Lessons in Audio Book Narration

If you’ve ever thought that audio book narration is for you.

Or you’re an author whose publisher wants you to narrate your own book, then you’ll probably want to know more about the whole process.

The big news is that the growth of audio books and, with it, the search for excellent narrators is growing.

If you have a love of words and language, understand plot and structure and the definitions of a first, second or third person narration…

and you have a really interesting, engaging voice and are a solid sight reader…

…then there’s no reason why you couldn’t make a splash in this area.


Skills for Successful Audio Book Narration.

You may be thinking, “Well sure.  I love reading and I can read well, so I’d be good at this”.

And that may well be true.

But there are a few other things that are true about audio books.

The first thing I want to say is that audio book narration is a deeply specialised craft.

Skills you’ll need are far more than reading words in ‘your’ voice.  

You need to interpret the narrator or lead character’s voice, the authors intention and the overall tone of the work.

This could mean taking on a particular persona or attitude.  It could mean creating a ‘character’ voice.  And it could mean having to voice several different characters, differing sometimes vastly in in age and gender.

Audio Book Narration Checklist

Here’s a checklist of skills that may help you to identify what you already have or what you may need to get better at. You:

  • are a lover of words and language
  • read books and have a wide and varied interest
  • listen to audio books and know what works and why
  • understand the differences between 1st, 2nd or 3rd person narration
  • have a voice that’s clear and resilient enough to read for long periods of time and remain consistent in performance style and energy
  • have the ability to understand the difference between delivering narration to the listening audience and creating believable scenes and characters with dialogue.

If you already do these things, or understand these concepts, then you may have, by default, given yourself some initial essential skills for audio book narration.


What’s Involved in Audio Book Narration

First up.  Who narrates what?

 The Author

If you’re the author, sometimes the publisher may want you to narrate your own book.  If this is a memoir, it makes perfect sense that you narrate your own book.  That’s also often the case with a non-fiction book where you, the author, are also the expert.

Here are a few tips for narrating your own book

  1. You need to sound like you are ‘telling’ your own story.  Inhabit your words. Don’t read
  2. You know the words. You wrote them.  So, use the words only as a guide, and when you’re reading, imagine that you have someone right in front of you, who wants and needs to hear your story or your information. This should feel as though you are delivering the words straight from your memory.
  3. Take your time and let the different parts of your information and/or your story sink in…before you move on. Reading too fast is impossible to listen to.
  4. Watch becoming too precious with the language. Pronunciation especially can get in the way. Make it natural and if that means using a contraction, such as ‘I’ll’, in your narration, where it reads ‘I will’ in the book, then do that.  Don’t forget, it’s much more about connection than it is about ‘elocution’ J
  5. Avoid speaking too loudly.  You are talking into an ear. Audio book narration is an intimate engagement.  Drop your volume.  But don’t drop your energy.

The Narrator

Casting the right narrator, whether you’re selected to do 1st, 2nd or 3rd person narration, has everything to do with skill and ability.

Some narrators are not good at jumping into character.  They may suit a non- fiction book.

If the book is fiction, there are many more considerations and requirements for achieving a narration that makes a truly great ‘audio book’.

Are you able to create a ‘voice’ for the narrator that honours the authors intentions?

Are you someone who has the ability to jump into other characters and present believable dialogue?  In audio book narration we do this ‘on the fly’.  That is, we do it in real time, as we go.

To do this successfully, you need to know that there is a difference between your narrator voice and any character who may speak, be quoted, or be in dialogue with another.

Think of it like this. 

A Narrator is telling the story, speaking directly to the listening audience.

Dialogue requires you to create a believable visual or scene in which the characters speak, to move the story forward.


How Do You Get A Book?

There are several different ways you can be cast to narrate an audio book.  In Australia, and I’m sure in many other countries, there are sound recording studios that work directly with publishers to record the books.

Or there are audio book publishers, who both commission work to be recorded in, or, like sound studios work directly with the books original publisher to cast and record the book.

There are audio book producers and publishers in the US mostly, who work with people recording from their own home studios.  This can be quite a task.  You need to be able to create spotlessly clean and clear audio.

You also need to be your own producer.  That is, you need to judge and be consistent with your pace, volume, voice styles and characters.  This can be where you might need some training.

To be considered, you first need to alert those studios to your desire and talents by sending them a short (3-5 minutes) of a title that you feel you would be cast for.  Find good titles that are well written, preferably contemporary.

And it’s absolutely fine that you record this audition on your phone.  They’re not interested in recording quality, just the quality of your storytelling.


Can Your Audition Get you an Audio Book Narration?

For this introductory audition make sure you do the book preparation as though you were really going to be narrating it.  Really get underneath the language, getting to know it really well, making sure you’re absolutely clear about the story you’re telling.

Make sure if there are any words you’re not quite familiar with, such as place names or people’s names, that you look them up using something for assistance like howjsay.com.

Sometimes they can take some time to get back to you, depending on how busy they are.

If your initial audition is liked, you will be asked either to come to their studio and audition for them or provide another audition using a piece they have provided.

Sometimes, if you go to the studio, to record something they have sent you, they will surprise you with another piece to assess your sight-reading skills.

If the thought of this freaks you a little, then begin upping your sight-reading practice.  That is, read aloud every day for 10-20 minutes to refine your skills.

The producers will also want to know about you. How long can you read for in one sitting, which are usually between 3.5 and 7 hours.  You get breaks of course.  In fact, you are able to take a break whenever you need one.

They will also want to know what you favour and whether there’s anything you wouldn’t do.  It’s important for you to be clear about this.

In my first year of recording major books (done heaps of children’s books over the years) I’ve discovered how much I love narrating an excellently written audio book.  It’s deeply satisfying.


Are you Ready to Discover if Audio Book Narration is for you?

If you want to hear examples of any of my work, you can just go to Audible.com and put my name, Abbe Holmes, into the search.  Unless you have an Audible account, you can’t get access, but I would imagine that anyone who wants to narrate audio books listens to them regularly and is quite familiar with Audible.

If not, and you feel you could be a narrator, then you need to begin your study of what’s what out there in audio book narration land.

And of course, if you feel you’d like some one-on-one coaching and refine your narration skills for a variety or genre, I run a regular short course via Zoom.  Here’s a link if this is what you’re looking for

Happy narrating!