By CJ Critt
Audio books are increasing in popularity. If you’ve ever considered creating an audio version of your book, most likely you’ve planned on hiring a narrator. But, have you ever considered narrating your book yourself? In today’s post, professional narrator CJ Critt shares her insight and offers some tips on how we can narrate our own books and maybe even venture into a new career path of narrating books for others.
So, you’re thinking of expanding your job title from author to author-narrator, and you intend to grow your audience in the exploding field of audio entertainment. And… you don’t want to suck. What’s a fledgling narrator to do? Many of the same things that a professional reader would do to prepare and present your baby – your book!
Read the entire book in advance. Yes, your book. And read it with the acknowledgement that you will be performing OUT LOUD. If you are naturally a good actor, this will help to familiarize yourself with the exact content of each chapter and the introduction of each character. Also, get used to reading verbatim–and without hesitation or stumbles. Not easy to do, unless you practice. But think about it. If you don’t value your writing enough to present it at its best, who will? If you make mistakes, start the sentence over and read out loud again, until you nail it.
Practice recordings on your smart phone or GarageBand app, which costs nothing and can save your hundreds of bucks in studio time if you are paying an outside studio to capture your performance. If you are recording yourself at home you will save hours of aggravation and frustration, by being really PREPARED.
Ready to record?
Plan to read the chapters or section you intend to record, out loud, to yourself, before each session. Why?
- This is the targeted warm up that gets you ready to record with confidence and greater ease.
- No surprises. Have a segment of foreign language, several tricky characters in a shared conversation on the same page, or hard words to pronounce? Rehearse this. Check the pronunciation on YouTube or a pronunciation site that voices the proper way to pronounce something. That little Eastern European village with the seventeen consonants? Look that up in advance.
- Score your manuscript. Some new narrators use colored highlighters to indicate different characters. Hot pink is always Gramma, teal blue is the neighbor, neon yellow the policeman, etc. Not necessary for every scene and every book, but a great tool if you are learning how to do this and have trouble switching characters. Your eye sees the color and tells your brain to prepare to be Gramma or make the character switch.
Things to keep in mind
You are painting a picture with your voice. And your voice only. The quality of your sound, your intimate understanding of the story, the tone you set, the pacing you choose is just as much a part of the overall experience for your listener, as the words you chose and characters you created.
You are not on stage, though you will be performing every line and every character from page one to page three hundred seventy and THE END. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to be less than perfect – but you can still be great with focused preparation, a good recording and a willingness to do the work.
Frankly, to live in the world of a good book is a little thrilling and it’s comforting, too. I’ve been doing it for 24 years and have been hired by many audio book publishers as well as directly by a number of authors. It’s a privilege to bring someone’s book to life. As an author, you are used to writing and reading books, now you will add the area of performance to the mix. And for this, you want to be ready.
Do you have a pleasing speaking voice that anyone could listen to for hours at a time? Do you speak clearly and read well enough not to go nuts in a studio, because you keep messing up, or have a small visual or speaking impediment that you normally don’t have to think about?
For greatest success, face reality. If you are frequently:
- anxious about your work or outcome
- drop the last words of a sentence
- have a regional accent
- can’t get through a paragraph without frequent stumbles and hesitations
- More practice and some outside coaching
- Hiring a home studio pro to record your work for you – so you know it’s done professionally while you focus on your gift – writing.
If you are paying an outside studio to record you, do some pre-production. Save time, money and aggravation by being so prepared that all they have to do is say “We’re rolling.” Most studios do not expect to direct you – the audio book artist is self-directed. You do that by doing your homework. That doesn’t mean they don’t stop you when there is an obvious mistake, but you have to take responsibility, prepare in advance, and be ready to be excellent. If in your heart, you know you are aren’t quite there yet, do not despair.
Partnering with a qualified coach can help you take your work to the next level. For the tech savvy setting up a home studio is no big thing and being self-contained is a great way to save money and have additional artistic control.
When an audio book is desired and you want to be the boss and not the talent, know that most new voice and narration pros have small economical home studios and can and do provide affordable excellence – when you are not ready to take on the narrator title yourself.
Whatever your choice, may your writing bring joy and may you find the perfect voice to tell your story.
Audie Nominee CJ Critt hosts Narrate Like a Pro at Real to Reel Studios in Dallas, Texas and coaches authors and VO talent via Skype across the US and Canada. She has narrated 160 titles of popular fiction and non-fiction and also worked as a writer/voice artist for Disney Radio. For more information about CJ, visit her website at cjcritt.com.