Working in Audiobooks with Rachael Beresford

Audiobook voice actor Rachael Beresford gives her insight into what it takes to succeed in this niche of the industry

The emotions and expression that you can convey with the tones and qualities and intimations of your voice are of vast importance. Audiobooks are not just mechanical readings. They are also equally not plays. The audiobook is a whole vocal production of its own.
Rachael Beresford

The first in our Open House content for April 2018, Rachael Beresford gives us this insight into the wonderful world of audiobook narration. 

When talking to the many wonderful voice artists I get to meet at The VoiceOver Network events, one of the most common statements I face when I say that my niche is in audiobooks is: “Oooh, I’ve always fancied doing audiobooks. How do I go about it?”

Audiobooks are a very separate part of the voice over industry. It is a long form narration that requires an entirely different skill to a powerful three-lined commercial. They require physical and vocal stamina, strength and consistency. If you are seriously interested in exploring the exciting and emotive journey audiobooks can take you on, then the first set of questions to ask yourself are as follows:

  • Are you an avid reader of books and a lover of literature?
  • Do you listen to audiobooks already?
  • Do you have a set of ‘go to’ voices for tone, intonation and characterisation?
  • Can you quickly and consistently pass between conversation and narration style?
  • Have you mastered excellent breathing skills and vocal stamina for a continuous read?
  • Can you self-record, de-breath, punch and roll, and edit comfortably?

If you’ve hesitated on any of these, it’s time to do some research and make sure you can say a firm and positive yes to each of them!

Start exploring and recording

From here, the next piece of advice is to head over to Amazon’s ACX website. ACX stands for Audiobook Creation Exchange. It is free to sign up and it links you directly with authors and in some cases, publishing companies. On the ACX website, you can create a profile with your picture, upload your demos and start searching for books to narrate.

This site is the best place to start your adventures in the audiobook world. You can choose to audition for titles that interest you and you can filter accents, genres, royalty share or pay per finished hour. Once you have a few ACX titles created then you can look to expand and contact publishing companies and audio production houses directly.

Get technical about your performance

It is vital to understand narrating an audiobook is not just reading the words in front of you for a sustained period of time. For non-fiction titles you need the ability to engage the listener and sustain interest for the duration. Tone is of key importance here - you literally have to bring the world alive for the listener! In the case of non-fiction titles, having knowledge of or a background in the subject area can be of use, and producers often tell me that they are especially interested in narrators who have extra knowledge or training in science or historical works.

When it comes to fiction, you have to proof read the title at least once. Make notes on characters, look up translations or meanings. I recently completed a novel translated from a famous Norwegian author. It took detailed research to hunt down the correct way to say some of the interesting words and places. The whole process of audiobook narration is a project that you are responsible for from start to finish.

Think about your audience and the medium

The biggest fear of a reader when watching a beloved book reimagined on screen is that it won’t be true to the story - dramatic licence will mean parts of the characters or the essence of the book will be lost in visual translation. Or perhaps that what you as a reader have conjured up in your mind will be drastically different to the creative minds involved.

So, what is the fear of an audio listener? What are their preconceptions of the book and what is open to your interpretation?

The emotions and expression that you can convey with the tones and qualities and intimations of your voice are of vast importance. Audiobooks are not just mechanical readings. They are also equally not plays. The audiobook is a whole vocal production of its own.

Become trustworthy

An author or production company who chooses your voice to bring their work to life has to trust you. From the first spoken word, you create the tone and soul of the whole book. They place their carefully crafted masterpiece in your hand (or literally vocal chords) and you as a narrator have to respect this art form and develop it further.

As an audiobook narrator, my reading to you as the listener is naturally my creative and artistic impression of the work. But at the same time, my reading can create pictures and colours in your mind and psyche. So, the narrator and listener have their own collaboration. It is a unique and wonderful art form to use words and voice to bring a whole world to life. If words are the body of an audiobook, then the narrator is the heartbeat bringing life. For the listener, in the words of Shakespeare, hopefully it is a successful ‘marriage of two minds’ for the time you will spend together whilst the story unfolds for them.

Audiobook narration for me is a joy and the satisfaction of a completed project appearing for sale on Audible or Amazon is akin to seeing a completed work of art in a gallery.

So, if you are a lover of books and want to explore all that audiobook production has to offer then do so with diligence, creativity and passion, and a whole dramatic world will open up for you.

“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book!” Dr Seuss

Rachael Beresford has over 15 years experience in the voice over industry and narrator of acclaimed audiobooks including The Waterstones Children’s Book of the Year 2017 and 2018 and also The International Man Booker Prize. Rachael is a passionate audiobook narrator and keen to share the story of the magical world of audiobooks. She also works as Assistant Editor on The Buzz Magazine, the only magazine in the world dedicated to the voice over industry. Married with two young girls who also enjoy voicing, when Rachael isn’t reading a book out loud for work, she’ll be found reading one for pleasure. Find her on Twitter: @rachiesvoice