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So You Want Me to Review Your Audiobook

I’ve been getting a plethora of emails from self-published authors this year offering me the opportunity to listen to and review their audiobooks. With advances in technology and services such as Audible ACX, self-published authors have more opportunity to turn their written work into audiobooks than ever before.

Based on my own experiences as a baby blogger and the experiences of other many other bloggers, policy is not to accept books written by self-published authors. I’ve never deviated from that policy with print books, not even for authors I’ve enjoyed who have moved from a publisher to self-publishing. With audiobooks, I’m not as strict. There’s just something about a narrator whose work I admire that can tempt me to “look the other way,” so to speak. I love Johnny Heller. I love baseball. So, when he offered me a review copy of The Tomb that Ruth Built by Troy Soos, I thought, “Why not?” I would get to spend some time with Heller at the very least. In this case, it was entertaining, well produced, and I was glad to have taken the risk.

While I have made exceptions for audiobooks, that does not mean that I’ll accept any and all review copies for consideration. Far from it. Of all those emails I’ve received this year, I haven’t responded to a single request. In addition to the lack of polish in the approach taken in the pitch emails themselves, here are a few things that might make your audiobook more marketable to book bloggers like me:

#1 Narrators Matter

Unless you’re a well established author I already love or your novel is a much anticipated release, the narrator is the selling point for the audiobook. If you follow audiobook bloggers and lovers, you’ll often hear, “I’d listen to X narrate the phone book.” That’s not far from the truth. Audiobook narrators who have honed their craft can take the reader places print alone cannot. On more than one occasion I had to pull over my car because an audiobook is so intense and wonderful. This is why I will follow trusted narrators places I would never otherwise go just for the opportunity to experience them performing the audiobook. This includes self-published work. While I have two other things that are important to me when choosing an audiobook to consider for review, an experienced narrator can prompt me to take a risk. If you’re producing your audiobook on a budget, don’t scrimp here. The investment made on seasoned narrators who know their craft and understand the industry is money well spent.

If a self-published author is also the narrator, I will not finish reading the pitch. Authors who make outstanding audiobook narrators are few and far between. I understand that you’ve lived with your story for a long time. Your characters are real to you and you hear them in your head. That does not mean you’re any more qualified to narrate an audiobook than a playwright is to act professionally on stage. Audiobooks are an art. It’s not simply another format like print versus eBook. Disagree? Record yourself reading a few pages of your book. Listen to it. Compare it to audiobooks narrated by outstanding author narrators like Joshilyn Jackson or Neil Gaiman. Then go back to the paragraph above and find an experienced narrator.

When I’m reading an audiobook pitch and I’m unfamiliar with the narrator listed, I’ll research his/her work on Audible, the publishers s/he has worked with, and any information I can find on Audiofile Magazine. I look at the titles that narrator has worked on to see how they might compare to work I have enjoyed in the past. If that is the case, I might bite. If, however, the narrator has few titles under his/her belt, if most of the associated covers are of poor quality (see #3), or if the samples lack good production value (see #2), I will pass. I understand that all narrators have to start somewhere and I wish them the best. There are many reviewers who enjoy combing through the work of unknown narrators to find gems. I personally prefer to try new narrators with material that has been vetted by a publisher and whose performance has been guided by experts in the audiobook industry.

More often than not, pitch emails don’t bother to include the name of the narrator. The first few times this happened I wondered if the author truly understands audiobooks and why readers love them. An audiobook pitch isn’t an audiobook pitch without mentioning the narrator. Without that information, to the trash it goes. It’s even worse when no narrator is mentioned and the link provided is to Amazon. Amazon tells me nothing about your audiobook. I can’t listen to a sample there and I’m not interested in print reviews. Suffice to say that if you think the narrator doesn’t matter when pitching your audiobook, make “Narrators Matter” your new mantra.

#2 Audio Quality Matters

I listen to samples of audiobooks when the narrator is new to me or the subject matter is outside of my comfort zone. I listen to them closely for many things. Do I like the narrator’s voice? Is the narrator connecting to the text or simply reading out loud? Does it sound as if the narrator is sitting right next to me or are there background noises or other distractions? Does the recording sound crisp or does it sound as if it was recorded in 1998 in the narrator’s basement? Unless it’s a mix tape made by your first love, life is too short to listen to audiobooks with poor production quality. Even then, don’t waste your first love on someone who just slaps a mix tape together for you. Always demand quality!

Research best practices in audiobook production. Ensure that your audiobook is created using them. When in doubt, seek the help of professionals.

#3 Presentation Matters

This last tip applies to all books regardless of the format. While they say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, first impressions are important. A professionally designed cover tells me that care and consideration was taken in the creation of the book. Cover designs that lack polish, have an odd aspect ratio, or are downright sloppy do not give me the warm and fuzzies about the quality of content I will find inside. I’ll pass on your pitch and wait for it to be featured someday on Paperback Paradise.

Before deciding on a cover, compare your options against those produced by publishers both big and small. If your cover looks out of place, go back to the drawing board.

Best of luck in your audiobook adventure.

4 Comments

  • At 2016.12.02 10:05, Charles Kahlenberg said:

    NOT asking for a review. Just wanted to tell you that I like this article. I’ve been in the business 40+ years as an actor. (Film,T.V. Commercials, and VO work including audiobooks).
    It makes me crazy to meet people who constantly ask me how to “get into the audiobook business” and I tell them, quite candidly, about “the cost” of learning how to do it properly; notwithstanding the capital costs of the proper equipment/ software, etc.. And then they give me a blank stare about how they’ve been told they have such a great voice (probably at a cocktail party).
    Then, of course, the independent authors who send e-mails to me asking me to narrate their books – and I turn down most of them for a multitude of reasons. I’m going to keep this link for just such occasions.
    Anyway, keep up the good work.
    Charles Kahlenberg, Richland WA.

    • At 2016.12.03 00:39, Lynda said:

      You said everything I was thinking! Thank you!

      • At 2016.12.03 16:55, Jim Moore said:

        Jennifer,

        Spot on blog and an important one for many narrators, editors, and authors. I am one of those relatively new narrators–been with BeeAudio and Audible (as C. James Moore) for three years, ACX for two years, have the BeeAudio production certificate, and record for Listen2aBook.com–who continues to record and grow. Would you consider letting me republish this blog as a guest article in my blog, “But What If I’m Write?” I think my small coterie of readers would enjoy and share your thoughtful words. All the best, Jim Moore

        • At 2016.12.06 09:08, Mary Phillips said:

          Hi Jennifer,

          Gosh! Couldn’t agree with you more! I LOVE listening to audiobooks, have done for years, and I definitely follow narrators who I have enjoyed listening to. I would also love to be able to search on Amazon and Audible by narrator, not just by author! Lillian Thayer is wonderful with the Maisey Yates books. Following a narrator is a great way to discover new authors. Yes, I am also now an audiobook narrator myself. You have confirmed my view that being researchable as a narrator really helps when a listener is just discovering the narrator’s work.

          I am sharing your blog article with my authors, and would also be delighted if you were to confirm that I may share it on my blog as a guest blog.

          Thanks for your wise words,
          Mary

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