The 3 “P”s of Audiobook Narrators: Part Two – Tips and Tricks
Good morning! I hope everyone is starting the week out happy and healthy. When last we met together I wrote about the three Ps of audiobook narrators, exploring how performance, professionalism, and price come together in finding the right fit (and hopefully the perfect fit) for your audio book production. But there is only so much one can fit effectively in such an introduction. So today I want to build upon last week’s post by going into greater detail with my best tips and tricks for finding narrators when using ACX for audio production. This post is aimed at independent authors, but I also hope will be read by narrators as well.
Decide in advance of any narrator search what narration style best matches your book. What do you like best? What sorts of characterizations do you find annoying? Is there an accent you find especially agreeable? Is there an accent that this specific book project really requires? For example, a romance set in the deep south USA might need an author with a similar accent.
Profile completeness speaks volumes in terms of a narrator’s skills, experience, and especially professionalism. It doesn’t matter how many, if any, audiobooks a narrator has created in advance of you viewing the profile. A true professional fills out all the fields requested in the profile, including photograph, location, website, and samples of her or his work. Samples don’t need to be from an audiobook specifically, but can be any sort of professional or even academic audio work. The more samples and more diverse, the better. An incomplete profile (especially one that only lists the narrator’s name and desire rate of pay) is a red flag to a lack of experience, professionalism, and dedication to her or his craft.
Professional websites are a gold mine of information for authors wishing to hire a narrator. Every website from a narrator should at minimum include contact information, a proper biography, a version of his or her professional resume or CV (work experience, education, etc.), several samples of work done, and links to social media and/or related professional profiles. Absence of a link on the ACX profile to a website (this could be a soundcloud profile and doesn’t have to be built by the narrator directly) is a red flag that this person may not be a true professional and may not treat your audio book narration project as a real job.
A combination of the ACX profile and the narrator’s website should provide for you at least 80% of the information you need to decide if you are interested in this particular narrator — before you listen to any auditions from her or him. Specialized skills like singing or playing a musical instrument, professional credits (including filmography when applicable), and so forth should also be listed somewhere.
Treat the narrator’s profile and website as a resume or CV and with a professional eye for what is in your business interests. Remember the point of starting this audio production is to create an audio format book that sells well and makes you lots of money.
Regardless of who finds whom first, in most cases potential narrators submit an audition showcasing what this person can do for you and how s/he would narrate your book if you decide to make an offer and the narrator accepts it. The only exception to this rule is where you as the author sets up the title to make an offer to a narrator without any audition. 99% of the time you only choose this option when you have already made one or more audio books with a specific narrator and want to work with the same person again, side-stepping the normal audition process. In every other case, you set up your book title as “accepting auditions” which you then evaluate as they come in.
When listening to an audition, the first thing you are listening for is whether or not the narrator recorded your audition script. While this sounds like common sense, I have received literally dozens of “auditions” that were not auditions for my books at all, but rather pre-recorded samples of other sorts of work that the person or corporation (at times) simply wanted me to hear. If someone cannot be bothered to record your audition script, then in my humble experience this person is not worth considering at all. That’s because a generic sound file isn’t personal; it’s not about YOUR book and YOUR needs but the narrator’s desire to earn money. This should always be a red flag that the person doesn’t care about providing you with a book that reflects your needs and your vision.
Assuming it is your script recorded, the next thing you are listening for are those key traits you decided upon in the beginning that you wanted or need for this specific book. If your book needs a southern USA accent, are you hearing that accent in the audition? If your book is for children, is this audition at the right speed for that core audience? Are the words pronounced correctly? If a character sings in the audition scene, does the narrator sing those lines and if so, is the tune correct? If there are multiple characters in the scene, can you distinguish each character from the other characters?
The heart of this stage in the process is performance. You are listening for the best possible performance match for your vision of the book. Remember that you are in charge of this book. If the performance you are hearing is not a match for your vision of how it should sound MOVE ON to a different performer. It may take longer to get started on your book, but it is vital you do not settle for less than a precise match for your needs. At the audition stage you are not locked into any contracts. There’s no down side to being picky; quite the reverse, being picky only benefits you later. Remember the point of this is to end up in a contractual relationship with the narrator you are happy with.
The Voice Call
Though ACX discourages it because what is communicated outside of their messaging system is not actionable by them (a vital legal protection for both author and narrator), a voice call in real time is essential in evaluating a narrator before you sign the contract with him or her. Real time voice conversations allow you to ask questions, evaluate the sound of the narrator’s normal voice, and learn things about the narrator that the post information online does not tell you. This can be critical in deciding if this person is a good match for not only your book, but also for you personally. Here you want to know if you like this person, if this person is responsive to your needs, if s/he has the same vision for the book as you do.
If there are words in the book that need a specialized pronunciation, it is during a voice call that you are best able to go through those details so the narrator knows what to do and how to sound. For example, Richard Mann and I communicated by voice in prepping for Empress Wu Zetian. Richard doesn’t speak any Chinese; I studied the language for three years and can pronounce it fluently. Likewise, Ashley Hodgson and I spoke by voice to cover all the specialized world building words for “Good-bye A672E92 Quintus,” my first scifi audiobook. With these books the voice call puts author and narrator on the same page technically so the final book sounds its best.
Establishing a strong rapport with the narrator during the voice call is absolutely essential to any successful audio book production. Difficulties during this call should raise red flags for you. If at any point, the narrator seems uncooperative or unwilling to work with you — about scheduling the call, about style or pacing, or really anything at all — treat this as a red flag and do not hire this person. Failing to listen to those red flags, the little things that suggests the narrator doesn’t want to work with you or create from your vision, is a recipe for disaster. I have failed to listen to these red flags more than once and consequently the results have cost me dearly.
Remember that signing a contract locks you in. Though you can back out after the first 15 minutes, the best way to end a toxic relationship is before any contracts are signed.
If you do decide you are not happy with what you hear, especially during any sort of communication not using the ACX messaging system (such as email and/or a voice call), it is often wise to document your decision with an ACX message. It could be something as simple as “Following up on our email from yesterday, I have decided that I would like to go with a different narrator for [book name].” Explain more if you feel comfortable, but after all that time and energy invested, be professional enough to let the narrator know your decision.
With cold auditions where you have not already followed up with a message, email, or voice call, there is no need to respond to each narrator when you reject an audition. Most of the time I simply mark auditions that I like accordingly in the system and if I don’t like them, I ignore them.
Remember that price is part of the evaluation process. Sometimes you love and audition and love a performer, but the fee they are asking for or the contract type (royalty share or pay per finished hour) is simply not the same as you want. In that case, you want to think about what the narrator wants and, if you really love their work, talk with her/him to see if a middle ground can be found. However, if that person is firm on the matter, move on. There are always other narrators.
Remember that you are in charge of this book. You are the boss. Do not be afraid to be a proper director and producer. If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. If you are not in a contract yet (because you are listening to me and being careful about who you choose), then walk away and continue your search for a better narrator who is more professional and better fulfills your vision for your book. If you are in a contract, insist upon your vision. It is your right to request changes. Listen for verbatim recording and if something is not verbatim and really needs to be (let’s be honest: we all make a few grammar mistakes which narrators may catch and correct in recording) then hold your ground and insist upon re-recording until it is right. Same with major performance issues. If something is not right, then speak up and tell the narrator. You will be much happier with the end result when you do.
Finding the right narrator might seem a bit daunting, especially after reading my posts about it, but when you get it right, the results are well worth it in terms of personal happiness and customer happiness. Beautifully recorded audiobooks are loved by audio listeners who then tell their friends to buy your book. That is, at the end of the day, what you are seeking to accomplish.