Why We’re Worth It

Aaaaah, Facebook! The almighty host to all knowledge and wisdom. 

… bwahahahaha! I know, right?? I barely, BARELY, got through that with a straight face. 

But, in all seriousness, I have lately been coming across some very interesting and helpful pieces of data from Ye Ole Book Of Faces. Some things I already knew and appreciated having confirmed and verified, but would make an excellent piece of knowledge for some of the newer class of audiobook narrators and voiceover hopefuls out there. 

I wrote recently about why we train. Today’s entry could easily be called part two of that series. It focuses on the smaller details and nuances that get by a novice narrator,  versus the meticulously detailed nature of a trained professional doing a thorough job and charging a respectable rate.

Not just charging it, but commanding it and being confidently worth it.

Okay, now, I swear I am not making this up. There is a medium sized kerfuffle recently over a narrator who mispronounced the super-common french saying “C’est la vie!”

I use ‘mispronounced’ loosely. The author of the post spelled out the pronunciation phonetically as “Sess la vuy” (rhyming with ‘buy’). 

…Sess la vuy.  (break  here for breathing exercise and re-centering).

I mean… there’s no two ways about it. I don’t know what else to say. That’s just beyond the realm of “only human” forgiveness. That’s a ridiculous, sub-rookie mistake that has no business existing in retail sales. This isn’t the same as a  mispronunciation of a city or a person’s name, or a flub of a fairly benign and easily overlooked nature. A mistake like that borders on being offensively unintelligent and worthy of being fired for committing. 

It’s a glaring example of a few things, including but not limited to:

1- no training 

2- no prep work or research 

3- poor alignment with long form narration

4- no respect for the author and the paying listener.

I half wonder if the narrator also has a blog or podcast called “How I booked a job I had no business doing”. 

There are no shortcuts when narrating more than 75,000 words.


Let me go ahead and choose this as the time and place to say, “No, my narrated titles are not error-free works of pristine perfection”. There are little bubbles and divots here and there, yes, especially in the earlier ones. But through respect for the work, for the customer, and for the process, I sought continued and focused training which made a huge difference.

In the example cited above, the narrator came upon “C’est la vie” in a text written in English. If we give this narrator the fullest benefit of the doubt (has never spoken nor read the French language even once in their life,  the entire rest of the text may contain no other French words or references, text contains no other non-English language words aside from these), they still fell short in research and diligence. 

There’s always google and online pronunciations, right? How does one claim to be a professional in this field without visually recognizing this quoted text as, perhaps, another language? How do you tell an author who spent months or years writing this book and agreed to pay you and trust you for the production of their audiobook, that their work is in good hands? 

I don’t know these answers, truthfully. But when I get asked what it takes to do my job and succeed in this field, where the line gets drawn between professional quality and hobbyist, and where the barrier to entry truly is, this is the kind of drawn line I struggle to point out to people. 

Another good example is from the recent book I narrated called My War And Welcome To It, by Tom Copeland. Sgt Copeland has a chapter about his favorite teachers from high school, one of whom had the class all recite portions of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in front of the class…in Middle English

Now, if you don’t know this already, the Middle English dialects are no longer in active use globally and are extremely difficult to understand and speak in.

I was fortunate enough in college to take English Lit 201 with a professor who was quite the Chaucer scholar, and this gentleman spent 50-60% of our class time reading this exact text to us aloud in his expert Middle English dialect. At the time I was studying acting and Shakespeare a lot, so I had a deep appreciation for this vocal skill, even though I was on the fence about the text itself.

When it came time to narrate the portion of the book which cites the section of Chaucer’s work that was assigned to the author, I fell right into it and knew exactly what was needed there. I was lucky in this particular instance. And I have taken 3 years of French as well.

So, I have that going for me…which is nice.

However, even without my unique exposure to this dialect, it was made clear in the text that this was important and had to sound right to make sense in the audio. Similar to the C’est la vie debacle, even without French I, II, and III under my belt, my inner voice would have been tapping me on the shoulder incessantly,  saying “look this up and get it right, this is important!”.

We aren’t being paid to simply “read the words” while recording our “really good voices”.

Part of our jobs as narrators is not just to do this meticulous prep work and research, but to also be able to recognize the smallest areas that absolutely require this high level of attention. The works we narrate contain a message and a meaning. We have to go on the same learning journey on which the book is meant to bring all readers. The message and story need to be taken in, fully, if we are to do any justice to sending those messages back out with clarity, creativity, and loyalty to the story. 

We have to hit every note, every beat. Find every emotion and every moment. Learn all the terms, research the languages and colloquialisms. It’s written down on the page for a reason. We owe the writer, the words, and the listener our time and respect. We are the pilot and captain of this part of the journey. Even the author is on-board, literally.

Give them an excellent flying experience, Captain.

Why We Train

My job is fun, yes. It’s a blast!

And because of this, I get frequently approached by people who ask about or talk about getting into voiceover and, more specifically, audiobook narration. I also see it in conversations and threads that have nothing to do with voiceover as a business.

For example, one of the many (so, so many) social media groups I belong to and interact with is a group for readers and book-lovers. Not even audio, necessarily, but just lovers of actual books and reading stories.

Every so often I will see a post that says something along the lines of “Seriously, I love reading so much, I wish I could get paid to just read.”  

That’s how it usually starts.

Invariably, someone will suggest becoming a narrator and signing up for ACX or, dear God no, Fiverr! And I totally get it!! It IS an awesome job! Seriously!

But, it’s also my “job”. A job. Like, a “jobbie” job. It’s work.

Lots and lots of work to do it well, and do not let anyone tell you differently.

Being a lover of books and of reading is wonderful, but it does not necessarily equate to one being able to self-produce and narrate a full length title ready for retail sale and success. 

It’ll help, yeah! But there is so much more to it than just that. So. So. Much.

Those who are looking to try this job out are welcome to, but I always feel obligated to tell them just how deep a pool they are about to dive into, what the water temps are really like, what’s lurking below, and what it takes to make it across to the other side in one piece. 

I feel a need to explain to them that the barrier to entry seems much lower than it actually is, and that it takes more than a USB mic and an ACX profile to change careers (forget about telling people how much TIME this takes too, that’s another can of worms).

Above all I tell them, in no uncertain terms, that they need training. 

All kinds of training. 

Steady, organized, and focused training in multiple areas. 

Piles of it. Out the wahzoo!

The prep work. The analysis. The characterizations. The different styles of narration and how they apply to different styles of writing, and different genres. The marking. The recording. The editing. The inconsistency of copy and specs. The futility of specs! The stamina required. The workflow needed. The organization and self management required . It’s remarkable and dense.

I kid you not. I gave myself a headache writing this paragraph.

This information and advice is often met with…hmmm, how shall I say this….”resistance” from the inquirer. It isn’t quite what they were hoping I’d say, obviously.

Is it possible to get the job and finish it without such training? Yes. I’ve done it.

Will it be a quality audiobook that entertains and sells, that a listener can stay engaged in for 6+ hours? Well, those odds are not as good.

And, thanks to groups like this one, I see the proof regularly.

This is a genuine quote from an audiobook consumer, found on social media.

This. This right here.  And it went on too.

The thread was chock full of loyal listeners and readers who were chiming in on audiobook narration and, more importantly, what it takes to keep them on board for that many hours. What they liked and didn’t like. What keeps them listening and what gets them to shut it off immediately. Who they love and why, and who they avoid like the plague and why. This was truly a wealth of knowledge.

Although we cannot please everyone all the time, in the end our goal is for these products to be of such a high quality and superior crafting, that they can be sold in large numbers and be worth it. Fans and readers/listeners aren’t doing us a favor by listening. They are buying a product. 

We want them to buy another one too, right? 

We as narrators are getting an extreme level of attention from our listeners. For this reason, we owe an equivalent amount of attention to the work we are doing for them and the art we are making for them  (aka the product they are buying).   

I can tell you that there are indeed audiobooks being produced by very inexperienced, untrained narrators with lackluster equipment in a subpar recording space. The attention to (and even awareness of) detail is simply not there. 

That narrator is working for a fraction of the normal rate in these cases, and delivering a fraction of the true creative quality needed. A book-mill, if you will. Those titles may technically be “good enough” to make it through the retailer’s checkpoints, but clearly they do not get past the avid fan who can obviously tell the difference and has no problem having this influence future purchases.

I do not have the largest number of titles under my name, admittedly, and my first title was produced on minimal training.  I can hear it in the audio when I go back. I’m sure others can too. I had bitten off, well, frankly quite a bit, and immediately knew I had to up my game here.  Intense training began right away and continues today.

The difference in quality before and after adequate training is astounding, and the unreleased stuff I’ve been continuing my training on sounds even better. 

This is why we train.  “Good enough” is not and should not ever be good enough. We should always aim to get it right from top to bottom every time. Every word. Every passage. Every moment. Make it the best it can possibly be. It simply cannot be done well without proper training and preparation.  

Remember Dan Hedaya in Joe Vs The Volcano?  “I know he can GET the job! But can he DO the job??!!”

You have to be able to DO the job. That is why we train.

VoiceOver 1st Grade – Rule #1 – “Listen Closely”

Like many, the members of my household have been forced to relearn a lot in recent months.

I have had to relearn how to re-prioritize my roles here at home. It became apparent in the early weeks and months that home-maker and caregiver of a young child had to be moved to the #1 position. My business needs had to unavoidably be pushed to 2nd, regardless of the cost.

My wife had to relearn her role too. She had to now get on-board with being out of the house all day at work and missing most of the daily goings-on here, while seeing my son and I thrive in our bond. Bit of a reversal of once-traditional household dynamic.

My son had to swallow the large, yucky pill of missing the last 3 months of Kindergarten. Then he had to wash that down with a tall glass of here!-your-dad-is-now-your-teacher-for-the-foreseeable-future! Poor kid.

Facilitating 1st grade via online apps and e-learning modules is not easy.

I’ve had to continue trying to run my business and continue my own education while also repeating some of it through him as well.  I have to be with him pretty much every step, even when he is engaged in the lesson. I can’t go far at all.

I’m basically back in 1st Grade full time, indefinitely.

But my exposure to his end of Kindergarten and beginning of 1st grade has given me a lot of unexpected insight as well. I recognize some of the basics of life and of interaction being taught and explained in plain terms, like I’m a 6 year old, and I chuckle at how simply they can still apply to adult interactions and business communications. Now that recess is over, let’s share what we’ve learned in this limited series of Inner Voice, called “VoiceOver 1st Grade”.

They call it “the basics” for good reason.

No better place to start than Rule #1 – “Listen Closely”.

Naturally, what’s also implied here is a nice, healthy dose of ‘put a sock in it and pay attention‘.

We gain the most and understand the wants, needs, and positions of others when we listen closely and actively. Follow along. Stay with them. Ask clarifying questions as needed, but Listen. Closely. And watch.

Not everyone speaks in the same rhythms or cadence. Not everyone processes data the same. Not everyone prioritizes the same way.

Not everyone sends information out in the same way.

Being in full-receiver mode at all times, whether it be with a six year old and his teacher or with a client, is your best play. Not the silent treatment, but just very attentive active listening.

Their words, but also their actions such as their body language and how they respond to certain things. What frustrates them about the process, what they love, what they dread, what they wish was better.

There’s important information to be found if you listen closely and look for it.

As a father/teacher, I cannot do what my son needs without listening closely to both the teacher and him together. I need to receive all the data I can in order to deliver on my end of the task. What she needs from him translates immediately to what she needs from me, and what he then needs from me.  What he needs from her still has to be picked up by me also, so I can translate it and bubble it up to her.

In the end, I learned where and how I was needed the most by him.

He needed me by his side, interacting with him and encouraging his learning, keeping the environment light and low-pressure for him so as to not traumatize him, and making the home schooling as fun as possible.

That was the message I received from him throughout the Spring and the early days of the new school year. So, right next to him all day is where I set up my work station. Together, we’re getting it done. And I confidently say that if I hold this course he will learn more than his 1st grade lessons this year.

As a narrator/studio owner, I have to give the same attention to my contacts in order to ensure the final product is perfect.

Their expectations have to be exceeded, not just in the work but also in the partnership with me and my studio. Often times they come for a narrator and end up getting a consultant and advisor on audio, or on the pacing of the story they’re telling, or more. In our talks I’ll listen for these opportunities to give them far more than their money’s worth.

A good example is a client of mine who, in an early conversation, expressed distress over the background noise in their previous audio as well as the dividing up of the recordings to assign specific sections to their project.  It actually felt really good to explain to them that I understood what they were saying very clearly, and more importantly that I could solve it for them. They needed more than a voice, and I made sure they got it all.

By listening closely, I was able to hear their pain and worry and was able to address it.

My son needs more than a dad right now. He needs a teacher, a tutor, a classmate, and a playmate. He needs someone to walk him through this and see him safely to the other side.

The end result of all this active listening will be much better, whether it is business or family.