. Word is sent out, perhaps through an announcement in a trade publication, and candidates are asked to schedule a time slot with the studio. Once in the studio, the candidate is asked to read either material they have brought and/or; material that the studio has prepared. There are always huge numbers of people who respond to the The Cattle Call.
PROS: This is where you can find a "Natural," a previously unheard talent who has the potential to become a narrator. It's like finding a hundred dollar bill in your old suit jacket.
CONS: "Naturals" are rare and so the time and money spent by both the studio and the candidates is relatively deep. Also, many candidates view The Cattle Call as a workshop instead of an open call. Months later, the audiobook publisher is often still fielding phone calls from candidates who want more of an acknowledgement, some sort of customized evaluation and/or feedback. There is a statement on the sign-up sheet to the effect that, owing to the large number of respondents, any feedback beyond beyond what might be given in the studio, is just not possible. It's variation of "Please don't call us, we'll call you." Sadly, many overlook this and what follows are many awkward phone calls and e-mails to the casting director and his staff.

DEMOS: The demo is an unsolicited sample of work sent in to the audiobook publisher. These are are sent in via e-mail, CDs, flash drives and every once in a while, a written missive directing the reader to a web-site. Demos arrive by the hundreds every week.
PROS: Having samples on hand is a great way to keep potential narrators on tap.
CONS: Owing to the number of demos received, staying on top of it all (from the casting director's point of view) is a Sisyphean task. People who send demos in are often discouraged when they haven't heard back from the casting director. Again, many awkward e-mails and phone calls ensue.

AUDITIONS: This is the call for a specific type of voice for a specific type of book. The book may call for a young British female vampire slayer. The casting director asks all his young female British narrators to send in a sample and then a selection is made. Auditions are usually called for when the contract calls for author approval of the narrator; or when the production is a co-publication (another party is involved in the production) and they also want a say as to who gets cast. Generally, the sampling pool consists of three or four auditions.
PROS: This is a relatively efficient way to ensure that all parties involved are satisfied and on the same page. There are no unpleasant surprises. There are relatively few awkward phone calls/e-mails.
CONS: Sometimes the type called for can be too specific (e.g. " a young British female vampire slayer who has fluency in Mandarin Chinese who can get this audiobook done in the next ten days.") This means that the possible pool of candidates is rather shallow to begin with and; if the author/other party isn't satisfied with the auditions, the audiobook can actually be in jeopardy. Many nervous phone calls/e-mails and a second round of auditions ensue.

THE SUSHI DINER: This is pretty much the inner sanctum. Auditions aren't called for so it's up to the casting director to decide who gets to narrate any given title. Deliberations are made in the office, over lunch at a local sushi diner, in the car on the way into work... At any given moment there are about twelve books for every hundred narrators wanting work.
PROS: Matching up the perfect narrator for a book is immensely gratifying.
CONS: There isn't a book available for every narrator. The thing is, consideration for the book must come first. It's not about finding narrators work. It's about finding the right narrator for each and every title. The phone calls/e-mails at this point are something beyond awkward - mostly from narrators who don't have a book.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Flashback Friday: 1984

In Monday's feature, The Pink Chair: Where's My 1984, Narrated by Simon Vance?, I talked a little bit about rights and mentioned that Blackstone Audio, Inc. currently holds the exclusive rights to the straight narration of 1984 (by George Orwell.) Though you can't get the audiobook as narrated by Simon Vance, I happen to think that the audiobook produced by Blackstone is pretty good! In fact, it's one of the titles in my personal Pantheon of All-Time Great Audiobooks! Some other people think it's pretty good too because it was a 2008 Audie Award Finalist in the category of Classics. LOL, I always love validation of my good tastes!
I listened to the audio in January of 2009 and below is my journal entry from that time:

by George Orwell
narrated by Simon Prebble
11.40 Hours

> For those who have not read “1984” or read it and forgotten it, “1984” is a novel published in 1949 about the totalitarian society that George Orwell imagined in place by 1984. Superficially, it is an expression of the post-war zeitgeist, which was still tainted with the bitter after-taste of Nazism, Fascism and, confronted with new fears of Stalinism and The Atomic Age. On a more academic level, it is a political treatise about citizen complacency and, the mechanics and motives for power. The story itself contains finely wrought tension and sere descriptions of time, place, and character. There is a horrific quality to the story and you need to remind yourself that, this is a work of fiction. This is a near definitive narration of a novel, SP shaping the text with nuance and boldness alike. Small narration and production issues prevented me from grading this higher: A slight lisp tended to spike against the eardrums a bit, causing me to change out headsets to more forgiving speakers; The narrator sounded a slightly rushed in the final tracks; The overall recording is mastered at a very high volume causing me to lower the gain and; finally, there wasn’t an auditory cue to delineate the end of the story from the Appendix (even a longer pause would have been nice.)

Other Stuff: I borrowed a MP3-CD edition of 1984 from Blackstone Audio, Inc. The production issues mentioned above may have since been or probably were taken care of since then; so you need to take my comments with a grain of salt :-/

Monday, June 6, 2011

Casino Royale

Casino Royale
by Ian Fleming
narrated by Simon Vance
4.6 hours

Casino Royale is the first published adventure of James Bond. The difference between Ian Fleming Bond and Hollywood's Bond is shocking! Ian Fleming's 007 is a cold, calculating, misogynistic agent hardly immune to the vicissitudes of his trade. Casino Royale is a short novel pitting Bond against LeChiffre (a SMERSH agent) at the baccarat tables in Royale, France. The tension builds as the fates of both men ride on the flip of a card... Ultimately, as far removed from the sexy playboys of Broccoli's productions as this Bond is, this Bond is much more character-rich and interesting. Simon Vance is delivers the drama with suaveness, dropping foreign phrases casually and overall with the sophistication expected of a cosmopolitan agent.

Other Stuff: I borrowed a library-CD edition of Casino Royale from Blackstone Audio, Inc. Casino Royale is the first book to be featured in lithousewife's campaign, Shaken, Not Stirred, a Simon Vance Audiobook Challenge featuring James Bond. Join lithousewife in listening to one or all of the James Bond novels as narrated by Simon Vance and, in watching the movies! There are giveaways and fun to be had!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Pink Chair: Where's my 1984, Narrated by Simon Vance?

The Pink Chair is a new feature on this blog that will provide more fully developed responses to questions I've come across on twitter. Why "The Pink Chair?" The founder of Blackstone Audio has a pink suede chair in his office. If I were to to wake up one morning as Queen of Audiobooks, my first course of action would be to claim that chair and dispense my wisdom from it, splicing block in one hand, talkback mic in the other! Really, I want that chair! (Let a girl dream, will ya?)


Well, there it is, right on Simon Vance's "audiography:" second entry, 1984 by George Orwell. If you're a Simon Vance fan, you may try and locate a copy of this audiobook, but to no avail. A quick search on the internet reveals six extant narrations of George Orwell's classic dystopian tale:
  • 1984 (dramatized; performed by NBC University Theater; ABN 1983)
  • 1984 (performed by Richard Green; Books on Tape; 1984)
  • 1984 (narrated by Frank Muller; Recorded Books; 1986)
  • 1984 (narrated by Richard Brown; Blackstone Audio, Inc.; 1991)
  • 1984 (narrated by Simon Prebble; Blackstone Audio, Inc.; 2007)
  • 1984: Retro Audio (dramatised; narrated by David Niven; Andrews UK Limited; 2008)
So now there are several questions that come to mind, the primary one being:
"Why can't I get a copy of 1984 by George Orwell as narrated by Simon Vance?"

Hmm, a check with Simon Vance himself reveals that he recorded the book for Books on Tape but it does not appear that his recording for them has survived. The closest you might get would be the the one performed by the late Richard Green. It's possible to track down a cassette edition of this title through your library or through InterLibraryLoan (ILL); but it is not currently being issued by Random House Audio/Books on Tape nor is it legally available for digital dnload.

"So what happened to Simon Vance's recording? Is it in a secret vault somewhere?"

I don't really know. Books on Tape may have never released the recording and the masters may be sitting on a shelf somewhere. Or not. It is not known how much of the Books on Tape recordings were archived when Random House Audio purchased BOT. Regardless, even if the masters are intact, Random House Audio/Books on Tape cannot legally market or distribute the recording because Blackstone Audio, Inc. currently holds the exclusive rights to the narrated version of 1984.

"Wait a minute, I see other Classics that are being offered by multiple audiobook publishers. Why not this one?"

Other Classics like, Pride & Prejudice (by Jane Austen) are in the Public Domain. This means that they were published before 1923 and/or 95 years ago. Public Domain titles no longer have rights attached to them, meaning, in the audiobook industry, that there is no one to whom the audiobook publishers must pay for the right to record those titles. Anyone can, and many do, record, market and distribute Public Domain titles. Classic though it may be, 1984 was written in 1948, meaning that it is not a Public Domain title. The rights to record 1984 had to be purchased by an audiobook company from Harcourt Press and Sonia Brownell Orwell.

When negotiating rights to a title, there are exclusive and non-exclusive options. Exclusive rights mean that only one audiobook publisher is marketing and distributing the title. Non-exclusive rights means that more than one audiobook publisher can publish the same title. Exclusive rights are preferable from both the rights holder's and the audiobook publisher's perspective as then there aren't the titles competing against themselves or splitting the vote as it were. Exclusive rights have passed from Books on Tape and Recorded Books and now are held by Blackstone Audio, Inc. Rights expire after a set period of time and need to be renewed or re-negotiated. In this case, Blackstone Audio, Inc. picked up the rights in 1991 and renewed most recently in 2007.

Audio dramatizations are a totally different thing and negotiated separately/in another clause so you can go find at least two audio dramas of 1984 on right now in addition to the straight narration.

Next week from The Pink Chair: