‘What do you love most about your job?’
‘No two days are ever the same.’
It’s the standard response given by so many professionals, especially in publishing, but in the case of working in the ever-evolving audio team at HarperCollins, it’s true! I manage the audio lists for William Collins, 4th Estate and Collins Reference – three varied lists that span everything from literary fiction to political memoir and nature writing to the best-selling Paul Noble language series.
Starting the day
I start the day the way we all do: by checking my emails. I sort through them and build my to-do list for the week. Lurking in my inbox can be anything from actors needing notes on accents and performance for an upcoming recording, to queries from our digital retailers, or in-house editors wanting feedback on submissions from an audio perspective.
Next up I check in on recordings happening throughout that week and the rest of the month. In any given month I can be overseeing as many as 20 recordings at studios throughout London and beyond. Lockdown really changed the way we are able to record, and many actors set themselves up with home studios so now I’m as likely to be dialling in to a recording happening in an actor’s home and producing remotely as I am to be going along to one of our London studios.
Once I’m happy that dates are confirmed for upcoming recordings, and that our studios, producers and actors all have copies of the final scripts to prepare from, I start dialling in to my meetings for the day. Throughout the week these include a weekly acquisition meeting where editors present new titles, marketing and publicity meetings where we discuss plans for upcoming publications, or meetings with the digital sales team where we catch up on titles that are a priority in audio.
HarperCollins is currently operating in a hybrid work model where everyone is in the office two days a week. I really look forward to my office days, loading my meetings on those days to really make the most of face-to-face collaboration with colleagues.
One of the best parts of my job is getting to accompany authors to recordings of their books. I make time for this as much as possible, and it’s a real thrill to be with them as they see their work brought to life by an actor in the studio. The other upside of this is that we’re able to get great additional marketing content for the audiobook and that the author is then really engaged with the audio format when discussing and promoting their book.
Of course, working in non-fiction means that a lot of authors also narrate their books themselves. First-time readers will often need pointers on how to approach the narration, and it’s part of my job to make sure all our authors feel prepped and ready to go when they get into the booth.
Wrapping up the week
I try to keep Fridays set aside for reading and casting. Casting the right narrator for an audiobook is key – it makes or breaks the listener experience. With a list of over 150 books per year, it’s important to set aside time for this (although recordings and meetings often interrupt!). Whilst reading I try to think about what accents and pronunciations might be needed in a text, what sort of voice and overall style we want, as well as things like gender and age. I put together a casting list to send on to the author for their input and approval, before sending offers out to agents.
I finish off the week with a round-up of audio news for my divisions – this can include details of recordings, snippets from the studio, how our books are performing in audio and news from the wider audio market.
Audio is one of the fastest-growing parts of the publishing landscape year on year. Understanding this dynamic and ever-changing area is increasingly important, whether you want to work in Digital & Audio or work in another part of the business and want to reach the widest audience possible with your books. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!
Jess Barnfield is a Senior Audio Editor at Harper Collins where she manages the audio for William Collins, 4th Estate and Collins Reference. She previously spent 5 years at Penguin Random House, working primarily on audiobooks for Penguin General and Cornerstone.