The audiobook industry is booming, with self-publishing outfits looking to carve out a piece of the growing indie market and high-profile narrators warming to working with self-published authors. Among them is audio veteran Scott Brick, who has narrated more than 850 audiobooks, most recently Terminal Rage, a self-published thriller by indie author A.M. Khalifa. We caught up with Brick—Publishers Weekly's Narrator of the Year in 2007—at his home in Los Angeles to talk about narration, working with indie authors, and all things audio.
You’ve narrated books by some of the most renowned authors in the world. Recently, you’ve been working with indie authors. What’s changed?
The change reflects the change in the industry. Indie publishing has become so prevalent these days and I find that exciting. My choices are driven by wanting to work with really good authors and it’s thrilling when people get in touch with me to say they’ve discovered a new author because of me. I am also a fan first and foremost. Most of the new authors coming out these days are indie authors, and if that’s where they are, that’s where I am going to follow.
Your latest audiobook by an indie author is Terminal Rage, a political thriller by A.M. Khalifa. What drew you to it?
When I am establishing a new relationship with an author, I have to connect with the material. It’s difficult working on a bad book, or as one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with, Sean Runnette, used to say: “Working on a bad book is like digging a hole in the ground with your face.” Terminal Rage is a very different kind of political thriller. I’ve done a lot of thrillers and after a while you come to expect certain things to happen. Most every story has a protagonist and an antagonist, but in Terminal Rage, those roles are blurred, and I found that to be a brave choice. I can’t point to that many authors who so successfully blur the line between the good guy and the bad guy. I found the motivations of all the characters in Terminal Rage to be fascinating and eminently real. I don’t see that often in authors new to the genre. Listeners will find this book to be a very unique experience.
Is it different working with an indie author compared to a traditionally published one?
I find indie authors to be highly engaged in the process. For example, one of the biggest challenges of my job is to make it sound like I speak a foreign language when I don’t. Terminal Rage had so much Arabic in it, but fortunately, A.M. Khalifa speaks the language. He did more to help me than any other author I’ve ever worked with. I’ve now been spoiled and will expect every author to put in that same level. He sent me a spreadsheet that was absolutely astounding. He broke down each character by name, by whether or not they have dialogue, and their socioeconomic background, and for the foreign languages, he even gave me sound files.
Talking about someone who thinks outside the box, I work with Gregg Hurwitz. He has a series about a guy of a suspect past who is also an agent for good—he tries to help people who can’t help themselves. In the books, the character has a telephone number which he hands out on a card that reads “if you ever need me, call this number.” Gregg came over one time to my studio and told me that he had gone out and bought the 800-number referenced in the book and asked if I could record the voice greeting. So now when readers come across the number in the book and wonder if it’s real, if they call it, they will hear my voice saying, “Do you need my help?” To me that’s the most fun I can have in my job.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming narrators trying to make it in the audiobook industry?
Oftentimes when you’re starting as a narrator, what you get hired to do may not be what you like to do. I always remind my students that the industry is going to put out the welcome mat differently for everyone. I say go in wherever they are welcoming you, and then once you’re in, try to get to what you like to do.
Benjamin South is a lifelong audiobook addict. Born in Surrey, England, he now lives in Los Angeles studying film directing at the New York Film Academy's Los Angeles campus.