How to be a good audiobook narrator

How to be a good audiobook narrator

Audio is indisputably the pubishing buzzword of 2018. There's plenty written about new production techniques - binaural recording that can create a 3D immersive experience, say - and new platforms, such as podcast community Entale. But if the heart of audio rests on good content, surely the most powerful audio tech of all is the human voice?

Lorelei King and Ali Muirden certainly think so.

King, an actress who has appeared in films such as Notting Hill and TV shows such as Cold Feet, is also a multi-award-winning narrator, who has recorded over 300 audio books and more than 200 programs for the BBC. Muirdan is a multi award-winning and Grammy-nominated producer/director of audio books and audio productions for many international publishers, who ran the Macmillan Group's audiobooks division for over 10 years.

In 2008, the pair co-founded Creative Content Ltd., a digital audio specialist - and now they've distilled two careers' worth of insights into a new book, Storyteller: How to be an Audio Book Narrator. We asked them to give us their take on the audio industry and to share the story behind the book.

Lorelei King (L) and Ali Muirden (R)

What prompted you to write the book?

King: I've wanted to write something about audiobook narration for a long time, but this year - off the back of having been inducted into the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame - the timing felt right.

Muirden:  We frequently get asked how to get into narrating audiobooks and in the past we often said "we should write a book about it".  And as Lorelei said, the timing just seemed right.

What was the process like? How did you go about it?

King: We've always worked quite independently, so we wrote our sections separately - but when we were at the planning stage, Ali had the brilliant idea of taking us away for a few days to block it all out. It was great to be away from everything else and to really concentrate on the project.

Muirden: We knew that we needed to set out a specific time to sit down and break the back of it, where we could totally concentrate on writing it without any other work distractions. We worked out the structure of the book each day to decide what content each chapter should contain and then compiled a list of dos and don'ts and any tips or advice we thought was important. Lorelei spent the summer writing the main narrative and I then added in the sections written from a producers point of view.

What was it like working together?

King: It was great! We've worked together a lot over the years, especially since starting our publishing company, Creative Content. Writing this book together wasn't really any different. We've always respected each other's strengths and we give each other a lot of leeway. We get along well and rarely disagree - and when we do, I just give in. :)

Muirden: I think we work well together because we both have different but complementary strengths.  So we don't tend to tread on each other's toes and it keeps our working relationship very easy and respectful.  

Why did you include outtakes at the end?

King: Well, it was a bit of fun, really, but we also wanted to make the process of audiobook narration a little less scary - to show that nobody's perfect, and that even very experienced people make mistakes.

Muirden:  Most people who ask me about my job assume that it's all very easy and straightforward to sit down and record a book. They have no idea of the sheer slog of it.  I think it was important to show that even someone as experienced as Lorelei can make a few mistakes... although she is unbelievably fluent most of the time.  

Who is the book for? Who's your target audience?

King: I think it's for narrators at every stage of their careers, really, as well as for people who may be thinking about going into the business.

Muirden: Most people I speak to about my work are fascinated by the whole process and we thought that avid audiobook fans might like to have peek behind the scenes at what happens in studio. I think it might be surprising to them to find out how much preparation and hard work goes on before we even start recording.  I also think this has great appeal for anyone studying drama as well as giving some great tips to established actors who are thinking of going down the audio narration route.

Why do you think sales of audio books is on the rise?

King: Digital has made audio a lot cheaper, and I think audiobooks fit in well with our multi-tasking lives.

Muirden: I have a theory that we now have a generation who have grown up listening to bedtime audiobooks as children and it's been a natural progression to carry on listening to books in this way in adulthood. I also think the platform they've been given by Audible and Amazon has had a huge influence on the market. It's a format that is taken seriously now, which is great to see.

What's the best thing about the audiobook business?

King: Getting paid to read! I was such a bookworm as a child - who knew it could become a career!

Muirden: For me, it's getting to work with such a wide range of hugely talented narrators and writers.  I've personally directed over 300 books now and was instrumental in producing hundreds when I ran the audio division at Macmillan.  So that's a lot of books that I've had the pleasure to work on.  I can't actually think of a better career.

Storyteller: How to be an Audio Book Narrator, written and read by Lorelei King and Ali Muirden, was published by Creative Content on 29 October 2018.