An alumnus of NBC-TV’s Daytime Writers Program, Wisdom Bridge Theater, and The Players Workshop of the Second City, she served as head of the Literary Department for the Savage Agency in Hollywood; developed radio and television programming for Blair Entertainment in New York, and wrote for a number of diverse publications.
Paula is also an accomplished actress whose credits include television series Starman, Hardcastle and McCormick, Remington Steele, and General Hospital.
She’s also done a number of national commercials (on-camera and voice-over) for clients such as Sears, McDonald’s, Baldwin Pianos, and Toyota.
Today she serves as Vice President/Creative Director and audio book narrator for Artistic Media Associates, based in Boston.
Paula Slade Interview
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Paula Slade Transcript
Tim Knox: Paula Slade is my guest today. Paula has quite the varied background in media. She has done radio. She has done television. She’s been the head of the literary department for a company that develops radio and television programs. Paula was also an actress. You might have seen her on shows such as Remington Steele, Hardcastle and McCormick and the perennial favorite, General Hospital.
Now Paula is working as one of the top book narrators in the business. I’m talking about audiobooks, audio versions of books which that industry is growing like wildfire. Paula talks about that, how the growth in the industry is spurring more and more books to become audiobooks, which books make great audiobooks and which books do not.
She talks about working with the authors, the process and a whole lot more. If you’ve ever thought about getting an audiobook produced of your work you don’t want to miss this interview with Paula Slade, one of the best narrators in the business, on today’s Interviewing Authors.
Tim Knox: Paula, welcome to the program.
Paula Slade: Thanks, Tim. It’s really wonderful to be here.
Tim Knox: It is wonderful having you here. We get so many questions on the website about audiobooks and how to get them made and how to find talent and you’re one of the best so I’m very happy that you’re here today to talk to us about that. Before we get started give us a little background.
Paula Slade: I’ve been on radio and doing voice work for 38 years.
Tim Knox: You started at the age of five.
Paula Slade: Thank you, Tim. I’ve been at it for quite some time. I’ve done many, many different types of narration; everything from audiobooks now to commercials national, just about everything you can imagine that needs to be narrated – point of purchase demonstrations, you name it.
Tim Knox: You do have quite a varied background. I was reading your bio. You started in radio and you ended up doing a lot of voice over work. You also have done some acting in your day.
Paula Slade: Oh yes, oh yes.
Tim Knox: Remington Steele. I was a Remington Steele fanatic.
Paula Slade: You were.
Tim Knox: I was and also I watched General Hospital a time or two but let’s not spread that news. How did you go from being an on air reporter, an announcer to doing acting, to doing voice overs to now doing audiobooks?
Paula Slade: Well it was a path that just kind of meandered in many different directions over the years. After I left the radio business I wanted to get into acting. That was kind of a backdoor way of getting into it. I started doing a lot of background work. Chicago was a market where you could work all the time doing background work and I worked my way up from background getting into commercials on camera. I went from local commercials to national commercials and then I decided to make the switch to move out to Los Angeles.
During that period of time I was studying everything I could get my hands on as far as acting. I was working with Wisdom Bridge Theatre, Second City, you name it – on camera, off camera, just really getting a good three, four years of solid education. That’s what enabled me to move to Los Angeles because actually I was a working actress in Chicago before I left. Many people try to get out to Los Angeles to work and get a career established without doing the basics and that is a problem for them.
But it was a long road and in addition to doing the acting out there – it’s not a full-time job but it was nice when you did get a gig. I also worked for a talent agency. It was children’s talent. The owner of the agency, Judy Savage, wanted to establish a literary division. I headed that for her and worked with a lot of different screenwriters getting their books placed and their scripts placed. So it was a very interesting path that we took.
In the process my husband and I also wrote together. We had developed some programming which was picked up by Blair Entertainment out of New York. We were working very hard to get into the area of soaps and Lee Bell from The Young and Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful had heard of our work and recommended us to Blair Entertainment and it took off from there. It was a project that we worked on for several years. It was developing radio crossover programming, which was to go to television eventually.
So we had to do casting and the casting for this type of thing was the talent had to look the way they sounded, which was a very unusual concept in radio.
Tim Knox: Exactly. You have a face for radio.
Paula Slade: Exactly but the eventual transition was to move it to television, to primetime. It was in the heyday of the primetime soaps so that’s how that whole thing developed. From there then we retired from the business for a few years to have a family and got back into it a few years ago basically with our own company, Artistic Media Associates, and have taken off in many different directions with the contacts that we’ve had throughout the United States and over the years.
We’re doing a plethora of different things that are involved in the industry, everything from booking talent for live venues to audiobooks and that is a major focus recently. We also do restoration of old films and you name it. We’re into it.
Tim Knox: It sounds like you put in the proverbial 100,000 hours. You paid your dues and you went out and did a considerable amount. It really all kind of ties together because it was media, it was voice and what you’re doing now with the audiobooks I think especially is timely. I think that’s where books are going. Everybody talks about audiobooks and no one has a lot of time to read anymore. They just want to listen. What was your first audiobook project?
Paula Slade: I’d rather not say because it was a nightmare.
Tim Knox: Can you just tell us why it was a nightmare?
Paula Slade: The individual approached us. This person had heard my voice and wanted me to do a book. It was a sizable book with many other books involved in the series. I was not familiar with her work and I was flattered. It came out of nowhere. When I finally got the script and I realized what I was up against and I was listening to other audiobooks that this individual had put out, I cringed. I absolutely cringed. I should have done my homework checking this person out but I was flattered. Let’s put it that way. When I heard the quality of the books that were being offered out there, they were flat narrations, there were mispronunciations, you name it. I cringed.
When working with her script, or the individual’s script, I found many, many errors and not just grammar but in the books themselves, which also made me cringe because having done some writing myself it was very difficult to swallow and I said, “Would you like me to go along and help you reedit this for your Kindle?” They basically told me no, just pay attention to the narration and don’t bother with that. That’s not your business. I went and I did some of the book and it started getting worse and worse and worse. It was not a pleasant situation. A learning situation? Yes, very definitely.
Tim Knox: But don’t you think you have to kind of go through that? Really you’re dealing with authors and my God what an egotistical bunch we are. I can say that because I’m right in there with them. I’ve done a lot of radio and that sort of thing but I can’t imagine doing an audiobook because to me I would bore myself just reading it. How do you make it entertaining?
Paula Slade: How do you make it entertaining? It depends on the topic. If it’s a non-fiction, which I actually am a non-fiction fan. I read just about anything that comes down the pipe as far as non-fiction is concerned. You have to get into the author’s head really. You have to hear their voice and incorporate their voice into your voice. Their speech pattern, it’s evident as you read in non-fiction.
Now in fiction that’s a totally different thing. You approach that as an actor, as if you were being given a script either to do for stage or film or television and you breakdown the character. You take apart everything from their emotions to their motivations. You kind of write a mini biography in your head, where you think this person has come from so that you can actually bring that person alive in the dialogue. A good writer as they’re developing a book will do that. They will write a biography for that person or they’ll have notes scribbled all over the place saying he went to school at Harvard so he’s got a little bit of an accent here or he doesn’t get along with his dad so he’s very rough at times with his own son. There are different elements that will come out in the character when you speak so it’s an entirely different approach.
Which is more fun? I would say probably the acting part. The fiction is probably a lot more fun to do because you get to stretch as an actor, as a narrator. You get to take on many different voices or personas within a book. If it’s well written and the character speaks to you, you can speak for the character. It’s not a boring situation when you’re sitting in a real tiny booth for several hours a day and it’s dark and you’re reading.
Tim Knox: So really when you’re doing the reading of the audiobooks it is a form of acting. You’re just not doing a flat read. You are trying to put yourself into the head of the characters and the emotion of the book just like you’re doing an acting part.
Paula Slade: Absolutely. We just recently wrapped a marvelous book, The Haunted by Michaelbrent Collings, and I know you interviewed him
Tim Knox: I love Michaelbrent. He and I are pals.
Paula Slade: He’s a wonderful fellow, wonderful. It was a joy to do. It really was because the characters were so rich. The story was rich. It was a rich visualization too. When you talk about audiobooks, a lot of it translates to the mind’s eye as you’re listening and it comes alive. There were just so many different wonderful voices that I was able to do and he was great to work with.
Tim Knox: He’s such a nice guy. I said do you ever think of reading your own books? He’s like why would I do that? I have Paula. Anytime someone goes, why would I do that? That’s a great testimony for you. Let’s talk a little about the process. So once you’re contacted and you talk to them do you ask to read the book ahead of time or is just taken on as project work? What really is the process? If I’m an author. For example, if I was thinking about having you do my book, Angel of Mercy, I would call you up and the process would be what?
Paula Slade: I would like to read the book first, not to say yes or no. I mean obviously I would do my homework on the book but in order to get a feel, to make sure that I’m the right person for the book and that I can pull it off I want to see it. I want to see it from start to finish. Also when I go through and read a book I highlight all of the… I start acting it out. My husband and I will sit and we’ll do the read-throughs for an hour, two hours a day until the book is done.
As I’m going through I underline or I color code the characters so I start getting an idea of how they’re speaking and their voice and underline any problem words if something is a foreign word to me or is pronounced a certain way. I will take that into consideration. I’ll put little notes in the text. I prefer to have something sent to me in a Microsoft Word format so I can do all of this doodling there. Then once I feel secure with it, it’s a go. Yeah, we generally start with a read-through first. You have to.
Tim Knox: Does your husband do the male voices?
Paula Slade: Not yet, not yet.
Tim Knox: You sound like you want him to.
Paula Slade: I do. I think he’s got a marvelous voice. In fact a lot of people have said to him, “Have you ever done voice work?” “No, that’s not mine. I’d rather sit and do the mastering.”
Tim Knox: Can this be equated to do you remember the old radio serials? I know you and I are both too young to remember those but I’m sure you’ve seen them on documentaries and movies. Is this kind of the same thing almost as far as acting out the book in audio?
Paula Slade: I approach it that way and the reason I approach it is because of that major project we worked on for Radio Cinema Network. I think that’s the direction. I mean if you listen to a lot of audiobooks you’re going to find many, many are a very flat read which is fine. For some books that’s perfect. The trend I’m starting to see are real actors getting into the roles and really exploring the characters in-depth and making them come alive.
Tim Knox: That’s interesting. What do you say to authors who are of the mind that they want to voice their own audiobook? How do you poke that ego with a stick?
Paula Slade: Okay, I certainly understand that. 15, 20 years ago if somebody said to me, if I had written a book at that point and I wanted to do it I would kind of say I’m not sure I can handle it. The reason I would say that is you got to have the training, you’ve got to know what you’re doing, you’ve got to have the acting background. It really is important. It’s not just getting up and reading a book verbatim.
You also have to be able to have the recording facility. There are things that sound like they’ve been recorded in a bathroom. Honestly, they’re out there and they are for sale. It really is a shame because some of the books are good and that really depends on where you look for your talent or where you look for your studio. There are places you can go online and get very, very inexpensive talent. I’m not knocking them. I’m not basing the audiobook industry on the price of the talent. You can negotiate anything from $0, which would include a royalty share, to $1,000 per finished hour with a talent. It really depends on the talent. It depends upon what you’re comfortable with. If your book was a really hot bestseller and you have the rights for it then you probably would want to buy the talent out. That would be my feeling. If your book is doing extremely well and you’re all over the place in media and everything, you might want to say let’s try a royalty share. Let’s try that, 50/50 split. It really depends on the contract that you setup with the narrator.
Tim Knox: So the royalty split would be where the narrator provides the narration and the product and then there’s a royalty split among the narrator and the author.
Paula Slade: Right, right and there would be no pay upfront. There are things like on Audio Creation Exchange where in order to get a really good book done that people aren’t auditioning for, they’ll offer something called a stipend and the stipend is a modest sum around $100, $115, $125 per finished hour for you to do the book, plus you get a royalty share. Audible is offering the stipend, not the author. The author does not have to. There are different ways you can work it out. It’s all over the map. It’s whatever is your comfort level.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little bit about that. You mentioned a dollar amount per finished hour. How many hours really goes into a finished hour?
Paula Slade: A lot. Again, depending on the book it’s anywhere between 6.5 to 8.5 hours per finished hour and it can be more than that. It depends on the book and it depends upon how fast you narrate the book. There are certain books that have a quicker pace of narration but then there are books that will go up and down and you’ll be painting a picture in a very slow way but then you’ll slowly be increasing your time, increasing the pace of your reading.
The givens are at the very end, after you walk away from say recording an hour or half hour or 20 minutes or whatever, there’s quality control that has to be done. Oftentimes too it’s incredibly easy to add a word when you’re narrating and there are times that both my husband and I have both missed it and we’ll catch it on a final read-through listening to it again. It’s like oh darn. I added an ‘a’ or I didn’t say this right. Let’s do it again. You kind of go back in and clean it up and make sure… it’s a permanent picture of what and who you are as a narrator. As far as I’m concerned I want it to be the best that it can be.
Tim Knox: How do I know that my book is a good candidate to become an audiobook?
Paula Slade: Just about every book if it’s well written is a good candidate. The industry is just huge right now. I think it was last year. The audiobook industry raked in something – I think it was just on Amazon – over a billion dollars a year. It’s huge.
The only two books that come to mind that aren’t suitable are cookbooks and children’s books, let me say children’s picture books. However, on the children’s picture books if you were to add music, sound effects and of course character voices and stuff you can build on that. It’s a little bit longer than, you know, the 32 pages but again if we’re getting into the world of adding music we’re talking about other rights that you have to buy out. That can become very expensive. What I’m saying here is if there’s a visual element that is very necessary to the book it might not translate well.
Tim Knox: Let’s talk a little bit about cost because you mentioned a little bit about the cost per running hour and that sort of thing and how much effort really goes into the finished hour of product. If I’m an author with a typical fiction book, 300 pages – what all has to happen in there and what are the costs that I might incur along the way?
Paula Slade: It depends. First of all, you have to be the rights holder of the book. In other words, sometimes people are published through houses and they don’t have the audio rights so really it’s the publisher that has control of it. That’s the first step. You have to have your own rights. You can buy your rights back from your publisher I assume so if that’s important to you then go ahead and do that. That would be the only thing.
As far as pay along the way, again it depends upon the contract that you cut with the narrator or the studio. For example, on Audio Creation Exchange you have that option. You have the option to go zero money down and go totally royalty share. Now when you enter into ASX they will also look at your book and they’ll see how your sales are doing, particularly on Amazon. If they think your book is really good and you’ve got some excellent reviews going they may offer a stipend for a talent to say, “Hey, let me look at this book. I might really want to do that and take very little upfront and then do a royalty share.”
You can start off with nothing as far as putting money into it. Then you can go to Audible approved only narration people and I think what you have to do is something… you have to have done 25 books with Audible in order to get that approval. That can run you anywhere between $400 to $1,000 an hour per finished hour. Finished hour is if your book turns out to be eight hours narrated and you’re being charged $1,000 an hour it would be $8,000.
In most cases the average book, if you wanted to add your own money or offer say $100 or $200 per hour, you figure on that and they give you a way to figure out how many hours your book actually will be. There’s a formula that you can do for the number of words in the book and it translates pretty closely within maybe 15 minutes in either direction.
Tim Knox: How long does it typically take to produce the audiobook? If I’m the author and we do a deal today, when am I going to see a finished product?
Paula Slade: It depends upon the length of the book and the complexity of the book. Average books if they’re small, just 100 pages or something, can take anywhere between three weeks. If it’s a larger novel or self-help book or something it can take eight weeks, but somewhere between the three weeks and the eight weeks you can expect to have a book delivered.
Now if you do it through ASX there’s also a quality control that they do afterwards, which is very nice. It’s very, very nice for the client because if there’s anything missing or there’s any problems they’ll come back. They’re very stringent on what they do and that’s good. That’s very, very good for the author. It gives you the best sound.
Tim Knox: Now if I’m an author how much can I expect to make from the sale of audiobooks? How does it compare with my paperbacks, my digital books, et cetera?
Paula Slade: That depends upon what you price it at and it depends upon how much you’re in the marketplace. If you have say a website, if you’re into social media, if you have a presence, you go and visit libraries, you do lots of book signings and things of that nature – you have an audience already built in. People will buy the audio version even if they have read the actual book version.
One of the things Amazon offers now is this Whispersync, which if you have a Kindle… let’s say your Kindle’s selling for $2.99 or $3.99, they’ll include the audiobook into the Kindle if it matches. It’s got to be well recorded and it’s got to match word for word but they’ll include it. There’s various different forms of incentives that they’ll offer you to get your book out and get it going. They give you a lot of good advice, an awful lot of good advice.
Again, your media presence is very essential too. If your book was successful your audiobook will probably be successful as well.
Tim Knox: Are you seeing the audiobooks as kind of an extension of the product offering? Remember back in the old days when all we had were books? They were hard and they were rectangular and you had to hold them. Everything now is digital and eBooks. Do you see the audiobook just as the natural progression of where things are going in publishing?
Paula Slade: Yes I do. I see it along with the Kindle. I love books, a real book in my hand. I do and I love the smell of them but eventually I do see this happening. It is a faster, easier way to get product out to people. It’s an alternative and we also have a baby boom generation that’s aging that may not be able to read books or see them as well even in large type and large type is not always made possible. I think it’s a trend and I think it’s a trend because of the sales that have been happening in the industry itself. It is burgeoning. It’s just huge.
Tim Knox: It seems to me that a lot of the authors, especially the marketing savvy ones, are looking toward audiobooks as the next go. It’s kind of like, you know, a lot of people are doing book trailers now, a little video. I think it’s a wave that’s coming and I think you’re in the right place to ride it well. For authors that are thinking about getting an audiobook done, what are some of the things they need to think about when it comes to casting the right voice for their book? Not every voice talent is cut out to voice every book. What are some of the things to consider?
Paula Slade: I think the very first thing you need to do is ask who your audience is and who’s your central character in a fiction book? Who’s talking in that book? Is it a male or a female? That’s the very first thing you need to ask. Are there other characters that take over in that book? Let’s say you start off with a male character and then it becomes a female leading the way.
The final thing is who’s your audience? Who do you deal with? Is this a romance novel where you’re going to be selling primarily to women? Do you want a woman’s voice or do you want a man’s voice? I mean there are a number of ways and that’s the first thing. First look to see who speaks.
The next thing you should be looking for is somebody who has broadcast experience but also an acting background, particularly if it’s a fiction book. It’s not so important if it’s a non-fiction but definitely if you have a fiction book you want an actor coming in there and interpreting your book as best as it can be.
Tim Knox: As the author, am I involved in this process at all?
Paula Slade: If you’re the rights holder, yes, you should be 100% involved. If you have a publisher that you’re dealing with they may or may not allow you to make some suggestions or choices or bring people to the table. Ultimately if you’re not the rights holder they will have the final say in it.
Tim Knox: But the author’s not going to sit in the room and watch you do the book.
Paula Slade: No.
Tim Knox: God help you.
Paula Slade: What will generally happen is when somebody is looking for voice talent the word will go out, calls will be made, you’ll either be offered an audition or if you hear about it you will go forth and offer your own audition and send it down as an .mp3 file. Then they make their choice. As an actor or narrator you can’t be disappointed if you don’t get it because they had something else in mind. So it’s a fun process but you never know where it’s going to lead. One thing as an author, one of the things I’d like to suggest is when you listen to auditions be open to the unusual. Be open to somebody bringing in something that you’ve never even anticipated.
When we were casting for the Radio Cinema Network we were going through lots and lots of talent and in some instances some of the actors brought in readings that just bowled us over, totally blew us away. They brought in more than we wrote. We had to put the ego aside and say you got the job because you have really brought this further than we could have ever imagined. That’s one of the things as an author. Be open to the new and the surprising.
Tim Knox: Do you find a lot of authors have preconceived notions as to what they want it to sound like before it starts?
Paula Slade: Probably yes, I would say definitely yes. As a writer I have a preconceived notion about how my things have to be written or spoken but I also am open to somebody coming in and if you can do it better, do it please. I will step aside.
Tim Knox: Right, now if you wrote a fiction book would you want to voice it yourself or would you have someone else do it?
Paula Slade: It depends. I probably wouldn’t do it myself being so closely involved in it. I would probably try to find somebody who will do it better than I could and bring a whole new element to it that I may have missed. It was a lesson that I learned and it’s something you need to keep in mind. If they bring more to the table, that’s to your benefit.
Tim Knox: Paula Slade from Artistic Media Associates, this has been wonderful. Such great information. Tell us where we can find more about your work, your company.
Paula Slade: Well you can visit us on ArtisticMediaAssociates.com and you can go in and hear some samples right now on ACX, Audio Creation Exchange. Just type in my name, Paula Slade, as a producer and you’ll get a whole preview of lots of things and also you’ll be able to hear the first five minutes of The Haunted. We just put it up there the other day. We’re so excited about it.
Tim Knox: Fantastic. I’ll have to go listen to that and call Michaelbrent and go, “Hey you’re not going to believe what I heard.” Paula, this has been fun. Let’s do keep in touch. You are my audiobook expert now whether you like it or not. Anytime I have a question I’m calling you.
Paula Slade: Thank you so much.
Tim Knox: Paula, thank you so much. We’ll talk to you soon.