How do you choose a narrator?
I delved into the project of developing some of my novels into audiobooks, never realizing what type of challenge this could be. I listened to hundreds of narrator samples on ACX.com, attempting to decide which voice will best convey my hero or heroine, emotion and multiple characters. This can be a difficult decision to make from a ten minute audition sample. With fifteen audiobooks for sale, another one with an agreement, I've developed a set of guidelines that help me. Maybe they will help you.
1. Choose an audition sample with multiple characters and emotion as well as narrative.
I usually upload an audition script that includes three characters so I can tell if I can distinguish voices with the narrator. I also upload a scene containing dialogue, narrative, and emotion. This is a true test of a narrator in a short script. It makes a difference to me if the narrator only readers the minimum required or all the pages I uploaded. That is a sign that shows me if the narrator is willing to go the extra mile. That could be vital in working together, whether for deadlines or editing concerns.
2. All recording equipment is not created equal.
You will have varying levels of expertise in not only the telling of the story but in the equipment narrators use to tell it. First thing to do is buy a set of studio headphones. (I found mine at Sears.) You will have customers who listen on everything from computer speakers at their desktop to earbuds and expensive headsets. You need to know exactly what they will be hearing.
3. When you listen to an audition, you will need to listen on several levels.
First, listen for tone and cadence of voice. Could this person be your hero? Could this narrator be your heroine?
Second, listen to the story itself to see if you're distracted by the voice or propelled into the plot by it. Is there some type of speech that takes your attention from the story? Does the narrator have an accent? Does that add to or detract from the telling? (Example. My narrator for ALWAYS HER COWBOY is Australian. His accent is somewhat evident. However, his voice and his talent for reading the exact emotion into scenes made the accent irrelevant. He was my hero.)
Third, listen for pronunciation. My rule of thumb for this issue is if a word stops me from concentrating on the story, it will stop someone else. This can easily be handled in editing if the narrator has expertise with editing. And your narrator should.
Fourth, listen for emotion and natural dialogue.
4. Listen several times.
You can probably do all of the above on the first listen-through. But you're not finished there. Adjust your earphones again and listen for any strange noises...any background noises. Some narrators leave natural breaths in. Others take them out. Figure out if leaving them in is distracting to you.
What I've discovered wearing earphones are the noises you won't hear if you are trying to analyze a voice from your desktop computer. Automatically the hum of your computer will cover noise someone using earbuds or earphones might hear. One of the noises I've picked up with earphones is the hum of the recorder when it starts and when it goes off. If I can hear it, a listener with earbuds in a quiet setting will hear it. You want a nothingness vacuum in back of the voice that acts as a cushion for it. You don't want to hear pages turning, static, or any type of hum or echo.
Listening can be an art, but you want it to be an effortless endeavor for the buyer of your audiobook. The best way to insure their positive experience is to choose the best storyteller for your novel. But you also need to choose a narrator with a level of expertise as the producer. (Some use outside studios to edit but many edit and upload the chapters themselves.)
And... After the audition, once you approve the first fifteen minutes, you are tied in to that narrator whether you like the finished product or not. This is a seven year commitment. Remember that if you're tempted to make a fast decision rather than a more thoughtful one.
5. Male or female narrator?
I'll be writing more about this in future blogs when I spotlight my narrators so my readers can learn more about them. For now, I'll tell you that out of fifteen projects, all romance novels, I have chosen seven male narrators. I look at my opening scene, check the book for point of view shifts, then decide whose story is being told the most--my hero's or my heroine's. If it's a toss up, I ask both to audition then make an agreement with whomever tells the story the best. I've found I enjoy listening to a male narrator reading with a higher voice for my heroine more than listening to a female narrator reading a male voice I often can't distinguish from the heroine's.
So if you're considering developing your books into audiobooks, find a set of headphones and start listening carefully. We want our readers to get lost in our story. Choosing a narrator who captures the essence of our work is the best way to make that happen.
6. Royalty share or finished hour production fee.
I've used both. Again, this depends on whether or not I can find a narrator who fits the book. I start out listening to royalty share narrators. But I've paid production fees on six of my projects. There again, listen for the voice. A higher production fee doesn't always mean a better finished product.
I've enjoyed the process of developing my romances into audiobooks. Be aware it is a time consuming process. One of the huge problems with marketing audiobooks is the lack of promotional opportunities other than social media. I developed these books for the long tail of promotion. I believe this market is set to take off because of smart phones, Ipads, etc. However, just as with ebooks, this market is becoming glutted too. Just something to consider when starting this process.
It's been a wonderful experience hearing my books come alive. As I write more indie projects, I will continue to develop them into audiobooks.
©2014 Karen Rose Smith
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