Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of choosing an audiobook narrator for my upcoming domestic suspense novel One Little Secret. The process went pretty much as follows:
My publisher’s assistant announced that they had a deal with audiobook publisher Blackstone to sell the audio version of my book. Blackstone gave them three narrators that it uses for novels in my genre. Each narrator was a woman (my story is told in close third person from the perspective of three different women.) Each actress possessed a mid-range voice and flair for dramatic pauses, which I think is something stylistic that narrators of suspense are encouraged to incorporate into their readings. Each had the seemingly accent-less pronunciation associated with Midwest news anchors.
I got to pick the voice, out of the three similar voices, that I liked best.
I chose the actress who seemed, to me, read in the most direct fashion. My story should be suspenseful enough without adding too much drama to the telling, in my humble opinion.
When I announced that I’d selected a narrator on social media, some of my friends asked why I wasn’t narrating the book myself. Don’t I know the story best? Don’t my characters speak to me as I am writing them?
The answer to both the above questions is YES! However, as I am not famous or a trained actor, nobody wants to listen to my best impression of the voices in my head. And, though I’d like to think that I could do it, the audiobook company wants talent with a proven track record of providing clear diction and appropriate annunciation for stories in this genre. Also, they want a voice that is still understandable when readers inevitably speed up the narration 2x so that the story flows at a pace akin to their regular reading speed from their car speakers.
I have two friends, trained actresses with lovely voices, who asked about doing the job. The problem for me here was that I don’t have any pull with the audiobook company. When I asked about it, I was told by my publisher that giving me any choice at all was a “courtesy.” In other words, the audiobook publisher can go with whomever its executives think best and not solicit my opinion at all.
If my friends wanted to read the book, they’d have to be selected by the audio book publisher, not by me.
Perhaps it is how my particular contracts have been written, but I’ve had four books that have gotten audio deals and I didn’t have much say about any of them. The short list provided to me is chosen by the audiobook publisher with whom only my publisher is in contact. If I think, for example, that it would be preferable to have an African American actress voicing my book with two Black point of view characters, I don’t get a say.
The “top three” presented to me are undoubtedly based on who is available for the price point that the audiobook publisher is willing to pay based on the deal it signed with my publisher. They are also likely influenced by which actress or actor has a proven sales track record of reading material in my genre. There are certain book narrators that have followings and, in the competitive commercial fiction market, any free press that can be gleaned from having a popular book narrator read the book is a serious bonus.
All that said, I have dreams of one day being known enough to have some pull over who reads my books. But, perhaps that’s a pipe dream. Tell me, fellow authors, what has been your audiobook experience? And, tell me, readers, what do you want in an audiobook? Is it important that the narrator match the gender of the POV character or that they sound as though they might possess a similar cultural background to the characters? In stories like many of mine in which the cast is culturally diverse, do narrators need to have non-descript voices?