Confession: What do Readers look for in Narrators #Audiobook

Posted March 20, 2017 by Felicia S in Blogger Confession / 35 Comments


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Hi Guys! In May I will be going to RT17. This year I will also be on a panel with  Karen White (Home Cooked Books, Audiobook Narrator) , Michele Cobb (Insatiable Press, Publisher) , and Viviana Izzo (Enchantress Design & Promo, Publicist/Marketing Director) called Where is Your Listening Audience? (Come spend your Friday morning with us if you are able)

So in prep for this because I am always one to do my homework:  I want to hear what you are listening for in a narrator? For romance and erotica specifically–what are your biggest pet peeves, must haves, and make you melt qualifications for narrators?

Here are mine to get the ball rolling…

What I look for

  • Voice must match the character in regional dialect, temperament, and appropriate male/female alternating voices.
    • Regional Dialect: Nothing drives me more batty than to have all southerners sound the same. I am sure the same can be said for any region in the world but I am very sensitive about the southern accent. I like when you can tell the narrator put in a little bit of work to figure out if they should speak slow or fast, drawn out or pushed together, and twang or not!
    • Temperament: It is important to grasp the temperament of the characters. defines temperament as “the combination of mental, physical, and emotional traits of a person; natural predisposition.” It is important to me that a narrator’s voice picks up on these.
    • Appropriate Male/Female alternating voices: In romances this especially important. If I am falling in love with a strong alpha male, I can’t get thrown out of the story if he sounds like a wimpy guy. With women, I need them not to sound like a teenage mean girl or flighty. These things are super important!


  • Pacing (though this sometimes can be solved through speeding up the playback if the narrator voice is strong/consistent enough to do so)
    • Pacing of a performance can make/break an audiobook. To slow and it can feel like you are wading up a stream. To fast and the voices sound off. Most performances can be played at a higher speed these days due to solid performances and consistent voices. However, the ground pacing needs to be on point for faster playing speed to work for me. Also, I always listen to at least 2 chapters in “real-time” speed before speeding up so that I get used to the original pacing. If that pacing is just horrid then I will switch to the print book in a heartbeat.


  • Production Value
    • OMG nothing drives me more nuts than being able to tell if the book was narrated while the person had a cold, someone was cutting the grass outside, or the doorbell rang. I have run into each of these scenarios over the years. Also seamless transitions between chapters is awesome. Long pauses are not (at least to me).


  • Consistency in Performance over long series
    • Changing Narrators: This one is hard because some series can go on forever. There have been a few series that transitioned to new narrators pretty seamlessly by picking new narrators that have similar narration styles. While their voices may be different, the pacing and emotion have a consistency that make them a pretty good match to the series. Sometimes though “the powers that be” seem to go for a different type of narrator who change the performance styles so drastically that the switch can sometimes be a turn off. It is a crap shoot and each of these scenarios I think can be jarring to the listener. However, since they are unavoidable at times, I do better with consistent styles even if the voices are different.
    • Same Narrator: Sometimes in long series (even my favorite audio ones) there is an occasional dial-in performance that will drive me batty. The audio won’t have the same “zippity do-da” that it has throughout the series. It is important to maintain that consistency in performance AND QUALITY.


  • Fall in Love Factor
    • This I sort of addressed up under Appropriate Male/Female voices but in romance I need to get caught up in the couple’s story through the performance.  I need to feel like the narrator fell in love with these characters as the story expands. This is hard to explain (and probably even harder to do) but the best narrators make you fall in love right a long with the characters while they bring the story to life!


So what do you listen for?


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Felicia S

Felicia is just your average gal from Texas that loves Audiobooks and Libraries with a passion! She can wine them, dine them, and love them forever. Her eclectic reading tastes include: Cozy Mysteries, Thrillers, Swoon-Worthy Romance of all kinds, Zombies, Urban Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and the occasional YA read.

During her non-reading time you can find her hanging with her rescue furr children named after book characters: Lizzie a beautiful cattle dog mix (Pound Pup), Cinder a beautiful Shep/Pitt mix (Pound Pup), and Minerva a beautiful Shep/Pitt mix (Foster Fail). Gathering with friends and family, attending conventions, watching movies/tv shows, rooting for the 49rs, and crocheting.

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35 responses to “Confession: What do Readers look for in Narrators #Audiobook

  1. OMG the pacing one is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. I have DNFed more audiobooks because of THAT than anything else. Yeah, you can speed things up, but there are some narrators who take random pauses between the end of a dialog snippet and the “she said” or whatever. Or breaths/pauses at completely inappropriate points in a sentence. Or random pauses between sentences that are CLEARLY in the same paragraph. It makes it sound stilted, and I spend more time thinking about how the pacing is driving me nuts than about the book itself. Not cool.

    The dialect thing is a big one too, and I can’t STAND female voices who sound like catty teenagers (unless, of course, there is a catty teenager in the scene).

    I also try to pay attention to the tone of the narrator and how that voice fits in with the overall mood of the book. If the narrator has a super pretentious/posh voice, but the author’s writing is super casual, the writing style and narrating style clashing will get under my skin pretty fast. I think that fits under temperament, but thought it would be worth specifically mentioning 🙂

  2. You nailed it! I dislike monotone readings and will stop if I find an audiobook like that. And I dislike music/sound effects – it’s distracting.

    I actually really love when they have multiple narrators for different characters, but still enjoy if one narrator can make you feel like you are listening to a few people talking.

    I rally need to compile a list of my fave narrators. ?

  3. All good criteria, Felicia! I also listen for a narrator’s ability to 1) match the age of the characters indicated by the synopsis 2) emote and not sound too monotone 3) at least switch tone and cadence as s/he switch character voices even if s/he may not be good at doing authentic regional dialects (I’m not super picky on dialects so getting something close that indicates s/he is trying to make that distinction is fine by me.) 4) have a believable opposite gender voice without sounding too stereotypical and fake (this is super subjective, but it’s a make or break thing for me.)

      • Felicia, I’ve mostly come across the opposite and typically it’s been male narrators who sound too old for the MC. For example, the first time I heard of Sebastian York was when Emma Chase shared an audiobook sample of him reading as Drew in her Tangled series. He so didn’t fit to me, but she and many other romance readers fell hard in love with his voice. I tried Holy Frigging Matrimony: A Tangled Series Short Story (Tangled, #1.5) narrated by him and realized that I just find his voice to be mostly monotone. Stephen Bel Davies is another narrator that I think fails to sound age appropriate for the male heroes he narrates like Victor in The Company of Killers series by J.A. Redmerski and Wes in Ruin by Rachel Van Dyken. I actually bought the Ruin audiobook way before I listened to him narrate anything. Once I started Ruin and heard him narrate Wes, I immediately returned the audiobook. There will be no dual format reading for me on that one sadly. I can suffer through SBD’s poor narration on The Company of Killers series because he’s only 1 of several ensemble narrators.

  4. All valid points. For audios with multiple or dual narratives, I need them to have the same pacing or voice speed. Nothing makes me crazier than having to slow or increase speed per chapter.
    I totally get the sick narrator, had that happen for 4 chapters she was completely nasal. Another awkward one was swallowing. Like hard swallows as she caught her breath. That weird noise should have been edited out. It got so bad, I was listening for it instead of the story.
    Yes…no valley girls please unless it is an 80’s story!
    One of my greatest fears is that the narrators will change mid-series. I am so anal, and once I begin a series in a format (read or audio) I have to continue that way. The narrator’s voices become those voices. Just like when I read, I create them in my head.

    • OMG! I have so tuned into stuff like that. I’ve listened to a couple of audiobooks that left in when the narrators were inhaling at the end of their sentences. I went back to another recording that featured that same favorite narrator and only then did I noticed I could hear her inhaling on that series as well. It blew my mind because I had listened to that series a couple of times without noticing until I heard the inhaling on a completely different novel. She and the male narrator could be heard inhaling at the end, so I wondered if it was the studio mic or the same brand mic they both used that was super sensitive. It irked me that the studio engineer didn’t catch that and edit their inhaling out. I’ll never be able to listen to those audiobooks again. Fortunately, that same favorite narrator recorded another cool series and I didn’t notice that sound at all.

    • Nothing worse than the long breath in before a long sentence. They have to teach that in theater school that it is TOTALLY distracting!

  5. Narrator reading the book – not performing. Boring! Put some life into it or I could just read it to myself.
    Accents – I agree 100% with the southern accent thing. So if a character has an accent give them one and the correct one. Don’t make them sound like they are from Jamaica if they are NOT from Jamaica.
    Dual Narrators – loving it more and more especially if there is changing POVs but please make them sound like they are in the same room recording. I listened to an audio recently with two of my favorite narrators and I kept being taking out of the story because they sounds spliced. When in fact (narrator told me) they were in the same room recording together.
    Changing narrators for a series – doesn’t bug me too much. UF could be the expectation because they follow the same MC through the whole series. There has been a couple of times the change was for the better.
    I would has matching the age is a big thing for me. I’ve listened to some narrators (mostly female) who were voicing 20-somethings and sound like they should be voice the MC’s grandma. Not bad performance just not a great fit. I also have a couple of narrators that I like for certain genres. I may like them for contemporary but not for suspense or PNR, etc.
    Authors having the same narrator for ALL their books – can be great or bad. A great author/narrator combo is awesome but sometimes I find that the narrator may not work for all the titles the author writes or more like all the MC. I have a hard time moving between series by the same author if the same narrator voices all the books. I can’t keep the characters separate in my head so I have to space them out with other narrators.
    I think most of you ladies play with the listening speed where I rarely do. But I’ve found a couple of narrators I really like but need to speed them up so I guess that would go with their pacing.

    • Jennifer, I can’t adjust the listening speed. I’ve tried a few times on my iPod, and the speed adjustment just doesn’t work for me. It could be because the iPod classic only allows you to adjust it slower, normal or faster.

    • It drives me nuts to listen at regular speed most of the time. Not because of the narrator but because I need to know what happens NOW LOL I have zero patience 🙂

  6. I agree 100% with your post and what Melanie stated.

    I’ll jump in and say keeping same narrator for a series is important – ESPECIALLY if it’s the same main character, which is primarily UF. I won’t stop listening to a series just because a narrator changes, but keeping a similar sound, pacing, accents, etc. is important. But what really rubbed me wrong was what happened in the Mercy Thompson series with the most recent book… Lorelei King (GODDESS OF AUDIO!) has narrated every book, all parts, all characters, to include most of the current release. What drove me nuts was the introduction of a new, male narrator for Adam’s POVs. Why do that on the 10th book? Ms. King has always been the speaking voice of Adam – so it really threw me off. Plus his pacing was different than hers for me.

    When having two narrartors – similar tempo is important. I don’t like having to switch listening speeds each time the narrator changes in a dual POV story.

    Having a narrator match the temperament and age, etc. of the character is key. For example, I didn’t really care for Leila’s character in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series; however the narrator nailed the character’s whininess.

    Another pet peeve of mine is dub overs – you know what I mean… when it is evident that a section of the text was recorded at a later date and dubbed in. If it happens a couple times in a book, fine, but I’ve listened to books where it happens a lot and it really draws me out of the story b/c I’m listening for when the voice changes just slightly and I can tell it was a redo.

    And I prefer “emotional” performances. I can’t stand it when it’s a sex scene (or any heightened emotional scene) and the narrator sounds like s/he is just reading the text. I don’t need “When Harry Met Sally” but some emotion, breathlessness, whatever is needed.

    Also – what Melanie says about the narrative voice, especially on changing POVs. I want my narrator voice to change slightly if the POV changes.

    Hmmm… that’s it for now. Only… can I come with you?! This sounds awesome!!

    • Oh… and… If the same performer is used over the course of a book series, please have them keep the unique character voices the same from book to book. I hate when the sound of a character changes between books. But taken one step further, in a romance series where there is a different main character/characters for each title, but they are in more than one book, please keep each voice for each character consistent. I’ve listened to books where the h/h sound the same in every book, even though they are different characters, and may have sounded different in previous titles.

      • OMG Consistency is so the key. Don’t make a side character sound one way in a book but when they get a book sound completely different. If you aren’t comfortable doing the voice for the long haul then choose a different one 🙂

  7. I love it when narrators have realistic voice changes that allow me to easily tell the difference between characters. I think dialect and realistic accents are imperative. Ultimately, I want a narrator that makes me react to the book as I listen. I have to feel like I’m listening to a play not listening to someone read a book. I know that’s so arbitrary.

  8. I recently quit an audiobook after just 30 minutes of listening. The main character was a 26 year old woman who apparently runs her own business. But she has a gay best friend for life who is her business partner. The narration made her sound like a complete and total airhead. It was horrible. I had to quit.

    I like to have voices I can listen to. I like accents but not so thick I can’t understand them. In romances specifically I like to be able to distinguish my male and female leads. And they have to be believable. I have a harder time with male narrators who pitch their voices too high. Some of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher’s books suffer from this and they are some of my favorite books!

    • Thank you! This is going to be helpful during our panel!

      I have done that more than once. I just can’t with some narrators and some roles.

  9. Hi Felicia.
    Last year I consulted you on what you looked for in a narrator before I recorded my own book. I will keep those and these observations close when i record another one..
    Happy Reading/Listening!
    ~Icky. 🙂

  10. Never thought of it in such detail but a lot of what you said I would have to say AMEN too. I know that it’s very important for me to have a narrator sound like a region they are in, have a good pace. Don’t overdo the accents! Not all southerners are southern bells so they don’t all live on a southern plantation nor do they need to sound like it. 🙂

    I am not real fond of those with willowy soft voices that read a bit slow and even when I speed them up they are still slow…but on the other hand, I do like a voice that you can speed up and they almost sound the same…not sure what you would call that. 🙂

    I don’t always have to have a narrator that changes voices but when they do they better know w hat they are doing. No weird sounding guys or females with a funny high pitch, to me if you cannot do voices it’s best you just don’t try. 🙂

    They can’t all sound like my favorites but I don’t have a huge problem with too many but like anything we all have our favorites! 🙂

    Wish I could be there to see that panel!!!! 🙂

    • Thank you! This is going to be helpful during our panel!

      I don’t have a problem with a lot of narrators either. I mean some are better than others but I am ok with “good” ones that aren’t the best.

  11. oh I just love this topic!!! I think the number one I look for is the voice. It has to be pleasant and likable and fits the story. I do like it when the narrator can handle change of accents. Another thing I look for is display of emotion. If a narrator can portray the emotions of the characters and the tone of the story—then they are a win for me.

  12. I really don’t like, and I mean REALLY, series narrator changes. Especially if it is a female narrator to a male. I do not care if the book has switched from MC alternating POV to First POV male. It still totally throws me and already puts a strike against the narrator. Not fair of me, I know, but it does. I also do not like the big pauses between chapters. I never know whether it is a chapter change or my app has stopped working. I like for the narrator to put the sound into the emotion, but not so much so that it seems like she’s reading with an excited voice. Do you know what I mean? I like it to sound like the narrator is in the middle of the excitement telling us the story. Immersed, I think that is what I mean. That the narrator be as immersed in what she/he is reading that it all flows as if it is live.

    • Thank you! This is going to be helpful during our panel!

      I am not a huge fan. There have been times when it has been for the better but generally it is a nuisance. Though I don’t think the Mercy thing bothered me as much as it bothered others (at least I think that is what you are referring too)

  13. A great post. I agree, a good narrator can make or break a book. I love books that get it right and do the male and female voices with different actors instead of one throughout. I hate when you get a male narrator or female narrator that do bad voices for the opposite sex. I have also run across books where you can totally tell the narrator has a cold it drives me nuts!

  14. Great topic. I can’t wait for the panel. I agree with everything you listed. A few things I would add:
    1) with dual narrators, if they don’t have the same pace. I haven’t had this issue, but I’ve read some reviews where people have to change the speed at which they listen every time the narrator changes.
    2) I love when a narrator changes not just the voices of the characters, but where you can also tell the difference between whose POV you’re currently in (when male POV, even the non-dialogue sounds more masculine and female POV is more feminine).
    3) I know you mentioned this, but great to point out to publishers again how much having the same narrator stay on with a series. I tend to shy away from series on audio when there is a different narrator for each book (and that does seem to happen a lot, some series that I love are that way and it really brought down the listening experience). I would rather have an okay or average narrator that is consistent than a great one in just one book of a series.