💬 Thursday Thoughts & Opinions: Authors As Narrators

Author narration is bold, but is it worth it?

Most listeners have had experiences hearing author narrated audiobooks, be they positive or negative. In my experience, the majority have been mediocre to negative, which has made me wary of listening to author narration. My general feeling on the subject is “Leave it to the professionals”.

Authors deciding to narrate their own work is a risky decision. It saves money upfront on professional narration services, but could ultimately cost big bucks down the line in sales if their narration isn’t up to snuff. I understand the temptation. Award winning narrators can charge up to $1000 per finished hour. Multiply that by 8-16 hours and it’s enough to make anyone want to cut corners wherever they can.

But professional narrators are called professionals for a reason. In most cases, they’ve had years of vocal training and narrating/acting experience to perfect their art. And it is an art. It’s not as simple as reading words from a page. Let’s be clear here: I am very much pro-narrator. I respect the heck out of what they do enough to realize that it’s a finely honed skill that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Nonfiction audiobooks seem to be the glaring exception here. The nonfiction genre naturally lends itself to author narration, especially where memoirs and autobiographies are concerned. I’ve heard two of Betty White’s memoirs and her colorful narration only enhanced the experiences. The emotion she exuded through the speakers added to my connection with her as an author and public figure. I can’t imagine anyone else having narrated her work.

A more recent positive experience I had with author narration was while listening to AJ Mendez Brooks narrate Crazy Is My Superpower. Whoah, baby. I was surprised shocked at how amazingly Mendez Brooks narrated her own work. She gave it so much life that I could practically feel her presence through my speakers. If every author narrated their work as expertly as Mendez Brooks, there would be no need for this post. I loved her narration so much that I’m now actively rooting for her to quit whatever she’s doing and become a full-time professional narrator.

A perfect comparative example of author narration versus professional narration is A Walk to Remember. Many of you probably recognize it as the 2002 film starring pop singer Mandy Moore. But before it was adapted for the silver screen, it was recorded as an audiobook with author Nicholas Sparks narrating. Here is a sample of Sparks’ 1999 narration and, for comparison, here is a sample of Frank Muller’s 2014 re-recording. The difference in quality is obvious.

A much-hyped YA audiobook was released last year that I had been anticipating for months prior. I became slightly ambivalent about listening to it when I heard it was being narrated by the author, but decided to give it a shot anyway. Ultimately, the author’s narration nearly ruined the story for me. Although it was fiction, the author had a very personal family connection to the story. That connection was enough to make her narrating of the audiobook somewhat relevant and novel.

From that angle, I can see why she would have wanted to do the narration herself. But I still think it was the wrong decision because she was unable to effectively convey the relevancy of her connection to the story through the narration alone. There was no enhancement of the story through her narration, only distraction and detraction.

That’s what’s risked with self-narration, particularly of fiction titles. It’s a bold move, for sure. But, in my opinion as a listener, it rarely pays off.

I’ll admit that my experience with author narrated titles doesn’t go very deep, but that’s primarily due to the reasons explained above. Unless I’ve specifically heard good things about the narration, I’m generally hesitant to start listening to an author narrated Fiction title. But that’s just me.

What about you? What types of experiences have you had with author narration? Do your experiences greatly differ from mine? Which author-narrated titles do you consistently recommend?

7 Comments

  1. I completely agree with the memoir thing. Listening to the author narrate adds validity to the story. As far as fiction writers narrating their own stuff, I think it falls into the same category as editing your own book or doing your own book cover. Pay the professionals.

  2. I am in almost 100% full agreement with your post. Nonfiction does seem to lend itself better to having authors narrate their work. However, your examples of that probably aren’t the best since both White and AJ are performers by trade that happened to write books. It is possible listening to a historian or a journalist narrate their own work might leave you wishing for a pro.

    In fiction, I can only recall one instance where I have heard an author narrate their own work. For some reason, Harlan Coben decided to narrate book 8 in his Myron Bolitar series. I didn’t much care for it because the first 7 were all narrated by the same individual and I got used to those vocal characterizations. The fact it is still the only book in that series he narrated makes me think a lesson was learned.

    One book I wish had been narrated by the author was Dusty: Reflections of Wrestling’s American Dream. The book was written like a Dusty Rhodes interview, including his turns of phrase. I have never felt sorry for a narrator before but did when listening to this because it had no real chance to be good since it wasn’t Dusty.

    If I’m reading a book on the subject of pro wrestling, I almost am afraid when it is not read by the author. Many is the book that when narrated by a pro features mispronunciations of proper names.

    One last thing that neither ads or detracts from the topic. I don’t know when that Frank Muller recording was originally done. I know it was released on Audible.com in 2014 but I know that Muller didn’t record it then since he died on June 4, 2008. He’s still one of my favorites.

    Great topic!

Let me know what you think!