Tavia Gilbert, Audies winner, on how to become a audiobook narrator

How to Become an Audiobook Narrator: Expert Advice

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If you want to become an audiobook narrator, you’re in good company. Voice actors of all experience levels have found this line of work to be incredibly rewarding. But how did they get started?

We spoke with Audie award-winning narrator Tavia Gilbert to gather tips on how she launched a career as an audiobook narrator.

In a nutshell, aspiring audiobook narrators should work on developing the following skills:

  1. A solid understanding the different kinds of narration
  2. Stamina
  3. Organization
  4. Communication
  5. Professionalism
  6. Self-management

In this interview, Gilbert walks us through the different types of narration, her experience and preferences for narration styles, and she provides insights into the most important skills that an aspiring audiobook narrator ought to develop.

Can you define the different types of audiobook narration?

Gilbert: A handful of narrators I know don’t vary their voices at all (known as solo narration), but, by and large, successful audiobook voice actors are differentiating each character with their voices. At times, they’ll act out a large cast of every gender, race, and geographic origin imaginable, which is still referred to as solo narration.

A duet-narration is when two actors cut in every line of dialogue in the scene, like an audio play.

Multicast is a distinction that could describe, for example, a book written in four distinct points of view, with four actors performing each individual character.

Lastly, a full-cast production is like an audio drama, with individual actors performing various roles.

What type of voice over narration do you usually do (solo-narration, duet-narration, multi-cast, or full-cast)?

Most of my narrations are solo voiced, fully-characterized narrations, but I’ve done a wide variety of work, from multicast to full cast work, too.

What is it like to voice multiple characters? What is it like to work with multiple voice actors on the same book?

Voicing dozens, or even over a hundred different characters, demands not only acting skill, but careful organization and thoughtful choices. You have to keep clips of character voices and refer back to them to ensure that they’re consistent throughout a book or even a series. Coordinating with other actors is usually about keeping continuity of pronunciations, and checking in about character voice choices, as well.

What type of audiobook read is your favorite to do? Narrator? Character voices?

I love performing characters, but the narrator of a book – whether they’re reading a piece of literary or genre fiction or a work of non-fiction – also has a distinct sound, point of view, pacing, tone. The narrator is also a character in the book. If it’s a business or self-help book, that narrator is still a character – a person with a unique and specific perspective. Performing a wide variety of characters in a project can definitely be fatiguing, but it’s tons of fun.

Do you think different genres of audiobooks require a different type of narration?

No! No matter what the book, the narrator’s work is to be a medium between the author’s intention and the listener. So, whether I’m performing a mystery, science fiction, philosophical nonfiction, or anything else, I’m being attentive to and intuitive about pacing, rhythm, emotion, specificity, character, the story arc, diction, relaxation, etc. I’m being present, moment to moment, thinking the thoughts of the character or the narrative, feeling the feelings.

What would you recommend to other voice actors who want to become an audiobook narrator?

If you’re a reader, you love language, and you have both acting skills and small business skills, then audiobook narration is for you. A successful narrator has a small business as a voice talent independent contractor, and the work requires stamina, organization, communication, professionalism, and self-management. You’re responsible for delivering 8, 12, 16 hours of work at a time to a publisher or producer, and coordinating with their team to get it ready for the listening public. That is a serious responsibility.

There’s money in audiobooks — I’m a SAG-AFTRA member and most jobs contribute to my pension, and afford me health insurance. But it’s very demanding work. For those who think they might be interested, try reading alone, out loud, in a closet, and going back to the top of the phrase every time you make a mistake. If you still enjoy it after an hour, then consider putting in the time to develop the skills necessary to make a go of it in audiobooks. Join the APA. Listen a ton. Just because you’re successful in another genre of voice acting, or on stage or screen, doesn’t mean you don’t have new skills to learn behind the mic. It’s a technical art form and you have to be able to manage at once all aspects of the work — acting, self-directing, engineering, delivering a great performance.

Developing Narration Skills

A critical part of developing the ability to narrate audiobooks includes exploring every type of narration and finding ways to manage those projects that work for you.

Over time, Gilbert has experimented with all forms of narration and has figured out how best to tackle each project regardless of what kind of narration her projects call for. In another interview, Gilbert said that she “definitely takes risks” when it comes to providing her cinematic and performative narrations.

Read more from Gilbert about how she manages the ‘business side’ of being an audiobook narrator, and how she prepares a book for narration before stepping into the studio.

About Tavia Gilbert 

Tavia Gilbert is a producer, writer, and acclaimed narrator of more than 650 solo, full-cast, and multi-voice audiobooks for virtually every publisher in the industry, and is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA and Actor’s Equity.

Gilbert has been a recipient of the 2019 Audie Award Winner for Best Inspirational Fiction, 2018 Audiobook Narrator of the Year (Booklist Magazine’s Voice of Choice), 2017 Best Female Narrator Audie Award, and is the creator of The Abels podcast. 

She has been nominated for Audie Awards more than ten times, she is a three-time nominee and one-time winner of Voice Arts Awards, and she is the recipient of dozens of Earphones Awards, a ListenUp Award, and three Parent’s Choice Awards.

Additional Resources for Aspiring Audiobook Narrators & Producers:

In search of an audiobook voice actor? Find voice talent who have won awards, including Audies and Golden Earphones, for their audiobook narration work.

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Comments

  • George Pendergrass
    July 31, 2018, 2:42 pm

    Thank you for the information about audiobook narrators.
    This is an interesting time in my life. I have experience as a professional singer, actor and a recording studio artist. I have done a few voice-over jobs. However, I have always wanted to get deeper involved as a voice-over specialist, doing voice-overs for a myriad of voice-over occasions and styles. However, I never connected with the right people and I was always lead to believe it would be too difficult to get started or to afford the equipment needs and requirements of this type of work.
    If you have any insight on what I can do to get started in this industry I would greatly appreciate it.

    Reply
    • Niki
      July 31, 2018, 3:01 pm

      Hi George! Thanks for dropping by our blog, and for your comment.

      In terms of getting started, we actually have a full series coming out for artists just like you who are looking to take their voice over careers more seriously. Starting tomorrow (August 1st 2018) we will be releasing articles intended for the beginner voice artist that address every topic in the realm of ‘getting started’. I’d recommend subscribing to the blog and visiting weekly throughout the month of August to get all the information and hands-on tactics you’ll need to really kick your voice over career into high-gear.

      Reply
  • Brian Mitchell
    September 2, 2018, 2:35 am

    Hello, how do I get started?

    Reply
    • Niki
      September 10, 2018, 1:16 pm

      Hi Brian, thanks for reaching out.

      To get started in the voice over industry, I’d recommend taking a thorough read through our getting started blog post. It covers everything from the gear you need, to how to market yourself as a voice actor, to how to find voice over work, and so much more! It’s a great place to start, thats for sure.

      Reply
  • Wilhelmina Mensah
    June 18, 2019, 3:33 pm

    Please which audio recording app /software for android do you recommend that I use for professional voice acting/audio book narration

    Reply
  • Evangelia Ntontou
    August 6, 2019, 7:01 am

    Hi, I am really interested in getting started. I am an English Language teacher and native speaker of English. I have communicative skills and I am very diligent when it comes to working.
    I would appreciate some help to make a quick start.

    Reply
  • MICHEAL
    August 15, 2019, 5:32 am

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TELLING ME DEEP ABOUT AUDIOBOOK I WILL LIKE TO GET STARTED WITH AUDIOBOOK THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN.

    Reply
  • Cristina Lucas de Lima
    October 17, 2019, 2:12 pm

    Thank you. This has been very inspiring. To a career that I have felt and been told to exert for a long time.

    Reply
  • David Cole
    December 12, 2019, 12:13 pm

    Hello Niki,
    Thank you for this helpful article. I am considering narration work as I have been recording webinar scripts and videos for many years I have also been a professional keynote speaker for Over 20 years. My style is “teacher, friend” and most of my work has been in the real estate and financial industries.

    In your experience is there opportunity in the audio recording industry for my background?

    Reply
    • Tanya
      December 20, 2019, 2:06 pm

      Hi David,
      There is absolutely work within your vocal styles. Just this past year, our annual trends report survey (of over 750 people who hire voice over) discovered that producing training material is a major trend for 2019 and 2020. The elearning industry alone is rapidly becoming a $230 Billion dollar industry, and a lot of industries, including finance and real estate, need voices like yours to produce training and promotional materials. Definitely investigate work in these areas!
      Best of luck in all your VO adventures 🙂
      – Tanya

      Reply
  • MERCY JEAN MAPAYO
    December 24, 2019, 1:31 am

    Hi,
    I am a Disc Jockey and I have been working for 5 years now and i am enjoying it because i love to modulate my voice and i used to be a narrator in our school during my Elementary and High school days.. And just now i just read and reviewed your guidelines so it gives me more ideas and knowledge about AUDIO BOOK NARRATION.. So i do love to hear from you. how do i get started? Thanks

    Reply
    • Tanya
      December 30, 2019, 7:54 am

      Hi Mercy,
      Thanks for reaching out.
      It all starts with creating an account. Here’s more information on the different account types, including our free guest account: https://www.voices.com/talent-memberships
      You can also learn more about how Voices.com works and how to get started as a voice actor by browsing our help section for talent: https://www.voices.com/help/talent
      And of course, if you have any additional questions, simply contact us (visit our contact us paeg) and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
      All the best,
      – Tanya

      Reply
  • Glenn young
    February 24, 2020, 8:17 pm

    I would like to be considered for voice over work. Where do I begin?

    Reply
    • oliver
      February 25, 2020, 9:46 am

      Hey Glenn,

      Thanks for reaching out! The best place to begin is by signing up for a talent account. From there, you’ll have the opportunity to build your profile, browse job postings, and begin submitting auditions for voice over work.

      Follow this link to learn about our different membership levels.

      Feel free to peruse our voice talent FAQ, and contact us for support anytime by shooting us an email at support@voices.com.

      If you’re still looking for some pointers about how to kickstart your career, our Beginner’s Guide to Voice Acting is a really valuable resource that you might want to take a look through.

      Happy auditioning!
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Michael Zierden
    March 14, 2020, 2:00 pm

    I am interested in doing audio narration work. I have experience in local theatre as an actor in 35 plays and major musicals. I am also a singer soloist and have done narrative roles in the local theatre productions. I do not have home studio equipment. But would be willing to travel to audition as a first step in the process. I live in south central Florida where I can travel to major areas such as Orlando, Ft Lauderdale, west coast Tampa, Sarasota Bradenton , Ft Myers.

    Reply
    • oliver
      March 16, 2020, 10:11 am

      Hey Michael,

      It sounds like your extensive experience in theatre and musical performance has made you more than ready to enter the voice over industry. You’ve come to the right place!

      To begin auditioning for audio narration work on our platform, you’ll first have to sign up for a Voices account. Once you’re registered, you’ll have the ability to build your talent profile, browse job postings, and begin submitting auditions for voice over jobs.

      Read up on our different membership levels, peruse our Talent FAQ, and feel free to contact us for support at anytime by emailing support@voices.com.

      You’re also bound to find our Beginner’s Guide to Voice Acting to be a useful resource when you’re just getting started in the voice over industry. Based on your situation, you may find value in the chapters on Building a Home Recording Studio, Auditioning From Home, or, in our Professional’s Guide, this chapter that sheds light on Getting a Voice Talent Agent in different-sized markets depending on where you’re located.

      I hope that helps! Happy auditioning,
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Teran L Hicks
    April 1, 2020, 1:03 pm

    I have always been to that I have a Great Voice and would do great as a Voice over Actor. So I’m looking to start working in this field.

    Please let me know

    Reply
    • oliver
      April 2, 2020, 10:16 am

      Hey Teran,

      Thanks for reaching out. I’d encourage you to sign up for a Voices talent account! From there, you’ll be able to build your voice acting profile, browse job postings, and begin auditioning for the voice over work that appeals to you.

      If you need some extra pointers on getting started in the industry, our Beginner’s Guide to Voice Acting is jam-packed with useful info.

      Happy auditioning,
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Lorraine Andrews
    April 25, 2020, 8:22 am

    Looking to become an audio book narrator

    Reply
    • oliver
      April 27, 2020, 10:51 am

      Hey Lorraine,

      Thanks for reaching out! To begin auditioning for audiobook narration jobs on Voices, first you’ll have to sign up for a talent account. From there, you’ll get the opportunity to fill out your profile, get access to our vast job board of voice over casting calls, and post your demo.

      Feel free to check out our Talent Help page, and never hesitate to send us an email with any questions at support@voices.com.

      I hope that helps. Happy recording, and best of luck on your audiobook narration journey!
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Sam Avery
    April 25, 2020, 10:16 am

    I’m very interested in becoming an audio-reader/vice actor. I currently work in school and enjoy reading books and texts of all kinds with the children. I’m able to create different character voices and accents with consistency and if audience feedback is of value, then the children across the school tell me they love it when I read because they love my characterisations and that I make the books enjoyable. I have read complete books over a spread of time before they go home, including Harry Potter books. I also read technical texts for children unable to process the information due to being struggling readers.
    However, any tips on where to start as someone with no professional background in this field ,who to approach, etc., would be extremely helpful. There must be a way! I believe I do have the stamina, andI enjoy reading aloud very much. I always have.

    Reply
    • oliver
      April 27, 2020, 1:09 pm

      Hey Sam,

      Wow! You certainly sound equipped to take on the exciting world of voice acting.

      First off, I’d suggest signing up for a Voices talent account. Once you do that, you’ll have the opportunity to fill out your profile (where you can list your vocal qualities, preferences, and any languages or accents you’re capable of performing), upload your demo, and start browsing our vast job board of voice over work.

      I’d also recommend taking a look at our Beginner’s Guide to Voice Acting, which is chock-full of insider’s knowledge about voice acting and what it takes to cut your teeth in the industry.

      I hope that helps!
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Georgette Evans.
    April 27, 2020, 2:43 pm

    I was an extremely successful senior account executive for five radio stations in Victoria, Texas and retired two years ago after a 23 year long career.

    I endorsed products for a few big companies and have produced ads on numerous occasions for my clients.
    One of my clients has been extremely happy with the endorsements for their dental clinic and have increased their patient base due to the success of our campaign.

    I have the latest two testimonial ads that were produced if I should need to send them to you.

    I also wrote all of my clients copy and when retired, began my writing career. I am currently working on three novels and have two children books ready for illustration.

    I’m very interested in becoming an audible actor because I believe it’s something I would be very good at doing. I have a strong voice and a very wonderful ability to tell stores.

    If interested in receiving a sample of testimonial ads or having me record something for you, I can send this as well.

    Reply
    • oliver
      April 29, 2020, 1:09 pm

      Hi Georgette,

      Thanks for sharing! It sounds like you have an enormous amount of experience in the voice over industry and surrounding fields.

      To start auditioning for voice over work, you should first register for a Voices talent account! From there, you’ll get the opportunity to fill out your profile, get access to our vast job board of voice over casting calls, and post your demo. If audiobooks are the category of voice over work that most interests you, you’ll be able to list this on your profile!

      Feel free to also take a look at our Talent Help page, and never hesitate to send us an email with any questions at support@voices.com.

      If you’re still in need of some tips on using the platform and making it in the industry, our Beginner’s and Professional’s Guides to Voice Acting are both helpful resources that are jam-packed with info about the voice over world.

      I hope that helps. Happy recording, and best of luck on your voice over journey!
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Vera Allen-Ampemi
    May 8, 2020, 11:03 am

    I’m trying to obtain voice over employment via audiobooks.

    Reply
    • oliver
      May 8, 2020, 11:29 am

      Hi Vera,

      To start auditioning for voice over work, you should first register for a Voices talent account! From there, you’ll get the opportunity to fill out your profile, get access to our vast job board of voice over casting calls, and post your demo. If audiobooks are the category of voice over work that most interests you, you’ll be able to list this on your profile!

      Feel free to also take a look at our Talent Help page, and never hesitate to send us an email with any questions at support@voices.com.

      I hope that helps.

      Best,
      Oliver

      Reply
  • David G Papariella
    June 1, 2020, 4:45 pm

    I have long considered entering this field. I have been blessed with a strong deep voice. I have often been asked if I am on the radio or television because of my voice.

    I do have access to a very high-end recording studio.

    Would you suggest I open an account with you to get started?
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Oliver Skinner
      June 3, 2020, 10:45 am

      Hi David,

      It sounds like you’re more than equipped to get started in the voice over industry!

      I’d definitely suggest signing up for a Voices talent account. You can compare our membership levels here.

      From there, you’ll have the opportunity to fill out your profile, get access to our vast job board of voice over casting calls, and post your demo.

      If you’re looking for some tips on cutting your teeth in the industry, our Beginner’s Guide to Voice Acting and our YouTube channel are both helpful resources.

      Best of luck,
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Carol Attwill
    June 30, 2020, 3:08 am

    I’m in Australia, and I’d love to be a book narrator for audio books. Are there any companies in Australia for this.

    Many thanks … Carol

    Reply
    • Oliver Skinner
      July 13, 2020, 3:28 pm

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your question. If you search for Australian talent agencies online, I’m sure there are plenty that would be happy to sign audiobook narrators.

      However, I’d also highly encourage you to sign up for a Voices talent account! From there, you’ll get the opportunity to fill out your profile, get access to our vast job board of voice over casting calls, and post your demo. Since audiobooks are the category of voice over work that most interests you, you’ll be able to list this directly on your profile.

      Best,
      Oliver

      Reply
  • Rosland Charles
    July 19, 2020, 9:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m an avid reader and lover of linguistics. I’m currently transitioning from teaching into voice narration. This has been helpful.

    Reply