Ten Steps for Actors to Become Audiobook Narrators
“Why don’t you train as a teacher? Then you’ll always have a back-up…” the plaintive, protective cry of every parent who ever had a child who wanted to become an actor, as they imagine their cherished child starving in an unheated, filthy flat or worse, drinking their life away in pubs as they find themselves “resting” alongside “Withnail and I.”
There are many reasons why not, one being that our children deserve to be taught by people who really want to teach them, rather than frustrated actors. While there is an element of performance to any teaching role, it is far from the main event.
Another is that it is just not what we want to do. Actors want to perform, they want an audience, a platform, a way to lose themselves and lead others into a story, so they can find themselves, renewed and remade at the end of it.
Actors are essentially storytellers. We serve the story. We give our skills to the story so that it can live and breathe, engaging others and helping them to transcend their everyday lives, as well as reminding them that magic is alive and well in the world today.
Audiobook narration is a pure form of storytelling. As a narrator I receive a text, a book, and then it is up to me to breathe life into it with my voice. I enter into a dance with the writer, both of us weaving magic to share with a listening audience all over the world.
Audiences are most definitely there. The rise of the smartphone and smart speakers means that more people than ever are listening to audiobooks all over the world. The global audience is estimated at 500 million and growing, while the industry broke $1bn of revenue in the US this year and is primed to overtake e-books in 2023.
So, if you are an actor who would like to tell stories to millions of people all over the world, in a way that can wrap around other acting work, with freedom to create the world and all its characters, audiobooks could be for you.
It won’t take years more of training. It won’t cost you many thousands of pounds in lost work as you take time to learn new skills. It won’t be a back-up option, it is part of the main event, and you already have what it takes to make it happen.
Also, it is paid work. In the US there are union rates of around $220 per finished hour, and in the UK rates average £80 per finished hour. For a ten hour book that is income of £800-£1,600 or $2,200. Would you like to make a living doing what you love? Here’s how:
- Act! Audiobook narration is a form of acting. You are an actor, so employ your craft and get acting. You know how to approach a script, how to use your imagination to place yourself in a different world, how to develop characters that are multi-faceted and interesting. Here is your chance!
- Understand the text. Narration is essentially breathing a text to life with your voice. Before you can lift it from the page you need to engage with it, be interested in it, iron out the issues you may have with it.
- Develop the characters. In audiobooks you have the chance to play all the characters, from 2 year old girls to 400 year old angels with the voice of a volcano. This is a gift for an actor, you are no longer constrained by your casting or how you look, but what you can make a listener believe.
- Immerse yourself in the world. Some books you read will be set in places you understand but others will be at different times in history or in places you have never been, either real or imagined. Allow yourself to listen to the music from that time, consider the costumes and how people moved or spoke, think about the climate, the surroundings, the culture, the social hierarchy. All of these elements affect how people speak or respond to others, let yourself explore.
- Open your heart to the audience. You are there to guide them lovingly through a journey of discovery, either of a new area of knowledge or into a new world. Either way the listener is with you for part of their life story. If you are open you have a unique opportunity to connect with them and change their story for the better, with your voice, your spirit carried on your breath.
- Break it down. If the whole story feels too much, if the idea of an entire book worries you, break it down. Every book is a series of chapters, most chapters a series of sections, each section a scene. As an actor you know scenes, a book is simply a collection of scenes, each scene building on the ones before to build the story, and you can approach them one at a time.
- Only do what works for you. You are an actor, you are a professional storyteller. You know how to do this. You know what works for your voice. You know what helps and what hinders your performance. When it comes to character choices, make ones that don’t hurt your voice. When it comes to annotating the book on a tablet, only make annotations that will help you, not distract from performance.
- Open your ears. Just as the first step in writing is to read the first step in narrating is to listen. Take in the sound of people speaking, the cadence of their voices, the rhythm of their speech, the way it shifts depending on their audience. Also listen to direction, allow yourself to be guided by others who may hear what you can’t, accept it graciously and work with them to develop your performance.
- Keep learning. Actors are all a work in progress. Every performance is too. There are always skills you can learn and develop with deliberate practice. In audiobook narration the key skills are listening, sight reading and acting. All of these can be improved through dedication and work and at low cost.
- Seek support! Audiobook narration is a solitary business. You are often recording alone or with a sound engineer but you don’t have to be lonely. Actors and writers are both intrigued by people and how they work, they aren’t meant to be alone all the time, so join a group, be inspired, find friends and colleagues to support you in your career and always look for others to support too!
Would you like to find out more about Audiobook Narration?
Please come and join my free Facebook community: The Audiobook Studio.
This is a community for actors, writers and audiobook producers to support each other and learn more about the craft of audiobook creation.
I have also recently launched a course for aspiring audiobook narrators called Audiobook Narration for Actors to find out more join my mailing list!