Choosing your Audiobook Narrator
Audiobooks are expected to jump 40% in sales this year according to the New York Times, following double-digit year-to-year growth for several years. So, if you’re thinking about how to get a piece of the action, then you’re in the right mindset. Let’s take a peek at some of the challenges and options ahead.
Be your own narrator
I regularly work with authors who choose to record their own books while I serve as the director/coach/technician. Here are some potential potholes to avoid in the road ahead if you plan to narrate your own book:
– Flat narration
– Shallow breathing
– Mouth sounds
– Noisy clothes or furniture
– Inconsistency of vocal quality
Recording often flattens the voice, a bit like a tire losing air, so it helps if you make some effort to offset that effect. Flat narration causes the listener to get bored and tune out. Keep the narrative alive, smile when you read, and try to stay inside the story emotionally. Pump some air into it! Read it like it is your favourite story and you love telling it. Imagine telling the story to an audience of one person who personifies your target audience… but remember the idea is to sound natural – we don’t want the tire to pop either. Shallow breathing or Darth Vader breathing not only makes it harder to keep the flow of your sentences natural, it will drive your listeners nuts unless you edit out those breath gulps. To breathe deeply and quietly, think of opening your throat to let the air in silently.
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Mouths can be full of sounds, especially if you are not well hydrated. Drink lots of water during the recording session, and also in the days leading up to it. Wear knits when recording, so you can move without your clothes saying “shhhh.” When recording, try to be still – not like a statue, but like a tree on a calm day. Beware: chairs and stools can be noisy. If you can manage it, I recommend standing while recording.
Inconsistency may be your biggest challenge. After recording awhile, the voice gets tired and raspy. Or, one day you feel great and another day you’re tired and your voice reflects that. Manage your sessions so you can be consistent. Recording at a consistent time of day can help. This is also important when you have to make corrections. Matching your own voice one day to the next takes some practice and finesse. One of the biggest challenges in narrating an audiobook, especially a long novel with many characters, is maintaining consistency of character voices. Characters should sound distinct enough so that the listener knows who is speaking at any given time. Create those distinctions, and then remember each character’s voice.
If narrating becomes about reading words from a page, then the vitality will be lost and so will your audience.
Stay connected with the story and its emotional journeys for each character. If narrating becomes about reading words from a page, then the vitality will be lost and so will your audience. Articulation is important, as is phrasing that clearly expresses each idea and emotion, but it should never override the emotional lifeblood of the story itself. I have found that even when authors narrate their own work, they can get so focused on reading without stumbling that they forget to really enjoy being the storyteller. Keep in mind that non-fiction is a story as well, even if it doesn’t have an emotional landscape. With non-fiction, the key is communicating the ideas clearly and with interest. The narrator has to be invested in the material. Smiling while reading non-fiction is especially important and makes a huge difference in how it sounds.
Hire a Narrator
When seeking a professional to narrate your book, search for a great actor. They don’t have to be famous, they just need to know how to act well, and to be more than just a pretty voice. Audiobook producers will find actors for you or have online demos of their narrators. Otherwise, you can set up a free account at ACX.com and search their massive database. Go back to the questions earlier in this article, to narrow your search. You can also use services like upwork.com and post the job there.
When you are soliciting auditions, pick out a section that you think might be the hardest part in the book. If you have dialogue, pick a scene with the most voices. You should only need about three minutes of narration for an audition selection. If there is anything that you don’t like – stop. Ask the narrator to make a change, which will also help you find out if they can take direction. Don’t settle for something less than great – your listeners won’t, so neither can you.
The decision to record one’s own audiobook is sometimes driven by the notion of saving money. This can be true, but is not always. Whether we’re talking out of pocket costs or time spent, either way it may be more cost effective to hire a professional. On the other hand, if you feel drawn to record your own material, go for it! If you’ve never done this sort of thing before, however, I do recommend you get some help in figuring out the best way to approach it.
When it comes to selecting an audiobook distribution company, it’s simple. You only have 2 choices: ACX.com (an Amazon company), which distributes ONLY to Audible and iTunes; or AuthorsRepublic.com, which distributes to all available audiobook distribution channels including Audible and iTunes. I use Authors Republic for my clients.
Finally, if you are not yet an audiobook listener, you are missing out. Subscribe to an audiobook distributor like Audiobooks.com or Audible.com or any of many out there, and join us in the world of audiobooks.
SHOULD YOU BE THE NARRATOR OR HIRE SOMEONE ELSE?
- Is it important or valuable for it to be in your own voice? (e.g. if it’s a memoir or you have a speaking career)
- Does your book need gender-specific narration? (e.g. it’s written in the first person or with a strong narrative gender-specific perspective)
- Are there accents and/or dialects that are critical to the narrative success of the story?
- Is the narrative voice in a specific age range?
For more information about Becky’s company, Pro Audio Voices, head to www.proaudiovoices.com