5 Challenges in Audiobook Narration

I recently surveyed hundreds of Narrators and asked them what their top challenge was when they first started to create audiobooks.  Their responses flooded in.  As I read through their comments, I found myself nodding in agreement.  I had felt these things too when I first started narrating!  Now I look back and am a little amazed that I got through it.  That we all did!

So first, I would like to say to all the audiobook narrators and author/narrators that find this post, “Congratulations.  I’m so proud of you.  You did it!”

Some of the stories were amazing, like the Narrator who tackled “The Holy Bible: King James Version” for his debut audiobook!  To say that was a “baptism by fire” was no joke.  He showed great patience, tenacity – and dare I say, devotion – in tackling that project. Not only is it 783,137 words long, but think about the preparation needed for proper pronunciation!

What I found when I finished reading was that the response boiled down to 5 major hurdles each Narrator has to overcome in one way or another.  Let’s take a look…

#5 – Self Doubt

Here’s some of the comments that were left. 

  • Am I doing this right?  I don’t seem to ever like the way I sound?” 
  • I find myself doing this [insert word, sentence, phrase, or paragraph] over and over again.  What’s wrong with me?”
  • “I know I shouldn’t be the one to judge how it sounds because I’m too self-judgmental but I worry about what kind of experience the Listener will have.”

Self-doubt is universal.  Everyone feels it.  But, how do you overcome it?  How do you push those doubts away and move forward?  Henrik Edberg published a great article on The PositivityBlog on November 4, 2020 on this topic, 13 Powerful Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt (So You Can Finally Move Forward in Life).  I’ve found many of these principles to be very helpful throughout my life.  Check it out!

And come back next week and I’ll provide some advice for getting past the hurdles the Narrators addressed in their comments above; and – I’ll tell you what the Fourth (#4) hurdle was in the survey.

In the meantime,  what are your tips for moving forward through self-doubt.  

Georgetown, An Animated Series

Guys, you have to check this out! This is one of the most fun and creative ideas for small town marketing that I have every come across! This is the brain child of Michael Crisp. He is the producer of Georgetown: The Animated Series. He developed a fun way to encourage tourism, engage the community, and support local businesses through this animated comedy series.

Here’s what he has to say about Georgetown: The Animated Series.

“Our show is a comedy series featuring the offbeat adventures of the inhabitants of a small town in Kentucky. The show features colorful personalities that are based on real people, as well as exciting storylines that take place in actual places throughout our beloved Kentucky community.”

Yesterday Episode 3 premiered. I got to voice Sassy Boots! A new character introduced in this episode. Check it out – watch the series from the beginning! And if you’re on the road, stop in Georgetown, Kentucky and check out the real deal.

Keep coming back for more because I may (spoiler alert) be back in future episodes!

So, You Want to Turn Your Book Into an Audiobook…

Some of you may know that I am an Author, an Author/Illustrator, and an Narrator. I’ve been involved with a variety of writer’s groups since the 1980s. And lately I’ve been fielding questions from Indie authors about audiobooks. Would you like to know more about them? How they’re made? What the steps are in the process? I’d be happy to share. In fact, I’m conducting a survey about authors and audiobooks for my upcoming Masterclass project. 

I would love to get your insights and I invite the authors who would like to turn their work into an audiobook to participate. 

Your feedback will be making an important contribution to this topic and I’ll be sharing the top challenges with you, along with specific resources to address those challenges directly, once the survey is completed. 

The survey takes less than 3 minutes and you can get started now by going to this link: https://forms.gle/6JDjU65GQFS9nFpY6

I look forward to sharing these insights and resources with you. 

With thanks, 


P.S.: Please share this out to your author friends. Appreciate it!

Thank you, OHS Drama Club!

Last week I had the great honor of chatting with the Oregon High School Drama Club and their adviser about theater. This is something new that the kids are doing since the world is working/teaching virtually much of the time. They are inviting Guest Actors to chat with them about what it’s like to adult in theater.

They asked great questions! They were excited to learn about the depth and breadth of voice over work. Like I told them, they “only think they don’t know what it is, but in fact, they listen to VOs at least 20x a day!”

We also got to chat about design in theater and how the director is the Ultimate Designer having just black ink on a white page to start from. We talked in detailed about the costume design process and my own penchant for building little “Easter Eggs” into the costumes that inspire character development.

They are a fun, bright group of kids and I could have kept talking to them for hours! Thank you! And break a leg on your upcoming virtual production of Clue.


A friend of mine recently introduced me to a gentlemen named Benjamin Michael Freeman who started a charitable service group in March called Soup4U. He’s on Facebook. Check it out.

He’s just a guy, grateful for what he has, who wants to make a difference. And for now, a small difference is enough. One day a week, Wednesdays, he and a group of volunteers head out into two of the Madison (WI) parks where some of the homeless camp. He takes donations (blankets, etc.) and lunch out to the parks.

This week I stepped in to make a salad to go with the pizzas other are making for this Wednesday’s lunch. And I am SO grateful.

Of course, I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and food on my table.

I’m also grateful to cook for more than just 1 or 2 people. I know that may sound very silly, but I got used to cooking for the family or a the crowd of teenagers who come over after school and stayed for supper. Or a group of family and friends hanging out for a Margarita Night. I could end up cooking for 10 people without even blinking. And I miss it.

And, I’m grateful to have put this week’s harvest to good use. The produce came from my garden, my neighbors garden (my tomatoes are still green so he volunteered some of his harvest), and a generous Farmer who donates his excess farmer’s market produce to my son’s pre-school. On Friday I take home their excess and divvy it up around the neighborhood.

So in gratitude, I say, “Enjoy!”

Harvest Salad

  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Tomatoes (marinated in Pumpkin Oil)
  • Peas
  • Cucumbers (marinated in Apple Cider Vinegar)
  • Celery
  • Sun Flower & Pumpkin Seeds

Schooling by Tribe

Labor Day has come and gone and that means nearly all of the nation’s 13,000+ schools are now back in session. Whether your kids are enrolled in public or private schools, this year is gonna be different. Parents of school-aged kids will all be going on a journey they never imagined they would take. Some will enroll their kids in open schools and worry constantly. Some will school from home, making changes in their professions, working from home, going PT, flexing their hours to be at home, or even quitting their jobs to stay at home. Some will homeschool. It is, to a great degree, uncharted territory for kids, parents, and teachers.

I had the great pleasure last month to do some voice over work for the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), recording 3rd grade lessons. It was a lot of fun. This month, I’m helping out my grandson, Brodie, who is 4 and starting pre-school. His parents decided to homeschool him due to concerns about Covid-19 and the resources available in their school district. Homeschooling is a lot of work. Homeschooling parents and students don’t have the support systems of a school district or the teachers which have been working all summer to redesign their curriculum onto a virtual platform .

The choices that go into homeschooling start with learning about and understanding educational philosophies and figuring out what will work best for your kids. Then, there is the decision on what curriculum to use and which online learning websites can help. Brodie is lucky. His mom is a curious researcher at heart, so I know she did her homework and looked at a lot of options. His uncle is an early childhood teacher so he can help with questions about the curriculum. His grandpa is a retired middle-school science teacher. Both grandmas are artists. His uncle is a musician, and he has an aunt who is a whiz at math and making it make sense to the non-math-inclined. For my part, I’m going to put my audio book narration skills to good use and record chapter a day readings from the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. There are great teacher resources out there to go along with the readings.

Teaching by Tribe may not be possible for some. That’s okay. Just know that there are resources out there to help you.

Education.com offers free worksheets and games, tagged by subject and grade level.

Time4Learning.com offers homeschooling guides for preschool, including tools for lesson planning and a forum for parents.

CathyDuffyReviews.com offers parent reviews of online curriculums and resources so you can hear firsthand feedback before you spend any money or start down a challenging path.

NASA STEM offers science “missions” and games by grade level to inspire, engage, and educate your kids.

PBS Wisconsin offers a personal favorite of mine – Native American studies. If you’re not located in Wisconsin, you can still access their shows online at pbs.org or streaming on Amazon or iTunes.

The best piece of advice I can offer any parent, homeschooling or teaching from home, is to gather a circle of friends who can help you, listen to you, troubleshoot with you, and support you. Remember, learning can be fun. This year, it’s likely to be a bit crazy at the start.

Support the students. Support the teachers. And stay safe!

Tip of the Day: Slow Down

New entrants in the voice over world tend to speak too fast.  I did.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I did it.  VO artists need to slow down.  But this tip isn’t just  for them.  It’s for anyone involved in creating or narrating e-Learning.  “Why?” you ask.  Here’s why:

How much is too much? 

We create e-Learning because we have information we want someone else to know and understand.  As a subject matter expert, we can get carried away and try to say too much.  You don’t want to overwhelm your audience.  So, slow down.  Focus on the important things.  Give your audience what they need to know now and refer them back to your website or other reference resources where they can find more detailed information.

How well does your audience speak English?  The demand for employees who are bilingual or even multi-lingual has more than doubled in the last five years.  English is not necessarily going to be their first language.  And one thing I learned listening to my sister, a linguist who spoke more than seven languages, is that a foreign language sounds fast!  Even if you’re familiar with the language. 

I grew up in a household that spoke Spanish frequently and pretty fluently for non-native speakers.  It was how my mother trumped dad’s playful counter-mandates.  My mother would tell us to do something.  My father would sew disobedience with a playful, “Oh, you don’t have to do that.  It’s fine.”  This was a great game!  Until mom told us in Spanish.  We… well I… very quickly learned that if I was told in Spanish, I had better do it, and do it now!  (My father didn’t speak Spanish, by the way.)

I always got teased for having a Spanish name, so when it came time to learn a foreign language in school, I took German.  (Yes, I was a rebellious teenager.)  When I was living at home, I understood a good deal of Spanish because it was always being spoken around me. But as my sisters, all older, moved away, I didn’t retain my knowledge. I can still follow a basic conversation, but it only takes one word that I don’t know to completely derail me and I lose the whole conversation trying to figure out that one word.  The same thing happens to your audience.

As the voice over artist, you can help with audience retention by speaking in a slower pace and speaking clearly. Don’t go overboard and punctuate each word or articulate deliberately. You still have to be conversation and engaging. English may be the most widely spoken language in the world, but over 1 billion people speak it as a secondary language.

Are they going to be familiar with your company‘s acronyms and jargon? Creators, step back to your first day of work and think about all the new words and terms you had to learn.  Companies develop their own language based on the industry they’re in and the brand they build.  Consider having your e-Learning reviewed by a test panel with the same demographics as your target audience to make sure the material you present is clear and engaging for your audience.  It will improve your results.

And speaking of results…

The good news is that the Research Institute of America found increased retention rates (25%-60%) in eLearning and compared to face-to-face training (8%-10%).  The bad news is that within one hour, please will have forgotten 50% of the information presented.  And that drops to 70% within 24 hours and 90% in a week. (Source: www.shiftelearning.com)

If that’s the case, why do we do this?!!  Here’s why:

  • e-Learning participants learn 5x more material in the same amount of time.
  • Companies using e-Learning show increased revenue – a 42% increase!
  • Every $1 spent on e-Learning has a $30 Return On Investment (ROI).  (See what I did there with that acronym that my audience may not understand?)
  • Companies using e-Learning increase employee engagement – by 18%!

So, the moral of today’s story:  Do it.  Do it well.  And slow down.

What does it take to succeed?

At voice over? At your hobby? At relationships? At a sport? At being a parent? It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is because it always takes the same three things. Patience, Practice. Perseverence.

I heard this from Peter Jackson, UK’s best known voice talent and co-founder of Gravy For The Brain (www.gravyforthebrain.com) and truer words have not been spoken. By the way, check them out! The are a fabulous site for industry training, support, and news.

So, patience, practice, and perseverance. The three actions, habits, life tools that you need to develop for success – in anything. Why?

Patience – Not even the lottery pays you instantly. You have to be patience. So what are you supposed to do while you’re being patience? Well, practice of course.

Practice – You have to practice to develop your skills and win jobs. To stretch your voice acting out of your comfort zone to evolve into being better. This is how you book more jobs.

Having a pleasant voice isn’t enough. There is so much that goes into voice over that they newcomer and many of your clients just don’t understand. You’re not just a voice. You have to be a:

  • communicator – to analysis audience needs and motivations
  • copywriter – to analyze scripts and sometimes, in the case of translations, collaborate with the client on re-writing them
  • voice talent/sound engineer – to record the script and produce broadcast quality audio that fits your customer’s needs
  • director – to step outside your skin and listen, tweak, and adjust the voice talent’s read for the highest quality audio and best representations of the script
  • quality customer service rep – to work collaboratively with your clients to resolve questions, concerns, and yes – sometimes disputes to the satisfaction of all concerned (whenever possible)

And this is all in addition to being a small business owner who is responsible for… well… everything. Licensing, branding marketing, website/social media, finance, technology, payroll, and debt collection. This list is not all inclusive. But it does illustrate my last point – perseverance.

Perseverance – don’t give up. Set a schedule for yourself. Stick to it. When life interferes and you can’t – adapt. But keep at it. Systematize what you can and work your plan. Keep at it. One step at a time. Then another.

It’s how you build success.

Work-Life Balance in a VO World

What is work-life balance?  We hear about it all the time, but what is it?  Well according to an article in the Business News Daily, “How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance Today”, written by Marisa Sanfilippo, “work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life.”

Equilibrium?  I totally get that work and home are supposed to balanced, but equal?  Is that possible? 

When I worked in corporate America, when I was at work, I was at work.  Home stuff waited until my lunch hour, if I took a lunch.  I’ve always been good at compartmentalizing.  But if I’m being honest, I have not always been good at balance.  Even though I kept home out of work, I definitely did not keep work out of home. 

For ten years, I worked business continuity (a/k/a disaster recovery) for a large financial institution.  I was on-call 24/7/365.  At any time my pager could and would go off or the house phone would ring.  It didn’t matter if I was doing laundry, making supper, meeting with teachers, taking a shower, or sleeping. And the rule was – always – you have to answer.  In fact, I got really good at answering my phone at 3 am and sounding perfectly wide awake and coherent.  Out of years of habit, I still answer my phone, “This is Querida, how can I help you?” 

Sometimes it would be something simple.  Staff needing to know how to reset a server or to report an incident they had already taken care of.  Sometimes it was something more serious like the chemical spill that had me activating my team and relocating staff to an alternate facility.  But the common denominator was always the same – work takes precedence.  You need to respond now.

That urgency steeped environment was stimulating.  I loved it.  I thought I had the greatest job in the world.  I got to investigate every aspect of a business, learn what each department did, what equipment it used, how it worked and what drove the bottom line.  Then I got to identify all the break point and find all the ways to damage it, in my imagination of course.  Then I got to design all the stops, the redundant systems, the backups, and the work arounds to prevent or circumvent the failures.  Business continuity and disaster recovery are a lot of fun for a mind like mine.  But it’s hard on you too.  And its hard on your family.

My point is that sometimes work-home can’t be in balance.  Sometimes one of the other has to take precedence. There can be legitimate demands on your time at work for high priority projects, needing to fill in for staffing vacancies when someone takes sick or leaves unexpectedly.  And there can be even more urgent demands from the home front when accident or illness intervene.

Tips for when work and home can’t be balanced:

Take responsibility and be honest and upfront about it.

                Communication is the first tool in your toolbox.  Let work or your family know what happened and how long your attention will, of necessity, be out of balance.

Clear your plate

                Move any non-essential appointments and tasks off your calendar to make more space.  Give yourself some space.  It will help you stay more balanced and calm during the disruption.  Swap tasks or chores with someone and ask for help where you can.

Be realistic about time and energy.

If this going to be a short-term or long-term period of imbalance?  Set a schedule.  What are the maximum number of hours a day you will need to work on this?  Don’t forget about taking breaks, eating, and especially about sleeping.  Be realistic about what your mind and body can handle. Set a time limit or check-in point with those affected to let them know how it’s going and see how everyone’s doing.

Learn how to say no.

This is the hard one for me.  Learning how to say no can be very powerful. Let’s be real, we can’t do everything.  Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I do not do this?”  Saying no is an option and sometimes it’s the better choice. 

The lines between work and home can become fuzzy when you work from home.  Maintaining boundaries is a good place to start.

  • Create a dedicated workspace
  • Set your hours
  • Schedule the workday to stay on task
  • Schedule personal errands or activities as your lunch break
  • Make plans for after-work hours
  • Schedule and take a day off
  • Find a way to network
  • Dress for work

How do you find work-home life balance when working at home as a VO?  What are the major challenges you face? How do you remain productive and focused through unexpected interruptions like the neighbor’s lawn mower?

Trends in E-Learning

Top Disruptive Business (www.topdistruptivebusiness.com) posted an article by Aniket Patil on Friday called, “Top E-Learning Trends 2020: The ELearning Juggernaut Keeps Rolling.” In this article, Aniket predicted that the traditional forms of learning will soon be obsolete.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.

As a voiceover artist and business owner there’s a Imp on my shoulder doing jumping jacks and shouting “Yeah! More work for me!”  As an information junkie, there’s another Imp, on that same shoulder, rubbing its hands enthusiastically calling, “Gimme, gimme, gimme!”  But I have two shoulders.  And there is another side.  As a parent of a son who had many learning challenges in school, and as an instructor who has taught many business, theater, and art workshops for adults and kids, I’m concerned. 

To teach anyone anything, you need to:

  • capture their attention
  • entertain and engage them
  • be as interactive as possible

This applies to teaching in-person or virtually.  It’s a guiding principle for everyone involved in creating training – from the content writers, technology builders, to the voiceover artist.  To succeed, you need to connect to your audience, build a relationship of trust and support, and provide information in a clear, focused, meaningful manner.

For a voiceover artist that means you have to be a voice actor.  You have to think about the role you play and who you audience is.  You have to put yourself into their shoes and know what they need, what they feel, and what is going to speak to them.  As a voice actor, you need to speak to them like they are sitting right next to you, as a friend.  You need to carry emotion inside you that colors your tone and guides your pacing.  You need to give them space to absorb what you’ve said.

So, what do these changing trends in E-Learning mean to the voiceover professional?  Here are some of the top trends cited in the article I read and some of my thoughts about what it means for me as a VO and my business:

Content Curation – Making E-Learning opportunities are available across all platforms.

Users will be accessing eLearning through every available platform that is or becomes available.  Gone are the days of only sitting at your desk watching online training videos.  E-Learning has to be accessible on the go,  on your Smartphone, tablet, and through audio.  For this, the voice over has to have clean sound.  There are going to be enough distractions for the listener and poor sound quality cannot be one of them.  This is where a professional voiceover artist can provide a great ROI for a business.  Market to it.  A professional voiceover will give you clean, broadcast quality sound that an in-house production may not.  And a trained VO can bring life to your brand and message on a human, emotional level, where a dedicated employee’s pleasant voice may not.

Focus on Micro-Learning – Focusing on the specifics, breaking down the learning modules so the users can quickly and easily find what they need to know and consume it in small bites.

In a white paper on E-Learning by Finance Online, they said that on average, an employee allots 24 minutes week to professional development.  That’s not a lot of time in which to learn something.  What does this mean for the VO?  Well, it means you need to dig into the script and pull out the keywords and phrases that are really important.  What’s the one line you need to nail to get the message across?  It also means that you have an awesome opportunity to build a long-term client relationship with your E-Learning clients.  Be their “brand voice” for all their training modules.  Give them great customer service, ask for feedback after the training goes live so you can tailor your performance specifically to the needs of their employees.  Go the extra mile.

Video-Based Content – Making learning more interesting and engaging.

Did you know 68% of consumers prefer to watch video content to learn about new products and services?  They do.  And according to Wyzowl.com, the video E-Learning and marketing is going to grow to over $100 billion by 2023 and it will account for 75%-82% of all Internet traffic.  For voiceover artists, this means this is the space you want to work in.  Hone your skills.  Learn about video and animation production for E-Learning.  Increase your value as the voice talent to hire.  Find the space that you can lean in to and provide superior service. Become good at dubbing, syncing, and leveling multiple tracks (vocal, special effects, and background music) so you can offer assistance in the final creation and upsell your services.

Mobile-Based Learning – Providing access anywhere, anytime.  We live by our Smartphones and that’s only going to increase.  The content needs to look good on mobile and be responsive and flexible.

I don’t know that this changes how we, as professional voiceover artists, work on E-Learning, but it is a great reminder that as business owners and professionals we need to be connected.  Take the time to setup your business communications on your mobile devices so you can be responsive to your clients and to new business inquiries.  It goes a long way to establishing your brand.

Digitalized Learning Led By An Instructor – Replacing brick-and-mortar classrooms with interactive, virtual classrooms.

You might think that this doesn’t work in our favor as voiceover artists, but it doesn’t work against us either.  Step outside the box to look at this for a moment.  Even with led-by-instructor learning, there are going to IN/OUTs just like there is with podcasts.  There are going to be voiceover opportunities accompanying slides and video segments where the instructor is not on camera.  And while we’re outside of that box, what opportunities can you make?  If you’re not voicing the entire e-Learning who is?  In led-by-instructor scenarios, it’s going to be a subject matter expert – not a voice talent.  Can you offer consulting services as a voiceover professional to the company or school producing these led-by-instructor modules?  Studio setup in their space?  VO coaching for the teachers?

Personalized Learning – Providing a personalized experience for all users.  Focus on fulfilling individual needs.  Make it an experience.

Ask for feedback.  Find out from the learners what worked and what they think could improve the experience.  The information you get back may not have anything to do with your voiceover work, but it helps you continue to build a strong, collaborative relationship with them by showing you care.  Also, keep an eye on the emerging technologies of AR (artificial reality) and VR (virtual reality).  These two areas provide immersive learning experiences and are growing arenas for high tech industry training.  Seek out and build a relationship with tech companies specializing in gamification for businesses and AR and VR.  Encourage them to build a VO roster starting with you!

Will the traditional forms of learning becoming obsolete?  I don’t think so.  I think there will always be a need for in-person, social teaching environments.  I think it’s built into our DNA.  People need people.  That doesn’t just go away.  External forces such as COVID-19, multitasking, tight time schedules, and dwindling attention spans will push us to change our methods, and we will develop new technologies around our new needs.   Work-life and soft skills like problem-solving, communication, leadership, and collaboration may become more important.  Our job, as business owners, executives, trainers, and voice over artists, is to watch for opportunities

Opportunities to learn.  Opportunities make things better.  And opportunities to connect.