Becoming an Audiobook Narrator: What You Need to Know

Becoming an Audiobook Narrator: What You Need to Know

You’ve thought about it a lot, and now you want to become an audiobook narrator. Great! But where do you start?

I spoke to Jessica Stone to ask her all the questions you want to know. Jess is the audio producer at audiobook charity Listening Books. She has produced nonfiction books for children and young adults with volunteer narrators for Listening Books, as well as professional audiobooks with working actors for independent publishing houses. She gave us some insights to help you get into the business.

What makes a good audiobook narrator? I’ve been told I have a nice voice – will that help?

Having a voice that people like to listen will certainly help! But it isn’t the only, or even the most important, quality. A good audiobook narrator is a good reader. They understand the subtleties of language and they can quickly interpret complex sentence structures. They’re able to sink into the text and reflect all that emotion with their voice. They’re able to tell a story.

Honestly, it’s a rare skill. It’s not the same as being a good speaker, or even being a good actor, although both of those things can help. It takes mental agility and stamina along with the technical skills.

I do love reading – but I hate certain genres of books. Can I choose what books I narrate?

Generally speaking, you will perform better if you enjoy the text you’re reading. But the answer to this question probably depends on whether or not you’re pursuing narration professionally.

You always have the freedom to turn down a book you don’t want to narrate, but if you’re trying to break into professional narration then you may find you have to cut your teeth on books you wouldn’t necessarily choose to read yourself.

When it comes to volunteering for Listening Books we are interested in both your strengths and your preferences when casting. That’s why we ask you on the application form to tell us what kinds of books you prefer.

Do I have to have my own studio or be a trained actor to become a professional audiobook narrator?

Neither of these things are necessary. Some freelance narrators do create their own studios, but here at Listening Books we record all our audiobooks in our own professionally equipped studio. You also don’t have to be a trained actor, although admittedly this can certainly help. Not all good actors are good narrators and vice versa – but there is a significant overlap!

How much do audiobook narrators get paid?

How long is a piece of string?

What you will be paid depends not just on how experienced or famous you are (or aren’t), but also on things like whether or not you’re recording in your own studio and handling the post-production as well. However, it is most common for narrators to be paid per finished hour. In other words, no matter how long it takes you to record, you will be paid according to how long the finished audiobook is. This makes for a great incentive to slow down when narrating! You’re less likely to make time-consuming mistakes that way, and you’re also increasing the amount of money you will be paid.

How long does it take to record an audiobook then?

That will depend on the book and your experience. It will take longer if you get frustrated when making mistakes – and making mistakes is frequent and inevitable! One of Listening Books’ volunteers, who is also a professional voice actor, has a great habit of saying “thank you” instead of “sorry” whenever he’s corrected. That’s a wonderful habit to get into. It keeps things positive for everyone, and it means he doesn’t get flustered, which saves time.

On average, though, a typical novel of about 100,000 words takes four pretty intense, long days to record.

If it takes that long to record, do I have to read the whole book before I start recording?

Yes please! You’ll want to check for any words or names you don’t know how to pronounce and research those for a start. Plus you need to note dialogue that isn’t clearly tagged (is Harry or Sally speaking here?) and for sneaky descriptors that come after the fact – like “Come here,” she hissed.

All these things will need to be marked up in your text as you prep so that you don’t get into the studio and start yelling, “COME HERE!” she hiss…oh.

This is also when you’ll want to make character choices. If there are lots of characters then you’ll need to keep pretty organised notes.

Should I do voices for all the different characters?

Again, this is really dependent on the book (sorry!).

Some of the audiobooks we record at Listening Books, like the Murderous Maths series, benefit from really exaggerated, cartoon-like character voices. Then there are some that are just straightforward nonfiction that may not require voices at all. And then there are others that are somewhere inbetween.

Especially when there’s dialogue in fiction there should be at least some change in inflection so that the listener knows someone new is speaking. The extent to which you change your voice will depend on the type of book, your own instincts, and the producer’s direction. But my own preference is that the voice shouldn’t distract from the text.

I don’t have an RP accent, or even a British one! Can I still be an audiobook narrator?

Of course! Right now, I’m looking for narrators with international accents like Syrian, Congolese, Sudanese, Central American, Greek, and more. Regional British accents are also often in high demand. For example, I specifically need a Cumbrian accent for one book that I’m casting.

I prefer to cast a variety of voices and accents for even the more straightforward nonfiction books that don’t require a particular region to be represent. And if you want to narrate professionally then having a regional accent can be a serious bonus! The competition won’t be as wide as for an accent like RP.

Do you have any pet peeves?

One thing that really annoys a lot of people – including me – is ostentatiously raising or lowering a voice in order to convey gender. This isn’t needed.

The most irritated I’ve ever been when listening to an audiobook, though, was when the reader put an odd stress on the dialogue tags. After every speech they left a dramatic pause and then announced ‘he said‘ with emphasis. Dialogue tags function a bit like punctuation in a text: you’re not really supposed to notice them. They just quietly help you make sense of what you’re reading. So to draw that much unwarranted attention to them sounds strange. And once you notice something like that it is is very difficult not to keep noticing it, so the irritation just increases as you go along.

This isn’t really a pet peeve…but one thing that is surprisingly difficult, even for some otherwise very talented readers, is to convey a parenthetical phrase. The listener somehow has to hear that it is an aside. I am quite surprised by how few people seem to be able to do this well.

How can I become an audiobook narrator for Listening Books?

We are very fortunate to have so many talented voice artists donate their time to us. If you’re interested in joining the roster of volunteers you can express your interest by sending this application form by email to studios@listening-books.org.uk. The form will ask you to include a bit of background about you so we can see if any of our upcoming projects would be a good fit. You can also check out our website for more information.

We’re always happy to consider all kinds of narrators – from absolutely no experience, to professional voice actors looking to donate some time to charity!

Do you have any other tips on becoming an audiobook narrator? Let us know in the comments!

If you liked this post you may also like: What is proof listening? Our audio producer reveals all the secrets! or An Interview with Our Audio Producer.

This post was written by Abigail Jaggers.

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