I receive inquiries from enthusiastic folks all the time asking how they might be able to break into audiobooks. It’s becoming such popular field, and though I try to answer everyone individually, lately it just isn’t possible, so I thought I’d write a post about it instead, with some tips and insight into how to “break into audiobooks”. As I dug in, it actually ended up turning into a Two Part post. Here’s Part One. Join me next week for Part Two!
I want to start by saying that there is no quick and easy fast track. There just isn’t. It’s sort of a running joke in our industry because my colleagues and I are approached all the time by folks who say: “People tell me I have a great voice (or my sister has a great voice or my husband has a great voice) so I want to know, how do you get into that?” Being an audiobook narrator is a rigorous discipline, and it has very little to do with having a great voice. Really.
To become an audiobook narrator, you will have to become a marathon runner and that doesn’t happen overnight. Nor does it happen simple because you “can” run (or in this case talk), or because you have nice legs (or, in this case, “a nice voice”). Marathon runners train. They get coaches and they put in the time. They devote themselves to it. Hopefully, they have some natural ability and that’s great, but regardless, they must train, beefing up their natural ability with skill. They most also possess more than just a “like” for running; they must have a passion for it (or, in this case, for storytelling).
If we liken it to cooking, the recipe for a great audiobook narrator is comprised of four main ingredients: talent, skill, business acumen and passion. To be successful, you’re most going to need all four. Oddly, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the natural talent part is the least crucial of the four, though it certainly helps and will make the job much easier…and probably more enjoyable for everybody! That said, I’ve seen folks with intense passion and great business acumen work diligently on their skills and succeed, despite having low to moderate actual innate ability. So that’s the good news! Now, let’s talk about all four ingredients.
Natural Talent: Many believe this is the only thing you need to have a career in audiobook narration. It’s a good place to start, but it’s the beginning not the end point. I am speaking about any natural capacity you might have as a reader and a storyteller. Though not necessarily talents, per se, I’d also throw intellect and general language arts aptitude into this category because we are talking about books; it helps to be a naturally quick and proficient reader with excellent comprehension and eye-mouth coordination. Under this umbrella I’d also sprinkle in the quality/tonality of your voice, an innate sense of timing, acting ability, your diction and cadence, an ability to pick up on accents and dialects and reproduce them and also the quality of the vocal instrument itself – your stamina and overall vocal health and wellness. Most of these things can be worked on and developed, but it helps dramatically if they’re strong to begin with. While not the most crucial of the four main ingredients, talent is definitely the juiciest one. It’s that special something that makes the dish really, really tasty. It also helps you make a better meal, faster.
Skill: You can have all the raw talent in the world but if you don’t learn the skills you need to back it up, you won’t get very far. It takes discipline and commitment to learn and study your craft. This comprises the hours of practice you’ll need to put in to learn technique and how to connect with text and bring it to life moment by moment – the “art” of narration. You’ve got to put the time in. To revisit the marathon metaphor, you don’t just start with a 25K. You get a coach, you join a group, you delve into the entire world and immerse yourself in it, absorbing as much as you can. You talk to others who have run it before and ask for tips and suggestions. Above all else, you show up and you PRACTICE. You learn the skills you need. In the case of audiobooks, you will need to develop not only solid narration skills, but also practical skills such as mic technique and self-recording skills, which are important in today’s marketplace.
Business Acumen: Unless you’re purely doing it for fun, audiobook narration is a business, and the ones who treat it as such will see their businesses grow. The audiobook community in particular, is a very small (and wonderful!) community. You will need to learn who the decision makers are and how to connect with them on an authentic level. Again, you will need to put the time in to build solid relationships. Asking someone to narrate an audiobook is a huge responsibility. It is not like hiring an actor to voice a 30 second spot, or a three minute web video. Books are extremely long and involved. The deadlines are tight and producers are entrusting narrators with a huge responsibility, so handing over that responsibility doesn’t come lightly. They need to have confidence in your ability to deliver, both creatively and practically speaking; hitting deadlines, producing high quality audio with minimal mistakes, and generally being a pleasure to work with are all musts.
Passion: In my opinion, having a true passion for being an audiobook narrator is non-negotiable. If you don’t have a genuine love for the art form and a true desire to do what it takes to “get there”, it will be like pushing a very large rock uphill. You’re going to invest a lot of time, money and energy just getting it going. It took me about three years to “break in”: countless workshops, trips to conferences and networking events, and hours upon hours of practice. This is not including the time involved once you finally get a job!
I call audiobooks the “theatre of voice work”. You do it because you love it, not because you’re going to get rich. Let me explain. In audiobooks, narrators get paid per finished hour, meaning we’re paid on the total run time of the book. We do not get paid for prepping the book, corrections, or however long it takes to record. When you’re new and self-recording, it is not uncommon for it to take 3-5 hours of recording time for every finished hour of audio. So a book that’s 10 hours finished hours of listening time will have taken you about 50 to record…but you’re not getting paid on 50 hours. You’re getting paid on ten. That’s not including the time you spent prepping (pre-reading the book, doing research, making choices and annotating your script), or recording pickups (corrections) for any mistakes you made. Audiobooks are a labor of love. Having a genuine passion for the craft and a desire to be a part of the industry will get you through. Having a good voice, liking to read out loud, doing funny voices…none of these things alone is enough to get you there or sustain you.
Feeling discouraged? I hope not. Friends tell each other the truth, and I want mine (and that means YOU) to know the real deal! Hopefully, this piece has given you some things to consider. If you’re still interested, join me next week for Part 2 of “Breaking into Audiobooks”. I’ll offer some practical tips and suggestions for getting started.
Oh, one more thing! If you haven’t signed up for my blog, or even if you have in the past, make sure to do it again now (up at the top of this page). I just found out that somehow all my subscribers were recently lost…crazy bummer!…so I’m building my readership again from ground zero. Feel free to share this post if you found it helpful. Thanks guys and, until next time, good luck and keep swinging!!