Jake Burt
Author Jake Burt was terrified about who would read his audiobook. “And then I heard Tara Sands.”

Pssst…greetings, listeners! We just can’t keep author Jake Burt’s hilarious essay recounting his audiobook experience all to ourselves. His debut middle-grade listen, GREETINGS FROM WITNESS PROTECTION! (on sale now), about a family on the run (plus, one streetwise girl pretending to be a family member—to throw the bad guys off, of course. But don’t tell anyone!) is brought to life on audio by four terrific narrators. But what is it really like to be an author about to meet the voices of your fictional creations for the first time? Terrifying, apparently. And also—a lot of fun!

Young listeners will definitely want to enter this WITNESS PROTECTION (audio) program. Booklist says in a starred review: “Burt, a fifth-grade teacher, nails the tween voice in his fiction debut.” Keep reading to hear about the casting process from the author himself!

“Author Audiobook Anxiety” by Jake Burt

One of the most daunting parts of publishing GREETINGS FROM WITNESS PROTECTION! was the prospect of the audiobook version. It’s not that I was concerned about any particular aspect of the process; Listening Library did a fantastic job, and the people behind the scenes (shout-out to Emily, Sarah, Andrew, and the rest of the production crew!) were happy to guide me through the steps and reassure me that yes, they did in fact have the correct manuscript, and no, they didn’t need me to tape myself saying every character’s name out loud—it turns out that Nicki and Brit aren’t quite the linguistic hurdles I worried they might be. Rather, I was terrified about who they’d get to read the book.

A bit of background about the novel and how it developed might be helpful in therapist-couching my anxiety here. GREETINGS is written in first-person present, meaning that whoever reads it is, de facto, THE voice of the main character. And that protagonist? Nicki Demere? She’s been in my head, telling me her story, correcting me when I managed to butcher it in the transcribing, for the better part of three years. I have—no joke—had entire conversations with this girl in my own brain, as though hers was a voice out of the ether looking for an amanuensis, rather than a kid I was making up as I went along. I imagine it’s that way for a great many authors, and so when we’re faced with the prospect of hearing our children’s voices in as official a version as we’re likely to get, it can be nerve-wracking.

So it was when I received the email asking me to choose the narrator for the book. I wasn’t just picking the person to read my words. I was, in my estimation, deciding on the codified representation of a part of myself. I was all kinds of angsty, doing the sweaty-hands mouse-clicking thing on each actor’s audio sample that Listening Library linked me to. I was ready to be uncompromisingly and obnoxiously discerning, ready to dismiss every single suggestion they made until they reached the conclusion that the only possible narrator was Jake Burt himself, mostly because the jerk simply refused to accept anyone else and they had a deadline to meet. That, I was convinced, was the only way I’d feel that Nicki was being adequately represented.

Yep, I was ready to dig in, to demand my symbolic bowl of green M&Ms.

Tara Sands

Tara Sands
at Penguin Random House Audio’s
Los Angeles studios
photo credit: @TaraSandsLA

And then I heard Tara Sands.

The fact that she is perhaps best known as the voice of Bulbasaur in the long-running Pokemon cartoons was instantly reassuring; that stocky little amalgam of dinosaur, frog, and massive Jurassic-era flower bud had always been my favorite Pokemon (no, really—I used to play the card game back in the day, and I won my first tournament with a deck featuring the Bulbasaur evolution line). However, what sold me was her tone: knowing, slightly sardonic, and vulnerable. I knew immediately that I was listening to my main character, and I was blown away. And now that I’ve listened to the entirety of the book, I’m surer than ever that Listening Library and Tara Sands did the very thing for me that I’m hoping to do for everyone else:

They introduced me to Nicki Demere.


Narrator Tara Sands

Praise for award-winning narrator Tara Sands:
“Narrator Sands delivers a charming and lighthearted performance that listeners will love. Sands’s ability to create colorful, over-the-top characters is…pitch-perfect.”—Publishers Weekly (Flora & Ulysses)

“Narrator Tara Sands’s authentic emotions and energy capture the listener as she portrays the uncommon characters in this poignant story.”—AudioFile (Lemons)