I had initially planned on paying for audiobook production for Annals of the Nameless Dwarf series in 2020, or seeking an audiobook publisher for the series. For some reason, as yet unclear to me, I decided instead to put the series up for audition on ACX. I guess I figured it couldn’t hurt, but in all honesty, I didn’t hold out much hope of discovering the ideal narrator by that route.
Almost immediately, auditions starting coming in; several per day. That alone was a surprise to me. More surprising was that they weren’t at all bad.
This went on for a few weeks, until I ended up with auditions from thirty-one different narrators. Naturally, it took some time to listen to all the submissions; and as I proceeded it became easier to dismiss those that weren’t quite right for this series fairly quickly.
In short, I was looking for several things, and if any of them was lacking, then there was no point continuing with that particular audition piece. Oddly, it started to give me an insight into how publishers reject writers, often in spite of the quality of the work: it has to be what they are looking for at that particular time. Out of the thirty-one auditions, I’d have to say that more than two thirds of them were very good; but here are the things I was specifically looking for:
- Clarity of narrative voice (above all else!);
- A sense of pacing;
- Variety of inflection, mood, and tone;
- Clearly differentiated and consistent character voices;
- Believable characterizations, especially as regards the conveyance of emotion;
- An ability (hard to define) to capture the tone of each scene, including the delivery of individual character’s lines in accordance with my written intention.
- The narrator’s natural vocal qualities; somewhat indefinable, but there is a definite sound that seems to work best for particular books. Often, you don’t know what it is until you hear it and compare it to other narrators.
Some of this can be coached, but that can involve a lot of extra time from both me and the narrator. And experience has taught me that it’s better to find a narrator who has a grasp of these fundamentals from the outset–not necessarily perfect, but a close approximation; the finer details can indeed be tweaked with discussion and trial runs.
Gradually, I began to narrow things down to my top seven or so auditions. At that point I began to research each narrator’s body of work, the feedback they have received from listeners on Audible; and I sought the opinions of two other listeners, one of whom was my editor.
And of course, we disagreed!
We did, however, manage to eliminate two narrators from the mix. After that, I asked narrators for an additional audition piece; something that would showcase qualities I was still undecided about. Without exception, all the remaining narrators were happy to provide more samples. Some went so far as to deliver three audition pieces. This part of the process told me a lot about the individuals, chiefly, that they would be easy to work with, and that they were committed to doing a great job.
That only made deciding between them more difficult.
I repeatedly had to remind myself that my personal feelings or like for a narrator had nothing to do with the decision. This was purely a business move: in my opinion, and that of my other listeners, which narrator stood the best chance of resonating with my readership.
At this stage, I had some serious discussions with narrators about contractual issues: I explicitly wanted someone to enter into a royalty share partnership. If I could not find the ideal narrator under these terms, I would revert to my original plan of pay for production/publisher next year.
I also needed to know if there were any potential scheduling concerns; what the narrator was willing to do in terms of co-promoting; and whether they had a presence on social media. Because we were using the royalty share option, I viewed this as a partnership, not a commission. And I know that most of the narrators were doing the same with me (rightly so). It is a huge gamble of their time to commit to a royalty share project that has no guarantees of financial reimbursement. Thankfully, the Nameless Dwarf series has a proven track record of sales and reviews, and there is a growing demand for the audiobook series.
Tough choices were made, and we narrowed it down to three candidates. At this stage, a frontrunner had emerged in my mind and that of my editor; but the other listener still had other ideas.
Then we managed to eliminate one more narrator and were down to two.
Until someone else submitted a second audition piece at the last minute! I didn’t think much of it as we were fast approaching a decision, but when I listened to the performance I was quite simply blown away. It was probably the single best character performance I had heard to date. Our top two went back up to three.
After another round of listening, we went back down to two: the last minute second audition alongside the original frontrunner.
And at that stage it was really about splitting hairs.
In fact, it had been that way since the top seven. Any of these narrators could have done a greta job of the series. It was just about deciding who was going to be the right fit for this particular story.
It came down to tallying the scores we gave the last two narrators, and it was a very close run thing.
I’ll be announcing the narrator we chose sometime next week; but in the meantime, I’d like to share five of my favorite narrators from these auditions. As I said, any of these narrators would have been a great choice, and, to any authors out there looking for a quality narrator for your audiobook, I urge you to visit the narrators’ profiles on AXC. Without exception, they are all very talented, professional, and a pleasure to work with.
Please click on each narrator’s name to be taken to their ACX profile, where you will find a selection of samples of their work.
THOMAS BESTWICK: A passionate and engaged storyteller, with a solid training in studio practices (having obtained an MSc in Sound Design from the University of Edinburgh), as such I can deliver a very high quality service with a polished and professional final product. Great sense of pace and energy. Strong characterization.
IAN FISHER: Ian has worked as a broadcaster, teacher and actor and brings an international perspective to every story. He has a neutral, British voice that is fresh to the world of narration. You can be among the first to take advantage of this. Ian is an international graduate of the ACX MasterClass; trained specifically for ACX narration and production. Ian narrated my Dead or Alive and does the perfect voice for Shadrak the Unseen! Ian has very dynamic narration and excellent characterization. Also perfectly understands British sarcasm and Pythonesque delivery.
DAENA SCHWEIGER: A veteran actor with a lifelong career of telling other people’s stories. A haunting voice with captivating delivery. Exceptional character voice work, especially the voice of the Nameless Dwarf and his mother, Yalla.
HANNIBAL HILLS: Hannibal’s path to storytelling began at the age of five, using his toys for family puppet shows from behind the sofa. After years of travelling, including herding cows in Scotland and officiating weddings on beaches, he is back where he loves most, entertaining with words and performance. His microphone is the new sofa, and his booth his own TARDIS, that can take him on any journey just by starting a new book. When not recording, writing, and tinkering with computers, he goes on regular, real life adventures with his extraordinarily patient wife Janine. Hannibal was a frontrunner from the outset. He has a velvety voice, good sense of pace, and slick delivery. Very easy on the ear!
LARRY OBLANDER: “I am highly motivated to making your story come alive with voice! Your story is just as important to me as it is to you and I want to ensure that the listeners of your book thirst for more books from you because of their experience listening to your book. When I used to read to my boys when they were young, we read through the entire Narnia series and used a separate, distinct voice for each character that my boys were able to recognize. By that, I mean, if I got lazy with a voice and they ran together, they knew because it “wasn’t the characters voice.” I have a wide array of accents that include British, Australian, Southern, Caribbean, East Indian, and several others. I am keen on creating a voice for each character in a story. You will not be disappointed in selecting me for your book.” Larry is an exceptional talent. His narrative voice is clear and easy to listen to, and his character work is exceptional.