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Five Lessons You Learn When
Narrating Non-Fiction Audiobooks ...

January 10, 2017

By Randye Kaye
Voice Actor, Narrator, Actress, Author

Look out! Instant Expert Unleashed!

I just got booked (thanks, Tantor Media!) to narrate another non-fiction book, and my family needs to know its topic – so they can avoid bringing it up during the recording phase.

Already I can see them rolling their eyes.

Why? Because sure as shootin' (sorry, left over from a fiction series narration on Mustang Ridge…) I'm gonna have a temporarily-well-informed opinion on the subject. 

Truth, people. Look out.


So, the first lesson you learn while narrating non-fiction: You may tend to become an instant expert on whatever topic you're immersed in while recording.

Sooo annoying, I know. But I can't help it!

Why? Well, as non-fiction narrators, we actually "play the author" while reading his/her words. It's an acting job, too, although that is less obvious than in fiction narration.

And - well, yeah - I tend to take on my characters inhabiting the character while playing them, whether in theatre, TV/film or in audiobook narration.

Don't ever let me take a role as a bitchy broad. You'll have to run for the hills. Playing "Lucy" in Charlie Brown was the closest I got to that (and I liked it so much I played the role twice!)


In narration, we really get inside the author's head as much as possible. And, being the kind of person who is fascinated by pretty much everything, this is fun for me.

But after ...
  • prepping the book,
  • reading it out loud while making sure to stay present at all times, and then
  • listening back to it at times in the final stages
... it tends to get in your head.

So, yep, I'm gonna feel like I have earned the right to an opinion on the subject of say, Black Holes, Sexually Addicted Spouses, Chakras, or Financial Savvy. Because I wrote the book! (Didn't I? Oh, wait. Oops.)

It's one thing to say, "I read this book about…." - but somehow, "I just narrated this book about…" gives the input more clout. At least it feels that way to me.

Dangerous, I know. Warn your friends and families. So look out, new-Mom-daughter-of mine. Mom's going to be an instant (and temporary) expert or Montessori child-rearing in February. Good time to take that trip to Disney, honey! (No, I do try to keep away from the parenting advice. But still.)  

LESSONS 2 - 5 ...

Beside the lesson above, there are other things to learn from non-fiction narration work:

2. Finishing a book gives you the whole picture.

Did you know that most Americans only read one or two chapters of a non-fiction book (if that much), and then put it on the shelf to "finish later"? Yeah, we know how that goes.

However,  when you narrate it, you gotta finish reading that book (um, yeah).

Good thing, too. It does tend to round out the authors' points :)

3. Time management becomes absolutely essential.

This is true for fiction as well - and of course, for any large project of any kind.

Break it into small manageable goals, schedule them, and get started! This ain't your college paper, where you can start the day before and pull an all-nighter. Yes, I mean you. Or me.

4. The world is full of fascinating things – and people passionate enough about them to benefit the rest of us.

Some people devote their lives, quite happily, to things like measuring the exact age of a skeleton, camping out for months to observe a star, meditating for hours daily, planning finances, researching one breed of dog, learning every detail about digestion, proving or refuting the Black Hole theory … the list goes on.

These are not things I personally would want to do, but I am grateful that there are people who do.

Specialization of labor, distribution of gifts of strengths from the universe. Not just the authors, but the people they write about - many have chosen a little corner of the world to specialize in, and it's amazing to me. You get to learn about all this when you narrate.

5. What the heck happened to the red pen?

Okay, perhaps this is getting just a bit too close to the authors' work. 
Full disclosure: I have written a book myself and went through the process of editing (over 100 pages got cut) and publication, so a little bit of "writing hat" stays on my head as I narrate.
But seriously, some of these books need serious editing!

There are a few who feel like the authors had to prove their research with quotes and dates, often (to my ears) interrupting the story, and over-explaining the points.

Okay, I get it! I believe you! Was this a doctoral dissertation you turned into book? Okay, rant over.

But I do wonder if some of these books actually saw an editor. (Of course, if I narrated your book, dear author, I am not talking about you. Definitely that other guy.)

Which brings me to a final point - not a lesson, but a reminder, while we are at it:

God Bless the audio editors, and the proof-listeners. Your precision amazes me. I could not do your job! I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy narrating. Thank you.
Randye Kaye lives an eclectic life, and loves it that way. Full-time voice talent/audiobook narrator, also stage actress/singer, author, speaker, podcast host, radio on-air talent,VO coach, mental health activist and happiness simplifier. Never bored!


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Comments (6)
Doug McDonald
3/20/2019 at 4:53 PM
I loved this article for its frankness, simplicity, and truthfulness. I narrate non-fiction as well and share many of the traits Randye has.
Andrew Reilly
1/13/2017 at 10:23 PM
Your article danced like a sprightly conversation, and please do subscribe me to your newsletter.
Jackie Bales
1/12/2017 at 4:12 PM
Great article, Randye! Your love for the work makes your reads sparkle! (And I thought you were talkin' to me when you said "this ain't your college paper..." point taken!)
Alice Mathews
1/10/2017 at 9:17 PM
Fun article, and it sure sounds like you have fun doing these audiobooks, Randye. I'm a big nonfiction fan, and a former librarian, so this is a type of VO work I will look forward to.
Ann M. Richardson
1/10/2017 at 4:51 PM
Spot on, Randye! Loved everything you said!
Deb Stamp
1/10/2017 at 2:41 PM
Insightful with your usual touches of humor. Hey, not only are you a master narrator, but you'd be a great author... oh wait, you already are! Proud of you my friend.
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