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What Makes a Good Audiobook Narrator: Top Skills to Look For

There are a variety of components that make an audiobook “good,” from writing, proofing, directing, editing, and post-production. However, one of the most influential components is the narration voice over.

Narration can either provide incredible enjoyment, allowing listeners to lose themselves in the story, or it can be the biggest distraction – causing listeners to drop off.

So how do you know which narrator is right for your project?

Much like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” the vocal performance qualities that best complement your audiobook depends on who’s listening.

Narrating audiobooks is a marathon that requires the ultimate balancing act of artistic and technical endurance coupled with the ability to continuously suspend the audience’s disbelief.

As you’re assessing whether the audiobook narrator you’re considering is right for you, look for the following:

1. Is the Voice Actor Experienced in Audiobook Narration?

Creating an audio version of a book involves a lot more than just reading. Even within the professional voice acting community, audiobook narration is considered to be a specialty.

Experienced narrators have the artistic ability to bring your script to life by interpreting your script, emphasizing certain words, and adding subtle touches such as humor, sarcasm, and other performance characteristics you may like in the recording. On Voices, audiobook narration is its own category. You can locate voice talent who are experienced in this field or work exclusively in narration, via the search engine or the audiobook narrator directory on Voices.

You can also explore different voice actors by role, meaning, you can cast the right character voices you’re looking for too.

2. Does the Narrator’s Voice ‘Fit’ with Your Target Demographic?

It’s one thing to have your own, personal, positive reaction to the voice actor’s demo – but if you put yourself in the shoes of your listener, would you still feel the same way?

It can be a constant struggle to remind ourselves that ‘we are not our audience,’ when creating any product or marketing material. If you feel that you’re not able to hear the voice objectively, try sending the demo link or the voice actor’s profile to someone who does fit in your target demographic and see how they feel about it, without any prompting by you. It can be eye-opening to learn what other people hear and feel when introduced to a voice for the first time.

3. How do you feel when you hear the voice actor’s custom audition based on your manuscript?

Finding out that the actor’s voice forms a connection with the audience is a good litmus test.

However, hearing the words come to life, just like you dreamt (or better) can seal the deal.

Tip: In your Voices job posting, you have the option of uploading a few paragraphs or a page from your book for auditioning voice actors to read. This custom audition can be invaluable.

When casting directors are auditioning hopeful actors for film, many report that they have an instant gut reaction to one performance – and performer – in particular. They just know that that person is the character, as it was meant to be realized.

Similarly, when you hear the right voice for your audiobook, you should feel the same thrill – and be filled with a sense of confidence in your selection.

Additional Tips: The Top 10 Qualities of a Good Audiobook Narrator

According to many Voices clients, there is a general belief that a good narrator should be able to:

  1. Engage the listener
  2. Make and keep a contract with the listener to suspend their disbelief
  3. Give a consistent performance
  4. Have intuitive timing
  5. Develop multiple convincing character voices or use appropriate inflection
  6. Be an authentic narrator with an independent voice
  7. Interpret the author’s intent
  8. Transport the listener to a different time and place
  9. Maintain a solid presence
  10. Bring the story to life

When matched to those 10 criteria not only will your audiobook have great narration but great story-telling. By virtue of that fact, it will assure that your audience connects with your story, relates to the characters, and has full confidence in the narrator’s ability to captivate, amuse, and delight.

Have You Produced an Audiobook?

What tips would you give on casting great narrators?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Avatar for Tim Bick
    Tim Bick
    November 18, 2017, 2:40 pm

    For fiction, I think it’s also useful to think about whether you want your characters’ dialogue (if there is any) to be spoken in very stylised character voices that involve specific accents and pitches, or just using the narrator’s own voice with specific inflections of pacing and pausing for each individual character. Each approach has its place, and sometimes the stylised approach is awkward if the narrator has to do a character of the opposite gender – most of the time they don’t pull it off if they go with trying to pitch their voice high (for a male narrator doing a female character) or low (female doing a male) and it can sound ridiculous.