How to Prepare for an Audiobook Job

Insider tips on preparing and executing an audiobook job... 

By Matthew Jacobs Morgan

Matthew’s audiobook credits include Stone Rider, Princess in Practice, Letters of Note and Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman for Penguin/Random House and 4 books in the Rock Wars series for Hachette. He has voiced almost 100 ad campaigns for brands including Michael Kors for Mario Testino, Lynx, Diesel, and Mercedes Benz, and has starred in 6 audio dramas for Big Finish.

I adore doing audiobooks. It offers the opportunity to play a huge range of characters stretching far beyond your usual casting and allows for ample experimentation with your voice. However, in my experience, audiobooks are the most challenging form of acting work. It can be a gruelling and difficult experience without the correct preparation and skillset and requires focus beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. However, challenges are what keep us on our toes and audiobook narration can be a hugely rewarding experience.

1. Read the Book

This one seems really obvious, but it cannot be stressed enough. Even if you’re given a short amount of time to prepare for the recording, it’s so important to carve out time to read the book as many times as possible before the recording. If, like me, you are naturally quite a slow reader, I would encourage you to learn some speed-reading techniques. There are loads of videos on YouTube and “how to” articles online, and it is an invaluable skill when preparing for an audiobook.

2. Breath Control

Practice your diaphragmatic breathing! Books often aren’t written to be read out loud, meaning there might be some super long compound sentences which are hard to get your head around and extremely hard to read in one breath. Also think about tactical snatch breaths in places which don’t break up the flow of the sentence. If you have time, highlight these points throughout the book so they aren’t surprises when you get to them in the studio.

3. Differentiate the Characters

When you’re only using your voice, you’ve gotta get creative when differentiating between characters. If it’s a chapter with heavy dialogue, it can get confusing for the listener if you’re reading all of the characters in exactly the same tone/timbre/pitch/accent. Quite often you’ll have a lot of freedom to create each character’s voice, but it’s important to keep these in line with the tone of the book - if it’s an intense crime drama a cartoonish voice probably won’t suit, but if it’s a kids book, you might be completely on the money!

4. Do Your Research

It can only aid you to know what you’re talking about. If there are terms in the book you don’t know how to pronounce, or what they mean, it will completely show when you’re in the studio, and time is limited. Whilst doing your prep work figure these out and write them in phonetically if need be. Make note of the definitions of certain words too, to ensure you’re making sense of them in the context of the story.

5. Eat!

Voice over mics can pick up every small noise in a sound booth. And I mean eeeevery noise. There was once an occasion where I had skipped breakfast, meaning during the morning’s session my belly was rumbling profusely and it was caught through the mic. Cue numerous retakes until an assistant brought in some biscuits for me to chomp on until our lunch break. That said, it’s important to eat the right kind of food. Things like peanut butter, chocolate and dairy will make your voice sound claggy and it takes a while for that to pass. Try to eat something filling but light, and not too greasy! You want to keep your voice sounding clear.

6. Practice Cold Reading

No matter how much you prepare, or how many times you read the book, there is no way you’ll be able to remember the whole thing. You can practice particularly difficult sections, mark up parts of the book etc etc, but you’ll likely be cold reading the majority of it. As you’re reading the book, take it at a steady pace and scan a few words ahead.

7. Visualise

In order to believably inhabit a world, I find it important to visualise every environment portrayed in the book; to see it actually happening around me. You’re creating a world for the listener, and if you can’t personally visualise it in the booth it’s going to be very hard for the listener to do so. It’s hard to explain how this manifests through your voice, but there is an authenticity which naturally occurs when the reader is really living in the world of the book.

8. Moisturise

Keep your lips moist! You’ll likely be saying tens of thousands of words and dry lips are not helpful. Get your chapstick out!!

9. Take Breaks

Time constraints often mean you’ll be trying to race through an entire 500-page audiobook with very little time, and the temptation can be to capitalise on every minute by taking as few breaks as possible, however this is not conducive to a productive session. Studies show that the average length of time the brain can fully focus on one thing is around 50 minutes (it varies from person to person) and it’s important to take frequent breaks to reset. Even if it’s just a 3-minute stretch and breath of fresh air it will do you good.

10. Get an Early Night

Audiobooks are mentally exhausting (in a great way), and I always find it important to not make any social plans on the nights between sessions, for many reasons:

  • It’s important to preserve your voice,
  • You’ll likely be bad company because your brain is frazzled from a day in another world, and
  • You need every ounce of energy for the following session!

11. Speak to The Author

This is an invaluable resource. If the author is hands-on, see if you can get 10 minutes of face time with them before your session so you can ask any burning questions or get a sense of their ideas for the voice/tone of the book. It will aid your preparation and ensure you aren’t thrown too many curveballs when you get to the session.

Matthew Jacobs Morgan is an actor and filmmaker from London. His credits as an actor include Our Town (Almeida Theatre), Tommy (New Wolsey) and the TV series Cuffs, Wasted, Love Nina, Midsomer Murders and upcoming C4 Drama Pure. He has numerous TV series and films in development including Dylan & Gracie which is under option at Tiger Aspect and Vamping which is being developed on 4Screenwriting.

Image credit: Michael Shelford