Sunday, July 6, 2014

Meet the Voice Behind the Seal Island Trilogy: An Interview with Hollis McCarthy + A Spotlight on the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX)

I'm excited to announce that the audiobook version of The Selkie Spell has been selected for inclusion in a huge Summer Romance Sale through Audible! Choose from 50+ Romance books for only $3.95 each. The sale runs through July 12th at 11:59PM EST.

Also, I'm happy to report that The Selkie Enchantress audiobook is officially in production! The second story in the Seal Island Trilogy will be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes by late August/early September. As soon as I have a firm release date, I'll let you know.

I had such a wonderful experience working with New York Actress, Hollis McCarthy, on The Selkie Spell and I cannot wait to hear her narrate The Selkie Enchantress. Special thanks to Star Cloud Audio for producing the audiobooks, to Blue Harvest Creative for designing the beautiful covers, and to the whole team at ACX for making the audiobook creation process so seamless.

If you are an author and you have not spent some time poking around the ACX website and considering turning your titles into audiobooks, you should really start thinking about itACX is an online marketplace where authors (who hold the rights to their titles) can connect with professional narrators and recording studios to produce high quality audiobooks and reach a whole new audience of readers.

As I was researching whether or not I wanted to jump into the world of audiobooks, three factors convinced me to go for it:

1) The concept of artists supporting artists. Many of the professional narrators who audition for titles on ACX are also actors and actresses. As someone who understands how hard it can be to make a living off a creative career, it makes me very happy to know that the payment I turn in to my narrator will help her pay her bills so she can continue to do what she loves.

2) I have complete control over who narrates my book. After opening the title to auditions, I get to listen to the samples, evaluate them, and ultimately decide which narrator is the best match for my story.

3) I retain the rights to the completed audiobook. Just like with my self-published paperback and e-book titles, I own the rights to my audiobooks. I pay my narrator/producer team a one-time flat fee in exchange for their services so that I can receive the full royalty payment from each sale once the audiobook is available for purchase. The publishing landscape continues to shift and change at speeds that make it impossible to predict what might happen in a few years, let alone the next six months. I am very grateful for any new opportunity that allows me to reach a new audience of readers while retaining full ownership of my works.

Once I decided to take the plunge, I set up my first title on ACX, uploaded a short scene, and opened the book to auditions. I had about 30-45 auditions in a matter of days. Honestly, I was so impressed with the quality of all the narrators who auditioned. It's the most wonderful feeling to hear your characters brought to life through voice. After enlisting some help from family and friends, I finally narrowed it down to three top choices and asked each narrator to submit a second audition of a different scene. Everyone performed beautifully, but in the end, it was clear that Hollis McCarthy’s smooth, rich, lyrical voice was perfect for the Seal Island Trilogy.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to my narrator, Hollis McCarthy, the voice of the Seal Island Trilogy audiobooks.

Sophie: How did you first learn about ACX and what has your experience been like working with them?

Hollis: I heard about ACX from Mike Charzuk, Producer at Audible Studios, when I was first getting into audiobook narration and took a free SAG-AFTRA Foundation workshop with him. I did some books at Audible, where I met Ian Hackney, a producer/engineer there who also has his own Audible Approved studio, Star Cloud Audio, which is right in my neighborhood. He and I started submitting auditions through ACX. After a surprisingly short time pursuing audiobook work, I'm so grateful and lucky to report that I'll soon be in double digits as an audiobook narrator with 11 titles available on Audible! Thanks ACX!

Sophie: As an actress, what skills do you draw on to narrate an audiobook? What goes into creating the voices for the characters in the books you narrate?

Hollis: It's an interesting genre, and uses all the skills I've acquired through two degrees in acting and working my whole life in theatre, film, TV and voice-over, especially every bit of vocal training and characterization skill. Singing, vocal training and stage work taught me a lot about vocal stamina--important in 4-6 hour recording sessions! From doing film I learned to be subtle which comes in handy in audiobooks, as character voices should be different from each other, but not TOO much so. Anything extreme can be annoying to the listener. Vocal placement is very handy with character work--for instance in a book with four sisters, I'll make one sister a mezzo with forward placement, another sister an alto with more chest resonance, a third sister a breathy alto, and give the fourth, and youngest sister a little bit of teen-aged de-nasal "duh" kind of tone. All the Shakespeare work I've done with its focus on enunciation, rhythms, respecting the text and allowing the passion of the characters to come through the author's words has also been really handy. Last but not least--the dialects I've learned are very useful and I'm learning new ones for books all the time. For example, I narrated a British novel in the first person for which I had to do not only Oxbridge English but German, Iranian, Yorkshire, Cockney, Irish... Again, subtlety in dialects is key--clarity for the listener is more important than the actor sounding like a genuine native. For example, a too-thick Irish dialect in DANCING AT LUGHNASA made an audience member think one of my castmates' lines, "Memories of '36" was "Mammaries of dirty sex." Nuff said.

Additionally, my husband Mark McCarthy, talented actor and narrator, has kindly shared tips and techniques he learned from a great workshop with producer Paul Ruben, and I learned a lot from the resources and links that ACX publishes on their website, and from listening to lots of samples on Audible from great talents like Scott Brick.

Sophie: You won a narration contest through Audible recently. Can you tell us a little about that?

Hollis: Audible, ACX and AudioFile Magazine co-sponsored a big contest recently to cast two narrators, male and female, as the "Newest Voices of Audible Studios," with the prize being a contract to record a book at Audible. I was lucky enough to win, thanks to judges Kat Lambrix of Audible and Robin Whitten of Audiofile, and I just finished recording Lauren Kessler's fascinating book, COUNTERCLOCKWISE, MY YEAR OF HYPNOSIS, HORMONES, DARK CHOCOLATE AND OTHER ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF ANTI-AGING. It was my first non-fiction book, and was very challenging as well as inspiring, entertaining and edifying. More info and a playable link to my winning audition at

Sophie: What would be your dream role as an actress? Your dream book to narrate?

Hollis: I just played one of my dream roles, Margie in David Lindsay-Abaire's brilliant play GOOD PEOPLE. Dream roles I've yet to play--Marquise de Merteuil in LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES and Lady Macbeth. I love playing smart powerful women who challenge life and men on their own terms.

One of my dream books to narrate would be from this really wonderful author I discovered recently, Sophie Moss! Her WIND CHIME CAFE is one of the best books I read this year! Other authors I love whose work I'd love to narrate are Susanna Kearsley, Georgette Heyer, Seanan McGuire, Sara Paretsky, Mary Stewart, Julia Quinn, Gil McNeil, Elizabeth Moon...and my mom, Dee Maltby, who just finished writing the second book in a terrific fantasy trilogy that I really hope to narrate some day soon.

Hollis's website is, and you can follow her on Twitter @mccactors or on You Tube at


Readers: do you listen to audiobooks? If so, what's the best title you've listened to this year? Authors: have you offered any of your titles as audiobooks yet? What was your experience like working with ACX?


  1. Loved the interview and we are so excited that "The Selkie Spell" is part of the romance sale. We love audio books and some of our favorites include "The Selkie Spell," "Embers at Galdrilene," "Minstrel," "Number Seventy-Five," any of John D. MacDonald's mysteries, and anything that William Patton or Judy Kaye narrates.

    1. Thank you! I'm a big fan of listening to murder mysteries on long car rides. :)

  2. I love Sophie Moss's books and was thrilled to find The Selkie Spell was on Audible. I thought Hollis McCarthy did an exceptional job as a narrator. I always check the narrator before purchasing any books on Audibile because some of them are are dreadful. Hollis is exceptional and I can't wait to hear her narrate The Selkie Enchantress. I look forward to hearing all of Sophie's books on Audible.

    1. Thank you! I am so happy with Hollis' narration of the story!

  3. Thanks for sharing this Sophie, great to hear of such talented actors/actresses! Financially, turning mine into audio books are still beyond me, but I hope to rectify this in the future :)
    I know Hollis spoke of being able to draw on a British accent, is this common with ACX, as mine are inherently British books?

    1. I felt the same way at first too, Lisa. But I'm really glad I decided to go for it. It's definitely a growing market and nowhere near as saturated as the ebook market is now. There's also an option to do a royalty share with your narrator so there's no upfront cost and you two split the royalties going forward, but of course then you have to share your royalties with someone... Still, it takes away a lot of the risk. As far as finding a narrator with a British accent, you just check a box during the set up process indicating that that's what you're looking for. There are so many excellent narrators on ACX, and lots of them are from the UK, so you could easily find someone with an authentic British accent for your story. :)