Audiobooks are one of the fastest growing markets for writers in recent years and we are advised to get all of our books made into that format to increase sales. Having done so with some of my books and helped co-ordinate narrators for other books by authors in my writer’s group, I have to agree.
From a writer’s point of view, the quality of a narrator can make or break an audiobook’s sales, so it’s worth getting the right narrator for the story. It isn’t just a matter of a nice voice, but of someone who fits the needs of the project in the same way that a casting director will choose an actor for a role, taking into consideration the actor’s look, talent and most importantly, their ability to portray the role in the way the Director wishes it to be portrayed.
As an example, I listened to an audition from a narrator recently that was lovely and soft. It would fit a first person narration very well, perhaps a Romance. However, the book she had auditioned for was a YA Horror with several important characters and it really needed someone who could do different voices and accents so that the listener would be able to tell who was talking.
Some authors narrate their own books. There are pros and cons to this, but what is important for these authors is that they must be able to read aloud as well as they write. Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry, for example, have wonderful voices and read their own material with great success. A shy, retiring writer with a weak voice might have to assess their own potential with some brutal honesty.
I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone who is thinking of giving it a try. The thing to do is to record your voice while reading a chapter of the story and then listen to it with an objective ear. Is this the narrator you want for your story? Can the performance be improved with practice or a little voice training?
If you’re thinking of getting into narrating for other people’s stories, practicing until you can read as well as the narrators whose audio samples impress you is essential to get accepted. You will also need a recording set up that will pass the technical requirements for a quality product.
Some of the narrators I’ve worked with use a professional sound studio. Most of them set themselves up at home. You can get what you need for a home recording studio for a relatively low cost that will block outside noise and absorb echo. A good microphone is essential, but can be obtained, again, at relatively low cost on someplace like E-bay.
You will also need good headphones and a sound editing program. This all begins to sound like it’s adding up to a substantial investment, but it doesn’t have to be so. For starters, you can get the editing software for free at https://www.audacityteam.org/
This program has been recommended to me many times, though I have a good sound editing program with my film editing suite so I haven’t tried it myself. Learning to use it can be done online. YouTube is loaded with instructional videos. If the sound proofing set up is out of budget at the beginning and you live somewhere quiet, you can set up your microphone in front of a pile of jackets or even your laundry to absorb echo and see how you get on with that. Cloth works fairly well, especially a good pile of it. I’ve been known to record short snippets in front of the coat rack in the entryway of my house with good result.
There is a price range on headphones and microphones and these are where you should be looking for best quality you can afford. The microphone will likely need to be plugged into sound equipment, though some can be plugged into a computer directly. The trouble with these is computer hum.
I use a Tascam. These vary from hand held versions to consoles, so look into the needs of your microphone and most importantly, the kind of plug it uses. Some hand held models are effectively miniature recording studios and provide a stereo jack plug socket for a professional mic. Others will only accommodate a basic XLR socket.
Once you’ve got the means to record, practice modulating your voice. Again, YouTube is a goldmine of instructional videos. When you feel you’re ready, you can record your own book or audition to narrate someone else’s. These will have to be sold through some means. It’s possible to put the recorded book up for sale on your own website, but a more well-known retailer is likely to result in better sales.
This is where the old Amazon question pops up again. Amazon’s ACX [https://www.acx.com] is an easy choice and is set up well for matching books up with narrators. I work through them myself. You can choose to upload your completed recording or sign up as a narrator to audition for other people’s books. It’s easy to sign up through your Amazon account.
There are alternatives, like Findaway voices. [https://findawayvoices.com/creating-audiobooks] I have no personal experience of them, but the difficulty I had trying to look for alternatives to ACX suggests to me that the largest audience is still Amazon’s Audible, the retail face of ACX.
As with any job in media, be prepared to accept rejections. It’s not personal, it’s a matter of matching up the right voice for the book, just like in acting. Keep auditioning for projects that sound interesting to you and above all, keep learning all you can about using your voice as your instrument. If you can speak clearly and express emotion with your voice, something is sure to fit.
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