Getting Started with Audio Book Narration

With a mother who was a children’s librarian and did the best bedtime stories, I’ve always been fascinated with audiobook narration. As an adult, I’ve dabbled in voice acting with the fairytale podcast, Anansi Storytime (Anansi, like the spider). So, how do you get started with audiobook narration, how do authors find a narrator for their works, and should you ever record your own stories?

The titular panel at Imaginarium 2022, had panelists Mike Houtchen, Jamila D. Smith, Bridgett Nelson, E.G. Rowley, Michael K. Falciani, and James O. Barnes, and was moderated by Kate Shaw.

The description was as follows: Learn from professional narrators how you can become one yourself.

Many of the panelists were authors who had worked with narrators, a few were narrators who had worked with authors, or were narrators and authors themselves.

Getting Into Audio Book Narration

Usually, when talking to professionals, there’s the part about how to get started. Well, most of the narrators had narrated their own works. E. G. Rowley got his start when he fell off his bike (or was it skateboard) outside of a recording studio. And has a voice perfect for movie trailers. That’s not really something that’s reproducible by 99.99% of the world. Michael Falciani got in by having a publishing house and wanting to do the audio books ‘in house’.

So, that part wasn’t so helpful.

What do you need to get started?

If you’re looking into doing audiobook narration — for yourself or for profit, there’s a few things you’ll need, and a few things that can only make your narration stronger.

Before you get the job:

  • The right microphone and filter
  • A quiet space to record
    • Could be a walk-in closet, a bed with a blanket over your head, a room with moving blankets pinned up, just make sure there is no echo and that the vocal quality will remain consistent throughout the entire recording process
  • Take an acting class
  • Audio editing software — or money to hire an editor (or split the profit with them)
  • Upload samples of your narration skills — you can read works in the public domain

Where to find the job (for narrators OR authors):

If you’re looking into getting into voice acting, there’s actually less competition for narration jobs than voice-over work. Then again, it’s typically a much longer time commitment, unless you’re working on a tv series.

Don’t underprice yourself. Take a good look at the sample text and how long it’s actually going to take you — not best case on a good day — and go from there. There are a lot of places to look for jobs, but the main ones are:

  • ACX – (Audible)
    • Most of the jobs can be found here
    • They have a looong 7-year exclusive audio rights contract
    • They take a 60% cut, leaving only 40% for the author and narrator to split
  • Fiverr – you usually get what you pay for, but you never know

After you get the job:

  • Read the book all the way through (or listen to it with Siri/etc)
  • Make notes on the characters — attitudes, accents, etc. Some people highlight in different colors
  • Get a list of all the names and words you’re unfamiliar with pronounced properly by the author
  • Get the author to demo any fantasy accents for you – or collaborate to create one
  • Plan your time:
    • Average read-aloud speed is 155-165 words per minute
    • Average raw recording and processing time is significantly longer that of the final product. (3+ hours work for 1 hour of narration)
    • Most voice actors can only record for 45-90 min at a time. You don’t want to strain your voice and you need your voice to stay consistent throughout the entire length of the recording.
  • Determine to what extent you are purely narrating and to what extent you’re voice acting with accents and different character voices. Listen to audio books to see what styles you prefer and works with your voice
  • If you have a paper book, is it going to make noise flipping pages?
  • To start a session
    • rereading the scene before you record
    • hydrate
    • warm-up your voice
  • Wear headphones — so you can pick up on small background noises
  • Pay attention to your breaths — don’t let them get caught on microphone (unless they’re in the script)
  • When you need to repeat a line, start at the beginning of the sentence.
  • For audio editors, ‘f’ sounds are easier to match up
  • REMEMBER: Even experienced pros have piles of corrections they’ll need to make

Tell me about professional audio editors

Sometimes the author/publisher will hire an editor, sometimes it’s expected for you to do the work yourself — or hire it out. If you hire an audio editor — they will make sure there are.

  • no dropped words
  • no added words
  • no breaths of air (that aren’t written in)
  • the character voices are consistent
  • no mispronounced words

In 2022, a skilled professional runs about $3,500 for 10 hours of narration and it takes them about 18 hours to proof it. At 160 words per minute, that’s 96,000 words, or a reasonable length fantasy book.

For Authors Looking For Narrators

You can look for narrators in the same places they’re looking for jobs. Some are cheaper, some are pricier, it’s all in what you’re looking for — and production quality.

And manage your expectations. For most indie or small press authors, 5-10 sales of an audiobook per month is good.

How to pick a narrator

  • Fill out very detailed information sheet on what you’re looking for
  • Prepare recorded samples of names, places, made up words
  • Prepare notes on character accents/personalities/etc
  • Listen to samples
  • Think about the setting and the characters when selecting a voice
    • match that, not necessarily what sounds best to your ear
  • Build a relationship with narrator
  • Don’t be afraid to give the narrator notes!

Just be sure your story is ready before you get a narrator for it.

Should I narrate my own book?

The panelists — especially the professional narrator — gave a resounding “YES”! No one knows your story like you do, or your intent with every line and every word.

Tell me about your experiences with audio book narration! Were you the voice? The author?
If you’re a fan, what do you like best in a narrator?

Any tips that the panelists missed?

Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.

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