Getting Good Audiobook Projects

There are two main ways that I obtain offers to do the audiobooks I narrate. They both work through a website called the Audiobook Creation Exchange or ACX, which exists to connect book authors or publishers with narrators and vice versa. With one exception, the books I have done so far were the result of auditioning for the opportunity to produce a specific book that has caught my attention. Another of the first books I did came as the result of an author finding me using the narrator profile that I posted on ACX.

The profile is a brief presentation that summarizes my work and hosts brief audio samples of work that I believe reflects my strengths as a narrator. Some samples are from books that I have narrated that are currently for sale on Audible, and others may be excerpts from other works that show how I handle various genres.

To use the audition process I go to the ACX site and find the listing of books posted by rights holders (usually either publishers or authors) seeking narrators. At any given time, there may be hundreds of titles to select from.

For each book there is an excerpt that can be downloaded to my computer. If the script looks like something I might like to perform, I record the audition and submit it as an MP3 file to the rights holder via the ACX site. The rights holder considers all the auditions submitted and selects one narrator to do the project. An offer is made to the narrator and terms of payment are agreed upon. This is either a payment based on a rate per finished hour of the project, or, more frequently for relative newcomers like me, a share of the royalties from sales of the finished audiobook.

After doing a number of projects, I have learned to be somewhat discriminating about the projects I seek or accept. There is a plethora of self-published books out there that are sold on Amazon and some of them can be real clunkers. Too often the author skips the step of having an editor check for and correct errors. I’ve run across published books that are for sale on Amazon that include incomplete sentences, words that don’t exist, incomprehensible sentences and paragraphs, and whacko ideas from the lunatic fringe.

Facing this landscape, an experienced narrator will do a bit of investigation before auditioning for or accepting a project. There is a link on the ACX site to the Amazon listing for available projects. There you can find out more about the author, read reviews, and read a bit further into the book than might be available from a short excerpt that constitutes the audition script. You can also look up authors on their websites, find other works by the author, and determine publishing connections.

I must admit that the books I have produced have not always been literary masterpieces, and I have become a bit more discriminating about projects I’ll try for or accept. After all, my name does appear on the Amazon listing for the audiobook, and a search of my name will bring them up as books associated with me, so a bit of discrimination is warranted in this process of finding projects.

As one accumulates a body of work in audiobook narration, it becomes clearer where your strengths lie, and you can find better projects to try for in those genres. So don’t look for me in the sci-fi or romance genres. I tend toward the non-fiction, philosophy, and academic areas. Even these kinds of works can sometimes be poorly written and inappropriate, however, so caution is always a good idea before jumping headlong into a project that might be problematic in some way.

I also commit to spending many hours reading these books and then listening to what have I recorded. So if only to retain my sanity, doing a bit of research on potential projects can be a worthwhile part of this fascinating process.

Pronunciation: The Narrator’s Albatross

As an audiobook narrator you are expected to deliver a performance that is free of distracting or incorrect elements. Something as simple as a stomach rumble that is picked up by your very sensitive mic or a motorcycle passing by whose engine noise penetrates even the most carefully padded audio booth make you stop and redo the copy that was intruded upon.

That kind of thing is easily remedied, but the bugaboo of many of us who sit before the mic in the lonely booth is pronunciation. I am currently narrating a history book about the French and Indian War. In some 411 pages, the author explores the actions of the people and the impact of the policies of the French government that ultimately led to their defeat.

Here is a fairly typical passage from Chapter 2

Jean-Baptise de Machault d’Arnouville served until February 1757, when he lost the same fight with Pompadour that had toppled Argenson. He was replaced by Françios Marie Peyrenc de Moras, who was succeeded in May 1778 by Claude Louis d’Espinchal, marquis de Massac. In October of that year, Massac was replaced bu Nicholas René Berryer, who clung to power until October 1758…

I’m sure a French language scholar would breeze through that list of names and titles, but though I have a French name, I am no Maurice Chevalier when it comes to sounding like an exemplar of my heritage.

The solution is to fly to the Internet. There are numerous sites that can help, but some are limited in the range of names they will help you pronounce. YouTube can be a resource, but the selection of videos devoted to Claude-Louis d’Espinchal, marquise de Massac are far fewer in number than the numerous postings featuring cats falling into bathtubs.

One site that works well for me is How to Pronounce, which seems to recognize most anything you enter into the query box, which then takes you to several recorded audio pronunciations in nearly any language you can think of.  But for your narration do you want a French pronunciation of the name or an English pronunciation? It depends on how you want to approach the overall project. My choice is to go with an English pronunciation rather than slipping suddenly into a mellifluous rendition as a native speaker might.

Next step is to practice the pronunciation until its sounds right to your ear. Your job is to interpret the passage in a way that communicates the author’s meaning to listeners. You can’t do that if you suddenly go into a halting recitation of the name and title that just gets the job done. The pronunciation cannot be the focal point of your reading. It has to sound natural.

All this takes a great deal of time if you want to get it right. If you just guess at the pronunciations you don’t intuitively know, you are very likely to get the recording back from the publisher with a request to do them over. You don’t want to have to go back over an 18-hour recording and find and correct every mispronunciation of Machault d’Arnville everywhere it pops up in the 411 pages you just spent weeks recording.

You get better at finding and executing a credible pronunciation as you gain experience, but this is one element of audiobook narration that accounts for the fact that you’ll likely spend three hours or more for every “finished hour” you produce.