A few years back I had the good fortune of hosting an audio book workshop with producer John McElroy and famed voice over audio book narrators Alan Sklar and George Guidall. Guidall had a great insight about the role of the narrator.

He said he “sees himself as a “literary hermit crab that scuttles in the currents of literature finding a home in someone else’s imagined truth.” Beautiful, huh?

Narrating a work of fiction can be a daunting task. Where do you begin? How do you stay true to the author’s vision. Here are some tips from my industry guests that will help.

Put yourself in the author’s shoes

When preparing to narrate a book, your first step is to find a point of departure. Ask yourself: “what is the basic event that the author invented?” What’s the big “jumping off point” for the book? Then, try to imagine yourself in the author’s shoes. As the storyteller, you are the author’s voice.

The narrator is a character

When narrating audio books, never forget that the narrator is a character too. You are never merely a reader. You must choose a point of view and tell the story from there, even if it’s from inside a character’s mind. Says Guidall: “You’re not limited to the words on the page. You are only limited by what you are willing to supply to the words on the page.”

Variety is Job One

Guidall also said that variety is key when narrating audio books. Stay away from repeated rhythms and other predictable manners of speech. The moment a listener can predict what you are going to do, they will become bored and you will lose them. Show variety through shifts in tone, pacing, intensity and voice characterization. And never forget the power of the pause. When it comes to grabbing the listener’s attention, your silence is as important as your speaking.

Accurate pronunciation counts.

Here are some research tools for the proper pronunciation of foreign words and place names in audio books. Check out the on-line dictionaries at and You Tube is also a surprising resource for pronunciations. Merely type the word you are looking for into the search bar and you’ll probably come up with a video of somebody saying it.
You can also call the foreign embassy of the country that speaks the language you’re looking for. The phone will likely be staffed by a native speaker.

Allow ample time to prepare

To come fully prepared to an audio book narration session, you should read the book at least 3 times, the first time for meaning, the second time to get the characters straight and determine a voice for each, and the final time to help get the book into your DNA.

Read for the blind

We unanimously agreed that reading for the visually impaired was a great place to develop your audio book chops. For information on the local reading center near you, visit

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Susan Berkley is a top voice over artist and founder of The Great Voice Company,

a company devoted to teaching great voices around the world

how to become successful voice over actors.

The Great Voice Company is an international leader in voice over training and in providing top quality voice over recordings in all languages to discerning businesses and marketers. For additional information visit Are Audio Books in Your Future?