Monday, October 21, 2013

Interview with Audiobook Narrator Jeffrey Kafer

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Jeffrey. Please, tell us a little about yourself, your interests, and how you became interested in narrating novels.

I'm an audiobook narrator and general voice over guy living in Seattle with my wife, two kids and two dogs. I first got interested in audiobooks when I was doing the 9 to 5 thing. I would listen to audiobooks voraciously on my commute to Microsoft. You can imagine how many audiobooks I burned through during my ten years of commuting. So, while I was still employed, I did a couple of free books for distribution on Then I got laid off and decided to turn that passion into my main gig. Luckily, Jeremy Robinson hired me to do Kronos as a podiobook and then Beneath. When his other titles, Pulse and Instinct were picked up for production by Audible, he very kindly requested that I narrate them. That was my proverbial foot in the door.

What skills did you have when you began your career as a narrator/voice over guy? What skills have you picked up along the way?

Any good audiobook narrator (or voice over artist in general) needs the ability to act. I grew up in theater starting at the age of 13. And while I still certainly have lots of things to learn, I started my narrator career with a good base of knowledge and instinct. Since I began, I've been learning to take what I know about stage acting and use the skills in a related, but different discipline. For example, where a stage actor needs to play to the whole house, audiobook narration is a much more intimate venue, with a one-to-one relationship between the narrator and the individual listener.

What three individuals would you love to discover have listened to and enjoyed your work—would make you say, “Now that is totally awesome!”

Stephen King, Dan Brown and William Shakespeare. The first two because maybe they'd convince their publisher to let me narrate their next books. The last guy because he died a few hundred years ago and it would prove the existence if time travel.

Didn’t expect time travel in the answer J

What things influence your decision to take on a project and narrate a novel, and what are some things that cause you or to pass on potential projects?

This is where I'm supposed to get artsy fartsy and say something like: "I like to do books with a rich narrative and complex characters that let me stretch as an actor." But in all reality, I'll narrate pretty much anything that comes with a paycheck. I know, I know. Some of your readers just threw up in their mouths a little, but let's be honest: this is a job. I have a wife and two kids who need food and pedicures and an eventual vacation to Hawaii. So while I certainly enjoy books that are fun and let me do actor-y things, I'm not a snob. I do my best to make sure even the most pedestrian of books come out as best they can. After all, I narrated books by David Wood, right?

Hahhahaha. David Wood visits this blog on occasion, but I suspect you know that ;)

Many novels have a variety of characters. How do you determine the voice of each character, including tone dialect variations, mannerisms, cadence, among other things to use when portraying them?
A lot of the time, the author is clear in their description. The other times, it's up to me to come up with something based on how the character feels as I'm doing the initial pre-read. That's when I get to be all actor-y. Really the key is to differentiate the main characters. There's no reason to do a full-on characterization for a character who shows up briefly, a waiter, for example. Those are throwaway characters and we don't focus on them as much. The main and recurring characters are the distinct ones that we focus most on and usually it just comes to us in the reading. What's really fun is when I interpret the character differently than the author intended. I suppose that's the subjective nature of art.

Are there any words or word combinations/phrases that, for some reason, your tongue always stumbles over and you sort of dread seeing in a novel you’re about to narrate?

Yep. "Community" is a tough word, believe it or not. "Clasped hands" is the bane of my existence. Can we just say they shook hands? Is there really that much "clasping" going on? I'm also look at you, "Grasps". On Facebook, I often have an audiobook "Could Not Say" status update in which I post words or phrases that trip me up that day. Like "Isthmus." Seriously? There is no reason for that word to exist.

Do you listen to audiobooks, for example, when driving? If so, has your experience as a narrator affected how you select, listen and enjoy them? Does anyone in your immediate family listen to any of the novels you've narrated? If so, has anything they said about them surprised you?

I don't have time to listen to any books. The last one I listened to was Ready Player One, narrated by Wil Wheaton and that was because we were on a family road trip. Aside from that, in my daily life, I don't have time to listen. As a matter of fact, I haven't even *read* a book for pleasure in several years. Whenever I have time to read, I'm always pre-reading the next book to narrate.

I don't think any of my family has listened to my books. I don't know of any family members that listen to audiobooks. As an unforgivable as that is, I don't want them to provide feedback, because family feedback is never honest or unbiased.

Better hope the local library doesn’t get word of your talent and recruit you for the children’s story hour J

What do you like to do to relax or blow off steam after a long day of recording?

I watch way more TV than anyone should ever admit in public. I was also a film student, so I love movies.

Especially over a long project, how do you keep consistent with character voices, including accents, inflections and pacing? Are there procedures or techniques you've developed?

There's a really simple trick: The first time I give a character a certain way of speaking (accent, nuance, whatever), I save a clip of his/her speech into a file called Bob_Jones.mp3 or whatever the character's name is. That way, I have a file to refer back to if the character hasn't been seen in a long time. But as I get more and more audiobooks under my belt, I'm finding I need to do this less. I guess I've just trained myself to make mental notes. But it's always good to have that character file tucked away, just in case.

Many people think their voice sounds far different recorded as opposed to how they hear it when they speak. When you record and save the clip, did it take time to develop the ear to match the voices and keep them consistent, or is it something that came naturally for you?

The biggest shocked question from people when they first begin is "OMG, is that how I sound?" And the answer is unequivocally, "Yep, sure is." But you get used to the sound of your own voice pretty quickly and learn how to use it as the tool that it is, not how you wish it would be.

As far as being consistent and matching, this comes from two things: 1) experience and 2) The context. A good author will make it so obvious how the character should sound that the clip is only necessary as a reminder. The rest is just the actor instincts of the narrator.

If an editor from a small press, or a self-published author heard some of your work and was interested in you narrating a novel, what would be the best route to take? Through Contact you directly? As already stated, if it comes with a paycheck, there’s a good chance you’d be interested. What would get you to say, “Yes”? A sales threshold (if you were to consider royalty share), or a guaranteed fee? Or something else?

If someone is ready to get started and would like to hire me, ACX is the best way to go. Just head over to my profile (Jeffrey Kafer ACX Profile) and make an offer. I recommend ACX not only for its ease of use, but because it has the most generous royalty going: 50% of the revenue. And it's run by Audible, so your book will be on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. They really are the only game in town.

As for my criteria, I'll narrate darn near anything if it's pay-for-production and meets my base rate. It must be completely done and edited. There is no "hey, I re-worked this chapter, can you do it over?" If there's sexuality in it, it must be consensual between the characters and they must be of legal age. It's sad that I have to say that, but I've gotten some books that.....

Royalty-share is a different story. I'm VERY careful about the titles I do on a royalty-share basis. The reason is that I hire a proofer, so out-the-door, I'm in the hole for a couple hundred bucks. I can't afford to take a huge risk. I'm more inclined to do a royalty share if 1) The book looks fun and not too difficult, 2) If you've got at least 1000+ sale per month (paid SALES, not free downloads), and 3) If you're a prolific author with lots of titles and are continually writing. I also take a look at amazon sales ranking and social media presence.

Seems reasonable.

As we’re closing in on the end of the interview, Jeffrey, is there anything you’d like to add or say to the readers here at Up Around the Corner?
A lot of authors find wading into the audiobook waters daunting. And it should not be tread lightly. There's significant cost and risk involved. But hopefully, I've been able to shed some light on it and clear the muddy waters a bit. I love talking audiobooks and the more the general public becomes aware of them as a viable medium for reading (and yes, it IS reading), then the better for all of us.

Where I can be found online:

Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions and I encourage readers/listeners to check out some of Jeffrey’s works. Top quality.


  1. Sadly, "pedestrian" is not the worst thing my writing's been called.

    1. Maybe that's true, David, but there's been plenty said good about your writing, that's for sure.