Four Audiobook Narrators Share Their Journeys, Favorite Books, and Inside-the-Booth Secrets

With the addition of audiobooks on NetGalley and the ability to listen to them in the NetGalley Shelf app, I’ve been wondering more and more about how audiobooks are made and what a day in the life of a narrator looks like. So I called in the professionals! Here four different audiobook narrators share how they got their start in the industry, some of their favorite books to work on, and what might surprise readers about the lives of narrators.

Natalie Naudus

Natalie Naudus is an Asian American, Earphones and IAA award winning audiobook narrator of over two hundred titles. She started out as an opera singer, with a Masters of Music from the University of North Texas. She has a passion for stories and characters, and her language training provides great accents and convincing foreign language dialogue. She lives on a mountaintop in Virginia with her husband and two daughters.

How did you first become an audiobook narrator?

I have a Bachelors and Masters of Music in Opera, and I spent a few years trying very seriously to make it as an opera singer. It’s a tough career with very few well-paying gigs, and I was incredibly discouraged and ready to make a career change. I was spending hours in my car, listening to audiobooks, driving to rehearsals, and I decided to Google audiobook narrating on a whim. When I realized it was a real career path, I made a booth, started auditioning, and when I started to book work, I quit singing and teaching music lessons. It’s been life-changing for me—a dream come true to perform as an artist every day, in my sweats like the homebody I am, without having to travel away from my family.


What’s the biggest challenge you face as a narrator and how do you overcome it?

I’m a very emotional narrator (and person) and I struggled for years with crying in the booth when the writing was really gripping. I’d stop recording, try to calm down, blow my nose, and get myself under control before trying again. This past year, I’ve started embracing the cry more, if that makes sense? I really went for it with Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop. When I started crying, I tried to keep talking through the tears, with that genuine emotion, only stopping if I was actually sobbing or my snot was getting noisy. I think I’ve turned out some of my best performances this year, but it took some real self-acceptance to say ‘hey, this is messy and maybe a little embarrassing, but I want to be as honest in my performance as I possibly can, and this is honest. This is me.’


What’s something about the audiobook process that might surprise readers?

I think the technical side of things is much more rigorous than one might expect. It’s a constant struggle for quiet. Trucks, airplanes, high wind, very loud birds, my own clothes and stomach—they are constantly making noise that even my booth can’t keep out and I have to listen for these things while also trying to lose myself in a story. I lost a day of recording when there was a mysterious teeny tiny buzz buzz buzz, and right when I truly thought I was losing my mind, I found a tiny bug on my shoulder that would just buzz once in a while. Every narrator has a story like this, it’s us against all the noise in the world!


Is there an author whose books you’d love to have the chance to narrate?

I love Haruki Murakami, it would be so amazing to narrate a translation of one of his books! But in general I feel like I’m recording so many dream books these days, I’m very very happy. I live solidly in queer, female, and Asian stories and I love it here.


What advice would you give to listeners who may be reviewing audiobooks for the first time?

If your narrator has a social media presence, tag them in your reviews! A lot of narrators, like me, are working really hard to raise the visibility and presence of narrators, so your tags mean a lot to us!

Sean Crisden

Sean Crisden is a multitalented actor and an AudioFile Earphones Award–winning narrator who has recorded audiobooks in almost every genre, from science fiction to romance. He has also voiced characters in numerous video games, such as the award-winning ShadowGun, and appeared in many commercials and films, including The Last Airbender. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sean now resides in Phoenix, Arizona.

How did you first become an audiobook narrator?

That would likely be credited to elementary school when a supportive teacher realized just how much I liked reading out and gave me many, many opportunities to do so in front of the class. I recall there was another girl in that class that liked doing the same so we were engaged in a self-imposed competition to see who could have the most chances to read and make the fewest mistakes while doing so. She may or may not have bested me. Sure, I didn’t go legit with my first paying gig until 2009 but every supervillain hero needs an origin story, right?


What’s the biggest challenge you face as a narrator and how do you overcome it?

Relatively speaking, audiobook narration is an “easy” gig. I say relatively because a narrator is not down at the docks physically tossing banana crates onto boats in 110 degree heat nor conducting brain surgery. 

The narrator dons the mantle of a word weaver, an interpreter, and most importantly a storyteller. One of the greatest obstacles is simply to show up, remain consistent, and honor those aforementioned titles as best one is able. That calls upon the practical, tangible elements such as continued training as an actor and conduit for the human experience, but also on the more ethereal efforts of summoning the mindset, empathy, and passion to translate an author’s words and transform them into a consuming aural experience. 

Also, dealing with the occasional stomach gurgle or bodily function intruding on a great take.

Audio Engineer: “What was that sound?”

Narrator: “Uhh… I think… I think that was my bones.”


What’s something about the audiobook process that might surprise readers?

That I often narrate sans pants? Who am I kidding, that surprises few who know me.

Comedy aside, I offer the perspective that narrating an audiobook is extremely time-intensive. For every hour of narration that a listener consumes, that represents ninety to one hundred eighty minutes of work from the narrator(s), not to mention the team of proofers, editors, engineers, and, of course, the original labor of the author. Rather fascinating when one considers it.


Is there an author whose books you’d love to have the chance to narrate?

Honestly, I can’t say at this point that there is. In my adult life, I have had the opportunity to read for pleasure less and less so I find myself hardly ever doing so. Following that thread of the adult longing for the carefree days of former youth, as a child, the first book I ever sat and read cover to cover in one sitting was Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe. By default, an unconventional, nostalgic nod goes to that one.


What advice would you give to listeners who may be reviewing audiobooks for the first time?

As with any type of review for public consumption, if your intent is to provide balanced, objective criticism and praise then do so upon the merits of the prose, style, story, content, and art of the craft. Avoid the pitfalls of “this book had a cat in it and I don’t like cats, so 1 star out of 10.” For such a style of criticism only leaves us wondering how exactly a dog was able to type and submit a coherent review in the first place.

Imogen Church

Imogen Church is an actress who has worked in every nook and cranny of the industry, from theater, film, and commercials to cabaret, improvisation, performance poetry, and general silliness. Her voice work includes radio sketch comedy, commercials, documentary narration, and audiobooks (her favorite). Imogen is a committed bookworm and loves all types of storytelling, from children’s literature (in which she has a master’s degree) to blood-curdling thrillers, and everything in between. She is also an award-winning screenplay writer.

How did you first become an audiobook narrator?

Audiobooks were one of my first loves. I learned to read in the olden times of yore (the 1980’s) listening to Storyteller tapes, which were children’s stories on tape that came in tandem with the printed version in a magazine. These stories were narrated by absolute greats like Miriam Margoyles, Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, and Diana Rigg, and they opened up my lifelong love of storytelling. If I’d told my baby self that I would wind up doing that very job for a living, I would have frolicked with my My Little Ponies for joy. If I’d then told my baby self that I would get to narrate some My Little Pony stories, my head would have exploded. 

Fast forward and I’m a professional actor who is still a massive bookworm. So, I enquire about volunteering to narrate audiobooks for the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People). I audition and it’s great fun and they like me, but when I happen to mention that I used to be a Burlesque performer (which is a whole other interview) they really like me and are keen to know if I’d mind narrating erotica. Within roughly half a heartbeat I was narrating my first Mills and Boon book for the RNIB! After learning lots about the craft of audiobooks from the RNIB, I was then poached by the big publishing houses for commercial reads and it just snowballed. 


What’s your narration process like?

I read the whole book through, once, in detail, marking up beats and different characters. You really cannot start narrating the book unless you have read the entire thing first, because some authors leave critical details about characters and plot until the very end! There are also likely to be words that you need to research the pronunciation of, and accents you might need to prepare. The more work you do beforehand, the better your narration will be.


What’s something about the audiobook process that might surprise readers?

Narrating in your underwear when it’s hot. Lots of studios can’t afford silent aircon, so….

Also, the sheer physical demands of the job surprise people. A general studio day would be four sessions of an hour and a half of you talking LITERALLY NONSTOP. The concentration is fierce and utterly shattering, as is the physical energy required to characterize and travel through all the emotions, tension, drama, or the sheer speed and pace of comedy. It is really tiring!


Do you have a favorite book you’ve narrated? If so, why is it your favorite?

This question is way too hard! I’ve narrated hundreds of books and there have been loads I have loved for lots of different reasons. I got to narrate the first two Bridget Jones books which, as you can imagine, was both an unbelievable privilege and a slightly terrifying prospect, because Bridge was such a cultural phenomenon. All of Ruth Ware’s books are great, but, as the narrator, The Turn of the Key was my favorite, because I do love comedy but I also love horror, and this felt like narrating a horror. I got perverse pleasure out of scaring myself and scaring all the listeners for years to come. 

I’ve narrated a few of Kate Furnivall’s books and they are so insanely good, but The Survivors affected me so deeply… It’s set in a displaced person’s camp at the end of World War 2 and I just think you should all read it. Now. Go. Read it.


What advice would you give to listeners who may be reviewing audiobooks for the first time?

Art is entirely subjective. There is no right or wrong; there are things that speak to you and things that don’t. For me, a great review can give a personal take, but then also steps back and observes objectively. Your personal, emotional response is valid, but so is contextualizing your own opinion.

Audio-specific things to look out for are whether the characters are clearly delineated, so you can keep up with who is talking to who. Noting whether you keep having to force yourself to tune back into the narrator’s voice—if the narrator uses lots of downward inflections, it is likely to send your ear to sleep and a really good narrator will have enough mastery and bravery to paint bright pictures using lots of light and shade. Humour and tension are skillful things to create too; if you find yourself laughing or on tenterhooks, then that is some boss work right there! 

But primarily, does the book keep you coming back chapter after chapter? If so, the book has done its job.

Adenrele Ojo

Adenrele Ojo is a native Philadelphian who currently resides in Los Angeles by way of New York. She is a wearer of many creative hats: actress, voice-over artist, writer, producer, and photographer. Adenrele is a theater baby (daughter of the late founder of The New Freedom Theatre in Philadelphia, John E. Allen Jr.) who received her BA in theater from Hunter College in New York and honed her skills at the William Esper Studio, studying Meisner under the auspices of Maggie Flanigan. Ojo’s voice can also be heard on many audiobooks, which she has been recording since 2007 and for which she has received several AudioFile Earphones Awards. When she is not recording, you can sometimes find her directing authors, celebrity actors, and other audiobook narrators.

How did you first become an audiobook narrator?

While I was part of an African American theater company in Los Angeles, a publisher emailed the company seeking an African American female actress to record the audiobook of a slave story and that if anyone was interested to contact them. So, I did. They then scheduled me to come in for an audition. When I arrived, they placed me in a booth and gave me a few pages to record. As I was recording, I was thinking, this is definitely not a slave story. Then after listening to me, they gave me a different set of pages to record and that was the slave story. Ultimately, I booked the first title, which was a George R.R. Martin sci-fi book and then I booked and recorded the slave story. That was my start to becoming an audiobook narrator.


What’s your narration process like?

Once I book a title, I first read the script. As I am reading, I like to highlight all the dialogue in different colors by character. I will circle any words or names I am not sure how to pronounce to research later. Sometimes, as character voices come to mind, I may record them on my phone to have as a reference. Once I am finally in the booth recording, I make sure to wear comfortable clothes and I keep HOT water on deck, which helps with mouth noises and to simply quench my thirst. Normally, I will have a set amount of pages to accomplish during each session. While making my recording goal, I will take short breaks every couple of hours or so.


What’s something about the audiobook process that might surprise readers?

We don’t do it all in one take, not even a whole chapter.


Do you have a favorite book you’ve narrated? If so, why is it your favorite? 

I have to say, I have several favorite books. Sorry; I can’t just pick one. There are some stories that I just enjoy and are tickled by, like with the romance genre. There are other stories, like with non-fiction, where I am fascinated by what I learn. And then there is just some really great writing, where I can’t wait to hear the finished product. I’ve been fortunate to have voiced some really great books! 


What advice would you give to listeners who may be reviewing audiobooks for the first time?

I would recommend giving yourself about 10-15 minutes to really acclimate to the world of the book, to the sound of the story that is being told. Listen to the story at its original speed as much as possible.

Also, we tend to Americanize other cultures’ words and names. So, if you hear a word or name that is pronounced differently than what you know it to be, don’t immediately write it off as incorrect. Take this time to not only be entertained but also educated.

Kelly Gallucci

Kelly Gallucci is the Executive Editor of We Are Bookish, where she oversees the editorial content, offers book recommendations, and interviews authors and NetGalley members. When she's not working, Kelly can be found color coordinating her bookshelves, eating Chipotle, and watching way too many baking shows.

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