Speaking of Audiobooks: Untrained Narrators? I’m Not Interested

There’s a new trend sweeping the audiobook industry and it’s the frequent use of untrained narrators. Narrators who are more likely to take away from the audiobook experience rather than add to it. It’s a trend that I hope will simply spend itself and go away, but one which I’m afraid is here to stay. I can only assume that somewhere along the line, the decision to use untrained narrators (with lower pay) translates into the ability to produce more audiobooks. But in the process, an invisible price is paid as the listener’s trust slowly erodes. How many listeners will continue to buy audiobooks (or even use the library) if the experience is less than enjoyable? It’s not only a waste of the listener’s money but their time as well.

Fortunately, there are still a number of audiobook publishers who choose to use well-trained narrators for the majority of their releases. As we often see expressed here at Speaking of Audiobooks, listeners develop a trust relationship with narrators, so much so, that listeners are known to follow narrators as well as authors from one audiobook to the next.

Knowing this, I’m puzzled about the prevailing belief that an individual can effectively read (narrate) an audiobook with basically no training and without the benefit of a director. Are there those within the industry who think listeners will accept just anyone reading their romances (often cherished old print favorites)? Does someone think we don’t notice readers audibly gasping for air between lines? And what about the inability to distinguish one character from another? Do we want to wait for the tag line (if there is one) to understand who just finished speaking? And the pacing – are we to ignore a narrator’s slow-moving telling during an action-packed scene? Or the too-quick telling of an especially heart-wrenching scene? And then there are the all-important characterizations. Does anyone check a new narrator’s completed work to ascertain that the characters were performed according to the author’s written word?

A notice to all – we do pay attention.

In 2009, the title of my first column read Speaking of Audiobooks: It’s All About the Narrator. Now approximately 100 columns later, it remains as true today as it was then. As a listener, I haven’t changed. I still expect quality narrations. If you want me to listen to your book, provide a trained narrator who understands their task. Although we talk plot, a writer’s style, production quality, format availability, or male versus female narrator, every discussion always comes back to quality of narrations (even if it remains unspoken). Start to give me less when I’ve come to expect excellence and I won’t buy your book.

After a good deal of thought, I decided to restrain myself from mentioning specific books that I believe fall into this category. However, I will follow up on a review I wrote for the 2/07/12 Speaking of Audiobooks column. I paid a full credit for Gaelen Foley’s Lord of Ice over at Audible. Easily my favorite Foley in print, I decided to listen despite being unfamiliar with the narrator. It was an utter failure. Checking its listing at Audible in preparation for today’s column, I see it is now selling for the Special Price of $3.99 (it’s not connected to any particular sale). Checking further, I saw one review after another critical of the narration. And I saw no other book to the narrator’s name. I don’t want to criticize anyone mercilessly – that’s not the point. The point? Listeners let their dissatisfaction be known. Audible noticed.

Audible now provides the dissatisfied listener a powerful tool. You can return your book. I encourage you to not shy away from returning a book with an unacceptable narration. Let Audible know in clear words the reason for your return.

If we speak out together about poor narrations, I do believe we can make an impact. In the meantime, we’ll continue to support (and celebrate) those audiobooks that are especially well done.

Romance Audio Reviews
Riveted – Meljean Brook

Narrated by Alison Larkin

Review written by LinnieGayl

I’m a big fan of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series but was disappointed to learn that Faye Adele had been replaced as narrator. That disappointment increased as I began listening to the book. I had problems with both the narration and the story.

This feels different than earlier series entries. Much of the world-building is in the background. Whereas Maggie described the last entry, Heart of Steel, as a “straight out adventure story” with almost non-stop action, Riveted focuses on character development. Instead of a quick, fiery romance, there’s a slowly developing friendship and eventual relationship.

Annika, an engineer on the airship Phateon, comes from an unusual remote village in Iceland made up solely of women. Annika left home four years earlier in search of her sister Kalla, who ran away after taking the blame for something Annika did. Annika is an interesting heroine; she’s tough, independent, and a whiz with all things mechanical. Her work on the Phateon allows her to travel the world in search of her sister.

David Kentewess is also on a quest, and believes he’s found a key in Annika. When David hears Annika speak, her unusual “bird” accent reminds him of his dead mother. David’s looked for his mother’s people for years and believes that in Annika, he’s found them. And that “bird” accent, as depicted by Ms. Larkin, gave me major problems. When Annika speaks, Ms. Larkin frequently gives her a childish, high-pitched voice, making it hard for me to take Annika seriously. I say frequently, because many characters’ voices are rendered in an inconsistent manner. At times Annika sounds almost normal, with a bit of a mysterious accent. At other times she sounds as if she’s a child.

This isn’t my only problem with the narration. While I didn’t have problems understanding who was speaking when it was just Annika and David, in
some multi-male scenes, I had problems figuring out which man was speaking.

I really wanted to like Riveted. David is a wonderful tortured hero. He’s bright, with an interesting occupation as a volcanologist. He’s had a difficult past and is composed of large parts metal and nano agents. Neither Annika nor David fit in anywhere, but gradually, oh so gradually, they come to fit with each other. The romance moves very slowly as David and Annika get to know each other, slowly become friends, and only eventually lovers. Despite being intrigued by both Annika and David, something is off for me, not just with the narration, but with the book itself.

I did something I’ve never done before with a review audiobook, and went back and relistened to the first five hours before writing the review. While I still love both David and Annika, this just feels long to me. And large parts of it sound preachy regarding same-sex relationships and tolerance. The situations Ms. Brook set up are interesting, but often come off as boring.

In the end, my feelings are mixed. I’ll stick with the series, but if Alison Larkin is the narrator, I’ll switch to print for the next entry.

Unlawful Contact – Pamela Clare

Narrated by Kaleo Griffith

Review written by Kaetrin

Marc Hunter is duking it out with Gabe Rossiter (Naked Edge) for my favorite I-Team hero so far. So I had high expectations when I started this listen. Happily for me, those expectations were met and my love for Marc (and Kaleo Griffiths’ narration) remains.

Sophie Alton is a reporter for the Denver Independent’s prestigious I-Team. She’s been following a young woman’s story for well over a year. Megan Rawlings is the troubled young woman, struggling with drug addiction, who has been in and out of prison. Pregnant when she was last incarcerated, she gave birth cuffed to a bed, with no access to pain relief and uncaring staff.

Now Megan is getting her life together. On a supervised visit with her daughter, she takes off with baby Emily and is on the run. A large amount of heroin is found in her halfway house room.

Marc Hunter, Megan’s half brother, is in prison serving a life sentence for murder. Hearing of Megan’s flight, he resolves to break out of prison to help her, convinced Megan’s life is in danger. He’s right. Sophie and Marc have some history but Sophie does not recognize her teenage love “Hunt” in the bearded prisoner who takes her hostage and escapes with her.

The book then charts the course of Marc’s search for Megan and Emily, his search for those who are after her, and his love for Sophie. Sophie becomes enmeshed in the investigation and soon her life is in danger too. Given Marc’s life sentence, it doesn’t seem there can be a happy ending for them. Just as well this is a romance!

For fans of the series, the much-loved bromance between Julian Darcangelo (Hard Evidence) and Marc begins in this book, too. Having Julian and Marc in a room together is something special, I tell you. Hearing them is even better.

Marc is an alpha protector hero and he’s been carrying a torch for Sophie for over twelve years. He needed a deep sexy voice to match the hard-muscled body and charismatic personality. Subtly different from Julian’s huskier rasp, Kaleo Griffith again delivers a wonderful hero voice, which matches the character perfectly. Sophie’s voice is a soft and not at all drag-y (thankfully) and while it is not exactly a female’s voice, I was always able to differentiate her from the other distinctly performed female characters. I particularly liked Mr. Griffith’s depiction of Kat James (Naked Edge), which clearly showed her Navajo heritage. And Natalie Benoit (Breaking Point) was definitely from New Orleans!

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. On occasion through the listen, both Sophie and Marc sounded Hispanic and this wasn’t the case for either of them. When Marc and Julian yelled, they sounded pretty much the same, even though their speaking voices were different.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Unlawful Contact and revisiting a favorite story and beloved hero. If you like romantic suspense, you really can’t go further than this book. And, while I love all the books, you can start here if you want to.

Flat-Out Sexy – Erin McCarthy

Narrated by Emily Durante

Review written by Carrie

Elec Monroe is a 25-year-old rookie racecar driver more comfortable out of the limelight than in it. While attending a fundraising event, Tamara Briggs bumps into Elec, literally, and spills her wine all over his shirt. Tamara is the 32-year-old widow of a stock car driver who died in a crash. Busy getting over her grief and raising her two children, Tamara has stayed away from the racing scene for the past two years. She’s also stayed away from dating for the same reasons.

Tamara is surprised when the brief encounter with Elec rouses her dormant libido. Later, she realizes her purse and keys are lost and, without them, has nowhere to stay. Ryder, a friend of her late husband, offers Tamara his travel coach for the night since he is staying elsewhere. When he sees Elec leaving for the track and his own coach at the same time, Ryder asks Elec to makes sure Tamara gets there safely. In the taxi, the chemistry between the two starts to sizzle. Once at the coach, Tamara breaks her two years of abstinence with a smoking hot night of what she tells herself is “only sex.”

Elec is quickly smitten with Tamara and starts a campaign to change her mind about the “one night stand.” Tamara balks, pointing to their age difference, her father-in-law’s feud with Elec’s father, her children, the crazy schedules that make seeing each other difficult, and her rule against dating drivers. Elec is just as certain their physical attraction, their affection for each other, and their shared interests make the future possible. He’s a good example of a beta hero, and narrator Emily Durante gives him the right vibe. Durante’s voice reflects our hero’s relatively young age as well as his laidback personality. Elec’s brother, Evan, sounds a little too much like Elec, but the other male characters are more distinct. Overall, Durante’s male characters are well performed.

It took me a while to warm up to Durante’s voice for Tamara, but I quickly came to appreciate the portrayal. Tamara is a worrier, and Durante brings out her insecurities and hesitations clearly. Tamara’s emotions come through as well which makes her character more sympathetic and enjoyable. The pacing of Durante’s narration is well done, and the timing of the dialogue feels natural. Durante not only seems to get the characters, she seems to like them. She even does a good job with Tamara’s children, which can be such a challenge. My only complaint is Durante’s habit of giving a fake laugh when the characters are laughing while speaking. While a relatively small thing, it was distracting and tended to jolt me out of the story.

Erin McCarthy describes Tamara’s life as a single mother with realism. I like that the children don’t magically, and conveniently, disappear every time Elec and Tamara want to be together. But while there are obstacles to their relationship, most of the conflicts here are internal ones. What little external conflict there is seems to be easily smoothed over and doesn’t produce much depth of emotion in the listener, and the internal conflicts don’t create much more suspense than the external ones. There are no surprises here, but Flat-Out Sexy is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles of interest.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks – continues to grow and now has 463 members. Come join us for discussions in between columns.

Enjoy your listening!

- Lea Hensley

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120 Responses to “Speaking of Audiobooks: Untrained Narrators? I’m Not Interested”

  1. Lynn M says:

    This is such a timely post, because I’m currently listening to a YA title on audiobook, and the narrator is driving me crazy. One of the characters – the hero – has an English accent, and this woman’s attempt at an English accent is horrible. It makes me think poorly of the character, and I can’t imagine him as the attractive, desirable guy I’m sure the writer intended. I think the narrator is a trained one/professional, however, in this case, I wish she’d give up on the English accent and just read the characters straight. I’m tempted to give up on the audio version and see if I can check out the book from the library because I like the story and hate this distraction. Narrators really can make or break a book.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      I witnessed an interesting discussion between narrators recently on accents. If you can’t perform an accent well, do you choose to do so badly?

      Yours is such a good point – the narrator’s decision to utilize a poorly performed accent has ruined the audio version for you. I agree – it can happen with trained or untrained narrators. However, the likelihood of it happening seems to be much greater with those narrators who have little to no training.

      I can overlook inaccuracies in an audio if other aspects of the telling are moving along well. But, don’t mess with my hero!

      • There is a YA book I just finished and it was like pulling teeth, I just could not handle the way this narrator botch one of my favorite characters. The worst part for me is that this was book 13 in the series and up until book 11 they had a pretty good narrator then they brought this new woman in who just couldn’t compare. I wont be buying the next book on audio.

      • Xe Sands says:

        That is a fairly common discussion, Lea. It’s a tricky situation for a narrator, because we find ourselves in a sometimes untenable position. If the accent is specifically called out and made an issue in the book, but the narrator just can’t pull it off, they have two choices: attempt the accent, and potentially turn off listeners with a cringe-worthy performance…or leave the accent out, and risk having listeners complain that the narrator did not do the accent as specified in the book (that has happened to me).

        My feeling is that, if after doing all you can as a narrator (dialect coaching, etc.) you cannot do a decent version of the accent AND maintain a credible characterization, you should leave the accent alone and take the complaints of the missing accent.

        So I’ll throw it to you folks: which would you prefer? And would you be annoyed if the narrator did not attempt an accent specifically called out in the text?

        • lostime4me says:

          Xe:
          I’d rather no accent rather than a bad one. The bad one’s are so annoying that it will make me cringe each time I hear it. It is easier to tolerate no accent & imagine it. Fortunately, I haven’t noticed that with any book that I’ve heard you narrate. If you got it wrong then you faked it well because I love the books you narrate. We all have our fav’s in narrators. That’s my vote anyway.

          • Xe Sands says:

            Aw, thanks :) I’ve definitely had my share of challenges, and one of the reasons that I now use a dialect coach when encountering an accent I’m unsure of is that I tried to fake once, and it pulled a listener right out of the story.

            • Kaetrin says:

              For me, if the accent is for one of the main characters, then if the narrator can’t pull it off, then maybe another narrator should do it. (too harsh?) If it is a minor character, then it’s not so big a deal. But, if my choices were no accent or a bad accent, I’ll take no accent.

            • Vic says:

              Kaetrin: For me, if the accent is for one of the main characters, then if the narrator can’t pull it off, then maybe another narrator should do it. (too harsh?)If it is a minor character, then it’s not so big a deal.But, if my choices were no accent or a bad accent, I’ll take no accent.

              I agree with this completely! Xe – have totally enjoyed all of your narrations I’ve listened to. :)

          • Robert says:

            Just a note from an acting coach – if a major character has a specific accent, you’re responsible for it. I can’t imagine a trained narrator who can’t “get” the accent with appropriate dialect training. And if the narrator wants to do that book, they should get the appropriate training and do it well. I don’t personally care if they are doing a character from Yorkshire and they do a Devonshire accent for an audiobook, as they are similar enough, but I guess someone in Britain might be annoyed. :-)

        • Jeff says:

          I’m responding to Xe Sands comment on accents. She suggested there were 2 options: perform a poor accent or read with no accent even if one is called for. There’s a third option and the one I promote: That is, cast a different narrator — one that *can* do the required accent effectively.

          • Xe Sands says:

            Quick word on this: if the main character has an accent, we (narrators) often know this going in. But in my experience, if there are a smattering of other accents given to minor characters, we’re often not told that before we commit to the book. It is almost unheard of for narrators to be able to preview or read the book prior to committing. Just isn’t time in the schedule for that. We have make a choice to accept/reject a project on a very short timeline, with very little information going in.

            So while Jeff’s option: cast a narrator who can effectively do the accent – is ideal, sometimes we just don’t know they are in there prior to committing. Just the way it works these days.

            • Ditto, Xe. That has happened to me at least twice in the past year.

            • Jeff says:

              XE, I don’t blame the narrator, although I do think it’s the narrator’s responsibility to decline work they know they are not appropriate for, but if an accent is called for, it’s the casting director (or producer or whatever the proper title is for the person who chooses the narrator) who should be finding the narrator who can perform the necessary accent or whatever is called for in the book.

              BTW, this might mean asking an untrained narrator to read the book if that narrator is capable of doing it. The casting director should audition the narrator to learn this.

              And this doesn’t apply only to accents. One of the worst casting choices I’ve ever heard was made with the last couple of Lincoln Rhyme books by Jeffery Deaver. Lincoln Rhyme is a gruff, cynical character, but the narrator chosen to read these books gave Rhyme an easy-going, laid back voice. And I think this is a trained narrator. I blame the person who asked this narrator to read this book. That person should have known better and should be ashamed of him/herself.

  2. Leigh says:

    I did return a book to Audible. No, it wasn’t a untrained narrator. In fact she is pretty popular. But she ruined the book for me.

  3. [...] Untrained Narrators? I’m Not Interested. [...]

  4. Carrie says:

    Today’s review of Riveted points to one of the difficulties in deciding which narrators are succeeding and which aren’t. I enjoyed Alison Larkin’s narration of Riveted, although I did have to get used to her voice for Annika. In my review I said, ” The Icelandic women sound very Nordic. The other accents included French, English, and Scottish. Alison Larkin not only had to distinguish the accents, but also keep the voices straight for a large cast of characters. She meets the challenge admirably.”

    Obviously, the narrator left very different impressions on LinnieGayle and me. ;-) There is another very popular (and extremely nice) narrator whose voice just didn’t work for me, even though I want it to!

    What I’m saying is, there needs to be a distinction made between untrained and/or unskilled narrators and personal preference. And it’s often a good idea to give narrators a second try. If I had stayed with my first impression of Susan Ericksen I’d now be missing the pleasures of listening to one of my favorite narrators.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Yes, there is difference – big time. At one time (say…the first few years of Speaking of Audiobooks), my usual criticism of an audiobook would be my preferences compared to the narrator’s style. Did they interpret the story as I thought it should be? Did the characters sound like my mind thought they should? On and on…

      But the fact remains that the majority of those narrators were trained to some degree. You could tell they had worked with a director at some point in their career. And with my dislike of a certain narrator’s style, there would be other listeners who thought that narrator was doing a fantastic job. Those were healthy differences because we were, for the most part, talking about narrators who had been trained in the art. This doesn’t necessarily mean an acting career – It means the narrator worked with others to perfect their performances.

      Now the market is flooded with narrators who have no director – who have little understanding about how their poor narration compares to those of successful narrators who have spent hours and hours with directors or other types of training appropriate to their chosen career path.

      At times these days when in the midst of a poorly performed book, I wish for those well trained narrators who I may have criticized some aspect of their performance in the past. At least I’d be hearing a quality performance compared to the completely off-the-wall attempts to read a book – badly. This false call we hear these days for new narrators minimalizes the profession, “You too can narrate a book – let us know if you are interested. You can start in a month.” We, as the listeners, lose.

      I have no idea to the quality of Alison Larkin’s narration. So, I’m not ranting about your statement Carrie! You make an excellent point especially when it comes to giving narrators a second chance. But if the QUALITY of the narration is poor, it’s unlikely to change with a second try recorded only weeks later. Training for something like this is not an overnight process.

      RANT OVER…for now.

      • Kaetrin says:

        I’m not sure I can identify, with any accuracy, untrained narrators. There are plenty I don’t like, or who don’t work as well for me as others (some a very popular indeed) and some that work for me and not for others. I know you agonised over whether to include names, but I’d probably need examples to really understand.

        I will say that I tried a couple of audiobooks from Dreamspinner and they were awful. 2 different narrators but both had almost no characterisation and there was no differentiation between the characters. I have no idea of their level of experience however. But I won’t buy any more until I’m sure the narration has improved significantly. It’s too painful.

        • Brenda says:

          Kaetrin the first thing I do when I see a narrators name I don’t recognize at Audible is click on the name to see how many other narrations they’ve done and what the date is on the first narration if there are more than one.

          I read any reviews that mention the narration specifically – I know we all have different tastes but it gives me a general over view – and then I see what I can glean by listening to the audio samples provided.

          I also type the name into Google and look for more background or experience, information that comes from more than their own web site.

          None of this proves whether a narrator is untrained but it does give me an idea as to the general experience level I can expect before I decide to try a new to me name.

          • Melinda says:

            I know Brenda already knows this, but I do this exact same thing. It really doesn’t take more than a few minutes and yeah, sometimes I buy the audiobook anyway. There’s a NR book I bought years ago that I did this for, and several people mentioned how inappropriately young the narrator sounded, and doncha know I had to touch that hot stove and find out for myself how uncomfortable it was to hear a 10 year old read sex scenes. (Ok, she wasn’t 10 but she sounded 10) (and the sex scenes were pretty tame, but still, ish!)

  5. Carrie says:

    :-) I don’t take it personally, Lea! I knew what you meant. I just wanted to point out what is probably obvious but bears repeating–some dislike of narration style can be chalked up to personal preference and should be taken into account. However, that doesn’t negate in any way what you are addressing in this post. I don’t want to spend my hard-earned credits, not to mention my limited amount of time, weeding through amateur narrating jobs or bad production. Reading a book aloud is not the same as narrating one professionally. I’ve read 100′s of books aloud to my children. Not just picture books but long books as well since we home schooled and I always read aloud to my preteens and teens as well. I made a fine “read aloud” Mom, but wouldn’t dream of making it a career! My kids and I used to laugh when I’d give the characters their own voices because I’d forget the voices from one day to the next!

    All this to say I agree with you. Audiobook lovers are going to shy away from even trying new narrators if they lose confidence in the production companies. A 3 minute clip on Audible doesn’t always give the listener the information they need to choose. I’m glad Audible lets you return books. I hadn’t thought of doing that for a poor narrator, but I’ll keep it in mind for the future.

  6. Angie says:

    Thank you so much for this column. I agree with you completely, as I’m sure many do. It seems to be mostly an Audible problem. They are trying to crank out so many audiobooks that they are cutting corners wherever they can. They ask members to contact them with the books they are interested in seeing as audiobooks, but I’m rather afraid to contact them anymore because I know that they’ll slap them together any way they can if they obtain the rights to them. The new feauture on Amazon for suggesting audiobooks is good and bad in this way. I would much rather make my suggestions to Tantor, etc. than on Amazon/Audible now.

  7. D.G. says:

    Great post, Lea. Given that a credit at Audible is $14.95 (which is double the cost of a MMPB), you would think producers would realize that if we are willing to pay that much, then we DEMAND a quality narration.

  8. Renee says:

    Interesting post. Just for clarification. Are most of the untrained narrators coming from Amazon/Audible produced audiobooks?

    • Lea Hensley says:

      We do see many of these books coming through Audible, Harlequin (I believe they are associated with Audible in some manner), Recorded Books, and ACX – Audible’s self-publishing format. ACX seems to be the biggest offender and, unfortunately, their titles are hidden for the most part. You won’t see ACX as the publisher – instead you will probably see some random person’s name as publisher, which means the audiobook is self-published. It’s likely the reader of these self published audios is new to narrating.

      • Lea, one way to find out if a title is an ACX publication is to search for titles by keyword and simply enter ‘acx’ in the search field. That pulls up all of the ACX titles.

      • Just wanted to pipe in about Recorded Books. Every book that they publish, as far as I know (I’ve recorded several books there) are recorded in-house, with a director running the session. I’ve spoken to several of the higher-up people there and the only time they’ll farm out a recording to a narrator’s home studio is under unusual circumstances, like if the narrator has moved away and is part of an ongoing series. I can’t speak to the quality of every one of their productions, but I will say they don’t just throw their narrators in without a clue.

        • Lea AAR says:

          Thank you Mark. That is good to know. Actually it’s excellent news. The misconception has come from the many unknown RB narrators we see month to month. Of course, that may be due to the use of pseudonyms as well. Thanks for stopping by.

          • Heard about the conversation through the narrator grapevine *cough*Xe*cough* and, since I got my start with Recorded Books, though I could add a bit to this one small corner of the discussion.

  9. leslie says:

    I recently downloaded all the audio books by Juliette Fay and Ben Aaronovitch.
    Fay’s Deep Down True is a wonderful book, but the reader was awful, really awful. I almost sent back her first book Shelter Me too, but then I noticed a different reader so I listened and she was really good. Why does that happen? I mean why change readers?

    Is there a big demand for audio books, but not enough experienced readers to go around?

    The bad accent thing is something I can’t forgive. Anna Fields was one of the best readers and I loved her voice, but she messed up the English accent and ruined (for me) Ain’t She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Yet her narrations of other SEP’s are really good. I think sometimes it’s like casting a movie, an accomplished actor might be great in an action movie, but would totally suck in an french historical musical.

    Now I want to gush over the reader Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who reads Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London Series. BEST. MALE. READER. EVER. KHS slips from one strong accent to another and at times it seems like there are two different readers. A terrific series in print and it’s craziness brought to life by a great reader.

  10. Carrie says:

    Xe Sands-
    Yes, I imagine narrators feel caught in the middle on poor accent vs. no accent problem.

    I prefer proper accents, but if the narrator does all else well yet can’t do, say, a creditable Scottish accent, I’d prefer they not try. I listened to one book where the narrator did a decent job with the rest of the book, but couldn’t pull off the New York City accent of one secondary character. I’d have much preferred the narrator not to have tried. It jarred me out of the story every time that character spoke.

    I’ve never felt like complaining about a narrator NOT doing an accent, but I have complained about a poor one.

    • Xe Sands says:

      That’s my gut feeling as well. Either way, it’s an issue, but I think it’s less jarring to not hear an accent than to hear one that makes you cringe.

  11. willaful says:

    The narrator pretty much destroyed Anna Dressed in Blood for me. Constant pauses. Breathy falsettos. Ugh. And yet this guy has narrated a number of books, so I guess he’s working for somebody.

    On the other hand, I would listen to Kirsten Potter read the phone book. She makes a bad book good and a great book fabulous.

  12. Bob says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. I think that every author should have the opportunity to have their books made into audio, and many authors just have little or no control over that without a program like ACX. I have listened to some very poorly produced ACX audiobooks, and some that are quite good. I have heard some lesser known narrators give excellent performances while listened to one of the big 6 companies totally miscast a novel with a professional narrator. I have even heard some well trained professional narrators simply phoning it in.

    It’s tough for me, because I want to encourage authors to fight for their audiobook rights and to do what it takes to see their audiobooks produces and if this means going the ACX route, they need support to help find the right narrator for their project that they can afford. SO many authors know too little about audiobook rights or don’t even think about them. I often will contact an author about the possibility for an audio version of one of their books and I typically get a brisk, “I don’t know, I think my publisher has the rights.” I would think these authors would want to tap every possible market, since they aren’t John Grisham or Stephen King.

    I hope that articles like this from John Scalzi http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/01/16/the-state-of-a-genre-title-2013/ shows that audiobooks should be a part of any author’s marketing plan, and more than a niche market.

    It’s easy to say, “We need a professional narrator.” which I know isn’t exactly what your saying. There is a difference between professional and trained. Yet, there are narrators out their with potential that we may never discover without something like ACX. I know of a few narrators that got their start recording of Libriovox and Podcasts and such and now are among fan favorites.

    I think it’s important to provide resources and services for authors to understand a bit more about how to choose the right narrators. Indy author Jackie Druga recent had an interesting post about using ACX here: http://jackiedruga.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-rigors-and-rewards-of-making.html?spref=tw

    I’m in no way an audiobook expert. I simply listen to a lot and write, but I have been contacted more than one by authors seeking advice about selecting a narrator. There has to be a better resource out there for authors, then me, a hack audiobook blogger.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      I haven’t mentioned professional narrators – you are right. My focus here is not on professional narrators.

      This column’s focus is on those individuals narrating books with no training or even the use of a director. I have no problem with ACX if they use beginning narrators who have committed to learning the art of narration through working with a director (not a producer) who knows the business well. Also, there are training seminars for those seeking to learn more.

      But ACX isn’t doing narrators with potential a favor by using many more untrained narrators (often with no potential). These promising narrators are lumped together with the untrained and it leaves the buyer with no choice but to be wary of any ACX project – very wary.

      I’m hoping with explosion of the eBook and audiobook markets that authors will become better informed about digital rights. I thank you for your observations – you have just given me another topic for further discussion.

      Today’s column is only the beginning of a discussion that is planned over the next month both here and at AudioGals. We’ll be looking for constructive ways to deal with this issue. Again, thanks for dropping by.

  13. Xe Sands says:

    Just an FYI that this column has spawned an interesting discussion over on Twitter. No hashtag, but participating tweeters include:

    @guildedearlobe (Bob Reiss – Hi Bob!)
    @dogearedcopy
    @MissSusie66
    @xesands
    @johnnyheller
    @ChrisBarnesVA

  14. Eliza says:

    Personal preferences aside for the moment, audio books are already one (interpretive) step away from a written book even with talented narrators, so weak or poor narrators really are a problem for the form. Thanks for this timely column!

  15. acm says:

    Is there a big demand for audio books, but not enough experienced readers to go around?

    I think this is true, although less so for the best-known authors, who almost certainly have their pick of narrators.

    Two thoughts:

    1) I’m not sure it’s “training” — in addition to personal preference, there are just highly trained performers who don’t read books well, and/or who aren’t right for a particular book (but the production company can’t tell or doesn’t care). There are plenty of well-regarded narrators who do such voiceover-ish stuff with narration that I can’t listen to them, and I’m sure they’ve had plenty of direction…

    2) I’m surprised that you get caught off-guard by these things. Don’t you listen to the excerpts on Audible’s pages? I find I can almost immediately tell whether that’s going to be a person I can stand to spend time with (although obviously it won’t help with the case of a single character whose voice or accent bothered you). I would think an experienced listener would always filter by listening…

    • I agree with acm regarding buyers who do not bother to listen to the excerpts on Audible. As a narrator who started volunteering with LibriVox in 2007, then joined Iambik Audiobooks in 2010 and now also records for ACX, I have encountered buyers who have left reviews that made it obvious that they never listened to the excerpt. On Iambik.com, we actually have the entire first chapter available for listening. I realize that this still can not possibly address all of the characters and accents in the text but it certainly gives the listener a ‘taste’ of the narrator.

      Also, although many listeners may not realize it, most of the time narrators must audition for a book. In my experience, the person who makes the decision regarding the narrator is almost always the author. I had a listener leave a scathing review of how ‘monotone’ and unemotional my narration of a book was. What they did not realize was that that was exactly what the author requested for this character (the book was written in the first person). In other words, following the author’s instructions was what got me the job over 4 other narrators.

      Unfortunately there is a practice among some writers of paying people to register at Audible and rate their books with 5 stars and/or rate the book(s) of another writer that they may consider a rival with all 1 star reviews. Both practices are deceitful but a book marked with all ’1′ star reviews and no explanation can be devastating for potential sales of a book. Particularly when the ’1′ stars show up so quickly after a book has been listed for sale.

      I do think that we all have our preferences when it comes to narrators we enjoy and those we simply can’t stand to hear. Sometimes it may be that that narrator was simply a poor choice for that particular book. I also agree that there are many untrained narrators who manage to have their recordings published and, conversely, there are well-known professional actors who make terrible narrators.

      In one respect I know that I differ with many audiobook listeners. No matter how much I love the narrator, if the book is poorly written, it doesn’t work for me. I often see posts on Goodreads where people will continue listening to a book they don’t like just because they like the narrator. I guess for me, the book/writing/story is still the most important component.

      I think this is a great discussion and I plan to follow it closely.

      • Lea Hensley says:

        I have talked with a good number of authors who had no say in the choice of narrator for their books. It is a common complaint.

        • I wonder if that’s because they are no longer the rights holder? I know that’s not unusual.

        • Kaetrin says:

          Me too Lea. Many authors don’t have any say – the publisher sells the rights and the audiobook producer chooses the narrator. Happily, it often works out well, but not always.

          • I feel badly for the authors when this happens. At Iambik and for most of the ACX books I’ve recorded, the authors have owned the rights so I’ve dealt directly with them (the authors). Perhaps because Iambik deals almost exclusively with small indie publishers the writers have retained the rights to their work as opposed to authors with the power-house publishers.

            • Melinda says:

              However, I wonder if authors in general have the necessary skills to audition and choose a narrator. It’s a completely different skill set from writing a book. It’s sorta like assuming an author would know the best cover for the book. Sure, it’s ok for an author to choose his own cover but does that mean he should? Or should he leave it up to someone whose talent/skill lies in knowing what sort of graphic will best sell/represent a book? Just thinking out loud, as it were. Perhaps it takes a village to bring a story to audio.

            • Melinda: However, I wonder if authors in general have the necessary skills to audition and choose a narrator. It’s a completely different skill set from writing a book. It’s sorta like assuming an author would know the best cover for the book. Sure, it’s ok for an author to choose his own cover but does that mean he should? Or should he leave it up to someone whose talent/skill lies in knowing what sort of graphic will best sell/represent a book? Just thinking out loud, as it were. Perhaps it takes a village to bring a story to audio.

              Ah, but this brings us in a circle back to the authors who have signed away their rights and are upset with the narration of their book. I think you make some very good points but this is a bit of a Catch-22.

            • Melinda says:

              @LAH: Except that we are now getting away from Lea’s original point when you classify it as a catch-22. It isn’t about authors liking a narrator – it’s listeners who suffer ill-chosen narrators. The circle started with Lea as listener. You introduced into this discussion the concept that the author chooses the narrator, which is your experience as narrator. Lea replied that it is not the experience she has heard from romance authors who have commented in this column in the past. But all that aside, the bottom line is, when a narrator is chosen – shall I say “if” – by anyone who either doesn’t have the skills to do so or chooses based solely on any criteria other than narrator skill (for instance, cuz they’ll do it cheap or cuz they are the chooser’s nephew), we the listeners suffer when that crapshoot doesn’t pan out. I think Lea’s point is, untrained/undirected/unskilled narrators are being unleashed upon us in unheard of numbers and we’re mad and we’re not gonna take it anymore. We = the consumer, not the author. In the long run, we are the ones paying the bill. And the price.

              Or something like that anyway. :) Lea? Am I saying it right?

          • Lea Hensley says:

            Melinda said “I think Lea’s point is, untrained/undirected/unskilled narrators are being unleashed upon us in unheard of numbers and we’re mad and we’re not gonna take it anymore. We = the consumer, not the author. In the long run, we are the ones paying the bill. And the price.”

            You have it right Melinda.

    • Melinda says:

      I’m pretty sure you don’t mean it this way, but your second point comes across to me as blaming the listener for a bad narration, as though she could tell before buying that it would be bad and therefore has only herself to blame for buying it and therefore should not post a review saying she didn’t like the narrator, whose skill she should have known in advance would not please her, if only she had taken 3 minutes to listen to a sample. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a person to expect a good narration of a book being sold on Audible and perhaps buy a book on audible assuming the narration will be good without even listening to the sample. I mean, good for anyone that 3 minutes of a book can tell them whether or not they will like it. I like to give a book a little more time. (But then it only took me 10 minutes to DNF one yesterday). And yeah, it doesn’t help much if the sample doesn’t give you all the characters. Which it rarely does.

      Not that you meant it that way, of course. I’m just saying.

      • You’re correct, Melinda. I did not mean it that way. I was actually referring to not once but twice where listeners left comments beginning with “had i known…” before buying the book, they would not have purchased it. One of them was referring to the fact that I did not use a Scottish accent for the book. The listener would have known this immediately if she/he had listened to the 5 minute excerpt which included dialogue from the 2 main characters. (Interestingly, the author, who is Scottish, liked and chose me as narrator and had no problem with my not attempting a Scottish accent.)

        I’ve always liked that Iambik provides the entire first chapter for listeners to hear before deciding to purchase. No, you still won’t hear every character in the book, etc., but you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re buying than a 5 minute sample. Audible only allows a maximum of 5 minutes (or less) for sample excerpts. Because of this, I don’t always give a sample from the very beginning of the book. I try to include a section with at least some dialogue in it and I try to use every second of the allotted 5 minutes.

        • Melinda says:

          Actually I was referring to the other commenter “acm”.

        • Lea Hensley says:

          Lee Ann – Looking back, I believe Melinda’s first post was referring to acm’s #2 observation:

          2) I’m surprised that you get caught off-guard by these things. Don’t you listen to the excerpts on Audible’s pages? I find I can almost immediately tell whether that’s going to be a person I can stand to spend time with (although obviously it won’t help with the case of a single character whose voice or accent bothered you). I would think an experienced listener would always filter by listening…

          Just trying to keep others from being confused. :)

      • acm says:

        I don’t blame the listener for the fact that a narration was recorded doesn’t match his or her preferences (since a rating of “good/bad” varies so much between listeners), but if you’re so outraged by the sound of things that you’re considering a return, it’s possible that a minute of listening would have saved you the trouble and the blood-pressure boost — that is, I”m sorry that your favorite book wasn’t also recorded by your favorite narrator, but maybe you just shouldn’t buy that one.

        Some of the top talent in the field have styles (or direction or production) that I cannot stand, and there’s no way I would buy a book, from however trustworthy a source, without a quick audio-scan to be sure that I’m not getting one like that. Holding Audible responsible for not matching your outlines of proper narration/direction on every book is like blaming a bricks-and-mortar bookstore for carrying popcorn novels as well as Austen and Eliot. Tastes vary, and they aren’t going to disregard segments of the market who are more tolerant to variety than the top percentage of avid listeners might be.

        • Carrie says:

          acm–this doesn’t fly. Sorry. I’ve listened to 4min and 8 min excerpts from books and unless the problem with the narration lies in the narrators voice itself (as opposed to how he/she voices the characters), I can’t always tell how well the finished product is going to work for me. I *always* listen to the samples. Always. And I can and have nixed books because the narration doesn’t work for me. Some of these things are definitely personal preferences. There are popular narrators I avoid simply because I don’t care for their voice or their style. It’s not their talent. I don’t like sweet potatoes no matter how they’re fixed or how good for you or how much my husband loves them. Personal tastes are always a factor. But if the narration fails due to skill–the narrator shows little emotion, can’t read a love scene, can’t voice men (or women), isn’t able to evoke a sense of time or place, or all their characters sound the same–then we have a right to vote with our money. That includes telling Audible they aren’t helping anyone by grabbing untrained readers and then giving those readers no support or guidance.

          It isn’t reasonable (and in fact is a little insulting) for you to assume we’re complaining simply because we didn’t get what we wanted for a few of our favorite books. Or that we expect our individual tastes to be met every time. It won’t be, as I’ve said, because of preferences. A narrator choice that thrills Lea or Melinda may fall flat for me. I accept that with good grace. BUT, when the consensus is that a narrator is totally inappropriate for the book we can and should hold the publishers responsible.

          • acm says:

            You do realize that the person to whom I’m replying wrote “I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a person to expect a good narration of a book being sold on Audible and perhaps buy a book on audible assuming the narration will be good without even listening to the sample.” That’s a pretty different complaint that yours, and it’s the one I was addressing.

            Of course we all mourn terrible matches between narrator and text. But all artistic endeavors are inherently subjective (and also, sadly, inherently economically influenced), and the criteria of the rights-holders may not match our own. Fine to hold the publishers to account for their choices, but I’m not sure Audible is to blame for all results.

            • Melinda says:

              Maybe it’s different in your mind, but I think Carrie and I are saying the same thing: listening to the sample doesn’t guarantee anything, and we the listeners can and do expect quality, not untrained / unskilled so publishers can turn out schlock. The sample doesn’t always give you the whole picture, literally and figuratively. I’m saying, don’t blame the LISTENER for a poor choice in narrator, and heck yeah, we can and will complain. Whether or not we study the sample. I don’t know if you saw that some of us not only listen to the sample for the book, but to several samples if available by the same narrator, as well as googling their work in other websites.

  16. Lea Hensley says:

    It’s not getting caught off guard as much as having a poor narrator for a book you would have listened to with a better narrator.

    Audible samples are not reliable. Many do not contain the hero’s voice – a very important aspect for a romance listener. Or you may not pick up certain irritating aspects of the narration in a three minute sample.

    • Angie says:

      I agree with you. I have never purchased an audible book without listening to the sample first, usually several times, unless it is a narrator that I’ve already come to enjoy, but I’ve wound up listening to many books that were poorly narrated.

    • Xe Sands says:

      Agreed, Lea. The way that samples are chosen by publishers often baffles me. They are so rarely representative of the book or the narration as a whole, and also often don’t even feature a very entertaining scene.

      • Kaetrin says:

        mostly at Audible they are the first lines of the book. Very often only one of the MC’s speaks. If the MC voices are wrong, the listen will be very disappointing.

  17. Kaetrin says:

    @Carrie – Yes with the laughing. My pet peeve too! :)

    • Melinda says:

      Yes, this! I’m now enjoying Ms Durante’s narration of Hard and Fast, next in the series, and that vocalizing the nonverbal cue thing is bumming me out. I felt the same way about FOS too. Other than this hiccup (oh, wait, did she hiccup? No, j/k), I’m enjoying her narration skills. But this is a personal preference type thing, I guess – I would not put her in the Untrained or Unskilled list.

      However, I would say, “just read the words please and skip the addition of the extraneous sounds” if Durante asked.

      • Kaetrin says:

        Oh Emily Durante is definitely in the “skilled” category. I was referring to Carrie’s review only not the topic of Lea’s blog :)

        But, yes, I would say the same thing, if she were to ask me.

        (Phil Gigante does it too in Iced and it grates. I know that Lea isn’t bothered by it, but you, me and Carrie aren’t fans of the extraneous sounds.)

  18. Kaetrin says:

    I just finished listening to Bella Andre’s The Look of Love. I *believe* it was a self published audiobook and the narrator is Eva Kaminski. (Who is TOTALLY Sophie Eastlake/Julia Whelan). This is an example of audiobook self publishing (if I’m right and it is actually self published of course) which works. Eva/Sophie/Julia is a great narrator.

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  20. Brenda says:

    K – I was waiting for you to say this the narrator is Eva Kaminski. (Who is TOTALLY Sophie Eastlake/Julia Whelan). to reconfirm my opinion. :) I had emailed Melinda and Lea about her and a couple of others where I’m hearing a narrator I know by a different name. It actually detracts from my listening as I’m trying so hard to place the voice that I have to back up and catch the story after my “ah ha” moment.

    The judicious use of extraneous sounds works for me – most recently a re-listen of Linda Howard’s Kill and Tell where Natalie Ross strikes a perfect balance for my ears.

    On to the main topic – with my main comment being Amen – please use trained narrators – especially with popular authors with books and series of books that have been highly anticipated!

    I’m listening to the third book in a series by a popular author. This listen is much better than her performance in the last book in several ways, I can tell the narrator has skill and she will end up doing well in the future but honing her craft with books I’ve been anticipating = bummer.

    She has the heroines pegged but needs to differentiate her male characters within the same story. Having the conversations bleed in and out of the general narration makes for hard listening. These books are rich with inferred accents – she tried in the last book with the only positive being it helped define when the male characters were speaking – so I’ll admit no accents in this second book are better but now I can’t keep track of the conversations – much less the hero unless I try really hard. I’d be lost if I hadn’t read the books before.

    This is only one example but it highlights the frustrations…

  21. Brenda says:

    This is a quote from a review at Audible that I came across after my disappointment in the same audiobook – I’ve felt the same several times and it fits this discussion.

    After outlining the narrators lack of ability the reviewer followed with this paragraph:

    “… I do not think the narrator is completely to blame. At some point the director or producer should have called attention to these basic errors and fixed them. I find it hard to believe that no one at all from recording to finished product addressed this. This holds true for the other (insert authors name) audio books as well. It is an injustice to an author who has given us tremendously great books to savage her audio books in such a manner and it is an insult to the listener.”

    • Xe Sands says:

      On this specific point: often these days, narrators are working completely solo, and submitting their finished recording to the publisher for proofing and post-production. But with the tight deadlines, publisher are unlikely to request re-recording of anything but misreads and mispronunciations. They may, however, refrain from casting that narrator in the future if the accents were atrocious or the characterizations were subpar.

      The point being that frequently, there is no one in the booth with the narrator during the part of the process when the issues everyone is mentioning could be corrected. To me, this is why coaching and ongoing professional development is critical, because it’s hard to be able to narrate smoothly, be able to engage listeners effectively sans direction right out of the gate, so to speak.

      • melinda says:

        Perhaps a revisit of the business model is in order, then. It’s not unreasonable for listeners to expect the best quality narration possible, and I wonder why publishers think flooding the market (*coughmaybeIexaggeratecough*) with inexperienced newbies is a good business tactic when it seems more likely to bite them in the butt in the long run and make listeners, “experienced” or not, revolt.

        Oh, who am I kidding? Like water, mediocrity will find its level and we will continue to get bad narrations and continue to kvetch about it. Maybe, just maybe, we can get romance publishers to take note and at least stop one or two of these “what were they thinking?” narrations from getting to market?? Maybe a campaign of Audible returns will affect the pocketbook enough to make a difference. Like that guy throwing a starfish at a time back into the ocean – “I helped this one.”

        • Brenda says:

          Your right Melinda – the pocketbook will ultimately be what speaks so I hope those that are dissatisfied will return audiobooks and that Audible continues to hold that door open.

          I fully admit that you can’t please everyone, we each have our pet peeves, favorite techniques or preferred voice qualities when it comes to narration but in the end the cream will rise to the top if we put forth the effort to be heard.

          Knowing I can return an audiobook I’m not happy with has opened my willingness to experiment with the unknown – if that door closes I still have a long list of reliable narrators that I trust for future listens and a large library of favorites to re listen to. ;)

        • Carrie says:

          melinda said–Like that guy throwing a starfish at a time back into the ocean – “I helped this one.”

          Or you could actually increase the population by cutting the starfish into pieces. As long as you get part of the nerve ring in each piece it will grow the missing parts.

          I know….totally off topic. But every once in a while the inner science nerd sneaks out to play before I can stop it.

        • acm says:

          I was thinking about this discussion over the weekend, and I realized that there’s a certain wistful hopefulness to a lot of this. Back “in the day,” authors worked with editors to reshape and finalize their books, improving their craft along the way. These days, authors are lucky if their books get the attention of a competent copyeditor, let alone any more substantive guidance.

          I think that audiobook publishing is in the same boat. There are many many books being recorded — both back-catalog and new works — and only a fraction of them are going to be huge sellers. Thus, the ability to find a talented voice actor and have him/her work with a director and labor for months to polish the perfect performance (let alone achieve the virtuosity of, say, Jim Dale in the Harry Potter series) exists only for the biggest titles/franchises; even then, the CD market is still more lucrative than the MP3 product.

          Most books are being narrated by regular voiceover artists (who do audiobooks only part-time) or a smattering of other established or aspiring narrators, often out of their own/home studios, and even the most professional of those are working with minimal resources at hand. I just don’t think that that’s going to change, any more than loving editorial guidance is going to become the norm in publishing again.

          Maybe that’s really sad, because we all wish that Scott Brick did every action book ever (or whatever), or maybe it’s really great because some talented people will get into the business who never could have made it over the barriers of access and connection before. But I don’t think there’s any going back. The phrase in your post “the best quality narration possible” is part of the key to why this might be — what’s possible is determined by a mix of artistic and economic forces, and not in the listeners’ control.

          • Melinda says:

            Considering 1 – there are so many talented voice-over artists and 2 – many of them have already recorded in the romance genre and 3 – many of romances top authors have been blessed to have these talented artists record their works, I see no reason for the hapless reader to just lie back and think of England when publishers decide to use lesser talent. All the sample listening in in the world doesn’t change the fact that we the listeners deserve better. Thanks for your advice. Listeners, got that? This poster suggests we listen to the sample and just skip the book if you don’t like it. And get over it, because in the scheme of things, we aren’t gonna get what we want when publishers are busy churning out as many audios as possible.

            Oh wait, that was the point: publishers need to hear from us that model doesn’t work.

            “Wistful hopefulness” plans to be a little more vocal. *sigh*

            • acm says:

              Jeez, I seem to have become the target of all the discontent here, when in fact I completely sympathize with it. Just thinking aloud here!

              I wish there were more editors actually working with authors, and I wish that all books got the right narrators under the best conditions. I honestly dont’ know how to make that come about when books sell for $5 for Kindle and another $1 or 2 for the WhisperSinc option.

          • Lea Hensley says:

            I’m unsure you are saying what I think you are here acm:

            “I think that audiobook publishing is in the same boat. There are many many books being recorded — both back-catalog and new works — and only a fraction of them are going to be huge sellers. Thus, the ability to find a talented voice actor and have him/her work with a director and labor for months to polish the perfect performance”

            First – are you implying that there are so many books being made into audiobooks that it’s okay if they are narrated poorly? I guess that could be someone’s model for success but it won’t be one I’ll support. Provide low quality narrations on those many books that won’t be big sellers and I won’t be looking at your listings at all. Too big of a chance for failure – even after listening to the Audible sound sample and exploring the narrator’s sound samples of other works. I, like others have expressed here, pay a lot of attention to that sound sample but also know it is no guarantee.

            Second – referring to “find a talented voice actor and have him/her work with a director and labor for months to polish the perfect performance” – it’s my understanding that it takes a trained narrator only a few days to record an average length audiobook and possibly – at most – a few more to prepare for it. Do you know narrators/publishers that take months to perfect an audiobook?

            • acm says:

              “are you implying that there are so many books being made into audiobooks that it’s okay if they are narrated poorly?”

              no! but where is the money for paying professional talent when a book might only sell 200 audiobook copies? that makes many of them into money-losers for publishers if they pay going rates.

              so, I guess that the question that readers/listeners have to consider, at least, is whether we’re willing to “pay the price” of an imperfect narration in order to have access to a wider range of books in audio format. maybe the answer is no, and only top-selling books should be recorded (a perfectly fine judgement to make), or maybe the answer is yes for some, and it’s ok to have novices in the field (as long as other readers can sidestep them). I’m not sure there’s an objective right answer.

              “Do you know narrators/publishers that take months to perfect an audiobook?”

              If somebody is working with a dialect coach before they can start recording a particular character (as mentioned above), then they’re not whipping out their recording in a few days! That’s in addition to prepping the script,which can take a lot of time if there are a ton of voices to juggle/differentiate. And even the quick records involve somebody’s spending 5-10 times as many hours editing and polishing the final product (even before some fancy productions add music and sound effects). So it depends on what final outcome is desired and what the talent and producers bring to the table. I’ll bet that the firt Harry Potter book wasn’t recorded and produced in a week.

      • Brenda says:

        I should have clarified my quote of the above review Xe – I know the whys to the first part of her comments but agree with the “injustice” done to author and listener when the lack of quality control by a publisher is so evident…

        Very few listeners realize there is a fabulous community of fellow listeners, narrators and authors like we have here thus they have no idea of the true process behind an audiobook. The lone narrators, the quickness of the turn around etc.

        They are under the impression that the same effort went into publishing an audiobook as has been put into print books with the final product having passed through many hands before being put on the market.

        We may know that has changed and that we as consumers have to tread carefully whether buying self published ebooks or new to us / possibly untrained narrators – but I can still feel the frustration of those that are bewildered and insulted after a bad experience.

        • Xe Sands says:

          Oh I completely agree, Brenda! I still think it’s a travesty when this happens. Just letting folks know a little of the process behind it. I didn’t mean to sound contradictory.

          I feel that listeners frustration as well, as both a listener and a narrator. It can be very frustrating to witness casting decisions that are mystifying, when we know there are many, more adept narrators who could do the project justice (not referring to me -LOL! Just a general comment). I do think there is a different emphasis put on simultaneous audio release of new books vs. audio production of backlist titles. But that listeners are beginning to take notice and speak up about the importance of maintaining quality for ALL audio productions is heartening.

          Thank you.

          • Brenda says:

            I knew what you meant Xe, I was re-emphasizing your point in my own way. :)

            The fact that so many don’t know the process behind current audiobook production adds to their frustration which is why I’m grateful to be a part of this audiobook community!

            Knowledge helps smooth the edges of disappointment while educating us so we can make good listening choices in the future.

            If a casting job for romance audiobooks opens up let the gal’s here know … Lea, Melinda, Carrie, Kaetrin and I may have to duke it out over a few choices but we’d score more times than not. LOL … joking but it would be fun. :)

      • Kaetrin says:

        @Brenda somewhere upthread you mentioned the process you go to before buying an audiobook with a new-to-you narrator. I got exhausted just reading it – your time management skills are clearly much better than mine are! I tend to listen to the samples and *maybe* see what else the person has narrated but that’s about it. Possibly that’s why I get more duds than you do though! LOL.

        • Brenda says:

          LOL K – Yes but I fall behind at Twitter for days on end and I’m never truly caught up online – our time management skills all work differently that’s for sure!

          Ensuring a good listen is high on my list yet I still do the impulse buy because I loved a book or see a bargain and get burned. :)

    • Lea Hensley says:

      What a thought – the author’s reaction to their poorly performed books. It brings to mind a number of authors who have hardened themselves to audio versions of their books. It’s one thing simply not care to hear your book out loud. It’s another to listen and be completely disappointed with what they hear. From what I hear week in and week out from authors, the majority do not own the digital rights to their books (especially if we are talking about their backlists) and have no say in the choice of narrator. But as Melinda pointed out earlier, does the author understand the narrating process well enough to choose? Probably not but at least they could nix one who completely misperforms their words.

  22. Beth Harrelson says:

    I want to thank you for expressing my feelings so succinctly in this article. I listen to audio books 4 hours 6 days a week. I spend a lot of money on them. I want to enjoy the experience.

  23. Bob says:

    Here a sort of off topic question:

    How much do you think genre affects narration preference?

    Personally, I really enjoy quirky, off beat narration. I even do mind a few idiosyncratic pronunciations and cadence. One of my major complaints when I review an audiobook, is that I don’t want the character to sound like a professional voice artist. I don’t want a quirky, gruff New Englander to sound like the dude from Movie Phone. Yet, I listen to a lot of horror, scifi/fantasy and thriller noir. I think those genres require a bit more grit. With Romance, I wonder if more of a traditional silky smooth narration style suits the genre better, along with a sort of breathy sultriness that fits the genre but would seem strange in a character fighting zombies, or battling strange creatures on far away lands.

    As far as accents go, I have had this discussion with narrators before. I prefer that a narrator capture the flavor of a novel. This isn’t just about an appropriate accent, about the style and rhythms of talking. I think some of the bigger studios are afraid to take risks. Recently I listened to an audiobook which took place in during a zombie apocalypse in Spain with a Spanish main character, but the narrator, one who I respect and I believe could have pulled off a decent accent, read it as if he was Joe from down the block, Middle America. I personally believe this was a studio decision, where the producers thought that Zombie fans wouldn’t want to listen to a foreign sounding narration. Even if the narrator couldn’t pull it off, this company had plenty of narrators that could. I understand that no accent is better than a bad accent, but to me, this only works if that narrator was your only option.

    I may add some thoughts on indy audiobook productions later, because it’s something that interests me, but now I must finish vacuuming and listen to my book. Which quite good and well narrated.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Great discussion material Bob!

      I’m going to take a minute to respond to a portion of your post. I’ll be back for more later.

      “With Romance, I wonder if more of a traditional silky smooth narration style suits the genre better, along with a sort of breathy sultriness that fits the genre but would seem strange in a character fighting zombies, or battling strange creatures on far away lands.”

      Romance is packed with sub-genres. Yes, some romances do require the silky smooth narration style you mention but I think more do not. Romance is misunderstood by the outside world – I’m not saying you are misunderstanding romance – just that most non-romance readers think it is one thing when it largely is another. Leave those pre-conceived notions of romance behind – most of which originated in the 1980s. Romance has evolved into much, much more.

      The romance genre is full of paranormal and fantasy titles that line up with those outside of the genre when it comes to narration style. A smooth sounding narrator would not fit all those battles where the main characters are fighting strange creatures or saving the world from extinction. Romantic suspense is another large sub-genre requiring fighting the dirty drug lords, soldiers fighting side-by-side, special ops, and undercover cops facing the worst of criminals. It is not unusual for the hero to be an assassin – a real assassin – no act. Some romances are laugh-out-loud funny requiring a comical delivery – no smoothness required or wanted.

      One thing that may separate romance from other genres when it comes to audio format is the emotion. Although the settings in a romance are extremely varied (hey – there are even zombie romances), the narrator at some point will be required to utter some sort of words of love. It may not be until the last chapter. Those words may be no more than “Yeah” in agreement of love (from a macho hero) but there will be a time that emotion will be a part of the delivery.

      Romance is not all hearts and flowers and cliched settings although the genre does contain those. Nor is it all about sex. Yes, there are sexual scenes in many of today’s romances running from a kiss to all out getting it on.

      I tend to stick to the grittier romances (and gritty is big in romance) – I want imperfect heroes and heroines and I don’t want easy “happy ever afters.”

      Violence is another aspect of romance listening. Many romances contain highly violent scenes that may be quite graphic while others may contain fighting or domestic violence. Violence is such an issue that we have violence ratings over at AudioGals for our reviews.

      With all this variety, narrations must come in all styles as well.

      I look forward to discussing this further!

    • Brenda says:

      Bob we need some sound clips don’t we? What better way could there be to demonstrate listening tastes? I’ve listened to a wide variety of genres though no Zombie’s yet ;) and there are those in our Goodreads group who listen to a far broader range than I. Yet we all share favorite narrators and require the same abilities regardless of the genre.

      A good narrator is just that, a good narrator no matter what project is set before him or her – skillfully bringing a story to life is an art no matter the books content. I’d lay odds that we’ve listened to some of the same narrators and may even have some favorites in common though you’re not into romance and I’m not into apocalypses.

      High praise in any of our reviews is to say the narrator faded into the background leaving only the characters and the story. If we wanted “a traditional silky smooth narration style” then every book would sound the same and as Lea pointed out the variety of sub genres that come under the Romance heading would never allow for that. Not to mention it would be boring as all get out!

      A few of the non romance books I’ve listened to and consider favorites because the narrator does an outstanding job with an excellent story:

      Grover Gardner with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honor, Barrayar
      and The Warrior’s Apprentice and other Miles Vorkosigen titles.

      Loyd James with Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion

      Phil Gigante with the Stainless Steel Rat series

      Bernadette Dunn with Bujold’s Sharing Knife series

      John Curless with some early Louie Lamor Westerns

      Lorelie King with Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series

      Renee Raudman with Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels

      My minds now drawing a blank … but I can say my standards don’t change with what I listen to. I want to know who is speaking thus defined voices, I want the punctuation acknowledged, I want the pace to be concurrent with what is happening in the story at the time. If something is scary, tense, dangerous or emotional I want to hear it and feel it … and your Zombie book set in Spain should – without a doubt – have had Spanish accents! :D

      • Bob says:

        I find this interesting because my experience with romance is quite limited. I used to “borrow” my sister’s Danielle Steele and VC Andrews novels when I was a teenager. With audiobooks, I’ve listened to two novels that could be categorized as Paranormal Romance, one for last years Armchair Audies and one I just though sounded interesting. Why I wondered about it was there are a few narrators who I really like, like Xe and Loralie King, who rarely narrate books I’m interested in, but I constantly look for just in case. My favorite male narrators that I gravitate to are Phil Gigante, Oliver Wyman and MacLeaod Andrews because of their ability to capture the flavor of a novel, and not just read everything with the same narrative voice.

        The way I read it, is it typically comes down to the characters. A narrator who can truly understand a character, and who can bring about a realistic portrayal of them, while still delivering the feel of the setting whether it be Akron Ohio of the moons of Jupiter. These seem to be constants no matter what genre.

        I wonder if it’s just a matter of some narrators being typecast. There is one narrator who I actually find reads a lot of the books I like, and she’s quite popular, but she reads each character with the exact same voice, no matter what race, species or ethnicity, and it drives me crazy. I’d much rather have a narrator who feels a little more raw and real than one who has a good voice but lacks the ability to manipulate it based on character.

        I’m sure, with the Audies coming up, and me taking on the Paranormal category again (along with Science Fiction and Fantasy), I will probably have some more romance titles to take on. I’ll admit though that I’m hoping that none of them are colored in 50 Shades.

  24. Lea Hensley says:

    Oh Bob! We’ve come so far from Danielle Steele and VC Andrews. And please don’t color the romance genre with Fifty Shades of Grey!

    I’m looking at some other narrators who narrate some terrific romances that aren’t your usual romances:
    Sandra Brown – Victor Slezak – he has narrated around 9 I believe – Smash Cut and Envy being two of my favorites.
    Phil Gigante – Karen Marie Moning’s Shadowfever along with Natalie Ross
    Tavia Gilbert – Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series
    Davina Porter – Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series

    We need to talk more – compare notes – maybe formally!

    • Brenda says:

      Well Lea you and Bob have already found the common ground needed to continue a discussion – your both (me too) huge Phil Gigante fans! :)

      Proof that a narrator brings his or her skills to the table no matter the genre…

      And I’ll add that Danielle Steele and VC Andrews fall into the “Women’s Fiction” category for me – not romance.

    • Renee says:

      I agree with you, Lea. Bob, I think you would really enjoy Victor Slezak. He is excellent.

    • Carrie says:

      Bob–I highly recommend Envy by Sandra Brown, narrated by Viktor Slezak. It’s a well crafted mystery, one of the best I’ve ever read, and mysteries are what I mainly read for 3 decades. I gave the audiobook to my husband and he thought it was fabulous, too. We spent one Saturday lunch date talking just about that book!

      I also second recommendations for Grover Gardner narrating the Vorkosigan books (science fiction by Bujold) and Lloyd James on Curse of Chalion (fantasy by Bujold).

  25. Corie says:

    I’m disappointed to know they changed narrator for Riveted by Meljean Brook. I really love Faye Adele’s voice and narration from the first two Iron Seas novel. I don’t think I’ll be listening to Riveted. But like the review, will still read it in print.

  26. Diana says:

    Bob’s comments raise a good point with respect to the unique nature of Romance. We’ve always known that romance readers are misunderstood to say the least, but to think that Steele, long-dead VC Andrews, and whipping girl Fifty Shades are thought to fully represent the genre is still a bit of an unpleasant surprise. (No disrespect meant to Bob with his typical I’m-a-guy comments. We hear this from the men in our lives all the time. :-)) With romance novels bringing in annual sales of a billion $$ plus, it’s no surprise to see audio producers and vendors eagerly jumping in. It’s the perfect time to call attention to the need to Get It Right. Publishing houses have always had editors and publicists who understand the genre dedicated exclusively to Romance. Time for audio producers to step up to the plate. We are not so desperate that we’ll accept unworthy versions of beloved books.
    Lisa Kleypas, beloved author and perennial best seller, was the victim of an audio crime in 2012. Dream Lake, the highly anticipated third book in her bestselling Friday Harbor series, was inexplicably narrated by a man who blew it big time. We can’t say Jeff Cummings is untrained or inexperienced (27 books listed at Audible), but we can certainly say he’s untrained and obviously lacking the unique skill set necessary for bringing home a romance. My review and others lamenting his performance remain at the top with the “most helpful” votes but I wonder if anyone at Audible noticed since it’s been featured in the romance page banner ad for over six months. Mr Cummings pretty much committed all seven of the deadly sins for clueless-man-reading-romance and it broke my heart. The sample did not give me enough to judge–if I had heard his heroine voice I would have run far, far away. Where was a producer or director to help him out?
    Lea, so glad that you took my recommendation to heart and listened to Victor Slezak’s iconic performances of Sandra Brown’s work, Envy in particular. The Brown/Slezak collaboration represents the very best in romantic suspense and it’s been my favorite for a long time.
    Kaetrin, has it been confirmed that Eva Kaminsky is Sophie/Julia? I just listened to all of her samples and I’m not hearing it. Curious to know.

    • Kaetrin says:

      @Diana – no official confirmation that she is Sophie is Julia or Eva but Ludilup believes Sophie is Julia and Brenda and I think all three are the same. I enjoy the narration so it’s not a criticism. They sound exactly the same to me!

      • Angie says:

        Not sure if Julia is Sophie, but she’s not Eva. Here’s a bio and pic of Julia – http://www.tantor.com/NarratorDetail.asp?Narrator=Whelan_J and here’s the website for Eva – http://www.evakaminsky.com/index/Home.html

        Tantor has two separate pages for Julia and Sophie with no picture of Sophie.

        • Diana says:

          Thanks for the links. I do think Julia Whelan and Sophie Eastlake are one and the same but I don’t hear the Eva Kaminsky similarity.

          • Kaetrin says:

            Maybe they’re not the same person but they sound the same to me. Maybe they’re sisters! LOL. I’m pretty certain Julia and Sophie are the same person.

            In the end, it doesn’t really matter, either way, I like the narration of all three ladies.

            • Brenda says:

              I would have lost money on this one! Even with listening past the samples – sisters or the same voice coach? Regardless – like K – I enjoy them all. :)

              Thanks for the research Angie – hair dye and contacts maybe? :D joking…

            • Angie says:

              Brenda: Angie

              I just love Julia Whelan. She has quickly become one of my favorite narrators, and I didn’t realize that she had such a long list of acting credits on IMDB. No wonder she’s so good.

              I haven’t listened to one of Eva’s narrations yet, but I plan on giving her a try.

              I started Dragon Bound too, last year, but couldn’t get into the story at the time. I’ve moved it back up near the top of my TBL list again though.

    • melinda says:

      Diana, I love this: “Lisa Kleypas, beloved author and perennial best seller, was the victim of an audio crime in 2012.” <–THIS!

      I had to go back to my review of Dream Lake to refresh my memory. I said, in reference to one of his characters, "Luckily, Sam is only the hero’s brother, so having Sam sound like a chipmunk wasn’t as bad as it might seem." Sam wasn't the only character he massacred, though.

      And you are right – the narrator in this case isn't untrained or inexperienced. Just wrong. Grrrr. The buck stops with the publishers – they need to take responsibility!

      • Diana says:

        Melinda, I’m still baffled as to why why they cast a mystery/thriller narrator for Dream Lake as if there were no difference between the two genres. My takeaway after listening to his performance was that Cummings did not like what he was reading. I felt disrespected and kinda slimed.

    • Lea Hensley says:

      Diana – you led me into some of my very best listening experiences by suggesting the Brown/Slezak pairing again and again until I finally relented. :) I still think of you every time I start a Brown/Slezak audio – even if it is a relisten.

  27. MissSusie says:

    I had a book I was so looking forward to and the narrator was awful , from my review, ”This started out so slow moving or should I say the narration was so slow moving that I looked in the paper book and after 2 hours of listening I was only on page 47. I didn’t like this narrator the cadence of her voice and the slow reading was too much.” I returned this book and said what I thought of the narrator but other people gave her 5 stars but it has an average of 3 stars for narration, it is also the only book she has narrated and it’s from a big 6. I was so hoping they would pull this and re-do it with a different narrator but since other people liked it, it is not to be.

    But, is it the narrator fault that someone hired them when they either weren’t ready or don’t fit the book. Or is it up to the directors/publishers to give us (consumers) the quality that we expect.

    I also feel that recently there has been an explosion in the audiobook world, it is becoming more mainstream and “accepted” than it has been in the past and yes it seems some pubs and/or authors are trying to play catch-up but at what cost? And speaking of cost it is cheaper for them to hire an unknown than hire a “known” narrator? Is that all it is about for these publishers/producers is the bottom line? No matter the quality? If so shame on them in this emerging growth of audiobooks I do hope people complain and return and refuse to tolerate bad production/narration.

    I think the key to a “we’re not going to take it” movement is leave a review/feedback tell them exactly what it was you didn’t like about the narration, your review stays on audible even if you return a book so make sure you leave a review before you return the book. But if more people return and review what they truly thought of the narrator hopefully the publishers (Big 6, indie or audible) will listen, we are their bread and butter and if it just comes down to money well where’s the money when an audiobook is returned again and again.

    Of course you will always run into the problem of the difference in what people hear and different tastes. But I truly believe that if a narrator is just bad then taste won’t come into play.

    Thanks for this interesting conversation.

  28. [...] with just any warm body with a voice! Lea focused on this very topic at Speaking of Audiobooks: Untrained Narrators? I’m Not Interested. This sets the stage for more discussion here at AudioGals – getting better books, read by better [...]

  29. Chris Barnes says:

    In response to the whole ‘untrained narrators’ discussion. As both a narrator, and post producer of audiobooks, its up to me to ensure that both the narration is up to par, and the post production is good. End of. If A narrator can’t cut it, they are recast. If I dont feel I cant make a decent product at the end, I dont accept the work.

    A recent review of one of my releases garnered 3.5 stars, not because the narration wasn’t good, or because post production was poor. The reviewer simply didn’t like the story.

    Im untrained. But Im passionate enough about the medium to know what a good audiobook sounds like. Thats what a producer is for. A bad narrator can be improved on, without a good director/producer, the product will be poor.

    Great discussion and lots to think about!

    • Brenda says:

      Chris – This is the reason I was thrilled when Audible changed their rating system – so we can rate the story and the narrator separately. Then add an over all opinion as well.

      I always appreciate when reviewers take the time to make the distinction between the narrator and the book when they leave their feedback. I take the time to look past the overall rating to see the more detailed results.

      I have a list of narrators and authors that do no wrong in my ears and the ability to let that be known when I leave my “stars” means I leave more feedback than ever now.

      • Chris Barnes says:

        Hi Brenda,

        Until ACX launches internationally, I’m out in the cold there. But I agree it is a far better system for potential clients to pick the wheat from the chaff.

  30. D.G. says:

    How many interesting discussions!

    Going back to the business of the accents, I agree with Jeff. If a narrator cannot do an accent and that’s a big part of the main character or the place they are (they are in Scotland and there’s all sorts of mention of the accent in the text), then you should a get narrator who can do accents. Now, if it’s a minor character here and there, it’s not a big deal.

    Series like the Iron Druid Chronicles and the Immortals After Dark have dozens of characters of different nationalities and having narrators that can do a decent job with those accents adds tremendously to the richness of those narrations.

    Also the samples not always tell you if a narrator will do a good job overall. Recently I wanted to listen to a book that had two different narrations: one by a male and and one by female. As the main character is male, I was more inclined to choose the male version but listened to both samples and at the end picked the guy. After listening to an hour of the narration, I realized I had made the wrong decision because the book was set in a nursing school with 10-11 female characters and the guy made them sound ALL alike. His voice for the general narration was very great but his characterization was terrible. Luckily both books were available at my library so I was able to switch to the other easily.

  31. Kaetrin says:

    I’m still struggling a little with what an untrained/unskilled narrator is as compared to a badly matched narrator/book or one I just don’t like. Help!

    • D.G. says:

      Untrained/Unskilled narrator = Bad pacing, no differentiation between characters, garbled lines, forgets the voices of characters so at one time they sound one way and another they sound like another, doesn’t portray emotions well, etc.
      Badly matched narrator = description of the character doesn’t match the voice or the overall feeling of the book i.e. character is supposed to be a sexpot but narrator has a squeaky voice or book has magical elements but the narrator sounds like he’s narrating a hard boiled mystery.

  32. Kaetrin says:

    I will add that the discussion does sound like the one about self published books (and some trad published books too) where there are concerns about sloppy (or no) editing, typos, etc. I guess this is the audiobook equivalent? These days, anyone can publish a book and put it up for sale and the same goes for audiobooks. All the reader/listener can do is vote with their wallets. But with books, even poorly edited, typo-filled books are selling well and while that is happening, where is the motivation to change?

  33. Voxpert1 says:

    This is my first visit here, and thank you, XE, for alerting me to this great discussion. I am thrilled to find a forum for those of us who love this medium. I narrrate under the names Robin Miles (mostly African Amer writers and themes, although there are more and more mainstream titles as people “get” that I just sound American) and Violet Grey (my Romance moniker, although created before 50 Shades of that color, thank you).

    I was speech teacher (accents & Shakespeare and, of course, audiobooks) for SUNY theater conservatory a few years back, and continue to both teach and use accents extensively. More than half of my audiobook work requires one or more accents. Using accents well requires several layers of work (most employers and many actors don’t realize just how much). It is unrealistic for an engineer to be able to assist with accent consistency or authenticity, so we are on our own and have to do lots of homework before stepping into the booth. Firstly, time is always short, and actors may work on just learning accents apart from the actual story and characters. However, accents can be very seductive for an actor: you start speaking and everyone thinks “OOhh, how interesting, sexy…” whatever, but it’s just a parlour trick unless you are grounded in the identity and “who am I” of the character. The rule is: The qualities go in before the accent goes on. Otherwise, you will lose that accent as soon as the first strong emotions pop up. When the accent becomes the only goal, we all lose. Secondly, I find employers in the industry usually look for “less is more” regarding accents. They err on the side of caution because they want someone good, but can’t judge whether the actor’s (usually self-proclaimed) German or French or ____ (fill in the blank) accent is good or not. What they really mean is “we dont want to recognize you are doing an accent.” So you’ve got to be prepared to get feedback and work on it: period. Keeping it light can work if you carefully choose how you alter rhythm and what speech sounds you will consisitently use. Educational/socio-economic level gives you clues: I have done some very thick accents (Jamaican, Appalachian, German, French, Nigerian) but where it was appropriate, i.e., with more everyday, working class or country people in a story. (I read feedback that says “no trouble understanding it” and “satisfying to listen to” with few exceptions.) It is because accent skill is not just getting the sounds and rhythms fluid and right, but playing actions and emotions through those sounds and rhythms. Actors please note that every theater conservatory I know of has a speech/voice person who can help with accents; so if you get stuck, call a local school (or me: I will refer you to someone close by), go online for examples, or as I often do, call up a Consular office/church/cultural cub and have a conversation with someone to get an authentic version of whatever accent you need.
    There has been alot of discussion re: untrained narrators and what that means. I agree that much of it is subjective and narration style preferences certainly have changed over the past 15 years. As someone who trains narrators, I can say that sometimes what we perceive as “untrained” is inexperience with textual analysis. Many actors in my classes are flat and general in their reading until we break down the subtext of what is happening. A good writer knows that implication trumps explication, and will hint at, allude, imply, etc., but not say outright or explain the action and events in the text. Less experienced actors may not yet be very good at finding those nuances on their own. I train narrators and have often given newbies there first shot at a book (usually a multi-voiced book so they didnt have to carry the whole performance on their “green” shoulders), but as the director, I knew I would be there to guide. It is a whole different world now; narrators have to be more capable, experienced and confident from their first job. Employers aren’t acting teachers; they hear a good voice with a fluid read, and take a chance. It is the audition process I find that is flawed. Employers need to screen for the ability to create images, create varied and specific voices, play scenes for subtext, and accents if applicable, not just a voice that sounds right for the book. To do that, I believe they need a person with an acting or theater background (as Blackstone had with Grover Gardner). Alas, few are willing to pay for that.
    I record a 300+ page book 3-4 days, and turnaround (editng/QC) time is often just as swift. Although I like to re-record the first ten pages as soon as I get to the end, I am rarely granted that extra hour because of time constaints. As for the rare company that will invest months to produce a work of particular artistic integrity, check out Live Oak Media and a new publisher, Siman Media Works (their first aBook title, Boy of Bone, will be released this Spring or Summer as both audiobook and ebook app).

    • Kaetrin says:

      Thank you so much for stopping by and giving your insight. It is fascinating to hear about the background stuff.

      As a reader, I think you’re quite right – the character comes first, then the accent and the narrator has to understand the subtext and perform it rather than just read the words on the page. When that magic happens, it really is transformative.

  34. DonnaFaz says:

    I am so glad I googled “romance audio books” and found this blog. Thank you for the well-written article AND the lively, informative comments. I love hearing both the listeners’ and the VO actors’ sides. I’m an author who has a handful of books available in audio. I’ve made some excellent choices in narrators…and, unfortunately, some not so great choices. It’s extremely difficult to tell how the finished product will turn out even after listening to many (MANY) samples and asking for an audition. To me, story interpretation is key, and I spent lots of hours, listening, making notes, listening again, and again…doing all I could to help each VO actor portray the story as I ‘heard’ it in my head while writing the book. (When I write, I actually ‘see’ the scenes run in my head, over and over, like a movie as I scribble down everything I see and hear.) However, because each listener is bringing along her personal preferences, her life experiences, her personality, thoughts, and feelings into the fray, the listener’s interpretation could easily clash with mine.

    Someone above mentioned the money that listeners shell out for audio books, so I’d like to mention the thousands I have paid to VO actors so that my books can be heard. I, too, have made a great investment. I rejoice when a listener loves one of my sweet and fluffy romance novels, and it breaks my heart when she doesn’t enjoy the experience.

  35. [...] narrators. It was the subject of one of my recent Speaking of Audiobooks columns, Untrained Narrators? I’m Not Interested, which garnered a good deal of attention. In that piece, I basically stated my complaint – as [...]

  36. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! Found it by a retweet from @SimVan. I’ve had several sad experiences with poor narration as well (at least from my experience). Particularly with the famous World War Z audiobook. They had the author and a full cast and personally I just didn’t enjoy the narration at all. I usually don’t mind but I realized my time is better spent enjoying rather than tolerating. I do hope this conversation continues as I believe it is a very important one to keep having!!

    -Matthew