NICK SULLIVAN has worked extensively on Broadway and at many theaters throughout the U.S. His television credits include The Good Wife, The Affair, Madame Secretary, Boardwalk Empire, 30 Rock, Elementary, BrainDead, Alpha House, Royal Pains, All My Children, Reading Rainbow, and all three Law and Order series. Film credits include Our Idiot Brother, Prison Song, and Puccini for Beginners. Nick has recorded over four hundred audiobooks, is an Audie winner, and has received numerous AudioFile Earphones Awards. Find him on: www.nicksullivan.net
I recently had a chance to talk with Nick Sullivan, author of Zombie Bigfoot, about his work as an audiobook narrator. Nick has narrated a lot of titles and was able to give us some fantastic answers to our questions. Haven’t you ever wanted to ask a narrator about how they got into it, what goes into it, and how it all just…works? So did we. So read on.
Interview with Nick Sullivan
S&S: You have done a ton of audio books! How many have you done? Did you do any pre-Audible? (It’s hard to imagine a time where there were audio books before Audible!) How many do you do per year on average?
Nick Sullivan (NS): I’ve been around quite a bit longer than Audible and including old pre-digital titles and a bunch I recorded for the Library of Congress, I’ve narrated over four hundred titles. I work in film, television, and theater too, so it varies year to year. This year it’s been a couple a month.
S&S: You narrated your own book, Zombie Bigfoot, fairly recently. How did narrating your own compare to narrating other people’s work?
NS: Well, for one thing, anytime I thought a sentence was clunky when spoken aloud, I got to change it! I had planned all along not to finalize the book until I recorded it so I’d have a chance to make any final changes that hit me during the performance. I was also able to sculpt characters that I knew I could voice well. Although the Afrikaner character was a beast; I’ve never used that accent before but I’ve always wanted to. I had to seek out a South African buddy of mine to give me some pointers.
S&S: What has been the most challenging book you’ve ever narrated?
NS: That would be “JR” by William Gaddis. I’d call it the “Ulysses” of American literature. The book is 97% unattributed dialogue. No “he said/she said”. I had to piece each scene together, figuring out which character was speaking by context or by mannerisms of speech. For a pretty cool review from a Gaddis fan check out: http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=667
S&S: About how many hours do you put in per, let’s say, one hundred pages of narrating?
NS: You really have to go by words, since every book’s pages are different. A 300-page book with typeset similar to “Zombie Bigfoot” would be about 70,000 words… and that’s about an eight-hour book. So, figure 100 pages is about 2 hours forty minutes. To record, that will take me about four hours at home, a little less if I have an engineer. If I’m really rolling with a well-written book in an engineered studio I can do about 45 finished minutes every hour my butt is in the chair. But, that doesn’t take preparation into consideration. If it’s a dense book with a lot of foreign language content and pronunciations to look up those 100 pages might take a few hours to prep… if it’s simple fiction in a long-running series where I already know a lot of the characters, it might take only a half hour to prep.
S&S: Where do you do your narrations at? (Home studio, etc.)
NS: I’ve been narrating since about 1994 and I started using a home studio in 2009. For a while it was about fifty/fifty but now I record most books at home. This year I’ve done 5 or 6 at home and one out at Audible with another one scheduled for next month.
S&S: What’s the biggest compliment you’ve ever been paid in regards to your narrating skills?
NS: I’ve had several authors I do series for tell me they “hear” me when they write now. LOL, at least I HOPE that’s a compliment. Maybe they’re clawing at their scalps, screaming “Get out of my head!!”
S&S: From the layout on Audible, it would appear you tend to narrate more mystery/thrillers and sci-fi/fantasy. Which one is your favorite genre?
NS: It’s not a dodge for me to say I really do enjoy recording across many genres. If I only did a couple I’d lose my mind. Different companies tend to hire me for different genres and I kinda love that.
S&S: How much choice do you have over what books you narrate?
NS: I can bid for what I want to record on ACX but I haven’t done that in a long time. I tend to take what I’m offered, though sometimes I’ll call up a company that’s just given me a book and say, “Do you know this book is first person and the protagonist is British?” (or, in one case I remember, female) In this case, they’ll take it away from me and maybe assign me another.
S&S: Has there ever been a scene you’ve been uncomfortable narrating?
NS: On the funny end of that question, vividly depicted sex scenes. On the more sober end of that question, hospital scenes where a parent is dying.
S&S: What determines your pay for a book? Hours? Pages? Etc.
NS: All union actors work on a per-finished-hour rate. If you do a ten-hour book you just multiply the rate by ten, easy peasy. SAG-AFTRA has different rates with different companies but usually, they are pretty comparable.
S&S: How did you get into narrating?
NS: My father used to record for the blind, and when I was young I was obsessed with Dick Estell’s “Radio Reader” program on our local NPR radio station and in my college and summer stock years I listened to them every time I drove long distance. When I was beginning to work professionally in New York an opportunity to record for Talking Books kind of fell into my lap; I was shooting a small budget movie and the actress playing my wife recorded for them. Shortly after that, I began recording for Chivers… which became BBC Audio… which became AudioGO… which was bought by Blackstone.
S&S: If you could have your pick of any novels out there to narrate, which ones would it be?
NS: Wow, is it Christmas? Hmm… I’d say the “Game of Thrones” books but I’d ALSO have to magically become a Brit… you really need a native-born UK narrator for that. Oh, I know! “Confederacy of Dunces”! Actually, I’ve recorded John Kennedy Toole’s first novella, “The Neon Bible” and a non-fiction book about Toole. As close as I could get! Oh, shucks, just thought of another: “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss.
S&S: What kind of training did you do for your job?
NS: When I first auditioned for Talking Books I had a lot of voice, speech, and accent training from various schools and classes but no actual audiobook training, apart from listening to them. Of course, it took a long time to learn all the tricks: how to prep a book and do research, how to record for long periods with proper mic distance, how to breathe just a teeny bit without making a sound so you can get through a long sentence. And for home studio you have to learn a whole new skill set. I can take a tiny mouth click out of the middle of a word… I don’t HAVE to do that for most companies, but it’s kinda cool.
S&S: Is there anything about your job that the average person would be shocked to know?
NS: That it’s exhausting. Fun, but exhausting.
S&S: Do you listen to audiobooks during your spare time? Do you have any favorite narrators?
NS: I drive long distances to visit family and to travel to theater gigs; I listen to an audiobook every time. Some of my favorite narrators are Katy Kellgren, Dion Graham, George Guidall, Chris Sorensen, and Barbara Rosenblatt
Zombie Bigfoot by Nick Sullivan
Bigfoot is real.
That’s what Sarah’s father told her before his academic disgrace and untimely death.
Now, primatologist Dr. Sarah Bishop is eager to restore her father’s good name. Survival show host Russ Cloud is just as eager to boost his plummeting ratings. They’ll both have a shot at redemption when they find themselves hired by eccentric billionaire Cameron Carson. After a series of his publicity stunts end in spectacular failure, Carson has a plan to redeem his tarnished image: capture a live Sasquatch.
Sarah and Russ join an expedition with an eclectic crew: an Afrikaner safari hunter, a ‘roided out former wrestling star, a Shoshone master tracker full of surprises, a heavily tattooed Russian warrior woman, a pair of wise-cracking nerds, and a cute gum-chewing intern with some hidden skills. Will they find Bigfoot?
There’s something in the woods… but it’s not what they’re expecting. – Goodreads
Zombie Bigfoot received a 4 Coolthulhu Rating from Sci-Fi & Scary. You can see our review of the book here.