Ask the Expert: Kathleen Bond

Edith here, on vacation in Belfast, Maine! Still, the blog must go on.

I met audiobook narrator Kathleen Bond earlier this year, and I thought it was time to wake up our occasional feature called Ask the Expert. She doesn’t narrate any of my audiobooks – yet – but if anyone needs a narrator, I recommend her. You can listen to a clip from one of her books here.

Take it away, Kathleen!

How Did You Get Started in the Business?

Well, through a route that was both circuitous and direct.  Quite a few decades ago now, I went to Boston University and studied acting.  I received a B.F.A. in it and worked—or tried to– for a number of years.  Through a series of events that are too long to go into here, I went back to school and got a master’s degree in historical archaeology and then, some years after that, I went to Harvard Divinity School and studied healthcare chaplaincy. 

I worked for about 20 years as a hospital and hospice chaplain.  I loved the work I did, helping people as they approached the end of their life and offering care to their loved ones.  However, acting and theatre always remained inside of me.  I went back to doing theatre part time and then, when the Covid pandemic hit, I thought ‘why not try audiobook narration?’  I yearned for creativity, and narration was something I could do in my home.  That was two plus years ago. It has taken a lot of study and work, but I am now part of a wonderful community of narrators.

What Are Three Things We Should Know About Your Area of Expertise?

First and foremost, narrators love books and stories.  That is really a prerequisite for an audiobook narrator.  Without that, why bother?  

Edith’s Country Store audiobooks – not narrated by Kathleen, alas, but popular with readers.

Second, audiobook narrators are a diverse group.  Many, but not all, have acting training and that is a significant help to get inside and inhabit the characters in a book.  However, other narrators come at it from all kinds of backgrounds. 

Third, the number of audiobooks has grown tremendously over the last ten years. In fact, the Audio Publishers report the tenth straight year of double-digit growth. According to the Audio Publishers Association’s Sales Survey, nearly 74,000 audiobooks were published in 2021, a 6% increase over 2020. “Science Fiction and Fantasy narrowly edged out Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense as the most popular genre by percentage of sales, with Romance and Fiction following close behind, and increases in Children’s and Young Adult revenue.”

I’m adding a fourth point here because I feel it is so important.  Some companies are claiming that they can successfully use artificial intelligence (AI) to narrate books.  Do not believe them! There is no way, an AI voice can capture the nuance, the breathing, the life of the characters that live in a book.  Narrators are very worried about this—and I hope authors are, too.

Is there a general characteristic that experts in this field all share?

We are an inquisitive bunch.  Any narrator worth their salt, wants to know all they can about the world of the book.  We do all sorts of research to do it justice: researching pronunciations, studying accents, understanding the time period and/or field or culture.  We also don’t mind—maybe even like—often working by ourselves.  Plus, we tolerate sitting in a small space or booth for to do the recording!

What do people usually get wrong when writing about your field?

Many people think audiobook narration is easy. They think it is as simple as sitting in front of a computer and speaking into the computer mic, and voila!   Nope.  It requires a lot of training and special equipment—microphone, software, hardware.  Recording needs to be done in as whisper quiet a space as possible, with no outside noise (darn those mowers, construction machinery, helicopters) and the space needs to be acoustically treated, so we don’t sound like we are recording in the Grand Canyon, for example.

What Are You Working on Now?

Right now, I am narrating a cozy mystery called Murder on the Menu: A Silver Sisters Mystery by Morgan St. James and Phyllice Bradner, who are, of course, sisters. It’s one book in a series.  There are lots of wonderful, quirky characters, including a famous French-Canadian chef, an up-and-coming young chef, a hippie who travels in a van and two twin sisters—very different in temperament– who are amateur sleuths.  It’s so much fun!

Readers: Ask Kathleen your questions!

Kathleen Bond

I hail from New Jersey–southern New Jersey, that is: corn, tomato, and scrapple country. So, I’m a hearty sort, softened by having had a proper British-born mother (yes, I like my tea). I’ve called Boston home for a long time–raised two sons here–after professional theatre stops in Philadelphia and Seattle. I have a B.F.A in acting, loads of professional theatre experience, and master’s degrees in both archaeology and healthcare chaplaincy. I promise you that I am not working my way down the alphabet of careers! I am drawn to these pursuits because–at their heart–they unearth peoples’ lives and tell their stories. I love to narrate audiobooks because it is such an intimate and powerful form of storytelling. Finally, when I am not behind the mic, you will find me in my garden, turning over the soil, planting, and singing.  Find me any time at my web site.

19 Thoughts

  1. I love audiobooks. Nothing makes long drives go faster, and I learn a lot along the way. Thank you for telling us bit about the “behind the scenes” aspect of recording them. BTW, you have a very pleasant and easily to understand voice.

    1. Hi, ginnyjc. You are most welcome. Agreed! There is nothing better than a long car drive and an audiobook. I recently was on a long trip and spent part of it listening to Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir and narrated by Ray Porter. It’s science fiction, which is not a genre I read or listen to much , but the narration is absolutely amazing. It won best audiobook of the year from the Audio Publisher’s Association. What was your latest listen?

  2. Excellent insights, Kathleen! The fourth point about A.I. is important. While I appreciate technology, applying the strengths and avoiding the weaknesses of the digital world is an art form more than a science.

    Having tried the artificial voices on podcasts, I echo your summary. A human adds a dimension that goes well beyond anything A.I. can produce. BTW: The time spent “tweaking” the A.I. voice (i.e., trying to achieve the “nuances of a human”) proved a waste of resources better applied elsewhere!

    1. Hi, Grant: Yes, I don’t understand how an AI voice can possibly create the subtlety or warmth of a human. Developers claim that AI is becoming more nuanced–that the voices can even ‘breathe’ in the ‘right’ places, but that still can’t replace a live human narrator. It’s my understanding (but don’t quote me) that there is more interest in AI for non-fiction books. I think that’s because people assume that there is no acting that goes into recording non-fiction. That is absolutely false. There is a lot of acting and nuance in recording non-fiction, but it is just a somewhat different kind of acting from a fiction piece. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  3. Fascinating look behind the curtain. My books aren’t in audio yet, but my publisher is working on it and I hope to say they soon are.

    And there’s no way AI can imitate the emotion needed to narrate an audiobook!

    1. Hi, Liz: So glad your books will come out in audio form. Please see my comments to Grant above that speaks to the AI issue in more detail. Kathleen

  4. Audiobooks are such a large part of the business nowadays and I have been so fortunate to have them released for my novels written as Jessica Ellicott. Thanks for sharing your perspective on how this sector of publishing comes to be!

  5. Hi, Jessie: You are welcome, and I’m glad you have audiobooks of your works! Kathleen

  6. I enjoy audio books, but it is amazing what a difference the narrator makes. It is obvious when they have put in the time and care to do it well.

    Thanks for the peak behind the sound booth.

    1. And I’m not interested in AI narrated books. Computers can’t put in the emotion and nuance that good narrators can.

      1. Thank you, Mark. Just curious—some listeners follow certain narrators they like, others focus more on the genre, rather than a specific narrator. Do you do one or the other?

      2. Hi, Mark: I tried to reply earlier, but it seems not to have taken. Thanks for commenting! Some listeners follow specific narrators, while others listen to a specific genre. Do you do one or the other? Just curious…..Kathleen

      3. I don’t follow narrators. My audio books are mysteries and typically mysteries I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t found the time to read yet. Also a little darker than my typical cozy. So I’m following authors, not narrators. (And sometimes authors through multiple narrators.)

    1. Hi, Mary: Great question. Absolutely. After I read the book for the first time, I do whatever research needs doing, and I almost always have questions for the author about the characters, pronunciations that I can’t find on my own, etc. Narrators often provide the author with a relatively short audio sample of the book, 15 minutes or so, before launching into the whole recording. It is at that point that the author provides the narrator with input about the sample. In addition, I promote the book on my social media (assuming the author wants me to).

  7. We love audiobooks and have listened to hundreds during our trips and on the way to work. We are retired now and don’t do much listening except on a trip. Hubby Dearest doesn’t read books–his loss, but he loves audiobooks. We don’t follow narrators but loved your behind-the-scenes info. What I like the most is that some narrators seem to become what we think the character is like. We love James Lee Burke audios because Will Patton to us is Dave Robicheaux. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone books had a great narrator as did Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books did at first and then they changed the narrator. They weren’t the same. Lorelei King is very good but Lori Petty to us was Stephanie. Some narrators are great and make the book better, but some are only so so. Keep up the good work and we will have to look into listening to you. I know that it is hard work, especially doing different voices and adding emotions.

  8. Hi, Madeleine:

    So happy that you are a devoted audiobook fan! I think there’s nothing better than finding a book series and narrator that fit together well. I don’t know if you listen to “classic” literature but, if you do, there is a podcast through Audiofile Magazine called Audiobook Break. They give you one chapter of a book 3x a week. I think they just finished Pride and Prejudice, and I listened to an absolutely amazing narration of David Copperfield by Nicholas Bolton (a British actor). Happy listening!


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