Authors, who are new to selecting a narrator, need to learn how to choose one that will really enhance their audiobook listener’s experience. In this post, we’ll start with the process of finding a narrator and continue to a host of tips on what to look for while evaluating your narrator. These tips include genre, gender, accents, pronunciation, technology, and much more.
How to Find an Audiobook Narrator
Several distribution platforms and online market-places allow authors to choose the appropriate narrator for their audiobook. Examples of distribution platforms are Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) and Findaway Voices. Other examples of online market-places are Fiverr and Upwork.
The way it works is the author:
- Fills in the metadata for their book (title, author name, copyright information, etc.). If your book is already on Amazon, then the metadata will fill in automatically on ACX.
- Creates Production Notes (Findaway Voices encourages these notes). Don’t skimp on this step. Take your time and list anything important that the narrator may need to know like genre, pacing, pronunciation of unusual names, etc.
- Selects a passage from the book (2 to 3 pages) to create the audition. Don’t just pick the first chapter of your book. Take your time and choose a segment with dialogue, tricky pronunciation, or anything else that may be challenging to narrate.
- Decides to pay for a completed hour or royalty share. The pay for a completed hour means if you agree to a rate of $100 per hour and the audiobook is 6 hours long, then the author agrees to pay the narrator $600. On ACX, if you and the narrator agree to the royalty share program, then you won’t pay the narrator upfront. Instead, you’ll split the royalties from the audiobook 50/50.
If you would like to learn more about the many different options available through ACX and Findaway Voices take a look at my article How Much Do Audiobook Narrators Make?
- Obtains auditions from narrators. On ACX, you could wait for narrators to find your book, or you could choose a number of narrators to audition for your audiobook. On Findaway Voices, they select a small set of narrators for you to choose from.
- Picks a narrator. Hopefully, you have used some of the recommendations in this article and chosen a narrator that really fits in with your audiobook.
- Waits for the 15-minute segment. This is where you’ll hear a longer segment of what your audiobook will sound like. I found this point thrilling because it brought my story to life. However, if you find there’s something you don’t like, this is the time to speak up and make corrections.
If you would like to learn more about where to find narrators, take a look at my article How Much Do Audiobook Narrators Make? Here, I discuss how much an author should pay a narrator as well as how much the platform or online market place may charge the narrator.
Provide as much information about your book as possible to the narrator who will be recording it. This will make the process of creating the audiobook much easier on you and the narrator. Make sure you include Production Notes to provide more clarity to the narrator.
On ACX and Findaway Voices, you’ll only hear the first 15 minutes of your audiobook. That’s not enough time to hear every character and every emotional arc in the book. You have to trust that the narrator knows what to do, and that trust will be much easier when you supply a set of Production Notes.
The audition passage is a segment of your story that will enable you to choose the best narrator. Choose a segment that you think may be a little challenging for the narrator.
If you’re writing fiction, it should be a section with lots of dialogue for several different characters. If you’re writing non-fiction, is should be a segment with hard to pronounce words (i.e. medical terms, technical words, etc.)
Make sure you provide a guide on pronunciation in your Production Notes.
On ACX, Findaway Voices, and several other voice over websites, you can look at the narrator’s past experience. This could be very helpful if you need something specific like a special accent or someone with experience in your genre.
Keep in mind, though, that the more experienced the narrator, the more money you’re likely to pay. One the other hand, a well-read audiobook sells much better than one that doesn’t work for the listener.
Style and Genre
It’s important to choose a narrator whose style fits easily into your genre. If you’re writing a thriller, you’ll want a narrator who imparts an eerie tone to the story. A narrator who is reading your children’s story may infuse it with an energetic, fun style that appeals to kids. Good narrators are also actors and know how to change their voices to match the genre of your audiobook.
A good narrator can voice both male and female voices. As you can imagine, a male narrator will express male voices better than female voices. Female narrators will speak female voices better than male voices. It’s up to you decide which narrator would work better for your story.
Ultimately, choosing a male or female narrator depends on your audiobook. If your audiobook’s main character is female, then you may want to use a female narrator.
If you’re having a business audiobook made, then it won’t matter if your narrator is male or female. Instead, the narrator’s ability to convey friendliness during the recording may be more important.
In addition, some genres almost require a particular gender. Many romance novels feature a female main character, and thus, the narrator is female.
This section refers to the age that the narrator can portray. Age is more likely to impact fiction than non-fiction audiobooks. The children’s story I wrote had most of the characters around ages 10 to 12 years old. I specifically chose a narrator who could narrate children at these ages. If I had had a non-fiction audiobook made, age wouldn’t have mattered at all.
If a specific accent is important to your story, then choose an audition passage that highlights this accent. Carefully evaluate each of the narrators submitting responses to make sure you pick the one that fits with your audiobook.
Generally, an accent won’t make or break an audiobook. In many cases, it’s better to have a narrator who can gently hint at an accent. In this way, the listener won’t become distracted.
In addition, pay special attention to the background of the narrator. When I had my audiobook narrated, I eventually chose a woman from Australia who could mimic a general American accent. Why didn’t I choose an American narrator?
Most Americans are from some region: Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, West (California), etc. These places all have specific accents that I really didn’t want in my audiobook.
My audiobook was a children’s fantasy, and I just needed the narrator to fade into the background more. The accents of all of the Americans eventually bothered me the longer I listened to their recordings. So, I choose the narrator who had an American accent that was hard to place, and it worked.
Create a list of unusual names and places in the novel and create a pronunciation guide. This should be part of the Production Notes. If possible, make a recording of the names and places so that the narrator can hear them and pronounce them properly.
Choose a segment of your book with these hard-to-pronounce words as the audition segment and listen to all of the narrators. Several will make mistakes immediately while others will take the time to read over your Production Notes and pronounce your unusual names or places correctly.
The voice of the narrator must fit with your audiobook. There may be issues if the narrator sounds too old or too young. Additional problems may be caused if the narrator makes pronunciation errors or slurs their words. It could even be a problem if the narrator sounds too upbeat.
For example, if the narrator is reading a business book, an upbeat voice won’t be appropriate. On the other hand, if the narrator makes the business material sound boring, your audiobook will never sell. As the author, you’ll recognize the voice that exactly matches your audiobook.
If a narrator works in a poor home studio, their recording won’t sound good even if they’re talented. For example, a narrator may submit a recording with too much echo or very low levels. This won’t work for any audiobook.
Sometimes narrators submit auditions with pops that could have been fixed with a pop filter. Other times narrators have loud breaths and hisses in their recordings making them unacceptable for an audiobook.
This section refers to the pace that a narrator speaks while recording your audiobook. A narrator reading your text too slowly or too fast is distracting to the listener. It’s possible for the listener to adjust the speed on their listening app, but it would be better if they didn’t need to.
In addition, some parts of the audiobook require a faster reading to match the level of intensity in the story. A good narrator knows how to adjust for the pacing of the story.
How long does narration take?
An experienced narrator may take about 40 hours to record a 6-hour audiobook. A less experienced narrator will take longer.
However, many narrators work part time, so this is not one week’s worth of work. It could turn out to be two weeks or one month. Also, this time doesn’t include preparation time, which includes the time to read through the book, review the Production Notes, and annotate the audiobook script.
If you’re on a firm deadline, this is something you should discuss during the audition phase of choosing a narrator. This way, it’ll be clear when you need your audiobook.
If you would like to learn more about the time needed for audiobook narration, take a look at my blog post How Long Does It Take to Record an Audiobook?
Popular Experienced Narrator
One more thing to consider is that you may want to go with a narrator that has more experience, but who may not exactly fit in with your audiobook. For example, if you’re writing a romance novel set in Georgian times, you may want to choose a narrator who can voice an upper-class English accent and also has a large fan base.
This narrator may not be exactly who you would have chosen, but their large fan base will help the sale of your audiobook. I’m not talking about choosing a narrator who doesn’t fit at all with your audiobook, but rather making a small compromise to create more sales.
There are several fans that follow not only the author, but also the narrator. They simply love listening to that narrator’s voice. You could benefit from these additional listeners.
Don’t Expect Perfection
Keep in mind that the narrator’s performance won’t be perfect. There may be parts that feel a little off. However, make sure they don’t interfere with the listener enjoying your audiobook. Carefully review all of the errors and evaluate their importance before you contact the narrator to ask for a rerecording.
Read Your Book Out Loud
Reading your book out loud is a great way to catch problems with narration before you send your book to a narrator. You may be surprised at passages that look just fine on paper won’t work when spoken. This could be addressed by dictating your book while you’re creating the ebook and paperback versions.
This is very unusual, but some narrators may submit an audition with background music or special sounds like footsteps. This isn’t desirable during the audition phase because it distracts from the evaluation of the narrator’s talent. If a narrator submits an audition like that, it’s best to eliminate them.
Choosing the Winner
The winning narrator will be the one who fits with your audiobook’s message. If you want your audiobook to feel natural and friendly, look for the narrator who conveys that mood.
Finding the right voice isn’t necessarily the voice you hear in your head as you write. Instead, it should be a voice that fits with the genre, style, time period, or location of the audiobook.
I had a middle grade fantasy narrated on Findaway Voices. Their process is to choose a small set of narrators and let you pick from their list. The problem was that all of them were good. I spent days listening and re-listening to the audio samples, before I finally went with my gut. I’m glad I did though because the audiobook was wonderful.
In this article, I’ve listed several tips to help authors choose the right narrator for their audiobook. This will be the narrator that conveys the style and genre of the audiobook as well as the right pacing, voice, and energy.
I found this process to be lots of fun because it allowed me to hear a competent narrator bring my words to life. I was able to enjoy my book in a whole new way, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
Have you gone through the process of selecting a narrator? What did you like the best? Let me know in the comments below.