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Monday, June 25, 2012

Interview: Sarah Lieberman of Simon & Schuster Audio

Sarah Lieberman, director of marketing for Simon & Schuster Audio, is stopping by to shed some light on some of the decisions made during audiobook production and how the finished product gets marketed. 

Sarah Lieberman 

What goes into selecting a narrator for a novel being turned into an audiobook?

A lot goes into selecting the narrator for an audiobook . . . the voice makes or breaks the production.  

We get a manuscript very early on in the production process & immediately begin a wish-list for the reader.  Is the narrator male or female?  Young or old?  From a particular geographical region?  Required to read dialogue, or present complex ideas, or be funny?  All the demands are weighed & we then try to cast the right voice for the book and make the best-possible marriage. Often, too, the writer is involved in the casting decision.   No one better knows the tone & personality of a book than its author.  When David McCullough does not record his books himself, he almost always requests Edward Herrmann.  Herrmann, a devoted reader of McCullough, seems to be one with the writing, and perfectly matches his delivery to McCullough’s beautiful storytelling.   

How do you determine what format an audiobook with be produced on (CD, MP3 CD, Digital, etc.)? 

Everything we publish will be available digitally, and will be available on CD for libraries.  We still publish the majority of our list on CD for the retail market, but as the available retail space shrinks for CD, we are getting more selective.  In some cases, particularly for authors early in their career, it’s better to hold off on a CD publication rather than put out very few copies that are hard to find, which creates a poor perception in the eyes of our accounts.  MP3 CD is a format that holds some promise, and we continue to experiment with it.

How do you keep up with what readers like and dislike about the audiobook experience?

We are always trying to stay in touch with the listening audience and certainly over the last few years social media has developed into a terrific way to do so. Facebook and Twitter in particular have become a great way to learn more about narrators that people particularly enjoy, where and when people are listening to audiobooks, and of course sales figures give us a sense of what titles stand out at retail. We are always looking to make the best consumer experience and to get new listeners to give audiobooks a try. I have always found that once someone tries one audiobook they’re hooked, but sometimes it’s a hurdle to get readers to try that first listening experience. Encouraging people to do that is really one of the biggest challenges we face and also our biggest opportunity.

How is promoting an audio title different from promoting a print title? How is the market different from that of a hardcover or paperback?

Most of the titles we publish are based on a book that has a full marketing and publicity plan behind it.   So, the first thing we do is to make sure the audiobook is incorporated into those plans as much as possible.   Then our task is to focus on spreading the word about what’s special about the audio. Online tools like bloggers, reviewers, targeted advertising, and of course social media have become great vehicles for promoting audiobooks.  One thing we’re trying to highlight is the connection between authors and narrators.  We love to do video and audio interviews with the authors and narrators and to post that material online along with excerpts from the actual programs. We also use that content as bonus material on the audio programs themselves. Just recently we had a huge response from fans thrilled to hear Stephen King narrating his Dark Tower audiobook The Wind Through the Keyhole, and as a bonus we included an excerpt of Steve reading from Doctor Sleep, his forthcoming sequel to The Shining. Similarly, we just shot a fantastic video of Brad Thor and his longtime narrator, actor Armand Schultz. We’ll be using excerpts from the video promotionally online and the full audio interview with the pair will be included on the July release, Black List.


  1. Sarah has a great understanding of readers and listeners. I was super hesitant about audiobooks but after one I was hooked ! It's good to know that the narrators have a connection with the authors, knowing this adds something to the experience of listening.

  2. This is really interesting. I never realized how much work goes into each audio book both by the reader and behind the scenes.