Has anybody ever told you that you have a voice for radio? (I’m normally told I have a face for radio…but hey, whatever.) But seriously, if you have one of those magic voices, you might want to consider voice over work. There’s actually plenty of opportunity out there especially with the rising popularity of audiobooks. But do you now how one might become an audiobook narrator?
In all actuality, it’s a relatively simple process. However, this is a highly competitive field. So there are some things that you’ll need to do in order to rise above the rest and start landing audiobook narration gigs.
Now before we get into detail about each of these steps, keep one thing in mind. You’ll only go as far as the effort you put into becoming an audiobook narrator. Remember that old phrase, “Practice makes perfect”? Pepperidge Farm remembers. So unless you’re just a born natural…this will take some work.
There’s a pretty good chance that if you looking to become an audiobook narrator, you’re an avid reader. But does that mean you can actually read out loud? For example, a great friend of mine–let’s call him B–is one of those speed readers. I kid you not, B consumes books faster than Shaggy and Scoob do a quadruple-Decker club sandwich. However, asking B to read aloud is an absolute nightmare.
You see, he may have the ability for super speed and comprehension. But has zero ability to make clear to a public audience. B rarely, if ever, reads aloud and it shows. That being said, the ability to read aloud is paramount to your success as an audiobook narrator. Here’s an exercise:
Go sit in your closet, bathroom, or favorite reading chair and read out loud for an hour or two. How does that feel? It may be unnatural at first, but as time passes you’ll soon find it becoming more comfortable. Now, can you do that… but restarting from a pause point whenever you trip up? That’s the life of an audiobook narrator. If you can conquer this first step, you’re already way ahead of some of your competition.
Now this is easier said than done. When you’re reading for an audiobook, you’re going to have to know what’s coming up and where. Is there going to be a setting change? Or additional character dialogue? Or maybe some surprise action scene?
All of these affect the way your voice is going to come across. And if you’re not prepared for it, it’s not going to sound too great.
You can perfect this by reading and re-reading your upcoming segments. And yes, I said segments. You’re not going to be able to get everything perfectly done in a single take.
You might not think this anything special. It’s not like you haven’t been breathing your entire life. But… when it comes to narration, you need to learn how to breathe properly. Here’s a little story from my life to put this in perspective
When I was in Jr. High, I was part of a girl’s chorus group. Singing, dancing, sequined skirts–the works. And during one of our numbers, I actually had a solo! It was kind of a big deal at the time. So fast forward to our next show. After doing a few songs, my solo had arrived and everything was going well. I was hitting all my notes, but I had one last part to get through. That long sustain at the end. So, I took a huge breath but something was wrong. I had actually heard myself take those lungs full of air. And so did everybody else–which of course threw me off-key.
I had violated my choir director’s number one rule. Breathe from the diaphragm. This technique allows you to take those big ole breaths and do so silently. Something that audiobook narrators need to be able to do. If you can’t read a book out loud without huffing and puffing, you aren’t quite ready for your narration career. But don’t let that stop you. Breathing from your diaphragm is a learned skill.
This video–although for singing instruction–demonstrates perfectly how you should be breathing.
This step is one of the most overlooked when it comes to being an audiobook narrator. Practicing your voice modulation is critical if you’re gonna make it in the industry.
Your voice modulation is what helps determine the context of what you’re saying. You don’t want to be Ms. Monotony all the time–especially when it’s not called for. If you don’t have the proper tone or expression for a particular scene, it’s just going to sound off. For instance, if you’re reading about a high-speed car chase, you need to have some hurried excitement within your voice. But if you’re reading about being stuck in the doldrums, a lackadaisical voice could be more effective.
Audiobook narration isn’t just reading a book. There’s a good bit of acting involved too. And this just the beginning of it.
Have you ever read the Lord of the Rings trilogy? If you have–or have seen the movie–you’ll recall just how many different characters there are. Each one unique and with their own personalities. Can you just imagine reading for the audiobook counterparts?
It’s gotta one of the most difficult projects ever because all your characters can’t just sound the same. You’d have to create a voice library for each character for your own reference when reading. But just like each critical skill above this one, you can learn how to do do this. It just takes patience and a whole lotta practice.
Once you mastered (or at least improved) your craft, it’s time to start putting together your portfolio. But how are you supposed to do that? With a built-in laptop mic? Or maybe one of those headphone/microphone deals you got with your last cellphone purchase? Or you could just yell into a coffee can and close the lid really fast. Just kidding. Don’t do any of those.
If you’re going to put together a quality sample in order to land actual work, you’re going to need to up your game. And this will require a decent microphone setup and editing platform.
And while this seems like a bit of an investment, it’s a must. Because your competition will have professional setups too. There’s no way you can compete in the audiobook narrator market with a stat-icky voice recording. If you’re wondering what a quality setup sounds like, check out Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur. And yes, it’s no secret he’s one of my absolute favorite bloggers and experts. But the man has got a sound setup like no other. It’s a crystal clear sound with minimal background noise.
No, it’s finally time to lay down those tracks! Or create your voice samples anyway. You’re going to want to create a bunch of different samples for a bunch of different writings.
For example, you might want to start with a standard approach. You reading aloud a book or piece of classic literature. It doesn’t need to be the whole book–it’s best that it isn’t–just a snippet or excerpt from. And use your professional reading voice wile you’re at it because that’s what a client wants to hear anyway.
But a standard sample isn’t all you want to make. Create a few character samples or ones that have multiple character voices. This can show off the depths of your talents. Another way to do so is to create different regional accents. For me, I would create a snippet using a Southern US accent. You wouldn’t know it by listening to me, but I was raised in the Deep South. And although I lock that drawl and twang away, I can still use it naturally. But you might have other accents that you can produce. Use them to your advantage.
Remember, your prospective clients will be looking to hear the depth of your speaking skills. Speaking of….
After you’ve made your samples… it’s time to submit them to an open casting call-type agency or as part of an interview for a voice over project.
Honestly, this is probably the scariest part of the whole process. Not because it’s too difficult, it’s just that you’re laying yourself out bare. And you’re probably going to get rejected–a lot. But all it takes is one yes and you’ll feel on top of the world.
So…what are you waiting for? Get submitting!
(Oh… you don’t where? Gotcha.)
There are quite a few places out there that you can find work as an audiobook narrator. But let’s focus on my top three selections.
This is my (and many others) top choice when it comes to Audiobook narration–both for narrators and clients. Essentially the whole site is just a digital marketplace for voice talent. As a prospective narrator, you’ll need to create an account, name your price, and upload your samples. Next, search for a project that you’d actually love to work on. Once selected, you’re given the option to read a piece of the work. If the rights holder–aka client–likes you, they’ll present an offer and voila! You’re on your way to becoming an audiobook narrator.
If you’ve been around the Internet job market and freelance sites, I’m 100% positive you know about Upwork. It’s pretty much an online classifieds for freelancers for all sorts of work like SEO’ers, Ghostwriters, designers, and more–including audiobook and voice-over narrators. You’ll fin a wide range of talent here ranging from the noobs to the pros. The only real gripe I have about Upwork is that your account needs to be approved. So, if there’s too many narrators and not enough clients, Upwork will actually deny you from registering until there is space available or you have other skills. But if you can make it on, it’s a great place to start narrating.
And finally VoiceBunny. This place is another legit site that you can find voice-over and audiobook narration clients. But here’s the kicker. In order to get access to the work, you’ve gotta be a pro. VoiceBunny actually vets its incoming narrators, so you need to be at the top of your game. If you’ve got shoddy equipment, poor studio presence, or you just aren’t making the grade…You won’t even be eligible to advertise your services. That being said, if you can nail a spot here…you know you’re doing something right.
I’d like to finish up this article with some really unique insights from the lives of audiobook narrators. Here’s a selection of interviews that may shed a little light into how this industry works:
If you think you’ve got the voice clarity and acting chops for audiobook narration, there’s no reason not to give it a try. Just be forewarned. It’s a competitive market, so be prepared to practice and up your game. And truth be told, you’re probably going to face more rejection than not. But if you can make it through, the earnings and job flexibility can give you a pretty sweet career.