DID YOU KNOW...? Vol. 5
This week we're reposting another Did You Know...? written by Karen White, which was originally featured in our handy dandy newsletter in September 2018. This post includes tons of helpful insights about publishing in audio that we thought were worth re-sharing. Check it out below!
Our last column on casting included an assignment. To review, we suggested that you listen to audiobooks in your sub-genre, or more specifically books that are comps for yours, and to come up with a list of narrators you like, which might include a mix of male and female narrators.
Many listeners have a personal preference for a male voice or a female voice. In choosing whether to use a male or female narrator, you could poll your listeners to find their preference, but that may not serve your book or series.
We interviewed a few casting directors to find out how they make their decision. Thomas Mis from Macmillan Audio noted, “some authors prefer a female voice to read third person perspectives - and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that - but I think this is because of the perception that male narrators will have a more difficult time pulling off a female voice/delivery, rather than the reverse. I always remind our authors that a good narrator can do both male and female voices well!”
There is the opposite complaint, articulated in a Speaking of Audiobooks article: “don’t make me guess if it’s the hero speaking rather than the heroine and don’t ever, ever make him sound feminine. Since I can’t see him, I need him to sound extra male.” (This article includes a lovely discussion between Audiogals blog reviewers on the male vs. female narrator question. They cover issues you might want to consider, but note that some of the narrators included are no longer working in the genre for various reasons.)
So what factors should influence this choice? And, hey, why are we talking to producers at audiobook publishers? If I’m not publishing my own audiobooks, do I even get a say in the casting?
To back it up: yes, even if someone else is publishing your audiobook, whether it be the audiobook department of your print publisher (as with Macmillan Audio) or a dedicated audiobook publisher (like Blackstone or Tantor Audio) or another entity, you can and should have a say in your casting choices. It’s smart to listen to the producers you’re working with, as they likely have a wealth of experience, but you know your book and (hopefully) your fans. In fact, Bryan Barney of Blackstone Audio told me: “it's increasingly common now for the author to have final approval over the narrator. The popularity of romance in audiobooks has led to authors becoming quite savvy in this regard. They know who the top romance narrators are and pay close to attention to social media following. We often receive a narrator wish list from the author ahead of casting.” (You go, saavy romance authors!)
Back to how to choose narrator gender*, assuming you are putting together that wish list. Every casting director I talked to said that the first thing they look at is POV – if the book is in 1st person, whether there are multiple 1st person POVs or just one – that choice is straightforward. A distinct narrator is typically chosen for each POV, with gender matching that of the character. (In fact I learned about a new trend I hadn’t heard of from Brandy Lawrence at Tantor Audio: “reverse harem romance books, which is typically one female voice and multiple male voices.”)
But what if the book is written in 3rd person? Then the choice isn’t so obvious. A careful look at the text is required. If it’s close 3rd person and the POV changes by chapter, it might still work best to use a male and female narrator. If it’s a more omniscient 3rd person, or if the POV changes within chapters, it will likely work best to choose one gender or the other, as a single narrator will best be able to maintain narrative tone, momentum and pacing.
This is where you, and your knowledge of the book will come in. Is it more the heroine’s story or the hero’s? Is it the beginning of a series where that balance may shift from book to book? If so, how will you handle that? Listeners do get very attached to narrators, and most experienced narrators work hard to keep character voices consistent across series (even and especially when minor characters become major characters) so making a choice you can stick with can be important!
Sometimes the choice may come down to the gender that you heard or pictured in your head when writing the book, or simply a gut feeling. Hopefully, you’ll make the choice for positive reasons – the series has a feminine or masculine theme or tone or simply because you believe a certain narrator “gets” your sense of humor or tone in their audition – rather than a fear, as Mis notes above, that a narrator will do a bad job with opposite gender voices, or that listeners prefer one gender over the other. For Lawrence, when a narrator is chosen to cover both genders, they ensure he or she “is very skilled at character voices.”
All three producers I spoke with mentioned that using more than one narrator is becoming more and more popular. Barney says, “As far as trends are concerned, we're definitely seeing a rise in the number of romance titles featuring two or more narrators (typically one male and one female). It seems like multiple POVs are becoming the standard.”
One clarification: we are talking about what SAG-AFTRA (the actor’s union that represents most professional audiobook narrators) defines as “dual” narration, where POV switches back and forth and both actors voice male and female characters. This requires some coordination between narrators to maintain consistency, but because they can record independently from each other, without overlapping text, dual narration will cost about the same as a single narrator. Duet narration is a different story: this style, like a radio play, requires that the actors record at the same time to create the back and forth dialogue. This style will cost twice as much, but may be worth the investment for certain projects.
That’s it for gender selection. Next month we will focus on auditions, including suggestions for how to choose sample text and what to listen for when you open that folder full of mp3 samples. Hint: the text you choose should help you find a narrator that can voice multiple characters of the opposite gender as well as cover any accents your book or series may require.
Finally, we’ll wrap up this series with how your marketing needs may affect your casting choices (remember that assignment to Google the narrators on your wish list to check out their social media presence? that’ll come in handy).
*For m/m or f/f books or other gender combinations, many of the same distinctions apply. Should you cast one narrator to perform the entire book, or split it up and use multiple narrators?