My First Time ~ Jennifer Sullivan from Tantor Audio

My First Time: A Celebration of Audiobooks featuring Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger, read by Eliza Dushku

It is with great excitement that I post my very first My First Time guest post. As with many good things, this all came about as the result of seemingly idle Twitter chatter. I mentioned that I enjoyed finding out about other audiobook lovers’ first audiobooks and Jennifer Sullivan, Marketing Coordinator for Tantor Audio, offered to write a guest post about her first experience. With that, more audiobook greatness was born.

I hope you enjoy Jennifer’s story about her first time as much as I did. Follow her on Twitter: @TantorAudio.

My first audiobook experience had to be related to June Is Audiobook Month, only I didn’t know it at the time. Nor did I know it would pave the way to the career I now have.

It was 2006, and I was working as a Special Order Coordinator at R. J. Julia Booksellers, an independent bookstore in Madison, Connecticut. It was either very late in May or early June, and the Marketing Director was talking to the staff about how June would be audiobook month for the store. She had a white box with audiobooks that were for us to listen to, not for inventory. We were all encouraged to select one, listen to it over the next few days and then write up a little something to give to her for an email newsletter and for shelf talkers in the store.

[It was only later while working at Tantor, did I realize that June was audiobook month EVERYWHERE and that white box was most likely from the APA.]

While I can’t remember which titles were in the box, I do remember that most of them didn’t look that interesting. It’s true! I also remember wanting something light and preferably short. This was to be my first listening experience and I knew I didn’t want to be tied to a book. Then I saw Everyone Worth Knowing, by Lauren Weisberger, read by Eliza Dushku. I hadn’t read Weisberger’s first book, The Devil Wears Prada, but I knew they were lighter, chick lit type of books, so I grabbed it. It was only five discs, so I thought to myself, “This shouldn’t be too bad.”

When I got home that evening, I popped the discs into my CD player, which was a five-disc changer. “How perfect!” I thought to myself, “Now I don’t have to change discs or any of that nonsense.” I went about my evening routine—dinner, checking email, other chores, pausing the discs only to answer the phone. The phone calls were kept short: “I have to listen to this audiobook for work, can I call you later?” I remember saying to my now-husband. I had to get back to the story of Bette and her finding her way, post-college graduation.

When I chose this audiobook, I didn’t realize that the main character (Bette) was just a few years younger than me at the time, and while I’d been out of college for a few years, I was still trying to find my way. I was hoping that working at the bookstore would help me to figure out my next move, maybe into publishing? As I listened, I could identify with some of her struggles—a boring job (I had one before I went to work at the bookstore), bosses that didn’t understand (ditto), dealing with the expectations of family and friends, and trying to find Mr. Right. Bette’s story pulled me in, and by disc 3, I was sitting on my couch very still, as the sky darkened, listening to the story. It was like being at the movies without a picture. I thought, “This is very similar to old radio shows. Just being still and listening to the stories.”

Thinking about that experience now, I wonder how often really sit still to enjoy something? Even during television shows, I’m folding laundry, flipping through the mail. People at the movies need to continuously check their phones, even though we all see the “warning” before the picture starts. Even now, as an audiobook listener, I’m doing dishes, cleaning, gardening, driving to work. Actually, driving to work is probably the most still I am all day!

After I was done listening, I realized that it was an abridged audiobook, and wondered what exactly they cut, since I didn’t feel like I was missing anything in the story. I haven’t listened to an abridged book since.

Why? No, I’m not a snob or particular about these things. In mid-July of 2006, only a month or so after I heard my first audiobook, I saw an ad for a marketing assistant position at a company called Tantor Media. It was an audiobook publisher, and what they were looking for, I was pretty sure I could do, although I was a little concerned that my lone audiobook experience would cut me from the running.

I was looking for publishing or marketing jobs, since I realized that while I enjoyed working with books, an independent bookstore wouldn’t be enough to support me, long-term, and since much of what I was doing was marketing-related, I knew that if I couldn’t find a publishing job, I could try my hand at marketing. So I applied to everything I could find. In Connecticut, there weren’t many publishing jobs (still aren’t!), and many of the marketing jobs wanted serious experience. I’d had a few bites, they didn’t work out for various reasons. I sent my information to Tantor, and waited. I didn’t hear anything right away, which is how most application processes go, so I put it out of my mind.

August rolled around, and I got a call from Tantor. They wanted to see me! In the time that had passed between my application and the phone call, the bookstore had started getting mailings from them. Was this a sign? Whatever it was, I was grateful, because the mailings helped me to learn more about the company’s titles. The day I drove out to Old Saybrook for my interview was one of the hottest days on record—this I will never forget, mostly because I had received a confirmation email the day before with a note about how the office was fairly casual and that a suit wouldn’t be necessary. Phew!

The interview went well, and I liked what I saw. I was asked about my experience with audiobooks, and I answered honestly, but enthusiastically, because that’s how I felt. My honesty and enthusiasm, combined with my knowledge of the publishing industry, got me the job! I accepted the offer, left for a vacation, finished up my time at the bookstore, and then joined Tantor on September 11, 2006.

In the four years and nine months I’ve worked here (yes, I keep track!), both my role with the company and my audiobook repertoire have grown significantly. I’m now Marketing Coordinator, and my duties are as varied as the audiobooks we publish. From interacting with our reviewers, customers, authors and narrators on Twitter; serving as contact for all reviewers; collecting data; updating areas of our web site; and creating our HotList e-newsletter and consumer sales emails, I’m never bored. There’s always something that needs to be done to bring our audiobooks to the attention of our customers, be they libraries or consumers. It’s exciting to know that a new book is coming out and being able to share that with eagerly awaiting fans.

As you can imagine, during this time, I’ve listened to many audiobooks. I can’t tell you how many, but I venture to guess over 100. I really should have kept track. The first Tantor audiobook I listened to was The First Assistant, by Claire Naylor and Mimi Hare, read by Shelly Frasier.

Why do I listen? No, it’s not required of my job, but it helps me to do my job. When it comes time to nominate titles for the Audie Awards, I can chime in with my thoughts about narration. In 2010, we won an Audie Award for Darling Jim, by Christian Moerk, read by Stephen Hoye and Justine Eyre. I had listened to that book and knew it was something special. There wasn’t a fight to get it entered, but my comments helped seal the deal.

Listening also helps me connect with our customers; I’m a frequent participant in #FridayListens on Twitter, sharing what I’m listening to at the moment. And yes, listening also helps pass the time during my 30 to 40 minute commute. I don’t have as much time to read print books as I used to, but with listening allows you to kill two birds with one stone. In my case, though, I guess I could say I’m killing many birds? The only place that I really can’t listen is at work! With the nature of my job duties and how I am as a listener, my attention can’t split in that many directions!

As for what I’m listening to now, I’m on disc 2 of Laurie Notaro’s Autobiography of a Fat Bride, read by Hillary Huber. I recently finished Bound, by Antonya Nelson, read by Cassandra Campbell.

If you told me five years ago when I grabbed that audiobook in the back room of the bookstore that someday I’d be working for one of the leaders of independent audiobook publishing in the country, I would have laughed. Looks like Everyone Worth Knowing was worth knowing, I mean, listening.


  • At 2011.06.13 11:07, Beth F said:

    Loved this post. What an interesting story and so great to get to know Jennifer S a little bit better.

    • At 2011.06.13 11:35, Karen White said:

      Love Jen’s story – she’s always been so great to work with (although mostly by email) and it’s great to hear how she got into the audiobook world.

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      • At 2011.06.13 12:21, Jen Forbus said:

        Jennifer’s story made me smile. It is fun to find out how everyone made their separate ways to a love of audio.

        • At 2011.06.13 13:51, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

          Your first good listening experience is always amazing. I was surprised at how much I enjoy audio books and I’m not sure why – as kids most of us loved to be read to.

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          • At 2011.06.14 09:11, Beth Hoffman said:

            What a neat story and a terrific guest post too!

            (Required, will not be published)

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