Audiobook Week 2012 – Picky, Picky…

Welcome to Audiobook Week – Day #4 here at Going Public!


AudiobookWeek2012 pictureRecap: Monday through Friday of this week, I (Xe) will be posting new Going Public content and blog posts in conjunction with the wonderful audiobook promotional effort of Jen at Devourer of Books. Need further info on Audiobook Week? Pop over to here and check out all the wonderful content flowing in from bloggers all over the cyberverse. For earlier posts, please see below or the “Audiobook Week” posts in the side bar.

For info on the Triple-Threat Giveaway, scroll to the end of this post.

Thursday’s discussion topic: What do you look for in a narrator? 


[Disclaimer: these are my thoughts purely as a listener – NOT a narrator. Just so’s we’re clear :)]

Hello. My name is Xe, and I’m a picky listener. 

It’s true. I’m a terribly picky listener when it comes to audiobooks. I’m a bit merciless really. As a listener, I usually give an audiobook about 15 minutes to engage me. Many would say that is unfair (including me!), but I find that listening, like the way I experience any art – poetry, prose, paintings, music – is a completely intuitive process for me. Let me explain.

Regardless of the artform, when I catch my first glimpse/words/note, it needs to affect me on a visceral level. I literally need to feel it physically. If there is that connection, I’ll keep looking/reading/listening. Does this mean it’s good or bad by anyone else’s standards? No – it’s a very personal assessment on my part.

So how does this translate to a new audiobook, to what I need from the narrator? It means that in the first 30 seconds or so, I need to feel a connection with the narrator’s voice – the way they sound, the way their voice feels in my ears, whether it resonates or clings or grates. This is entirely subjective – there is nothing the narrator can do/not do that will change this impression – nor should they. I’m listening for a connection to who their voice naturally is.

Once that connection is made, I give the narrator about fifteen minutes (I mean, I don’t time it or anything) to move beyond that initial “crush” on their voice. Now we’re into delivery. I want natural. I want conversational. I do not want “staged.” What I originally said (earlier today) is that if I can hear that you’ve done stage acting in your delivery, it will annoy me. But that’s a bit too off-the-cuff and does a disservice to stage actors who transition beautifully to narration. Here’s what I was getting at: I know that narrators are hammered on enunciation and diction, but I don’t want to hear pristine words – I want to hear the story. But although it might put me in the minority – I want to hear it as close the way you normally speak as possible with the text at hand. Be my storyteller, not my actor.

OK, so the delivery is conversational, and the audiobook is still playing. Now what? Ah, now we get to dialog. Can’t tell you how many times I’m grooving on the narration until the narrator gets to the first bit of dialog and…they fall flat. They sound like they are reading it out, or trying to act it out…not LIVING it out. Man, I’m counting on you to be that voice in my head – and the voice in my head that reads books to me while I’m reading the print on the page is really authentic, so you’ve got to really step it up to compete with that print option! Feel it and let it come through so *I* feel it, so I know the characters really care and are really having that moment together.

So if a narrator is unfortunate enough to be spilling into my hyper-critical ears and they’ve made it this far, there is only one other thing I need: I need emotion.  I don’t mean melodrama (because that’s just a cheap trick, like sappy music in subpar movies that makes me cry when the movie doesn’t warrant it), but I do want the overall tone and emotion the author intends to come through in your voice.

Sigh. You see? I’m entirely too picky. But it also means that when I enjoy and audiobook I LOVE it. Not just a little, but enough to make me sit in my car and let the ice cream melt and risk the ire of my waiting family.

But, I readily acknowledge that this doesn’t always serve me. Had I followed this ridiculously picky method, I would never have enjoyed at least half the books my daughter and I listened to over the years. And I wouldnt’ have given one of my very favorites a fair chance and would have missed out on an exceptional moment spent crying on my doorstep because the narrator’s performance was so moving.

So for all that I experience my definition of excellence, I also miss a tremendous amount of it. Hopefully, you are far more forgiving. I think it will serve you far better 🙂

Now coming round to Tuesday’s topic of audiobook reviewing, which dovetails nicely with today’s topic (thank you Jen at Devourer of Books!), the piece I threw out there for practice is now complete. If you’ve listened to it, how did I do? Did you get from it whatever YOU are looking for in a narrator?

For those following along with The Yellow Wallpaper, here is the final installment, as well as the full version for those who want it all in one go.

(If you cannot see this player, please click this link to go directly to the SoundCloud page for The Yellow Wallpaper)

The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – Part 3 of 3

Full version: 

The Triple-threat Giveaway: 1 Audio + 1 Print Book + 1 Custom Piece

Leave a comment on any of my Audiobook Week posts before 8PM PST on Friday, 6/29, and you will be entered to win a gift package including:

  • 1 Audiobook of mine, from either Tantor (Mp3 CDs or digital download) or Iambik (download only)
  • 1 Print book of your choice from the ARCs below**
  • I’ll narrate the poem or short story of your choice (some restrictions on length/content)

…and for each post you comment on, you get your name added into the hat another time. Comment on all five posts, and you’ll have five chances to win! Regrettably, if you are outside the US, I can only offer item #3.

If you’ve got a Twitter handle, please list it in your comment so I can more easily notify you.

Winner will be announced here, and via my and Going Public’s Twitter and Facebook feeds. Winner will have until 5PM PST on Saturday, 6/30 to make their print and audiobook selections (more time can be taken for the custom recorded piece :) ) Please be sure to check one of those sources after the close of the drawing.

**print ARCs to choose from:

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13 thoughts on “Audiobook Week 2012 – Picky, Picky…

  1. Penny

    Hi Xe,
    Aren’t we usually a little pickier when we critique our own field of work. I was. It is because I knew how it was supposed to be and if it didn’t meet those minimum standards or hopefully exceed so that you knew the effort was put in then I wasn’t a happy camper.

    I think one of the things that I want in a narrator is for them to read it as if the words were normal conversation (when conversation happens). You can tell right away how a conversation plays out and if it doesn’t sound like those people are talking to each other in the right pace or tone of voice it is a major turn off. Also, if you can’t do an accent then don’t attempt. I’ve listened to one that the person doing the narration was supposed to be Scottish and sometimes sounded that way, sometime sounded like a Polish accent and sometime I didn’t know who they sounded like. I wasn’t the only one who noticed it either. It surprised me that it passed through those that critique audiobooks. That person won’t get my business again and the author suffers for it. I’d rather they had spoken in plain English than mess up an accent. My pickiness. (word?) You rock though…so don’t get paranoid. Never a complaint…I look for your books.

    • You’d think that would be the case, wouldn’t you? But I think I’m actually more patient now that I know what narrators have to go through to do what they do. But I’m still unreasonable – and I own that. Like I said, there have been times that by pushing through that initial lack of connection, I experienced something fabulous 🙂

      We’re on the same page with respect to conversational dialog – absolutely. Now I will tell you as a narrator that sometimes that is harder than it seems – LOL! Gracious, especially is there are accents. So hard to maintain the accent AND the natural delivery and cadence of the character’s speech! But sometimes we simply have to – it’s requested so we have to do the very best we can. But yes, it’s very disconcerting when a narrator can’t do the accent consistently (I battle that when I’m doing it, to be sure).

      And don’t worry about downloading The Yellow Wallpaper right away 🙂 The complete version will stay up on SoundCloud – just the serialized bits that will go away soon 🙂

  2. Shanna Roberson

    I am with you on this one Xe. I try to give the audiobook about an hour before I call it quits but if the accent is too thick(southern especially) or there is no emotion to it, I tend to zone out and lose interest completely.
    My first time listening to audiobooks was Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid Novels and the narrator was Elizabeth Rodgers. Mrs. Rodgers is an amazing reader, I could tell by the sound of her voice who was speaking in the story. She is wonderful at making the characters voices definable, letting the listener truly lose themselves into the writer’s world.
    After that I was hooked. I devoured audiobooks and I was lucky to stumble across Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalker Series and well you know the rest! 🙂 I am glad you’re picky Xe. It makes you a brilliant narrator!

    • Oh I haven’t heard Elizabeth Rodgers – guess I’d better remedy that 🙂

      And thanks for your kind words, Shanna. But I should have said this earlier – I in no way mean to insinuate I live up to my own insane standards, LOL! I’ll keep striving though 🙂 And of course, what I love and need from an audiobook can be entirely different from another listener. I love intimate “breathy” reads, but many listeners want clear and strong. All depends on your preferences.

  3. Wow – you put into words exactly what I like in an audiobook narrator – really it’s almost a disservice to narrators because the best ones make me listen to the story and almost forget that someone is doing the telling.

    • So glad! I realize that what I said was harsh and will likely upset a few (or more than a few), even if that wasn’t my intent. I waffled over sharing my thoughts at all, knowing how unreasonable they can be. But in the end, decided to risk it.

  4. I like your thoughts of telling a story not acting a story. I have not (yet) listened to a book that made me feel that the narrator was acting.

    • This is a hard concept for me to put into words (tried yesterday with a friend and failed miserably – LOL!). To me, there are two parts of a typical, third-person POV audioook: the narration and the dialog. And sometimes, narrators have an easier time with one than the other…they can act beautifully on dialog, but fall a bit flat on straight narration…sometimes the reverse. Hope that makes a bit more sense.

  5. You’re right, there needs to be a good balance between enunciation and sounding natural.

  6. I’ve become much more picky lately, although I do usually give it one CD (or one section if it’s digital) before I decide to give it up. I like what you say about dialogue – I listened to an audiobook once where the author did the dialogue perfectly, but couldn’t handle the straight narration – it was very stilted, like being read from a teleprompter. So much must go into finding that perfect balance!

    • So much better to give it a full CD. Like I said, the times I’ve stuck it out, I’ve often been satified with the experience by the end. And yeah, the dialog/straight narration thing is tricky. I think many of us struggle with that.

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