Why is Audiobook Narration So Popular?


In some countries, much more than maybe in the US, it’s considered gauche at a social occasion to ask a stranger, “What do you do?” But at a meet-and-greet of voice over professionals, it’s understandably standard procedure.

Very often among emerging talent these days, the answer is, “Audiobooks.”

Why is Audiobook narration so popular among new voice over talent?

After all, it’s a very unusual genre. Sessions are long, requiring vocal stamina and consistency. Pay is usually by the finished hour, meaning if you don’t work efficiently (or have a poor client), the hourly pay can wind up kind of low. And if you’re working at home, it requires long periods of suitable recording conditions. Depending on your client’s needs, it might also require some special audio editing and even processing skills. That’s all in addition to requiring performance skills specific to the genre.

So why is Audiobook narration popular?

That’s like asking why the New York and Boston marathons are so popular. Some things in life inspire tremendous enthusiasm and dedication in a huge number of people, while other people are happy to spectate.

And to admire.

That is part of the answer. Each of the 30 or so VO genres requires commendable qualities in a voice artist, but imagine how it must feel to do an admirable job as the voice of Ishmael in Moby Dick. As rewarding as it may be to make money by saying, “To continue in English, press 1,” or “Now on sale at BigBox,” there is some extra social reward in performing a book. It has the power to make your voice ... well ... immortal.

We doubt audiobook voice artists would explain their professional goal in quite those words, but we sense a certain “psychology” involved. People report liking to do audiobooks because of many factors, which aren’t all just a matter of hours and dollars. Here are a few them, garnered from conversations, supposition, and other non-scientific sources:

  • Narrating an audiobook is like a marathon. It’s a very specific goal, down a very precisely defined course. Although, as in all genres when starting out, you need to prospect for clients, pitch them and win them, you may tend to specialize in certain types of literature (romantic fiction, popular non-fiction, technical, etc.), and once you’ve established a system and mastered the skills, the task is relatively unvarying. Many people like the consistency. Unlike, say, Commercials, where often you never know what kind of product you’ll be selling next.
  • An audiobook is a very personal project, and can be gratifying work. Ultimately, it’s just you, the story and the listener. In fact, it shouldn’t even be about you -- the story (or topic or whatever) is any audiobook’s reason for being. But, like building a fine cabinet, or painting fine art, an audiobook is the product of your craftsmanship. No sound effects, no other performers, no elaborate processing, no video. Just you and your craft. Total immersion. You are a true voice artist. In the words of
    Edge coach Johnny Heller, who has a wide range of other voice and other acting experience: “I absolutely love it. It is the most organic and fulfilling acting work I have ever encountered and it represents a constant challenge to me as an artist.”
  • The income is of course part of the equation (unless you volunteer to an organization such as LibriVox.org, for the social value and/or experience). But what artist steps up to a blank canvas thinking about how much the finished painting will bring? In the end, many dedicated painters make good incomes from their work, but it’s not their primary motivation.
  • Audiobooks enable you to carry over skills from other genres and acting fields. Acting and doing voices are obvious ones, whether the book is fiction or not. Unlike in, say, a commercial or video game, a fiction audiobook listener doesn’t need to think you are many different actors. But you nevertheless need to differentiate and personalize each of the book’s characters. That’s a thorough workout for your acting chops. Even if the book doesn’t have characters, a narrator is a sort of character, no? You need to sound like you understand what you’re saying (and hopefully you do!), conveying each thought in the sense that the author meant it.
  • Audiobooks are interesting. By the time you’re done with one, you’ll know all about its subject. And, depending on the subject (if you’ve done your necessary preparation correctly), you might learn how to pronounce a lot of names, locales and specialized words that you didn’t know before.
  • When you tell someone “I narrate audiobooks,” they usually know what an audiobook is, and will be interested further. While that in itself doesn’t pay the rent, it is an added satisfaction, considering that if you say “I do voiceovers,” a lot of people don’t even know what that means. (Which is, by the way, why we don’t recommend using those words to present yourself outside the VO industry.)
  • Audiobooks focus the mind. Sessions are long, but, as with a marathon, that’s part of the attraction. For long periods, it’s just you and the book. You and the author’s thoughts. You and those characters. You and the listener. You and your imagination.
  • Like the other voice-over genres, Audiobooks require specific skills. Having them makes you an expert. Some are performance skills, some are technical. Some are quick and easy to learn, some can be a challenge at first. But having learned them is more than its own reward -- there’s a virtually infinite number of books to be read, and there are very few people who can do what you do.

So, if you feel you can do Audiobooks, go for it. Learn all you can about the genre, set yourself up, and proudly let the world hear what you do!

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To learn more about our Audiobook training, call our studio at 888-321-3343 or email training@edgestudio.com.

No easy answers...

howardellison: It’s nice to see that we hit the mark both emotionally and factually. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to your question, and they certainly differ from person to person. Some audiobook talent may have a studio relationship, or a low-cost nephew. Others may just be very good at avoiding mistakes, and/or have a methodology that makes it easier to edit as they go. And others might work for a company that just needs their voice. As with any voice over genre, there are no definites or guarantees when it comes to finding and booking lucrative work.

I’m glad the writer concurs with others who say it goes faster as you gain audiobook experience. I’ve enjoyed the few times I’ve dabbled in audiobook situations, and I understand the emotional hit. But as you might expect with a longtime copywriter, I also find challenge and reward in commercials.

Love books, not so sure about the pay

This is all so true to life, and brilliantly positive. Answering the question posed: 'Why is AB narration so popular among new talent?' Could it be we just didn't know what we were letting ourselves in for! Editing, matching pickups, researching weird words, pondering whether to query the grammar...
That all takes time, far more than you expect at first, but it contributes to the sense of achievement and makes more sense as you gradually speed up. If you love audiobook work (I do for sure) you can find yourself caught between doing it for love and little money, or applying your skills to far better paid work such as TV ads where the sentiments may be a long way from loveable.
Some lucky bunnies manage to balance the two, and outsource the laborious editing. How do they do that?

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