3 Superb Skills for Audio Book Narration

The rise and rise of audio book sales is quite astonishing, which is why those who have the voice, the intelligence and the skills for audio book narration can now find work in that area.

Book narration can be an extremely rewarding experience and there’s no doubt that as consumers, we have a huge appetite for audio books.

The US is the biggest consumer and all publishers are constantly building their audio book libraries.  There are reputable companies like Deyan Audio https://www.deyanaudio.com in the US, producing audio for name publishers.  I have met these people are they are top shelf.

I also know a few people who are largely making their living from audio books in the US.

However, in Australia, the industry is a lot smaller and it would be almost impossible to have a career only doing narration for audio books.

But that said, there is work in Australia.  There are two studios, one in Melbourne, Risk Sound, who is doing Audible’s Australian titles and another studio in Sydney, AudioBrien.

Bolinda Publishing in Melbourne is a well-established and awarded audio book producer as well.

So, as I said, there is work.  That is, if you’re really, really good at it.

To become successful, you need to have an abundance of skills for book narration.

I get calls and emails often from those wanting get work in book narration, or who want to polish their audio book audition, and we work together to look at the specific skills needed to become polished and engaging when delivering story.

In this first of two blogs on the skills of audio book narration, I want to share with you some of the techniques I work with them on.  I’ll also give you some skills for great story telling by looking at some of the  most common mistakes made.  They are:

  • Reading too fast
  • Reading to loudly
  • Reading at the same pace

…And worst of all, sounding as though you’re just reading words, rather than engaging us with the story.

I hear far too many book narrations done by those who fail to succeed in the most fundamental of these skills.

Story telling!

Great story telling sets a mood and draws us into the landscape and lives of those in the story.

Great story telling creates a feeling that causes us to want to return time and time again.

When you, as the narrator, are able to understand the author’s intention, you’ll be able to play with creating the right mood, the right attitude and the right colour to deliver the story through the ‘words on the page’.

First up, you need to know who the narrator is in your story.

Are you:

  • Outside the story witnessing events, called third person, as in ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’
  • Narrating a story that you’re a player in, called first person, that is ‘I’, and probably you have dialogue, or
  • Someone commenting on events from a distance, 2ndThat narrator talks directly to the other character or characters by using ‘you’, as in “You walked into the bathroom and saw the sand on the floor.  You knew he’d been there….etc”

Once again, it matters not how lovely your voice is.

It’s not about your voice, although it’s essential that you need to have a voice that’s clear, clean and understands nuance, character and meaning.

Truly great narrators seem to disappear in favour of the story they’re telling and the visuals they are creating.

So, if you believe you have the voice, smarts and desire for audio book narration, then read on.

I now want to talk about some of the ‘rookie’ mistakes that are made and give you some guidelines for improving your performance and your chances at getting yourself a title.


Reading too loudly

No one likes to be yelled at.

The digital medium hates loud voices.  Narrating is not just about reading words.  It requires voice acting.  When you read too loudly, you are least able to access the actor within, the performer who needs to ‘be’ this novel, this story.

Getting the volume right is simple really.  You are just talking to one person.   Usually they are wearing headphones or earphones of some sort.

You need to understand that book narration, no matter how you colour it, is an intimate engagement with another person.


Reading too fast

This is a major voiceover crime in my book.  (pardon the pun)

The most annoying thing about listening to someone reading too fast, is that they’re not including you.

When we lovingly hold a book (or a kindle) and read a story on the page, we create our own visuals of the environment, the characters.

When you’re narrating a book and reading off the page, you need to able to do that for the listener.

Analyse your material:

You really do need to get to know that book inside out.  Take special note in your prep, to know when you’re narrating visual language, as opposed to the language of thought or idea.

An example would be:  (and I’ll underline visual language)

The sounds of smashing glass woke her.  Ava sat up,still half in the shadowlands of sleep, thinking: it’s just a nightmare.  Then she heard a huge explosion.  Her bedroom was lit up with orange glare.  The colour of D major, the key of glory and war rejoicing. 

If it’s visual language, then take your time.  If it’s not visual, you can move through it without much colour.  Just ‘say’ the words.

You also need to pause between one visual and the next, to give the listener time to create their own pictures.

When you first do this it may feel as though the pause is too great, but you need to be relaxed and comfortable enough with the story and the language, to be able to see the visuals for yourself as you’re reading.

As the narrator, you need to be ‘in’ the story.

If you’re not, then you’re guilty of just reading words, and probably reading them too fast.



Reading at the same pace


Can you see that by experimenting with the rule (or consideration )about visual/non visual language, how that automatically changes the pace.

When we’re in conversation, we seldom deliver everything at the same pace.

We naturally vary pace to give context and meaning.

It’s not just on visual language that we slow down.  When we say something ‘important’ we will often slow down through it.  If it’s an aside, or a comment not central to the story you’re really telling, we often speed that up a bit.

Book narration is no different and there’s nothing worse that listening to something read at the same pace.

Try listening when next you’re in a social situation to those who are great natural story tellers.

Notice what it is that makes them so easy to listen to, compelling or engaging.

You can bet they vary pace and emphasis to help us ‘get’ the story they’re telling.

If they delivered everything at the same pace, we’d all be asleep.  Trust me.

So making sure you have the skills for book narration before you audition is essential.

If this is you and you need help before you make a foray into the industry, then I can help 

I run a regular audio book narration course in via Zoom 

If this interests you, here’s the link to the page for more information.

With subsequent blogs, I’ll be adding to your skills and techniques, to help you with creating the right voice that honours the author’s intention and style of the narrative.

We’ll also look at creating believable characters through dialogue; and how to solve problems like breathing.

Happy book narrating!!!