If you’re reading this post, I’m sure you’re interested in, or at the very least aware of, the recent boom in audiobooks. Nine years (at the time of this writing) of double-digit growth don’t lie! Maybe you’re an avid listener. Maybe you’re just curious about audiobook production. Or maybe you’re the proud author of a newly published (or soon to be published) bouncing baby book. If that’s the case, congratulations—that’s no small feat. You are to be commended on your success! Even though I’ve narrated over 300 titles, I’ve yet to commit to actually writing one.
Speaking of narrating, you may also be considering turning that beautifully polished, published wonder into an audiobook. Congratulations, again! Nonfiction audiobook titles especially have seen a rise in popularity—particularly, those read by the author.
If your book relates to your business or career, reading your own audiobook is often the best option for personal branding. And if you do professional speaking of any kind, it might even seem strange to readers if you don’t record your own book!
You may be thinking, “UGH. I can’t STAND the sound of my own voice.” Or, “I’ve never even listened to an audiobook before. What am I doing?” You are not alone. I still don’t like the sound of my own voice! But don’t worry. What follows is a list of tips from years of professional experience. If you wrote it, you can narrate it. I promise!
Here are a few tips for successfully recording the audio version of your book.
The Days Before
- Establish contact with your audiobook producer. Exchange numbers and emails, finalize which version of your text is being recorded, and if there are any special requests you/they have. For example, I worked on a memoir about an author’s teen years. She had a CD of her 1970s basketball team doing team chants to add into the audio. We LOVED this idea, and asked her to bring a copy in to her studio session.
- Yes, you’ve spent months, possibly even years, with your book, but in the time leading up to your recording session, it’s helpful to revisit your text. Imagine you’re reading it for the first time, notice your chapter breaks, your points of argument, and your overall tone. Are you a more humorous writer? More straightforward and logical? Consider how this will inform your narration.
- If this is your first time recording an audiobook, you probably want to do a mini dry run where you record yourself reading a few sections and play it back to listen to it. Do you sound too monotone? Too exaggerated? Are you properly enunciating all the words so it’s easy to understand what you’re saying? Ask a couple of trusted contacts for feedback if you aren’t sure where you stand—or, book a professional director (more on that later)!
- If there are charts, graphs, images, or figures in your piece, have you discussed with your publisher beforehand how they will be handled? Attention to these seemingly small details today will ensure a more relaxed session. And a relaxed narrator makes for an engaging audiobook.
- Lastly, drink water—about twice as much as you would normally, or eight glasses at least.
The Day Before
Many professional narrators (myself included) record most of their audiobooks from specially calibrated home studios. Recording in-studio is slightly different. Here’s my short list of in-studio ideas:
- Be sure to confirm your session details, including location, record time, and engineer/director/contact info at least the day before! Your producer and/or director will have these details.
- The night before your audiobook recording, get at least eight hours of quality sleep. Nothing affects vocal tone more. You know what, go for broke! Spoil yourself…Get nine.
- Pack a “Go Bag.” Here’s what’s in mine anytime I’m in studio. Add or subtract items depending on your personal needs and preferences!
- iPad with case and charger: Goes without saying. This is what the audiobook is read from. Your studio may provide one for you, or you may have your own. Make sure you check beforehand. If you’re bringing your own, I recommend the iAnnotatePDF app for manuscripts.
- Audiobook Insider: In the days of analog and radio, full manuscripts would be printed to read from. Actors would even drop pages to the floor in a specific way to reduce noise!
- Water Bottle: Your studio will likely have complementary drinks available, but it’s so easy to be sustainable and feel at home if you bring your own travel thermos. I lug around a 64 oz bright green monster designed for beach outings. It looks like the Ghostbusters’ Ecto Cooler, and it comes with a built-in straw. That said, I am a professional, and not everyone can be this cool.
- Blue-Light Glasses: I got mine off Amazon for around $10. They help with eye fatigue, and make you look extremely literary!
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste: Travel or full size. Talking for extended periods of time dries your mouth (and “icks up” your breath in the process). A quick brush is a nice way to reset mentally and physically between chapters.
- Healthy Snacks: Keep stomach noises to a minimum! The key here is healthy and small. Granola bars, trail mix, or your cracker of choice.
- Audiobook Insider: This one is really legit. Apples—green Granny Smith especially—are an old, classic voiceover trick. The sugar content in the apple reduces mouth noises and clicks, which can come through when your mouth is too dry… or too hydrated (the water is a double-edged sword). Swishing apple juice around can have the same effect.
The Day Of
- Eat Breakfast. Even if you’re not normally a breakfast eater, try to eat something small yet filling before you head to the studio. Eggs with toast is perfect. A small yogurt parfait is also great. You want to have energy. You DON’T want your stomach to be rumbling around 10am. Not only does it slow down the recording, you won’t believe how unfocused you feel when you start to get hungry. And you will start to get hungry!
- Audiobook Insider: Try to avoid acidic foods and dairy the days you record. A few tomatoes in your salad or a lemon vinaigrette is fine, but maybe not a Bloody Mary! Acidic foods can be rough on the throat and change the sound of your voice. It also doesn’t feel good to talk on a croaky, dehydrated throat for eight hours.
- Watch your caffeine intake. I know—but don’t get out the pitchforks just yet! Coffee is notorious for its properties of dehydration, and dehydration is the voice actor’s enemy! But for those of you (like me) who can’t get enough, keep your intake low on record morning, and try not to imbibe within two hours of your session. Have two glasses of water for every cup of coffee… You might find this actually keeps you more awake than your sludge.
- No one knows these words, this story, better than you do. It’s your baby. You have a great support team. You’ve taken all the right steps. This is the fun part!
In The Studio
- It shouldn’t need to be said, but respect your audio team. This is not limited to, but will likely include your audiobook producer, your sound engineer(s), your director, and even the receptionist at the front desk. They are highly trained professionals doing everything in their power to make you feel and sound your best. They are NOT there to get your coffee (unless they’re already getting some and are being polite), or indulge “get my agent on the phone” fantasies. Like any worthwhile or creative endeavor, a recording is about collaboration. Respect their time and expertise.
- It may be your first time narrating, and that’s fine! Your studio team will give you as much time and help necessary for your to be comfortable. Just remember that your book is on a deadline… and the more days you spend in studio, the more money you’re paying. Your director can help you set a good working pace, and keep you from overworking or being too luxuriant. Trust their timing.
- This is the good stuff. It might sound a little heebie-jeebie touchy-feely, but some of the best narration advice I can give you is to try to love your listener. Or at least like them. By this I mean imagine you’re telling your story to a trusted loved one or friend. Maybe it’s your partner, or your favorite client. It doesn’t matter who you pick, but it has to be someone you believe would benefit from your message. This will help you adjust your speed, your clarity, and your nerves. It can be a little tough to get the hang of at first, and that’s okay. When I’m recording nonfiction, I usually pretend I’m sharing it with my best friend, Molly, who lives overseas. Figure out your Molly. How do you speak to your Molly? It’s okay not to sound like the Queen of England. Your listeners want to be engaged, not talked at.
There’s so much more to the art of narration—I could go on! But I’ll end by saying that giving an award-winning audiobook performance IS within your capability, no matter what you sound like. For this reason, I offer author-specific coaching and directing packages to help you develop your best narration. Email us at hello@pithywordsmithery to learn more.