In House: ECW’s Bespeak Audio imprint

As the demand for audio content continues to gain popularity in Canada, the fine folks at ECW Press continue to deliver: dipping their headphones into audiobook production in 2009 with their first, they’ve since launched a new imprint, Bespeak Audio, which shares essential Canadian literature that needs to be heard as an audiobook. Below ECW’s Leah Kleynhans tells us about the imprint and what goes into casting and creating a final audiobook.


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ECW Press has been involved in the production and distribution of Canadian audiobooks since 2009 when we produced our very first audiobook: Fruit by Brian Francis. We really jumped into the deep end of production and distribution in 2015. Every year since then has offered up new opportunities and challenges that have helped refine our process into what it is today. We endeavour to learn more with every book we produce in order to ensure that we are always creating the best possible audiobook for the publishers and the authors that we work with.Some of you may already be familiar with the 100 Audiobooks pilot project. Through this project we helped publishers produce their own audiobooks for the first time, including House of Anansi, Greystone Books, Coach House Books, Playwrights Canada Press, and more.
Left to right: Age of Minority (Playwrights Canada Press), Pumpkin Eater (Dundurn Press), Gone to Pot (Second Story Press), Fifteen Dogs (Coach House Books), Letters to My Grandchildren (Greystone Books), Insatiable Machine (Fernwood Publishing)“When the opportunity arose to make an audiobook, we jumped right in…We participated in the 100 Ontario Audiobooks project, spearheaded by the fine folks at ECW Press…[We] are ever grateful to our colleagues for sharing their experiences.” — Annie Gibson, Playwrights Canada Press In 2017, we launched a second project: The Bespeak Audio imprint.Our mandate for the Bespeak imprint is to acquire essential Canadian literature that needs to be heard as an audiobook. We selected these books based on recommendations from over 250 people across the publishing industry including authors, academics, publishers, and more. Some of these stories are light and joyful while others take a closer look at the dark parts of Canadian history that we can’t afford to ignore. Although the content covers a broad range of topics, what all of the Bespeak books have in common is that they are written, published, recorded, narrated, edited, and produced by a team of Canadians who want to see more Canadian books on the audio market. Not only that, but we are dedicated to seeing our audiobooks available to all readers, both on retail platforms and from libraries. This means ensuring that our audiobooks are distributed to all digital vendors that libraries purchase from and that they are sold at a fair, non-metered price. When you buy a Bespeak audiobook, you are buying a piece of great Canadian literature — no strings attached!
A screenshot from“Wondering why you can’t borrow more eAudiobooks and eBooks? So are Canadian public libraries. We’ve got a plan to improve #eContentForLibraries — but we need your help to get the multinational publishers’ attention. Learn more at” — @torontolibrary, InstagramSo, what does it take to make a Bespeak audiobook? The first step is assigning the title manager and having them read the book. This may seem obvious, but we feel that casting a book properly can only be done by someone who is familiar with the entire book, so we always take the time to make sure someone on our team has read it from cover to cover.After the book has been read, the title manager gets in touch with the original publisher and begins a dialogue with the editor and/or the author about what they’re looking for in a narrator. There are so many talented Canadian actors who can bring these books to life and we want to make sure that the best voices are reading the right projects. Sometimes this means hiring the author to narrate, but more often than not, the author gets to be a part of choosing the narrator for their book which is always exciting. Our title managers gather up a collection of demos from various suitable narrators and from that pool of demos we choose the top two or three candidates for the role. Those candidates audition by reading a short excerpt from the book. Using these “self-tapes,” our title managers work with the casting team to choose the best narrator for the role.“Casting Honey was a great experience. I’d already fallen in love with the novel, so when the opportunity to work on the audiobook came around, I jumped on it. Working closely with the author and the editor allowed us to create the best possible in-studio team and we were thrilled to be able to cast Sharon Taylor of CBC‘s Bellevue to bring Honey‘s intricate characters to life for the audiobook.” — Jessica Albert, title manager of Honey and Digital & Art Director for ECW Press
Sharon Taylor at the Sound Kitchen in Vancouver, BC, recording Honey by Brenda Brooks.From there the project manager gets contracts signed, negotiates fair pay for everyone involved, and schedules recording sessions. While the recording itself may only take a handful of days, it actually takes a minimum of 13 weeks to create an audiobook! This is because the audiobook still has to be edited, audited, re-edited, mastered, and distributed after recording is done, all while collaborating with the original publisher to ensure that the final product matches their vision for the book. The process may be timely, but it is a labour of love that is well worth it to see more Canadian audiobooks on the market. 
The Shore Girl (NeWest Press) and No Good Asking (ECW Press)“Writing a book is one thing; hearing your book read aloud is another. It’s been thrilling for me to have my characters come to life through the voices of these madly talented narrators. I have such respect for the entire audiobook team and for the care and attention they have given to my words. The making of an audiobook feels like heart and soul stuff, same as writing, with lots of hard work and some magic too, and for that I’m so grateful.” — Fran Kimmel, author of No Good Asking and The Shore Girl The Bespeak Audio imprint is just getting started, but we couldn’t be prouder of what we have accomplished so far or more excited about what’s to come. All of the titles currently published under the Bespeak imprint can be viewed here as well as everywhere audiobooks are sold. We look forward to publishing even more great books in audiobook form and watching the Canadian audiobook industry continue to grow and evolve.* * *Our thanks to Leah at ECW Press for sharing this behind-the-scenes look at creating an audiobook! For more In House features with Canadian indie publishers, click here.