5 Tips for Choosing a Narrator

Today, we’ve got a crash course for ACX rights holders on choosing the right narrator for your book. How does an author know which voice is best to bring their work to life? We’ve got 5 tips below that you can use to hone in on the perfect producer for your title.

1. Better the narrator reads a little too slow than a little too fast.

Proper pacing for your title can be hard to nail down. Romance will have a different pace than action books or adventure novels. Different scenes within your title may require a slightly different read based on the content. But overall, it’s better for your narrator to err on the slower side than rush through the material, leaving listeners in the dust.

Listen to the following example of a passage read too quickly:

Notice how it’s hard to distinguish between dialogue and descriptive text. The poor listener is left in the dust, with no time to comprehend what’s being conveyed to them.

Now, let’s listen to the same passage read a little too slowly:

The pacing is a bit deliberate perhaps, but at least the listener can settle into the story and process what’s being read.

2. Character voices should sound natural, not over the top and “cartoonish.”

Another aspect of narration that will quickly turn off listeners is ridiculous sounding character voices. When in doubt, understated is best. Narration that hints at a new character speaking is better than a jarring change in tone. Here’s a clip of a silly, distracting character:

Yeesh! Who could listen to that for the length of an entire book? Now, let’s listen to the same clip with a more measured, understated read:

Much better. Notice how the narrator subtly hints at a change in tone, trusting the reader to pick up on the change in character. (Thanks to Victor Bevine for providing the audio examples above.)

3. Check to see if the narrator has other audiobooks on Audible, and read the reviews.

Proper pacing and character voices are definitely an art, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you’re new to audiobooks and unsure what sounds best. If that’s the case, we recommend you take advantage of the combined knowledge of Audible’s listeners! If the narrator has books already for sale on Audible, check the reviews of those titles. The “What Members Say” section can be found on each title’s product detail page, under the “Publisher’s Summary” section.



Note that Audible has ratings and reviews specific to performance, not just for the story itself. You can also scroll down further and read opinions from individual Audible Listeners. Many are as attached to their favorite narrators as they are their favorite authors!



4. Ask for your fans’ opinions.

Author Hugh Howey linked his fans to the ACX sample search and asked for suggestions. If you’ve already started receiving auditions, you can download them from ACX, post them to your website using a service like SoundCloud, and poll your readers with easypolls or another free online polling tool.



This is also a great way to build some advance buzz and get your fans excited for your upcoming audiobook!

5. Trust your instincts

You know your book better than anyone. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it probably won’t sound right to others. If you’re unsure about a particular voice, use ACX’s sample search to invite a few of our 15,000 narrators to audition for your book. We’re confident that the perfect voice on ACX, ready to narrate your title!

How do you find the perfect voice for your title? Tell us in the comments!

18 responses to “5 Tips for Choosing a Narrator

  1. Generally OK advice. I would, however, be leery of “#3. Check to see if the narrator has other audiobooks on Audible, and read the reviews.” Grains of salt should accompany all listener reviews. Many people hate the book itself and therefore tar the narrator with the same brush. And unless you have some basis for understanding any individual’s standards, trusting their ability to rate or review anything is a dicey proposition. Lastly, dissatisfied OR over-the-moon-happy listeners/customers are MUCH more likely to weigh in with their opinions than those who simply enjoyed the book. Be careful what weight you give listener reviews.

  2. I strongly disagree with #4 unless you have permission from the narrator. The audition should NEVER be posted publicly for several reasons:
    1) It’s a breach of trust between the narrator and the author. I was auditioning for the author, not the hordes of his followers who may crucify me in the comments.
    2) I own the copyright to the recording. Just as I shouldn’t post snippets of the authors work on the internet, the author should not do the same with MY work.

    • I agree with you. I may be wrong, but has there every been auditions in any acting field where the general public had a say in casting?

  3. #4 ventures directly into pay for use territory. In your own words, it’s “a great way to build some advance buzz…” Using someones audio content outside of its private audition purpose requires a fee. If it’s part of a plan to generate excitement, interest and future sales, it’s very clearly shifted from audition material to promotional material, and the author should be prepared to pay for web usage.

    Better yet, just don’t post auditions outside of their intended audience – the account holder hitting the play button to review it on ACX.

  4. Agree with the comments from my colleagues above. You don’t put job interviews online for the world to see. My audition is for you and your production team.
    Using Amazon and Audible “reviews” as a guide is dodgy at best. Big difference between a review and an opinion. The former is an informed critique. The latter an idle comment on preference. The 80/20 principle shows the Audible review scales to be firmly tipped toward the latter.
    It’s a minefield of inaccuracies. Best you can do is look up the narrator outside of the platform. Do they have a website? What’s their facilities like? Do they have interviews online? Are any independent and respected industry reviewers writing good things about them? Have they worked with mainstream and successful authors? Are they recording outside of ACX for the likes of Deyan or Blackstone Audio. Get informed details.

  5. Thanks for the article and thanks to all for the comments. I have had reviews that boost my ego and one that said it like reading a cereal box. Made me chuckle and made me consider how to not let THAT happen again. I’m OK with my audition going public if you tell the world how much you like what I do.

  6. Greetings! I completely agree with my fellow narrators who opposed the public posting of private auditions and advised authors to take the opinions of Audible listeners with a grain of salt.

    The article omitted one critical piece of advice: LISTEN TO AUDIOBOOKS before you start the process of casting your work.

    Many authors view audiobooks as just another revenue stream for them. However, audiobook listeners are avid fans and are absorbing authors’ words just as or even more intently than do print readers.

    Audiobook narration is a performance art. Serious audiobook narrators spend time, energy, and expense to study and improve our craft and perfect our production skills just as an author takes steps to improve writing technique.

    Because an author has spent so much time creating their work, they may not actually be in the best position to decide which narrator would be of best service to the material.

    I think authors often choose a voice that sounds similar to the one they heard in their head instead of analyzing the overall performance. I have heard many retail samples on Audible where the narrator sounded like a computer reading text to speech. Others have deliveries that sound like cosmetic commercials. Unless your book is about robots or cosmetics, those narrators probably are not the best service provider of your material.

    Authors these days frequently write a series where the main character appears in each book. One author who apparently was not an audiobook listener posted all of the books in her series on ACX at one time and cast each of them with a different narrator. Audiobook listeners get used to a voice for a character and usually want the same narrator to continue throughout the series.

    By listening to audiobooks, an author can be more aware of the sound of a good performance that services the text and strong production quality.

    Karen Commins
    http://www.KarenCommins.com “A Vacation For Your Ears”
    ACX profile: https://www.acx.com/narrator?p=AIU2I7DKF1YUP

    • Thank you for your input, Karen! I’m currently working on producing the audiobook version of my first novel and trying to figure out what kind of narrator I want for my book. Especially the part about the series – this book is also book one of a series, and I was trying to decide between having the same narrator throughout the series or having a different narrator for book two. I will definitely take into account that perhaps the narrator for book one might also end up doing books two and three, depending on the circumstances. And while I don’t listen to audiobooks as a consumer, I will most definitely listen to some before choosing my narrator. This is very helpful for me to know as an author.

  7. Regarding #3- listener ratings are only useful if there are enough of them to actually demonstrate a trend. Also, many listeners will simply give the minimum or maximum ratings in all categories, rather than a nuanced perspective. Be very cautious of what weight you give to ratings on Audible- I can say this with confidence as someone who has very good ratings overall.

    And with #4, I would object in the strongest possible terms to my auditions being posted on SoundCloud without my consent. The auditions are for the rights holder or author to make a choice with, not to publish elsewhere. With some titles I will publish under a pseudonym- posting auditions publically would negate the purpose of that. I would recommend that you update this blog entry or follow it up with a clarification that tells authors/rights holders to ask those who audition if they can use their audition that way.

  8. Laura Jennings

    I actually would haves BIG complaints if I found out my auditions were being listened to by anyone other than ACX and the rights holders.

    And I am so glad to see others disagreeing with number 3. I have a few books that were given poor ratings where I was not even mentioned in the comments. The listener did not like the book and gave the whole thing a bad rating. I have also had comments about my style. One person hates my style and gives me one star and the next loves it and gives me five stars….for the SAME book! Overall my ratings are good and I have plenty of four and five star books and not too bothered by “ratings”. A rights holder should go by the audition and what sounds right for their book. Would you have Johnny Heller narrate a nonfiction book of yoga meditation? Would you have Davina Porter narrate a zombie thriller??? And both these narrators are award winning!

    Karen, your comments go a lot further than this article did to educate the rights holder on choosing a good narrator for their book. Bravo!

    Wayne, just a note, there are lots of really good new narrators that aren’t narrating for Blackstone….just sayin.

  9. This might be a slightly unrelated question, I’ve just been curious about what feedback narrators get from the “like” or “dislike” buttons on ACX. Are these buttons just for the producer to file each audition into buckets, or does the narrator get feedback telling them what bucket their audition was put under?

    I like to respond to people who have auditioned, but at some point righting feedback emails to the ones who I know for certain I am not going to hire is a time suck and more than a little awkward. It would be nice to know that if I hit the dislike button they aren’t waiting around hoping to get a response from me. I’d feel pretty bad just letting them wonder if their audition was cast into the ether.

    Anyone know?

  10. I have never received feedback in relation to like and dislike buttons. In fact, I had no idea that the facility existed.
    As a narrator, I see auditions as a part of my job. My PA usually sends me a list of titles that she thinks I might be interested in and I record the ones that I find entertaining.
    If the author likes what I have recorded and wants me to narrate their book, the production team will start the ball rolling on that.
    As for waiting around for responses from authors, either positive or negative, that doesn’t happen.
    Unless it’s Stephen King…then it would probably happen! 🙂

  11. I am also opposed to #4 and agree strongly with what my fellow narrators have said. I believe that it should be a personal choice for the author or rights holder. If they want to ask the opinions of friends in a private setting that’s fine but to put auditions out there to be judged by random fans, especially without their consent, is a breach of trust for sure. I will be adding a clause to my auditions from now on. There are other ways to generate interest.

  12. VIS T. Ellory’s question: No, narrators see nothing except a direct message, or a notification of rejection when a RH picks someone else. Clicking your “like” and “Dislike” button only sorts things on your end.

    On to the rest … and particularly number 4: I know we did this last year, but I will weigh in this time as well…

    Posting the auditions you receive without the knowledge and consent of the narrators who submitted them is really not appropriate. If you feel strongly about getting fan input, ask your top 3 or 5 picks if they mind and go from there.

    It’s impossible for a narrator to accurately capture all of the nuances of a text on the limited audition samples we usually work from, and are more of an introduction than a true relationship. It is a misrepresentation of our skills to present an isolated audition as a representation of our work on a project.

    We look forward to working WITH rights holders and their complete text to fully create the world of the story. Auditions are usually our best stab in the dark.

  13. Robert Thaler

    I would encourage the author if he hears something outstanding on the audition to contact the narrator and offer opinion and or direction to see how available and talented the narrator is at going in a preferred direction. I would especially encourage the author to hire people with good acting experience. These people are far more likely to bring to life the color, truth and the nuance in any writing than just a reader or voice over person. There are also readers with many books under their belt who are quite technically efficient with audio and scheduling, etc. but often they may be hiding the reality that they have no acting background or real depth and will make one’s book dull,boring and untruthful. And regarding speed of delivery, any good narrator will vary tempo to create variety, I do not agree with the above premise, its rather silly. When action in a text gets explosive it may be appropriate to deliver it at a rapid pace and a well trained reader should be able to do this clearly and with excitement. Same goes for slowing down into passages where this may be warranted. Also ask yourself is the narrator’s voice one dimensional or uninteresting? If the voice itself is not well trained and developed good luck, it will make for a boring audiobook. If something quite strong in the audition jumps out at you than regardless of other hesitations I would contact the narrator in a note and offer direction, if you want an outstanding product you will more than likely need to communicate and to collaborate just a little bit, its worth it, a good reader will be flexible, a bad one will not have that capacity.

  14. How do I audition to be a narrator?
    People I know have suggested this.

  15. Pingback: Karen Commins’s Audiobook Resources For Authors - site37.webdnx.net

  16. Where do I find a narrator’s reviews? Do I have to click through every title, or is there a combined average for all their works?

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