If you’ve been thinking about “going audio” with your book, last week I wrote a blog post (read it here) on some of the decisions you’ll want to consider. And, as I noted, having a great narrator is critical to the success of your audio book. But, as an indie author, how do you choose a great narrator? Today, I’ll share some of my experiences as well as tips from those in the audio book industry to give you the most complete picture of how to hire a narrator for your book.
Choosing a Sample for Auditions
First, let’s look at finding talent. When I spoke to Jason at ACX/Audible about this, he shared a few ideas about shopping for talent and the first part of this is the audition script:
“We recommend you keep your audition script to no more than 2-3 pages. You’ll typically know right away from the audition if the voice is right for your project. You should choose a dynamic selection from your project, rather than the first 2-3 pages, or select 2-3 passages from different sections of your work to get a sense for the actor’s range. “
Longer scripts can take a ton of studio time, so it’s important to keep in mind that the sample will need to be produced, which means that creating a sample takes time on the part of the narrator. Also, when doing auditions, consider using a sample that’s more challenging. Likely this will be further into your book. You want to find a section that will give you a good sense of the narrator’s voice and their ability to do other voices, accents, or characters you have in your book. So pick the strongest, not the longest. You’ll know within two minutes whether that person is right for your book. Jason at ACX also suggests:
Do disclose all the different accents you expect in the book upfront. Don’t expect your producer to read your mind; if you don’t provide direction on the type of performance you’re listening for, your actor will give his or her own interpretation of the work. Our philosophy is the more guidance you provide to your producer – especially up front — the more satisfied you’ll be with the auditions, samples, and finished audio book production. At minimum, provide a few descriptors of each of the characters included in your audition script, as well as a pronunciation guide for any words that are medical, technical, or conlang (constructed languages).
Finding the Right Narrator for Your Book
As I’ve mentioned, the narration and finding the right voice to do your book is crucially important. So, in terms of narration and finding the right person, consider some of these ideas:
When we were doing The Publicist, Book One, we helped the author audition and confirm the talent. Ultimately, we hired Lisa Cordileone (http://www.lisacordileone.com) to do The Publicist, Book One, which is a book we’ve been promoting. She has worked on several audio books, and also acted. Additionally, she’s listed on the ACX site as a preferred audio book reader.
Once I confirmed Lisa, I sent her this blog post the author wrote on this book around the casting call. The blog played on the fact that every author wants their fiction book to be a movie, so we went with that as a theme. Lisa told me that having access to which actors we would have assigned to the roles, actually helped her dig deeper into the characters.
Before you ever hire someone, as you’re signing up on ACX and putting the book out for bid, you’ll need to include a description of the main character and, as Jason mentioned earlier, be sure to mention dialects, etc. so the narrator knows if it’s something they can do. Additionally, Lisa says:
Brief descriptions for character breakdowns help guide me in the right direction. I think the blog article you posted was a great way to describe the characters in your book. It gave a visual, a brief description, and a quick comparison to celebrities who we have a sense of based on their work.
What happens with a word like ‘snarky’ is an actor is going to see that word, and make a strong choice to be ‘snarky’ and that’s what the audition will most likely sound like. An alternate way is to think outside of just using adjectives. Who is this person, what is her relationship to the other major characters in the story, what is her driving force or obstacle being dealt with, how would she deal with the situation at hand? A well rounded description will always serve better than adjectives alone, so we can identify who this character is and personalize it to give the best audition possible.
As to The Publicist, Book One, once we listed the book and started to get auditions, I took the extra step of looking at their background to see and hear the range of books on their resumes. You can find most of them on Audible and get a real sense of how they sound doing different characters. This is also important because most likely, you aren’t going to be featuring just one person in your book and the audition sample likely won’t have every character in it, so do your due diligence and really listen to some of the other samples you can find.
Most of the narrators do other work, though some are exclusively audio. Most, if not all, will have websites that show previous work, acting background, and other things they are involved in. It’s really a good idea to know who you’re hiring, since, as we mentioned already, the narrator will be tethered to your entire book series (if that’s what you’re doing. Additionally, you may want to bring the same narrator in for all of your books, regardless of whether or not it’s a series. If you find someone you work well with, why not continue the relationship?
When I interviewed Lisa and a few others, I sent them questions via the ACX website to find out how they like to work with authors. Though none of them said this, a red flag might be that they don’t want any contact with the author. While I understand that everyone is busy, I think that that having a connection to the author and being open to communicating directly with them is very key.
Jason at ACX recommended communicating with the folks who’ve auditioned and letting them know you appreciate that they take time to do so. There’s a place on the ACX page where you can dialog with them and, he said “A quick thank you goes a long way.” I would agree. Further to that, I actually had a few folks who were auditioning offer to do additional samples if it would help my decision making which I thought was just above and beyond.
Male, Female, or Both?
If you’ve listened to a bestselling book on audio, you may notice that some parts are read by female and some are male narrators. This is done, but it’s not common. If you’re struggling with this idea, consider that it could add a big cost to your bottom line to do both when really you don’t need to.
Lisa offers this from a narrator’s perspective:
I was always taught that a narrator should be able to perform all parts, male and female. Most, if not all, audio book production companies are going to want to hear that on a narrators demo, i.e. Sample of fiction with a narrator, and 1 female and 1 male character exchanging dialogue. It is a specific skill set that audio book narrators should have.
So with that in mind, consider some of these tips as you prepare to turn your book into an audio book, and you’ll be sure to hire the best narrator for the job.