Tips for Authors: Working with an Audiobook Narrator

April 9, 2018

M/M Romance

This post is geared to authors, offering tips to make the audiobook production process a little easier for you as the author, and your chosen narrator. 

If you are interested in understanding the ins-and-outs of commissioning a narrator through Audible’s ACX site, I wrote a blog post about that too, its chock full of information, and you can read it by clicking here.  Otherwise, back to the subject of this post...


Audiobooks are a great way for authors to increase their readership and get new fans for their work.  They are a big investment, emotionally and financially.    We authors spend so much time with these imaginary voices of our characters in our heads, so someone reading those words aloud can initially be uncomfortable. Letting go of your book baby and allowing another person to perform it can be an intimidating prospect.   It can be tricky to find the ‘right’ voice for your book, for a start.  And for those of you who, like me, write romance, hearing your sex scenes read out for the first time will make you squirm like an eel and giggle like a little kid—sometimes from the toe-curling intimacy in the performance, and other times because you discover that what looks okay on paper does not sound good when narrated.


When you do find a narrator who ticks all of your boxes, it’s really important that you assist the narration process by communicating your wishes to them.  It’s no good just to send an e-book and hope that you will get back the audiobook you want.  Narrators are not mind readers.  Creating audio content is a collaborative effort, and you as the author are going to have to do a little preparation before handing the manuscript over.


In an ideal world, I always like to sit down with those I’m collaborating creatively with to discuss how things will progress and find out if we are on the same page.  I would like to sit with a narrator over coffee and do a read-through and ensure they understand what the story is about and discuss pronunciation of words.  But, in the internet age, everything is done via email.  I’m not comfortable with just handing a manuscript over and expecting the narrator just to know what I want.  So whenever I’ve contracted a narrator, I work through this process before they get hold of the manuscript.


1.  Author: Read your manuscript aloud.   

Some authors read their words aloud as they go; others get embarrassed and don’t, or expect their editor/proofreader to have done it.  Authors need to understand the flow of spoken words in the book.  There’s nothing worse than dialogue that sounds stiff and clunky when read aloud, or sex scenes that have more cheese than a Quattro Formaggio pizza. 


On the page, we sometimes get a mental disconnect and glance over connecting words—for example, making a written ‘had not’ into ‘hadn’t’ in our heads.  Make these changes in the text and ensure your text flows in the way you want to hear it.  Your narrator will read whatever you give them.  If you give them trash, they will read trash!  It is not the narrator’s job to cut words from sentences that don’t sound right, and it’s frustrating for a narrator to be given a long list of edits after-the-fact because the author changed their mind about how a sentence sounds.


2. Prepare a page of character notes – Help your narrator to give you what you want.  Provide a list of character names, their importance to the story, and the accent you want them to have.  For instance:


MC 1- Santiago56, from Costa Rica, deep American/Latino accented voice, stutters on the word ‘Can’ which causes him anxiety and always results in laughter from others.


Ask yourself: What are you looking for from the narrator – a straight, deadpan read-through or a performance?  If you want performance, offer tips about the personality of the character. 

  • Are there any affectations to their speech?

  • Does a character have a lisp, stutter, drawl?

  • Do they exaggerate certain words or use street slang?

Giving your narrator a wide a picture of what you want and how you want your characters to sound will make the process so much smoother for both of you.


3. Provide a list of difficult pronunciations.  For example, if you write fantasy, and one of your characters is The Mighty Zepyrsdstrus or some other crazy fantasy name, help your narrator by explaining the pronunciation—either by writing it phonetically or recording your preferred pronunciation on your phone and sending a voice file.  This will make the audio process easier for the narrator, and in turn, you won’t get pissed-off that your character has the wrong name throughout the 14 hours of your audiobook.



When the audio production is in progress:


1. Proof Listen to the audiobook sample

Dear Author, your work is not yet done!  The proof listen is a really big deal, and it comes in two parts. If you are creating audio via Audible's ACX site, you get the first idea of how things will sound with the first 15-minute upload ACX expects all narrators to offer. 


When I listen to the first 15 minutes, I want to hear great sound quality, correct character accents, great performance skills, and good pacing.  If there are problems, this is your time to tell your narrator so they can make changes.  Be honest.  If what you hear is not what you want clicking ‘approve’ and hoping that the narration will miraculously get better won’t help anyone. Audio production takes a long time.  Don't make your narrator do a load of work and expect them to do it all again because you suddenly don't like it. That is not cool. But if all is going well in the first 15 minutes, then click that ‘approve’ button and let the narrator get on with their work.


2. Proof the WHOLE audiobook and take notes.

When you get the full audiobook upload—depending on the length, you need to schedule at least a day to give it your undivided attention.  Audio listeners will use a range of devices to hear a book, and so you need to check that the sound quality is good through speakers, cans, and earbuds.  If there is background hissing, or popping at the ends of words, or you can hear intakes of breath you need to tell your narrator.  These can be removed by a sound engineer/ audio software.  You want the best sound quality you can get.  Poor sound quality can lead to book returns and poor reviews.


Time is money.  I want to help my narrator to identify errors and edit quickly, so we get the audiobook one step closer to retail.  When proofing an audiobook I set myself up at my computer with my book file open and as I proof listen I make a note of the chapter and time for edits so that the error can be located quickly and amended.  For instance:


CH 22                           14:04                           The line is: “Pass me a knife and fork.” 

                                                                           You said:   “Pass the knives and forks.”


Again, remember you are collaborating so don’t expect that the narrator will sit and listen to a whole chapter to find the one word that you identified is missing.  A little bit of courtesy for your narrator and their role will help the process run quickly, smoothly, and in return, you'll get a great product you can both be proud of.


I love audiobooks and want the quality of audio to continue to improve.  I hope this helps you all make the best  content you can.  Best of luck with your audiobooks.

© Isobel Starling 2018



"As You Wish" (Shatterproof Bond #1)  narrated by Gary Furlong won The Independant Audiobook Awards 2018 Romance Category. 
We are so delighted to have won this award and would like to thank all
of our listeners who voted for us.



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