Today’s technology allows us more freedom to be creative, including the option to create our own audiobooks. Home-grown audiobooks can be just as good as professionally-produced audiobooks nowadays, assuming the narrator and equipment are right, but sadly, this is often not the case.
If you plan on producing your own audiobook(s), here’s some common traps that I’ve come across:
Pronunciation – your audience is international now
The English language is a hotch-potch of stolen words from many different languages. Grand Prix is a prime example, stolen from French. Once upon a time, our colloquial pronunciations sufficed because everyone around us spoke with the same accent but we live in a digital world now, where your audiobook is destined to reach an international audience.
That means your American mispronunciation doesn’t cut it, unless you’re verbalising the dialogue of an American character. The same for all other accents. If you’re narrating a story, you must pronounce your words right when reading the prose. The absolute, only time you can mispronounce a word is when a character is speaking.
It’s not hard to check your pronunciation of foreign words and common English words. A quick Google should help. If you want to be a narrator, first become aware of how you pronounce words.
Audiobooks are read slowly so those with comprehension, literacy or language issues can keep up. Modern players offer a variety of playback speeds which don’t affect the pitch, so a listener can choose to increase the speed of your reading without making you sound like a chipmunk.
When narrating the story, be sure to keep your speed slow enough to be clear to those who may be using the audiobook to help them learn the language. The listener can always choose to speed you up if they prefer.
Listen and learn
Have you listened to many audiobooks? It may sound like a silly question, but you’d be surprised! If you want to narrate audiobooks, listen to lots of them so you can learn what works and what doesn’t work for you. There are some amazing audiobook readers out there – search of “best of…” lists at the end of each year to get other people’s recommendations of who they think are the best examples.
Reading an audiobook is not like reading to your kid. Adults expect the pace to alter according to the action. They expect the characters’ emotions to be real, and they expect to know who is speaking before you tell them. In other words, a modern audiobook narrator needs to act out all the parts.
Gone are the days of monotone readings. If you want to be up there with the best, your characterisations need to be distinct. You need to vary your:
- tone of voice
- timber of your voice
- speech patterns
- personality quirks
Every character responds differently to situations too, so your pace needs to not only reflect the action, but the POV (point-of-view) being told.
This is a biggie. Listeners don’t want your voice to be distorted because you’re too close to the microphone. They don’t want you to sound distant and airy because you’re too far away from the microphone. They don’t want to hear your dog bark in the background or traffic to honk. And they don’t want to hear the letter P pop every time you use it.
Correct microphone technique is essential, just as much as it is to have a quiet room with no background noise. If you haven’t formally studied microphone techniques, at the very least you should hit YouTube for some good tips.
Find your niche
If you’re just starting out, stick to what you’re good at. You can always expand your repertoire later. If you’re not naturally funny, don’t narrate a comedy. Stick to drama or romance. If you’ve got a deep voice, perhaps consider horror, or action hero stories. It’s great to break stereotypes but only once you’re experienced enough to pull it off. Until then, learn your trade with the genres that your voice suits and the style of storytelling that you connect with best.
Less is more
It’s an old but tried-and-true adage. Less is more. It’s the difference between erotica and pornography; shouting or being menacing…
When planning your narration, avoid clichés unless they’re necessary for the plot. If you’re not sure what I mean, then you’re not ready to narrate yet. Get yourself another narrator and start listening to more professional audiobooks.