The Skills of Book Narration

Ever wondered how to narrate an audio book?

I’ve always loved audio book narration.

The audio book industry in Australia isn’t as big as in the US and increasingly in the UK.

However, audio book narration will soon become a global proposition. 

Until recently, one of the biggest audio book publishers in the world only employed those with a US social security number.

They’re now including UK voice actors and, hopefully that will extend to Australia.

I know there are many of you out there who audition for audio book narration.

If you haven’t been successful so far, or have had little success, these guidelines, techniques and tips might help.

Narrating an audio book is a big job.

It takes:

  • planning,
  • insight, and
  • great story-telling skills.

Often you need to deal with voicing a range of character’s, of either sex – this can a little daunting to the uninitiated!


First tip:

Try not to make it about a male or female voice.

Rather, make a decision based on how you see the character emotionally and merely colour your read with that emotion.

Is the person passive, energetic, cynical, seductive, timid or know-it-all?

Find a word that fits and the rest will follow.


Second tip:

Two aspects that really spoil a narrative read for me are pace and volume.

If you’re reading too fast, we aren’t getting the story.

Stories contain many different elements including:

  • language,
  • visual descriptions,
  • thoughts,
  • ideas,
  • comments, and
  • opinions.

In our every day life we communicate using these same elements.

When we’re talking to someone and relating a story about something that happened to us, we’re using some of these same elements.

Next time you are talking with a friend, try and notice what it is you’re doing with pace. 

I’ll bet you’re pausing for effect…

letting a piece of information (or story) ‘land’ with the listener before you move on.

I’ll bet your varying the pace of your sentences…making some parts flow along quickly, so you can get to the important part.

That’s story telling!

When we’re telling stories like this, we’re also using body language to get our meaning across. 

I want you to notice this next time you’re talking to someone.

When you read audio books you need to create body language and physical expression by the way you use your voice.

Expert narrators understand pace.  In life, depending on our mood, emotional state or intention, we vary pace.  You must understand how important this is to good audio book narration.


Third tip:

Next, let’s talk about volume – book narration is intimate.

You are, to all intents and purposes, telling the story to one person. 

Those who’ve coached with me or read my blogs know that I place volume very high on the list of voice over techniques that needs to be mastered.

Firstly, volume is the enemy of truly connected communication.

It’s impossible to ‘act’ when you are speaking (reading) too loudly.

The digital medium loves low volume.

When we’re speaking at low volume, we automatically access our ‘chest voice’ – our resonant voice.

Everyone will have a different level at which their voice is the most beautiful. 

It takes some experimentation, but you must find the right level for you.


Fourth tip:

The other aspect that I often hear missing, is that there’s just not enough story telling.

Reading the words ‘prettily’ is definitely not going to get you there.

You need to sound like you’re loving telling this story!

And that means really getting across all the words in the book that are the central concept.


Fifth tip:

The thing about reading is that we need to breath.

There are two kinds of breathing:


1 Character breathing

This adds to the visual of the character you’re voicing.

It can be an intake or exhale of breath for a purpose.

It’s natural and sounds natural, plus it helps us to visualise.


2 The breath you need to take

We all have to breathe!

Try to avoid gasping in air that you’ll have to edit later on.

Merely pause and take in, silently, more air…and then move on.

This ‘silent breathing’ will also help you with your pace. 

Imagine, as you’re taking that silent breath, that you’re having a new thought – the thought that is your next line.


Many audio books these days are being recorded from home studios which takes a lot of time.

So making sure your sound levels are consistent and your microphone technique is flawless is a must.

Ideally, when you send that finished book off to the publisher, you don’t want them coming back with a whole list of edits you need to make.

The more skilled you become at knowing how to make long form narration easy and seamless, the more enjoyable…and hopefully profitable it’ll be!