I’ve listened to and reviewed more than 300 audiobooks. When finding a quality narrator for your work, I believe there are quite a few things to look out for, which nearly every audio narrator falls short on one or more of. I’ll provide my honest, unfiltered thoughts, as I always do, with examples where applicable.
One or the other:
The majority of (decent) narrators are good at one of two things. Either they’re good at scene setting, or they’re good at character voices.
A lot of narrators might just be boring as shit to listen to, but bring the characters to life. Or they’re just dreadful to listen to, putting you to sleep, but each character sounds like a different person. Finding a narrator who can do both well is seriously rare.
Another thing to take into consideration is the plethora of narrators who don’t do either one well.
Worst of all is the shitty narrators who do character voices in the same voice they do scene setting, making it even more difficult to follow along. Not because their narration sucks, but because of how it all blends together.
Male and female voices:
It doesn’t stop at just doing decent character voices. I’ve heard narrators who do female characters like they’re 40-year veteran smokers.
There are male narrators who do a single female character well, but they can’t do additional voices, so it sounds like a mad woman talking to herself, making it difficult to tell who is speaking. Or in some instances, only one female character has an even remotely feminine voice.
Many female narrators do lackluster male voices. It often sounds like a woman attempting to make her voice sound deep, and failing.
I truly despise narrators who mispronounce words constantly. It’s distracting and obnoxious as fuck. It takes you our of the moment, and can lead to confusion. Common examples include:
- “Carmel” Carmel is a fucking mountain. There’s a second A in Caramel.
- “Farmiliar”. This one, along with “acrrost” seriously pisses me off. Where the fuck do people get the extra letters from?! And why is it so common?
- “Onvelope”. This is English, not French. You don’t onvite guests to a party, where you ontertain them. You don’t flip a light switch to onvelop a room in darkness. If you’re going to mispronounce a word or sound, do it consistently.
- “Rayshons” (Rations)
- “hhhhhhhwhite” or “hhwhen”
- “O”. If you’re a grown-ass adult and can’t tell the difference between O and 0, then fine. But have some professional standards in your work, or find some new work.
There are others I can’t remember off of the top of my head, but all are equally as insufferable to listen to constantly. I view constant mispronunciations like a story full of obnoxious and obvious typos. Such as people who can’t tell the difference between “They’re”, “Their”, “There”, “There’re”, people who think “alot” is a word, etc. The difference is, audiobooks are expensive and they’re representing somebody else’s work. More on that later though.
For a truly abysmal narration, look no further than one of my most recent DNFs; Daughter of the Yellow Dragon, abysmally narrated by ‘David Wiseman’. His narration was something truly fucking horrible. He managed to suck the life out of every line, sounding bored, tired, uninterested, and lifeless. It got to the point where I was putting off continuing my listen because it meant I had to suffer my way through hours more of his garbage, dumpster fire, sorry-ass excuse of a narration.
I don’t mind DNFing a book if the narration is bad, at this point. There are more books than I will ever have time to read or listen to, and life is too shore to listen to something that’s making me miserable. I only feel bad for the authors.
Cumpare ol’ what’s his name with Terry F. Self (narrator for the Bloodlines Reforged Fantasy Saga), who speaks with inflections and charisma. He brings the characters and the world to life and brings personality, and vocal tics, and makes the characters feel real. With every breath, the world and characters feel real.
Another truly fantastic narrator is Cad Delworth, who narrated Season of Kings. Cad Delworth might be my favorite narrator of all time.
My final pick for a top-tier (male) narrator is Jay Forrester, the narrator of The Broken Heart of Arelium.
As for female picks, unfortunately, I don’t have many, and on top of that, my standards have increased over time, so I no longer stand by a lot of the praise I gave in my reviews early on. That being said, two talented (from memory) narrators include January LaVoy, narrator of The Ursulina and The Deep, Deep Snow.
The second pick I have in mind is Kelley Hazen who narrates The Legacy of a Vampire Witch series.
Speed and pacing.
Yet another thing to keep in mind is speed and pacing. I listen to audiobooks at 2.55x speed, or 2.0x speed if not on Audible. To me, this sounds like a natural speaking pace, though other people have told me they can’t even understand what the narrators are saying at that pace. The point is, there are some narrators who don’t do natural pauses during dialogue.
It just sounds like they’re trying to get through the book as quickly as humanly possible. The dialogue lacks any natural flow and the audiobook is worse off for it. I had an author-narrator (UGH!!!!) try to defend this to me once, saying it was “How I naturally speak.” Well, good for you. That’s totally fine. But it makes for a piss-poor audiobook experience.
I truly fucking hate it when authors try to narrate their own books. Rarely do they do it well. Two examples are R.J. Hanson, narrating chapter 1 from his book Fires That Forge, and the other is Barbara Henslee’s narration of Tempting Fate. Overall, I HIGHLY recommend against it. I die a little inside when I get a review copy and see the author is the narrator.
I’ve DNFed audiobook review copies because the author narrators were so bad. I remember one book that had me looking up the book on Audible in disgust, because the narration was so bad, only to see it was the author’s name in place of a proper narrator.
You’re a writer, so write. They’re narrators, let them narrate. Narrating is a talent!
Not issues with the platform Audible, but audible issues with the recording. Theophilius Monroe (the aforementioned author-narrator from the last section is the perfect example of what not to do when it cums to narration. Theophilius Monroe wrote numerous inter-connected series that I love, and half of them are ruined by pisspoor narrators.
None are worse than Sadie May, who ruined his Wyrmrider series for me with her garbage narration and ever-present background hissing.
Not to say even the best narrators are exempt from this, to some degree. Terry F. Self, the narrator of the Bloodlines Reforged Saga has a slight hissing I’ve noticed on subsequent listens when my phone is close to my head and the volume is high. This may be an issue for headphone users, and so should be taken into consideration.
The Dragon Age: Asunder audiobook is plagued by the author inhaling constantly… loud enough for it to be picked up by the mic, which is as obnoxious and distracting as it sounds.
Minion and/or The Awakening by L.A. Banks has numerous instances of repeated dialogue, as do many other books, where recordings overlap and were poorly edited together. With St. Martins being the publisher, I find this even more inexcusable.
Audiobook narration IS VOICE ACTING!! Narrators have to carry an entire cast of people with their voice alone. Too many (shitty) narrators either don’t know that, don’t care, or forget.
A narrator can make or break an audiobook. I loved Grim White Eyes from Season of Kings by A.J. Rettger. Not only because he was a well-written, compelling, and likable anti-hero, but because Cad Delworth was a fucking fantastic voice actor and brought the character to life!
Go listen to “Roland’s Path” by R.J. Hanson and cumpare it to the Heirs of Vanity audiobook, narrated by Terry F. Self. The original narrator for the saga was fucking dreadful. I’ll outright DNF a book, no matter how much I like it if the narrator sucks.
Bad narrators RUIN otherwise great stories. A good narrator is worth their weight in gold.
I’ve had authors try to defend shitty narrations, saying they cost a lot of munny. And I feel for you, but this person is going to be the voice of your beloved characters. If you won’t skimp on an editor or a cover artist, why are you going to skimp on an audio narrator?
I had an author make excuses for her mixed bag of (mostly shitty) narrators, one of which sounded like she was recording inside a gymnasium. I enjoyed the story, but I recommended against anybody buying it because it shows a fundamental disrespect toward buyers.
Quality over quantity. If you can’t afford a narrator, better to go without, than to flood the market with more shitty, half-assed narrated audiobooks, yours being among them I’ve listened to audiobooks and recommended against listening to them and instead suggesting physical or eBook releases. It’s unfortunate that I’ve ever had to do that, let alone more than once.
If you don’t respect your readers, why should, I or anybody else support you and your work as an author?