How To Narrate Audiobooks Like A Pro

Narrating an audiobook requires time and preparation. The essential skills include concentration, consistency, breathing and accuracy. Plus, it may seem obvious, but when you start reading remove all distractions and turn off your phone. Take your breaks, and stay as still as you can during recordings. Don’t worry, you can still move around, just wait until you take your breaks. Ha ha. 

Let’s face it most people who can read and speak can “become an audiobook narrator”. But like all trades, unless you have the right tools and insights, your job can become a struggle to master. In this blog we reveal the top tips that will help you improve your skills as an audiobook narrator. We will also provide some pro microphone tips and advice for aspiring narrators.

This blog is intended for authors who wish to narrate their own audiobook, or seasoned pros who are seeking further advice on how to narrate audiobooks and improve their skillset and studio set up.

Preparing To Record An Audiobook

3 PRO TIPS FOR NARRATORS: PREPARING THE SCRIPT

become an audiobook narrator

PRO TIP 1: Annotate, annotate, annotate! ✍🏼

Annotating characters for your audiobook will help differentiate between the various voices. To help you change characters, highlight the voices in a colour that still helps you read the book easily. A trick we use is to colour all female characters in yellow, orange and greens etc., and all male characters in blue, grey and reds. This helps you to identify characters and sexes easier and quickly change between voices. Also, to remind you of how a voice sounded, make sure you record a snippet of each character on your phone or in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), then it will be easier to quickly refer back. If you’re working with a producer, they should have a snippet of the character they can play back to you.

We use an iPad to annotate our manuscripts and work with software called iAnnotate

PRO TIP 2: Pronunciation 🗣️

Nobody will ever thank you for bad pronunciation. Listeners will always be happier when they hear a word pronounced correctly. 
So, take the time to double check words that are difficult to pronounce, especially nouns and foreign words. Research the pronunciation, and maybe even check with authors and producers. The biggest offenders are often words you’ve probably been saying wrong without even realising. Words that have creeped into the British language from America.

A big offender is the word ‘Schedule‘ often pronounced in the UK as ‘Sked-Dual‘, when it should be pronounced ‘Shed-Dual‘. The first way is the American way, the latter is the UK English way.

A great site for pronunciation is audioeloquence. And for voices and accents take a look at accenthelp, especially if you’re struggling to master a specific voice or accent.

PRO TIP 3: Intonation 🙊
 

This is an easy one to ignore, but don’t! But reading a book is not a race to the end. Often voices make the mistake of reading too fast and running into the next paragraph with no pauses, breaths or full stops. Trust me, this is not best practice and is very time consuming to change.

So, please pay close attention to where breaths and pauses are supposed to be. Remember, after a full stop leave one second or a breath before you continue reading. When there’s been a new paragraph after a full stop it’s usually two to three seconds depending on the tone and pace of the book.

What’s important is that you mark any specific structural changes in the book. It may also be helpful to note any special punctuation like question marks or exclamation marks. For example: “Do you think they heard us?”. In this example, the voice may need to have a tone of questioning and also whisper. So always make notes of anything that stands out. And remember, your voice should sound as natural as possible. Almost like you’re talking, not reading.

Eating & Drinking When Reading Audiobooks

3 PRO TIPS FOR NARRATORS: PREPARING THE BODY
 
audiobook hydration
 

PRO TIP 1: What to Drink 🥃
 
We cannot emphasise enough the importance of being hydrated in the lead up to and throughout the recording of your audiobook.
During recording, your voice will read for many hours. So, not keeping your voice hydrated can make it sound slurry, cause lack of diction and if you’re not careful, give you a sore throat.

But what should I drink? Water is the number one go to. We personally prefer warm water with green tea in a glass with a smidge of honey and lemon. Or, just green tea on it’s own with warm water. This drink will keep your throat lubricated and stop it becoming congealed and dry. Obviously you could just have water, but if you do, we advise you drink warm water, not cold. Why? Cold water is like throwing a bucket of ice over your throat. To avoid your throat becoming strained, boil a kettle and mix hot water with cold. Also, don’t gulp water, sip it and wash around your mouth. Gulping water can create your stomach to react and start rumbling. 

PRO TIP 2: Food and Snacks To Eat 🥗

Before you arrive at the studio in the morning, always have a good hearty breakfast. One that will keep you going until at least lunchtime.  As an example, scrambled eggs on toast or a cooked breakfast. An alternative might be porridge and fruit. But always eat a good one to two hours before you start reading, as the digestive system needs time to wash the food through your body properly. Don’t make the mistake of turning up at the studio only 30 minutes after eating your breakfast, as the recording may be delayed, especially if it’s picking up your tummy noises on the microphone.

If you do get the hunger pangs before lunchtime then a snack such as a banana works wonders. So, maybe pack in a few bananas and grapes for those in-between moments. 

PRO TIP 3: Food and Drink To Avoid! 🥛

Avoid, Avoid, avoid! Any dairy. Even milk in your tea could have consequences. Why? Dairy products congeal and constrain the voice which can lead to a recording where you’re constantly straining your voice to clear phlegm off your chest and throat. Surely I can still use milk on my porridge? Use an alternative like oat milk. Remember, this is just for one day, or maybe a few. After you’ve recorded the book, you can then go back to your usual daily pleasures.

Other drinks to avoid are alcohol, caffeine and fizzy drinks. And foods to avoid are processed foods and sugary treats. 

What Listeners Want From Audiobooks

3 PRO TIPS FOR NARRATORS: UNDERSTANDING THE LISTENER

what audiobook listeners love

PRO TIP 1: Listeners Need Time ⏱️
 
When you read a book, you can easily make mental or physical notes of characters and the storyline. Mainly because you’re going at your own pace. You may even re-read sentences to make sure you have fully processed the details. But this is not the case with audiobooks. The listener needs time to take in what you’re saying. So, the read needs to be reflective of the story, with the necessary pauses and light and shade to the various scenes and characters in the book.

Remember, this is not a race to the finishing line. Reading audiobooks is not unlike reading to a child. It has to be at a good steady pace and make people ‘lean in’ to listen. You are not TALKING AT your listeners, you are telling a story. So make it fun, engaging and interesting to listen to. 

PRO TIP 2: People Have Split Attention 🚗
 

When people are listening to audiobooks they are often multi-tasking. Listening to an audiobook gives you the luxury of being able to drive, walk, clean or even carry out the odd DIY job around the house whilst listening.
This means that the narrater must have good clear diction. Nothing can be slurred or brushed passed because the listener may miss what was said and then mis-understand the plot.

Don’t assume that because they may be working out or cleaning that the listener doesn’t care. They do, and if you make it hard for them to understand what is being said, they may struggle to continue reading. Or worse, leave a review about how they didn’t like the narrator.

PRO TIP 3: Listeners Are Diverse 👵🏽

Listeners of audiobooks come from all ages and backgrounds and they are all taking the time to listen to YOU narrate a story to them. So, consider the diversity of the audience and make your voice easy to understand and enjoy. And remember that everybody has a different listening ability.
Meaning, don’t speak too fast or too slow, just have a nice reading pace that people can easily follow along to. And although people have the option to turn up the speed on playback when listening to audiobooks, avoid reading fast to accommodate this listener. Most people don’t listen at a fast speed and often take in more information when the reader speaks at a
good steady pace.

And remember, people from the age of 10 to 90 may listen to you reading a book. So be aware of the vast age range of your listeners.

Audiobook Seating And Vocal Set Up

3 PRO TIPS FOR NARRATORS: GETTING THE BEST SET UP

narrator voicing audiobook

PRO TIP 1: Being Comfortable 🛀🏼
 

Most audiobook narrators prefer to sit, especially since recording an audiobook takes many hours. So choose a chair that is fixed, doesn’t make any noises and is comfortable to sit on. Often a banqueting chair is ideal for voicing audiobooks. Mainly because they are well cushioned and firm in structure.

But make sure you can maintain good posture, so that you don’t start slumping and getting back ache. Room temperature is also really important as you don’t want to be sitting in a hot room for hours on end. Especially when those summer heat waves come. For that reason, avoid creating a small voicing booth, ideally you need air to regulate around the room, so a good size vocal booth is recommended. Not one where you turn around and you’re already out the door. This might be cosy in the winter, but you are going to struggle with this small size in the summer months. Unless of course you have really quiet air conditioning in the room. 

PRO TIP 2: Microphone Choice 🎤

Everybody thinks that a cheap microphone is good enough for the job. It is, but it really isn’t. If you’re doing this for a living then you need to spend a little bit more to get a better result from your microphone. Yes, your voice and delivery is important, but a good microphone will give your voice much more colour and depth. The good news is that there’s now lots of great quality microphones at a very good price.
Microphones like the Lewitt LCT 540 S or the Warm Audio WA14 which are probably available for around the £500 mark. Look them up on Google.
Obviously the gold standard has always been the Neumann U87, but unless you have the best part of £2k you may want to consider the Neumann TLM 103, which is about £1,000 less and even less if you but it from eBay.

Whatever mic you purchase, consider buying a good preamp. Like the dbx 286s or Focusrite ISA One. These preamps will need to go through a mixer though. So, if you want something a bit more simple that just plugs into your computer, then you may wish to purchase something like a Focusrite Scarlett Solo

PRO Tip 3: Microphone Position and Clothing 👚
 

Everybody seems to have their own unique set up, the usual set up we see is the microphone right in front of the voice overs lips with a popper stopper in front of them. This immediately creates an obstabcle in front of your face, making it hard to read anything. So, before you do anything else, remove the popper stopper completely. I’m sorry, but this relationship with your popper stopper has to end.

The ideal position is to have the microphone floating just above your nose with a slight off axis position to your lips, about 6/7 inches away. As an example, stretch out your hand and place your thumb on your lips and your little finger on your microphone. That’s the distance you require. If you have the microphone at the right position, you will no longer need a popper stopper as you will look down slightly (avoiding pops) and you will now be able to see everything in front of you and still be heard perfectly.

And finally, avoid wearing scratchy sounding clothes, clothes that make a rustling noise when you move. The key offender is polyester, so avoid wearing clothes with this fabric. Also remove all jangly jewellery like rustling arm bangles and earrings.

Today’s Takeaways

Whether you’re planning on reading your own autobiography or you’re a pro narrator just looking for further tips and guidance. Hopefully you have found some useful tips and advice in this blog. 

Remember, it’s important to prepare your script and consider your audience… Try to put yourself in their shoes and read to them in a way that is easy to process, entertaining and interesting. And above all, try to make it sound like you’re talking, not reading. That is the key. 

If you want to learn more about how audiobooks are created. Then check out our previous blog about how to create an audiobook.

If you have any further questions or wish to get in touch, please feel free to comment below. Or, contact us from our online form. We’d love to talk to you. 

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