Q&A with Robin Sitten, Cork Wars audiobook producer
Making an audiobook is a creative partnership. ACX facilitates the exchange between authors and voice artists to make for a satisfying listening experience. For Cork Wars, I worked with Robin J. Sitten, a producer with a track record of great audio books. We talked about the challenges, choices and satisfactions of bringing a compelling story to listeners.
How did you get started with audiobooks and Audible?
Robin Sitten: My relationship to audiobooks began with Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic (now called Learning Ally) as a textbook reader and director in 1995. It was delightfully rewarding volunteer work for 20 years, as the format changed from multi-track reel-to-reel tapes to digital downloads. I was also a program host for Radio Reading Service, where we presented all types of audio information for listeners with various print disabilities. Following a job change, and a significant change in salary, I determined that my volunteer work needed to covert to paid work. Audible’s ACX program, which matches narrators and authors, was right on time for me.
You tackle a remarkable range of projects—suspense, history, fantasy and more. What factors play into which ones you choose?
The ACX collection is as broad as any library, and I do like to vary my experiences. I tend toward nonfiction because of my reading style. A lot of audiobook production has become theatrical in style. I understand that a lot of readers prefer this radio theatre approach and many authors have that style in mind for their novel. Nonfiction and memoirs are better matches for my style and experience. At the same time, of course, I have to consider financial factors. How much time will this book require to record and edit? What is the contract deal, and what kind of audience response can I anticipate?
For Cork Wars, what drew you to the project?
I remember telling my social media followers this was the best match of narrator and project that I had had in a long while. The history is intriguing for sure, and the personal stories make it accessible for popular readers. It reminds me of two of my favorite history/social impact books of this type: Curse of the Narrows, by Laura MacDonald, and Paul Benzaquin’s examination of the 1942 Boston Cocoanut Grove fire, titled Holocaust. I was impressed Cork Wars was published by Johns Hopkins University Press, which I knew would give it marketing support and authority.
What was the biggest challenge in conveying the story?
Portuguese vowels! Some names are pronounced differently in Portuguese, Spanish, or Catalan, not to mention English! I watched a lot of YouTube tutorials on pronouncing these sounds.
What’s your approach to bringing characters to life? What research do you do?
With this book, the geography required some research. Just finding a video or audio clip of a place or a name pronounced was an important quality check for me. With the characters in this story (and any story) I don’t do “voices” as much as I find a tone of delivery. If the text provides this information for me, I adhere to it (for example, he was a quick-tempered impatient man, or she is always thoughtful and pragmatic…). Where these are real people, I was not going to try to imitate someone, or decide what they sounded like.
Have you had experiences where a scene played out in a way you didn’t expect?
With Learning Ally, we rarely read the same book more than once, to keep the production moving. So I learned from the beginning to read text like sheet music, and sometimes the twists and turns are as surprising to me as to any reader.
What’s coming up next?
I have one project in the works that is a third volume of a futuristic action series called The Children of Nostrodamus, by Jeremy Flagg. Full of fight sequences, and rooms full of characters. He’s doing interesting things with superhuman/mutant archetypes that are really fresh while staying true to the genre. After that, I will probably start new rounds of auditions.
Audiobooks are an important format for many people. I am surprised to hear there are still people who don’t consider audiobooks “real reading” — I guess more than anything, I am surprised they feel the need to have an opinion about that at all. Audiobooks aren’t for everybody, to be sure. Listening is a true skill and a learning style. For anyone with a print disability, whether that’s a visual impairment, a motor limitation, or a brain-based processing difficulty, audio extends an author’s reach to an audience they would otherwise miss. Digital technology has made this easier than printing a hardcover book to begin with. Authors and publishers ought to be discussing audiobooks as a matter of course.
It was extremely meaningful to me that we could make the audio and print editions of Cork Wars available at the same time. Thanks for making that happen.