10 Essential Audiobook Narration Skills

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Narrating an audiobook is the most challenging work you can do in voiceover. It takes myriad skills to navigate them successfully, but if you can master the 10 skills below, you’ll be successful in accomplishing a performance most audiobook listeners take for granted.

1. Articulation

This involves enunciating words and phrases correctly, clearly, and cleanly. There should be no over- or under-articulation (unless it’s a character); no sibilance or whistling (most commonly heard on the letter S or soft C) or lisping, and little to no mouth noise.

2. Breathing

You must have enough breath so you don’t run out of air at the end of sentences or gasp for breath between or inside sentences. There should be no fading, swallowing, or gulping. Breath control also involves controlling plosives (popping P’s or hard consonants), keeping your volume consistent, and projecting appropriately. It involves managing mouth noise and throat clearing. Too much will require a lot of editing and, subsequently, audiobook companies will not hire talent who require a lot of post-production attention. 

3. Delivery

The ability to tell a story compellingly is what constitutes solid delivery. Your delivery must be appropriate to the spirit of the text and the author’s intent and must be consistent throughout the narration. As you’ll most likely be narrating over several days, your voice must match itself from day to day, both in pitch and energy.

Timing and pacing are additional elements of professional delivery and need to be appropriate to the text. Repetitive cadence and pitch patterns must be avoided at all costs—each sentence should be varied slightly so as not to become predictable. Listeners may not know what you’re going to say next, but if you’re constantly starting and ending sentences the same way, they’ll know how you’re going to say it. 

4. Eye-Brain-Mouth Control

This skill involves reading the script accurately (not omitting, adding, or changing words and phrases). Narrators must strive to mitigate the number of mistakes and corrections in their delivery. Scanning ahead is crucial because the more mistakes you make, the longer it will take you to narrate the book and the less money you’ll make per finished hour. The ability to lift words off the page effortlessly is a skill that takes a lot of practice.

5. Consistency

Energy, articulation, breath control, pitch control, and characterization are all areas where solid consistency will get a narrator hired repeatedly because audiobook publishers can count on them to deliver.

6. Analysis

This requires understanding the story arc and the characters (in fiction), discerning your listening audience, and employing the appropriate delivery. It involves understanding concepts and making them understandable to the listener.

7. Characterization

Bringing life to your characters is a must. They must be distinct from each other and consistent in their tone, attitude, age, and accent. Their voices must match their given character descriptions (if there are any).

8. Separation

This skill requires no “spillover” or “bleeding” between narrator and character. Making sure the narrator says phrases like “he said” or “she said” before or after a character speaks—in the narrator’s voice, not the character’s—is essential in audiobook narration.  

9. Stamina

An audiobook narrator spends approximately 20 hours in the studio. This requires unflagging energy and the ability to sound as strong at the end of the day as the beginning. Narrators who are physically fit and emotionally stable will be able to muster the stamina necessary to sustain a professional narration. Performing a 30-second spot is like running a 50-yard dash; a 60-second spot is like a running 100-yard dash; an audiobook is like running a marathon.

10. Investment

All successful narrations demand that the reader be invested in and emotionally connected to what he or she is describing. Painting a picture vocally—as opposed to just reading the words—is what makes for a great narration. Being truly interested in the subject matter, even if it’s boring, draws the listener in, garners great reviews, and motivates an audiobook publisher to hire a talent repeatedly.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Marc Cashman
Marc Cashman creates and produces copy and music advertising for radio and television, and was named one of the “Best Voices of the Year” three times by AudioFile Magazine, and has been a keynote speaker and Master Class instructor at VOICE 2008-2014, Keynote Speaker at VO Atlanta 2012, as well as Master Class instructor and panelist at VO Mastery in 2017.
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