My journey with audio book reviewing and figuring out one question:
What do you look for in an audio book narrator?
Until recently it was rather a moot question for me. I didn’t listen to audio books. However, in the fall of 2014, this started to change.
I listened to my first audio book that August, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and narrated by the incomparable Davina Porter. It took me nearly three months to listen to all 32 hours and 43 minutes of the beast. (Incidentally, that’s the one to snag if you want to get your free Audible trial credit’s worth. Haha!) But at that point, I thought, wow, getting a story in audio is amazing. I must do this again.
And serendipity, right on the tail of that thought, Shari and I were approached by the lovely Esther from Audible inquiring if we would accept audio books for review. Both of us bobbed our heads gleefully and off we went.
Audible handles their review offerings differently, at least with me, I get offered a book at a time and all I know is that it will have a romance element of sorts to meet our blog’s requirement. Like getting the surprise book box each month. So as a result, I started getting my first audio book review offerings.
Being woefully ignorant, I went with what I knew best; I reviewed the book. Not a problem. But I should probably say something about that narrator, right? The first book was a train wreck for me. Both narrator and book weren’t a match- for me or for each other. I could only say that the narrator’s voice annoyed me. It niggled that I felt inadequate to express more than that.
This was that moment when I realized (don’t laugh) that all narrators are not created equal. My satisfaction and enjoyment in Ms. Porter telling me Outlander was not a given each and every time.
The next few offerings were eh, take it or leave it ones with alright narrators. I wasn’t able to really say much one way or the other about them in my reviews. They didn’t impress me, but I didn’t think they were bad. I kept thinking that I should say more, but didn’t know what because I still wasn’t seeing the narrator aspect of the book well.
I saw my first blog discussion post that December asking people what narrators they liked and what it was they liked about them. I think it was a post at Loupe and Melanie’s Hot Listens blog which I found when I discovered their blog.
I thought, ‘oh wow, this is great. Now I can see what other people will say about this.’
But then I had a good laugh. The responses were all over the place. People had decided opinions about what narrators they liked, but as to why? That’s where it was a wide variety of reasons.
Just like the wide variety of reasons people like or dislike the book. I figured out from reading the responses that what part of the problem was is that I hadn’t established my own taste in narrators. I knew I liked Davina Porter, but now I had to figure out why her and not others. This is good, I thought, I’m getting closer.
Later, in the same month, I came across a month long event hosted by April @ Eargasm’s blog that was probably the biggest help even though it wasn’t specifically answering my big question. See, April was hosting a different guest narrator each day. She interviewed them and the questions talked about what they thought their strengths and challenges were. There were actually many responses and they were well articulated good ones. But the one response that most struck me, was a simple one.
The narrator is there to tell a story and needs to do whatever they can to stay out of the way of the story.
This was the crux of it. The voices, accents, timing, tone, emotions, pacing, and pretty much every voice acting skill was there to tell a story. In the end, did they tell a good story? Did they get all the mechanics right so the story shone through?
Aha! Yes, this was what I needed. This is exactly what I am looking for in a narrator. Tell me a story so that the story shines through. And some do it so well that the story comes alive and has made it even better. And this was what I needed to know so that I could determine my ideal of good narration and get that across in a review.
Here are the list of narrators that have made the cut for me and I actually now look to see what books are on their backlist:
- Dorian Bane
- Nick J. Russo
- Davina Porter
- Jennifer Van Dyck
- Ulli Birve’
- J.F. Harding
- Susan Duerden
- Valerie Gilbert
- Lorelei King
- Brock Thompson
This list isn’t long compared to others and it is dominated by mostly those who narrated review books through Audible or Riptide Publishing who have graciously provided the opportunity.
I do want to expand my list and have added Luke Brown to my audio narrator wish list. Who else would you suggest?
Oh, and the big question, you guessed it, “What do you look for in an audio book narrator?”