Sarah Bacaller is co-director of voice today, an Australian audiobook production company, and has narrated over 40 titles on Audible and beyond. She has produced audiobooks for Australian authors and regularly participates in audiobook productions with narrators around the world.
Sarah currently produces a series of audiobook podcasts, titled The opinion of the audiobook reader (landing later in 2022). She is the author of She tenacity (2022) and The founding fault lines of freedom (2020), and wrote for The conversation, Sydney Books Review, Zee Flux and a range of academic journals.
How would you describe what you do?
As a narrator, I bring texts to life through speech, recorded and broadcast for your listening pleasure in the form of audio books! As a producer, I work with authors, rights holders (or public domain texts), as well as narrators, proofreaders, and audiobook distributors to bring audiobooks to the world. My work is done through a company that I co-run called voice today.
How did you assert yourself in your career?
In 2016, I was home full time with a baby and a three-year-old. I was so exhausted at night that instead of reading books to my toddler, we used to listen to free audiobooks on Librivox, while I nursed the baby to sleep.
At the beginning and end of the Librivox recordings, they say, “For more information or to volunteer, please visit Librivox.org”. So one day I did.
Lily: The pros and cons of recording audiobooks
My husband (who studied music in college) set me up with a decent microphone and recording space and I contributed to a few Librivox projects. Out of the blue in 2016, I received an email from Denis Daly inviting me to join his association of narrators, voice today – and contribute to an Audible project of Australian poetry. I said no because I already felt overwhelmed. But he persisted and in 2020 he invited me to play halfbacks in the company.
What do you expect the most in your job?
When my kids were younger and I felt more isolated, storytelling was a manageable way to work with others on a project bigger than me. I could sneak in to record half an hour here and there, and little by little the plans fell into place. It’s really wonderful to collaborate with nice and creative people from all over the world, whether they are narrators, producers, distributors or authors, and to work together on projects that will bring joy to others. For me, listening to audiobooks reminds me of a childhood where my mother read to us every night and developed in us a deep love of words and stories.
During a job interview, what skills and qualities are you looking for?
For production: good diplomacy and mediation skills. Audio editing skills or willingness to delegate them! Attention to detail (audio).
For storytelling: good literacy and fluent expression, and ability to interpret text into communicative discourse. Many storytellers these days are also their own producers, proofreaders and editors – but even if they delegate these tasks, there is still a good degree of capability with the hardware and software needed to handle the audio recording.
What’s one of the most memorable books you’ve worked on?
Last year I worked on the memoir of Hazel Edward, Not just a piece of cake… Being an author (narrated by Erin Marie White). It was amazing because I remember my school librarian was reading There’s a hippopotamus on our roof to us in primary school, and my mother reads Hippo books to my own children now! I proofread and edited Hazel’s audiobook as well as her output, and really identified with her anecdotes and encouragement about juggling responsibility and navigating a long-term creative career. I was also reassured by Hazel’s drive and sense of adventure.
Last year I also told The Historian’s Daughter by Rashida Murphy. It was difficult due to the mix of languages, characters and settings in the book. But I also learned a lot about my own Anglo-Indian heritage because the protagonist of this story is Anglo-Indian.
There are other lovely authors I could mention, like Kate Constable and Susanne Gervay. We have Kate’s audiobook land of crows last year, which was very important for me because it is a text that is studied in many schools. Accessibility is really important and there are so many ways to interact with text.
What is the best thing happening in your industry?
Massive year-over-year growth in audiobook sales (at least in the US). And for us to voice today, a collaboration with Bolinda Audio that is now underway… Industry challenges however include the increasing incursion of AI technology into the storytelling space, underpayment and low incomes of industry professionals audio, and the underdevelopment of the industry in Australia. But we have some amazing stories to support and inspire us as we work towards a more inclusive and connected future, so that’s good news!