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Audiobook Thrills at Thrillerfest

At Thrillerfest XIX, the annual conference of the International Thriller Writers, which took place in New York City from May 28 to June 1, I had the privilege of participating on the panel "Narrator, Special Effects, or Full Cast: Audiobook Trends," along with four award-winning narrators.

From left: Ellen Quint, Saskia Maarleveld, Hillary Huber, Suzanne Elise Freeman, Scott Brick, and Stacy Creamer

The Secret

  • Scott Brick: With more than 1,100 titles in his audiography, including Gregg Hurwitz’s LONE WOLF and the latest addition to the Jack Reacher series, THE SECRET. Learn more about Golden Voice Scott Brick.
  • Suzanne Elise Freeman: An accomplished actress on stage and screen with more than 350 audiobooks to her credit, including Landon Beach’s THE BLUE HOUR SANCTION. Freeman and Brick together narrate Landon Beach’s Sunrise-Side Mystery Series.
  • Hillary Huber: A multiple award-winning audiobook narrator with more than 750 titles in her audiography, including the new series THE SPY COAST by Tess Gerritsen. Learn more about Huber in her Narrator Spotlight.
  • Saskia Maarleveld: Known for her special talent with accents, including from New Zealand and the southern U.S., Maarleveld recently earned an Earphones Award for her performance of FIRST LIE WINS. Learn more about Maarleveld in her Narrator Spotlight.

The panel was moderated by Stacy Creamer, Senior Director of Creative Development, Audible Content at Audible, who posed challenging questions while sharing her own industry expertise. Creamer urged the authors in the audience to leverage the power of audiobooks by ensuring their books are published simultaneously in audiobook format.

Blue Hour Sanction

As an audiophile and reviewer, I am always eager to understand the work that goes into producing an outstanding audiobook and to hear the perspectives of narrators and authors. Creamer inquired about the narrators’ sources for voices. The narrators shared that their voice characterizations start with the author’s descriptions, in the text itself, of the characters’ accents, tone, pace, volume, and personality. Hillary Huber pointed out that authors sometimes send notes to guide the narrator, which can be very valuable. The narrators also draw inspiration from TV and movies, observing and picking up on qualities of characters with similar traits to those they are voicing. They might also draw on friends and relatives who reflect those characters. Scott Brick treated the audience to a sample, and Suzanne Freeman shared her source for a Russian female character she is currently voicing.

Spy Coast

As all the panelists have narrated series, Creamer asked how one stays consistent over a series and what the challenges are of stepping into a well-established series. Saskia Maarleveld shared that before narrating the next book in a series, she listens to a sample from the end of the previous book to pick up the voices. Huber also mentioned she does sampling. Brick, who has stepped into several popular series, said it is a real challenge to meet the expectations of fans, who have certain voices in their heads for their favorite characters.

The panelists provided their perspectives on trends in audiobooks, including the use of multiple narrators in duets, ensembles, and full casts. Another trend raised was advances in technology. Creamer commented that Dolby Atmos is a real game-changer in creating an immersive listening experience by making sound effects more realistic. The discussion then turned to the use of AI. Unfortunately, several panelists have had their voices, and in Scott Brick's case, even his image, used without permission. It is clear we are still navigating the complexities of this technology.

First Lie WinsOn a positive note, Brick highlighted how authors are beginning to understand the power of audio for promoting their books and generating a community of fans. He shared his experience recording a phone voice message for Gregg Hurwitz, mirroring the message used in Hurwitz's Orphan X series.

Aside from this panel, Thrillerfest provided opportunities to hear from and meet many of our favorite authors. I was able to chat briefly with Louise Penny, author of the Armand Gamache series, the latest of which is the Earphones Award-winning A WORLD OF CURIOSITIES. Penny shared that she loves audiobooks but doesn’t listen to her own because she doesn’t want another voice in her head for her characters. She also revealed that Robert Bathurst, who successfully took over as narrator of the series from the late Ralph Cosham, will be stepping down to be replaced by Quebecois actor Jean Brassard, to better reflect the characters who live in and represent Quebec. Penny is the recipient of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) 2024 Silver Bullet Award.

Greg Hurwitz won the Best Audiobook for THE LAST ORPHAN (Macmillan), narrated, of course, by Scott Brick.


Photo courtesy of Ellen Quint.

AudioFile Magazine is your #1 source for audiobook reviews. 

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