7 tips for voice talent preparing for their first audiobook narration

Audiobook narration is one of the fastest growing areas of the voiceover industry, but Whether you are completely new to voice acting or a seasoned pro who’s been flirting with the idea of getting into narrating books for some time, there are a few things you should know… Audiobooks are not where the money is, the process of producing them is painstakingly slow, and it is not for the faint-hearted or for those who genuinely don’t enjoy reading.

They can however be extremely rewarding, and if nothing else, it is nice to wake up every day for a few weeks and know you have employment for the time being. A rare thing for us self employed folk.

As with all my blogs, I don’t claim to be an expert, I just want to share some nuggets of wisdom that would have helped me throughout certain stages of my own career.

This list is not exhaustive, but it contains some of the key things I noticed or that nearly caught me out when I worked on my first major long form narration.

Please note, I am mainly focusing here on producing the book on your own, from your home studio. Not being sent to a studio by your agent.

1. Understand how the fees work

Audiobooks are arguably the most difficult area of voiceover work and yet this genre of work is also one of the lowest paid. Narrator fees are usually quoted in PFH. This means per finished hour. Let me repeat that, per FINISHED hour. That is, an hours worth of listening for the consumer, NOT an hour’s worth of work for you.

I stress this because the amount of misleading information appearing on the internet recently, about how getting into audiobooks is a great way to earn lots of money from home during the Corona Virus pandemic, simply isn’t true.

As a general rule, if you are not a seasoned producer, an hour of finished ready to go mastered audio will take you roughly 6 hours to produce. So please bear in mind that whatever the PFH rate is, this needs to be divided between the number of hours this will take you to produce. So if for instance you are offered £100 PFH and it takes 6 hours to produce that hour, you will actually be making around £16 per hour before tax, studio running costs, training etc.

2. Be fussy

Narrating an audiobook is a big commitment. You will potentially be living with this material intimately for some time. You will be reading, listening, reading and listening, checking, listening…. For perhaps weeks on end.

Choose your title carefully. Don’t just take on anything because you are excited to get your first audiobook gig. It really does help to be truly interested in the subject matter. This interest will pull you through on those days where endlessly voicing alone from a hot, small padded room, then sitting for hours editing make you question why you said yes.

Taking on titles that truly interest you make it feel less like a slog and more like you are being paid to read a book you would actually have picked up yourself.

3. start small

If the thought of producing an audiobook terrifies you, try not to be too ambitious. why not start small? Avoid mammoth titles like War and Peace and dip your toe in by looking for short stories or even material for children which if you have good acting skills can be both hugely rewarding and less intimidating when you are starting out.

Newbies are going to find editing a 30 minute short story about a zebra named Stripe a lot less intimidating than editing a 20 hour epic fantasy thriller set across many fictional lands and greeting 30 different characters all with different voices.

4. Do your homework

A lot of the time involved with producing an audiobook sits around the vast amount of preparation that is necessary before you even get into the booth to start the narration. Obviously This prep time can vary, but even the simplest or shortest of titles require preparatory work.

You will need to read and understand the title first. You will need to mark up the manuscript and make notes for yourself on pronunciation etc. The author will usually not have given you a full pronunciation guide and so you may need to spend time contacting the author or publishing house or trudging the internet for correct pronunciations. Think you know how the ladies name Helena is pronounced? Well you might, but it could be wrong since there are 3 pronunciations of this name that I know of. It is your job to get these things right and getting it right takes time and often time consuming detective work.

Fiction books may require even more homework than nonfiction titles. If there are many characters in the book, you need to have devised some sort of way to keep track on their voices and accents. Sometimes a character that you voiced early on, might not appear again until many chapters later. That might mean many weeks later for you. How are you going to remember the exact voice and tone if you don’t make lots of notes, reference audio files or both?

Doing this homework really will save you time in the long run and reduce the time you spend in the booth and subsequently, editing.

5. Learn to punch and roll

Line fluffs are an inevitable part of any long form narration. Punch and roll is a method of recording that allows you to effectively edit ‘on the fly’ from the booth. By rolling back from your mistake a set number of seconds (mine is set to 5), it enables you to match your tone and pace then ‘punch in’ at exactly the right place in order to replace your audio with a more suitable take.

This method can slow down recording time, but if you can master it (and it does take a little getting used to), it will certainly speed up your editing time and help keep your work flow organised.

Not everyone likes to use punch and roll with some people, including seasoned professionals stating that it can take them out of their ‘flow’, especially when working on fiction titles. It is more than OK to go with the clap, click or any other method of marking mistakes for editing later, but at least experiment with punch and roll before your first audiobook gig comes in and see if it is for you or not.

6. Back it up

Please make sure you have the capacity to back up your files. Aim to back them up to at least two different locations if possible. These are going to be long, large files that you have spent many hours working on. Don’t be tempted to skip this stage because you are dying to go and make a drink or it’s late. It could cost you greatly later on. It is a simple and cheap thing to do and it is good practice.

7. Feel the fear

Producing an audiobook to industry standards like Audible’s ACX or many of the other major publishing houses, does require a fair amount of technical know-how. Do you know how to keep your noise floor below -60db or make sure the loudness of your mastered files sits between -23db and -18db LUFS for instance?

Do not allow yourself to be paralysed into inaction by these technicalities. They are simply a series of steps that need to be followed in order to produce the required desired outcome. A bit like baking a good Victoria sponge.

I can put my own hands up here. For a long time, I was put off audiobooks by all I had read about of the technicalities involved. I honestly felt I wasn’t good or capable enough. I am telling you now, these thoughts are silly and they need to be squashed, NOW. You ARE good enough.

Seriously, it is producing an audiobook. It is not open-heart surgery. Sure, there will be a learning curve, that’s certain. But you already handled a similar learning curve when you became a voiceover artist with home studio in the first place.

If you take the time to learn from the experts, watch online tutorials etc, you will get the hang of it. There is a wealth of information out there. Take a look at some of the ACX resources for example at https://acxuniversity.com/.

Audiobooks are not for everyone, but don’t not do it because you are afraid. Just be prepared, be organised, ask for a fair rate, learn some techy stuff. THEN, as the old adage goes….

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

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