Gary Terzza is a UK-based voice over artist and coach who runs a popular voice over master class and has trained successful actors like recent guest blogger and Audible Approved Producer Anna Parker-Naples. Today, he joins us to offer a handful of helpful tips for audiobook newbies.
To Begin At the Beginning
My first encounter with an audiobook was back in 1976. As a mediocre student I was going nowhere with my English literature studies, but an enterprising teacher opened my 16 year old ears to something quite remarkable – a box set of vinyl records of the play Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, with the ‘first voice’ part read by the sonorous Richard Burton. Have a listen to Mr. Burton’s narration below.
Suddenly, the Welsh actor’s distinctive and assured delivery brought this sleepy fishing village vividly to life. Here was one voice (Burton) becoming the same as the storyteller’s (Thomas) so that the two were indistinguishable.
From that day onwards I realised that a truly good voice actor speaks the writer’s words with total conviction.
Today I passionately believe this is at the core of all voice overs and is especially true in audiobooks.
So what should you be mindful of when embarking on your audiobook career? Here are five things to keep in mind as you progress.
1. Audiobooks Can Be Very, Very Long
Last year I received an urgent call from one of my voice over students. Sonia (not her real name) was panicking, and quite rightly so. She had never performed a voice over before, but an author had contacted her about reading a 110,000 word novel in the style of Jane Austen. She loved Austen, but 110,000 words frightened her, because it sounded like a lot.
She was right – it is. In fact that is approximately 11 hours of listening time or what we call ‘completed audio’.
“How can I do 11 hours of reading and recording all in one go?” she asked nervously. I responded with the good and bad news.
The good news was she did not have to do the whole read in one go. The bad, was that 11 hours of completed audio would take her 44 to 55 hours to record, edit and review. That equates to a couple of weeks’ work including essential breaks and weekends off.
“It was a baptism by fire,” she told me later “but very enjoyable.” In fact it took her nearer 70 hours to complete because of technical issues (she was grappling with unfamiliar software and hardware), but the author loved the end result.
The lesson? Never underestimate the amount of time it will take you to produce an audiobook. Not all projects are over 100,000 words (the average audiobook is about 9 hours long), but I would allow a ratio of 4 to 5 hours of your time for every completed hour of audio. Make sure you clear your calendar before starting.
2. Don’t Read the Book – Tell the Story
At first glance this may appear contradictory. Surely reading is storytelling? Well no, not quite.
If you have ever read a story to young children (especially as a parent) you will notice that you have a highly critical audience. If the characters do not sound convincing, your young listeners will soon let you know – in fact my eldest son was particularly critical of my delivery of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which I have to admit I would sometimes skip through nonchalantly.
I soon realised that I had to be genuine in my delivery; I had to believe in what I was saying 100%, because my son would soon let me know if I was just “going through the motions’.
Likewise, your listeners want you to narrate the story with complete conviction. Remember too, you are talking to them and not at them.
Like Richard Burton, you should completely immerse yourself in the story so that your voice doesn’t just sound like the author’s (metaphorically), but is inseparable from the author’s.
3. Choose Your Book Carefully
What do you like to read in your spare time? Do you prefer crime fiction, historical tales, or romantic novels perhaps? Imagine you absolutely hated science fiction, but were forced to read Arthur C. Clarke; well that is what it’s like if you get stuck narrating an audiobook that you don’t chime with.
In some areas of voice overs it does not matter if you like (or even understand) the subject matter. A 30 second radio commercial for toilet paper does not mean you have a predilection for all things bathroom related.
But an audiobook narration is different. You will be reading thousands upon thousands of words. Remember Sonia? She lived and breathed her author’s book for weeks and she probably even dreamt about the characters!
Carefully selecting a book you will enjoy is crucial.
So how can you make sure the project you are embarking on is for you?
Check out the book on Amazon. Every title profile on ACX has a link to the print/eBook edition on Amazon, and you don’t even have to make a purchase. Just open up the preview pages and have a read through. Can you hear the voice in your head? Do the words speak to you? If so, this could be a job worth taking on.
Perhaps you don’t like (or don’t yet have the chops for) doing character voices, in which case I advise you stick to nonfiction, or avoid novels that are peppered with a diverse range of vocal personalities.
If the book reads well, chances are you will enjoy the narration.
4. Know Your Author
Once you are in the happy position of accepting an offer on ACX, it is time to form a very special relationship. This is between you and the book’s original voice – the writer.
On ACX, you’ll audition using pages from the book itself. Once you’ve been selected to narrate, you’ll produce a 15 minute portion of the book and submit it for the author’s or publisher’s approval before moving forward. She will then take a listen and make some critical observations.
- Is the pace correct? Does the tempo need to be slower or faster?
- How is the general tone? Is the narrator in tune with the spirit of the book?
- Are there any mispronunciations of names or fictional places?
- If there are characters, do they sound convincing?
The rights holder may then request some adjustments based on the answers to the questions above. Once you have been given the green light, stay in touch with your new client at regular intervals as she will want to be kept up to date. If you have a bad cold or anything else that might put you behind schedule let her know straight away.
Remember, cultivating a relationship based on respect and understanding is the best way to smooth any rough water you might encounter.
5. Be A Producer
In the early days of your audiobook career you will likely be recording from home. That means taking on the role of editor, performer and producer – three hats on one head…. yours.
Getting the sound right is essential, so spend some time creating a home studio. It doesn’t have to be grand or expensive, just practical and comfortable. There are two basic aspects to domestic recording: the hardware and the acoustic space.
There are lots of options in terms of microphones. Check out ACX’s previous post on mics, or visit some of the voice over community groups on social networks such as Facebook , Linkedin and Google +. They are very helpful and supportive.
In terms of software, I recommend using Audacity. It is flexible, easy to use, has lots of training videos on YouTube, and best of all, it’s free. It is ideal for audiobooks and all your other voice over work.
Achieving the required ‘deadness’ in you room is a little more tricky. ACX has also covered the key elements of home studio construction, and you can read that post here. Your aim is to remove the inherent ambiance that every room possesses and create an echo free environment. This helps your voice sound direct and intimate – as long as you are close enough to the mic.
Starting out in the world of audiobooks need not be daunting. If remember these key points, stay focused, learn as much as you can and never give up, success could be on the next page.
What’s your top tip for audiobook beginners?