Recording Audiobooks: Getting to the heart of the story

audiobookOne of the things I find amazing about the voice-over industry is how many different genres there are. It can be a bit overwhelming when examining them, and deciding what area you would like to focus on.

One particular genre I happen to love, audiobooks, is growing fast. And because this market is growing, it’s also a great place for newcomers to get their start. Knowing a bit about what you can expect when you’re going in can help you look out for your bottom line, and specially targeted audiobook training can help you develop the skill-set that will help support a successful career in this exciting yet sometimes complicated world.

As an actress who always had her nose in a book as a child, I love audiobook narration. There is something so lovely about being able to sink my teeth into a book while knowing that I am actually working, to get paid while letting myself get carried away inside the alternate reality of a juicy book (a luxury I seldom give myself otherwise). 
Audiobooks allow an actor to take on many roles they may not otherwise get a chance to take on. I’ve played old men, sophisticated old ladies, little boys, girls, villains, heroines, high society, low society, multiple accents (frequently within the same scene) and have even gotten to throw in some foreign languages. As a person with an acting background who loves a challenge, this is serious fun! But let’s look a little about whether this could be right for you and what some of the pros and cons are.In my opinion, narrative audiobooks (story-telling) are where a seasoned actor can find continual challenges and fulfillment. But newcomers may want to get their feet wet elsewhere while they take legit acting classes and continue to sharpen their skills. Non-fiction can also be a great place to apply yourself and learn about so many different topics while you’re at it!

As fun and fulfilling as audiobooks can be, I also believe it is one of the most rigorous and challenging kinds of voice over work you can do. Here are some considerations:

Stamina. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, narrating audiobooks requires a certain amount of stamina. And it requires a level of fluidity with sight reading that will allow you to cover a lot of territory with a minimum amount of mistakes. Make sure you can handle long sessions with continual focus and narration.

Technical knowledge. These days, some audiobooks are still produced in-studio, but many audio-books are self-produced by the voice-over artist. Self-producing requires spending a lot of time editing and learning how to “master” your tracks. Also, because you will be recording for long periods of time, you have to be especially conscious of background noise. Some audiobook narrators find they need to record very late through the night to assure a clean track. Make sure your recording set up is solid, has great tone and that you’re adept with your recording program.

Feedback. If you’re doing audiobook work in the studio, with a director, that director can keep you on track. But if you’re on your own, you could get through several chapters before you realize that an adjustment in approach would have been helpful. There is much to learn in the process of doing audiobooks, so as you’re getting started, getting feedback can be an important part of the process. When you’re first starting out, make sure your creative choices are clear, and learn to listen back with a critical ear very early in the process so you don’t get too far along in case you decide to self adjust.

Preparation. When you get a commercial or narration script in your hands, of course the first thing you need to do is read it. The same is true for an audiobook. However, given the length of a book, you will have less time available comparatively to break everything down specifically. You need to know what to look for, how to prepare, and you need to have great instincts.

audiobook2For instance, make a character list with attributes and distinctions for each person. If a character shows up in chapter 1, but then not again until chapter 30, will you remember who he is, and be able to keep him consistent? Keep a log of where these characters appear if you’re unable to search them within a document. If you’re in a studio, they can play this character back for you, and if you’re on your own, there are also ways you can mark this for yourself in your recording program. But if you’re self-producing, this can also pose a challenge to the creative process. Jumping back and forth between technical engineer and narrator/actor can sometimes be tough. The more at home you are with both your equipment and your skill set, the better!

As a narrator of audiobooks, especially non-fiction, it is important to understand how to keep the audience engaged. A true immersion in the material is key!

Pay. $100/$200 per finished hour for self produced work may sound great at first, but keep in mind that this covers the time spent prepping, the time in the studio, and the time spent editing and mastering. There are also file uploads, and potential edits. It is possible to hire out the editing and mastering work, but make sure that’s something you can afford on what you’re getting paid.

It is challenging, yet fulfilling work. Of course the advantage is quantity and consistency of the work. They’re long projects, so it’s easier to fill your plate with steady jobs. And that also means more time spent feeling engaged in the creativity of the work!

But it’s also possible to miscalculate in this field. Start with smaller projects while you’re getting your feet wet. To immerse yourself in a project of a large magnitude in exchange for a percentage of royalties can be a very enticing way to get your start. And if the book does well, it could be a wonderful choice. But don’t let the numbers of e-books sold on Amazon fool you into thinking the numbers will be similar for the audiobook. Unfortunately, audiobooks just don’t typically have those kinds of numbers. And the success of the book has so much to do with marketing, which is another nut to tackle altogether. If you’re just getting your start, and you are able to  dedicate yourself to the time involved to do it right, it can be a great entryway. But know that you have no guarantees of seeing a worthy financial return immediately on the time you have spent. Consider it your opportunity to get your feet wet, build a resume and samples, and learn the ropes so you can build to more lucrative work.

If you’re interested in learning more and delving into this field, one of the indispensable resources I would suggest is to check out online. They have tutorials and resources that help with the technical aspects, as well as an online portal to audiobook auditions. It’s a great place for newcomers around the world to get their start.

Also, once you have completed demo samples you’re proud of, you can submit them to audiobook production companies and directly to Audible which has in-studio productions. Do a little research to discover the policies and locations of different publishing companies.

Good luck!

Aria McKenna is an award-winning actress who has worked in films, TV, and the stage. She’s also a sought-after voice talent who has worked for major brands like Disney, Chevy, Fiat, Chanel, Yokohama, and more. You can find her work at



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