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I first began to wonder what it would take to become an audiobook narrator while on a road trip with my brother one summer almost ten years ago. As we left the Northeast and began the 700 mile trek to visit family down South (having made the crucial mistake to roll out at 9 am instead of 5 am), we hunkered down for a long drive. Back then, books on CD were our main source for audiobooks. Unlike digital audiobooks, with their instant access to a wide array of titles, books on CD were more limited. If you didn’t have the book you wanted to listen to on hand, you were out of luck.
While we didn’t have many books on CD, we did have the giant doorstopper fantasy books we were reading in print. For my brother, it was George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords, and for me it was Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension. As we inched along in New Jersey rush hour traffic, both of us wanted to read the books we brought. However, we felt bad about the idea of one of us silently reading and screwing over whichever one of us was driving. Sibling loyalty at its finest.
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I think we ended up sitting in the car for about 17 hours that day, no thanks to our late start, so this gave us plenty of time to come up with an ingenious idea. We decided that whoever was the passenger would read aloud from our print books. We played it fair, alternating chapters between our two books. And so, we became audiobook narrators for the day. While we were a far cry from someone like Roy Dotrice, winning world records for voicing 234 characters, we had fun.
My brother pulled off the different character voices so well, I suggested he look into how to become an audiobook narrator. Years later, he told me he did look into it, and unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than we thought. Ever since, I have always wondered what does it take to become an audiobook narrator? If you’ve been wondering the same thing, I’m here to help. After conducting some research, I’ve put together a guide with six steps to becoming an audiobook narrator.
6 Steps to Becoming an Audiobook Narrator
Step 1: Research and Develop Helpful Background Skills
When you’re ready to dip your toe into the pool of audiobook narration, the first step is to research helpful skills. AudibleBlog writer Luis Daniel Gonzalez (2021) discusses background skills for audiobook narrators, including acting, languages and dialects, research, and stamina.
Much to his chagrin, my brother had discovered the same thing. Experience in acting is a part of the process when trying to become an audiobook narrator. Gonzalez (2021) shares Audible Studios Kat Lambrix’s thoughts about this. Lambrix stated, “Narration is an acting gig. You’re embodying different characters, you’re telling stories.” While a drama degree may not always be required to become an audiobook narrator, a background in acting can help.
Familiarity of various languages and the research required to become more comfortable speaking these languages are also important skills. In a 2019 piece for Guardian, Tim Dowling describes Clare Corbett’s experiences as an audiobook narrator. He writes, “More recently she narrated Flights, The Man Booker international prize winner by Polish author — and now Nobel prize winner — Olga Tokarczuk. “Approaching that was very difficult,” says Corbett. “There was Russian and Polish language in it, and Russian, Polish and Croatian pronunciations.” In the end, she contacted some other women from her local area who spoke the languages and could guide her through the pronunciations. “I’m meeting my community at the same time,” she says.”
Along with the steps above, Masterclass (2022) also recommends adding breath control to your repertoire of skills. As you begin to consider becoming an audiobook narrator, consider ways to develop these background skills.
Step 2: Research the Craft by Listening to Audiobooks
It might seem self-explanatory, but the more you listen to audiobooks, the more skilled you can become at narrating them. I feel that way about writing too. As I work on my writing skills, I try to read as much as I can in my genre. Immersing myself in my craft helps me learn how to be a better writer.
Masterclass (2022) gives advice about what aspiring audiobook narrators can look out for while listening to audiobooks. “Research and listen to a range of audiobooks featuring prominent or up-and-coming narrators in the field. Scrutinize their pacing, cadence, inflections, and other reading techniques. Studying how experienced narrators regulate their breathing and switch between different voices can inform your reading and performance techniques.”
Listening to audiobook narrators involves not just listening to the different voices they create, but also their breathing and pacing. For a starting point, check out this Rioter’s list of 21 prolific narrators and this Rioter’s list of 5 rising stars.
Step 3: Set Up a Home Studio and Start Practicing!
Now that you’ve begun developing your background skills and listening to lots of audiobooks, the next step is to practice. Creating a space to record yourself narrating audiobooks is an important part of this process.
You don’t need to invest in lots of equipment to begin recording. Masterclass (2022) recommends finding a space in your home, such as a closet, where you can line the walls in soundproof material to cut back on noise. Purchasing a professional microphone can also make an impact on the quality of your audio recordings.
Step 4: Promote Yourself As an Audiobook Narrator
Once you’ve begun practicing, you can move on to promoting yourself as an audiobook narrator. Masterclass (2022) suggests recording a voice-over demo and volunteering your services in projects such as student films and podcasts. This can help build your portfolio of recordings. Creating a website to showcase your work can also help you share this portfolio.
Another important part of promoting yourself involves networking. Gonzalez (2021) advises networking through professional organizations such as Audio Publishers Association, as well as social media. He shares how affecting social media can be, as well as Kat Lambrix’s thoughts, writing, “From connecting with other narrators and reaching out to authors and publishers, there are plenty of ways to make social media your best friend during the course of your narrating career. “Put your work on social media. See what people’s reactions are — see what people are engaging with. Lots of narrators have social media followings, and listeners find them through their accounts. Sometimes authors even approach narrators through their social accounts,” Lambrix says.”
Step 5: Time to Apply!
You’ve researched background skills, listened to audiobooks, practiced in your home studio, and promoted yourself as a narrator. Now it’s time to apply to some audiobook gigs!
While you may find freelance work at first through typical job search engines, there are websites specific to audiobook positions as well. Gonzalez (2021) suggests checking out the following: ACX.com, VoiceBunny.com, and Voices.com.
Step 6: Continue Honing Your Craft
In between applying for and working various audiobook narrator jobs, it’s important to continue honing your craft. Follow the latest up-and-coming audiobook narrators, keep listening to audiobooks, research languages, accents, and dialects.
Finding a coach is another great way to fine-tune your skills. Gonzalez (2021) shares an important point to keep in mind,”Remember, just because you have a coach doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or you aren’t good. The opposite is true — you’re trying to perfect your craft, which is a huge step in the right direction.”
Having an attitude of always looking for ways to improve will serve you well on your journey to become an audiobook narrator.
So, Are You Ready to Become An Audiobook Narrator?
My brother and I had a lot of fun reading aloud to each other on that car ride, but as we’ve learned since, there’s a lot that goes into becoming an audiobook narrator. I hope this guide will help you fulfill your bookish dream of reading aloud your favorite stories. To dig in further to what it takes to become an audiobook narrator, take a look at this Rioter’s interview with audiobook narrator, Noah Michael Levine.