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Written by Cheri Nightingale, Audiobook Project Manager
I was recently asked by volunteer, Valerie Fenwick, to discuss what a “day in the life” looks like for a Project Manager working in the Audiobook Production Department at Learning Ally. Valerie was interested in learning about the differences between Producers and Project Managers in the book production process. The more I began developing my answers, the more I thought it might be a good post for our community blog, and maybe more of you might be interested in it!
Every book we produce will have a Producer, Project Manager, and a host of volunteers as part of the project team. Producers and Project Managers work on our Audiobook Solution and our new early literacy solution, Excite Reading. Each of those solutions has different processes and parameters. We produce both literature and textbooks, which adds more complexity. Our Classic Audio Textbooks teams have their own processes that are kept separate from the Literature Community teams due to the differences in how we produce different types of books. One example of this is the differences in how we prepare books for narration: our textbooks do not contain visible text on the screen; however, literature books do. Another difference is in visual elements. In textbooks, visual elements are dissected and turned into succinct audio descriptions by narrators. In Literature books, the images are available, but most of the images in the text are not described by the narrator. Due to those reasons, we tend to separate the production of these books from each other. For the sake of this discussion, I will focus on Literature Community Audiobook Solution titles and processes since that’s where I get the most questions.
Producers primarily work with our Narrators and help discover new voice-over talent by participating in recruitment events in the voice-over world (SAG/AFTRA, APAC, SOVAS, vocal coaches, Performing Arts programs at universities, etc.). In the next photo, you'll see me (far right, second row), at a recent Johnny Heller and Sean Pratt Austin Workshop where former Producer, Danielle Quisenberry-Ruvolo, and I were recruiting new narrators.
At any given time, Producers may be sorting and sifting through 700 project parameters surrounding character accents, dialogue requirements, character personalities, story perspective, etc., and using our databases to find voices in our Narrator Profiles that match those needs. Have you ever heard a staff member talk about the Narrator Profile form? The narrator profiles are the primary resource for assigning books which is why we ask our Narrator volunteers to update their profiles/audio samples often. Suppose you change your recording equipment or want to highlight a new audio sample for your voice. In that case, you can update your profile to be shared with our Head of Audio Production, Naava Feingold, by resubmitting your Narrator Profile form.
Once a book project is assigned to a narrator, our Producers (Ian McInnes and Ivuoma Hall) focus on getting narrators into our Volunteer Community app, Twist, where they will connect with staff members and other volunteers working on their assigned book project. Narrators will receive a project launch welcome email, information about certain performance aspects to consider in the reading, and be invited to conduct a first project audio review. At the audio review, our Producers listen closely to 1. make sure audio quality meets our updated recording requirements and 2. note any performance-based coaching for certain voices or character choices in the read. Producers then communicate to the Project Managers assigned to the title and “pass the baton” for the project. It’s not that Producers are no longer involved, as they will always be on call for performance-based questions, but the rest of the book project duties fall mainly into the Project Manager realm.
Project Managers are assigned by our Project Management Office, led by staffer Christina Trejos. I like to think of her as a benevolent, all-seeing source who knows how many projects each Project Manager is responsible for, determines all book project priorities, has an amazing amount of spreadsheet magic, and much more! Project Managers (PM) (Katherine Abraham, Audrey Santos, and Cheri Nightingale) are assigned to projects at the same time a Narrator is assigned to a project.
The PMs review in our spreadsheets as much information as we can upon assignment (Is this a new narrator? What kind of recording software does the narrator use? What is their estimated start date? Are they already in Twist for communication?...and more!) When the time is right, we make our first post in Twist, introducing ourselves as the PM and directing the narrator to helpful information. We do our best to assign the rest of the volunteer team members as quickly as possible. This includes finding volunteer Pozotron Proofers, Proof-Listeners, Sync Markers, and Project Leads, which is why you’ll find each of us posting in the Literature Project Launchpad area frequently to highlight new book projects. As you can probably tell at this point, it takes a village to produce one single audiobook, and our volunteers make up the majority of the team!
PMs work to answer Twist questions at least once daily for each of our projects. Our PMs can have about 50-60 projects going simultaneously at any given time. Frequently we’ll get asked to prioritize projects in a particular order due to student and school needs. So, while all projects are important, some need to be finished before others, and that’s why you’ll see PMs push certain projects out above others. But don’t worry, we’ll get to all book projects eventually!
To wrap up the project, PMs do a final check for any scanning errors (OCR errors) that are noted in the written text and still unfixed. Once those errors are corrected, the book is moved to “Premaster,” and the Project Manager’s job is ‘complete’ for that title. From here, Naava and the Quality Assurance Volunteers do a final quality review of each title to find any errors before the book is moved into our library for students to use.
Next up on the to-do list: PMs are responsible for alerting the team when a title, or project, is complete and ready to have a book trailer made. Book trailers are 30-60 second clips of a book used throughout Learning Ally to engage educators, students, and schools in our audiobooks. Narrators are also welcome to use the trailers to showcase their talent on their websites and resumes! Staff member Michael Kinsey and the Book Trailer Volunteer Team are responsible for creating these trailers.
It really does take a village to create each audiobook! Overall, I want to thank our volunteers for continuing to be curious and conscientious about our new book production model. Without your help, we wouldn’t be able to help the many developing readers out there who use our audiobook solutions! I’m inspired daily, and I hope we never run out of projects.
Ayesha Benice Lim
Eva Folch Muixi