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Tips from a pro on choosing an audio book narrator

Professional audio book narrator Bunales amid some of the equipment he uses
Professional audio book narrator Bunales amid some of the equipment he uses
Mary Beth Magee

Audio books provide authors with another way to distribute their work. Is an audio book in your book's future? It should be, according to voice artist Roy Bunales of ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange.

As Bunales, who records as The Voice of Roy, notes, “The purpose of audio books is to get your story across to others who are not accustomed to reading books or don’t have the time.”

“Having an audio version of a book that they would like to read or listen to, especially when they have long commutes in major cities, [means] they can listen to the story in the car,” he continues. “You can listen to it while you’re jogging, you can listen to the book while you’re exercising on that exercise machine, just like anybody that listens to music when they exercise. You’re not limited to where you can listen. You’re not tied down. You’re not tying down your eyeballs to a book.”

Here are some aspects to consider as you make your decision.

What type of work is your book? While fiction adaptations may be more familiar, other types of writing can make the leap to audio. Bunales reports one of his narrations was a grand jury report. While that may not seem like exciting volume, the file was needed and Bunales provided it. Unless the work requires images such as directional diagrams to tell the story, it would be a potential candidate for an audio book.

Should your narrator be male or female? Consider the gender of the protagonist in your book and the overall tone. A first-person historical novel from a female protagonist’s viewpoint may call for a female narrator while a third-person action story may be more suitable for a male narrator. Does the work call for a particular gender or age of narrator? Specify those details in the description of the narrator you seek.

Does your book require a particular accent or accents? Professional narrators use their vocal skills to portray particular accents, as well as identifiable voices for each character, beyond the base narrative voice. Without the visual cues of a stage or screen set, the narrator must create the entire atmosphere and setting, as well as the characters, with only voice, and the inflections and intonations of the voice.

“I have to do a little bit extra with my voice so I can produce that character in your ear and eventually, on the theater of your mind,” says Bunales, giving examples of several character voices and moods. He likens the result to painting an image on the listener’s mind.

Do you have a rapport with your narrator? “Picking the right audio book narrator is important for the writer. There has to be some kind of connection between the narrator and the writer, because they are working together toward the same goal,” says Bunales. That mutual goal is the successful transformation of a written work into an audio work, to the benefit of both author and narrator.

He notes the requirements of the task include responsibility for "…the length of the narration and the amount of time in the studio, not just to record my voice but to record my voice perfectly along with the books. Not add any words, not leave out any words and make sure that I’m using my voice to paint a picture in the listener’s mind. So I’m painting the setting or the backdrop in the theater of the mind of the person listening.” The project requires a willingness from both parties to put in the appropriate time. The narrator must record, while the author must listen, provide feedback and approve the recordings as they are completed.

Perhaps the biggest question is one of audio rights. Do you have the audio rights to your book? Check your publishing contract, if you went through a traditional publisher. If you self-published, check the terms of service you agreed to with your printer. You must have the rights in order to pursue an audio version of your work.

With professional narrators, “you’re guaranteed to get clean, broadcast-quality audio recordings. No background noise. You don’t hear the lawnmower outside the building going off. You don’t hear the refrigerator kicking on and off. That takes away from the storytelling. It’s distracting. You can’t have those kinds of distractions. So hiring a professional audio book narrator, you will have the proper equipment and the proper recording facilities to ensure it’s a clean, broadcast-quality digital-ready copy to put into your channels for distribution.”

Bunales looks forward to writers continuing to write so that he can continue to tell the stories they've written.

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