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Why Aren't There More Dual-Gender
Narrations In Audiobooks? (Hint: $$$)
March 6, 2015

By Karen Commins

Voice Actor & Audiobook Narrator/Publisher

An audiobook listener on Goodreads wrote recently:
"I'm hoping the powers-that-be realize this (and care) and that we'll see more audiobooks being narrated by dual-gender narrators. And I don't mean simply dividing up the chapters between a male and female narrator to read. I like the dialogue narrated by the relevant gender."    
Well, I can tell you why most books have a solo narrator: COST.  

I produced and co-narrated the four-book Blue Suede Memphis mystery series (fun, cozy mysteries with romantic elements), where I voiced all of the female parts, and a male actor voiced all of the male parts.

While I love the sound of the finished product and agree that having both genders makes the production so much more interesting, it's a very time-consuming and tedious process to create an audiobook this way.  


First, you have to have production rights to even be able to do a multi-voice production.

One mid-size publisher told me that we couldn't use two voices on a particular book because they didn't have the production rights for it. I guess the production rights allow you to make a play or movie from the book's text and are somehow different than audio rights.  

Next, you cast the two actors and must coordinate their recording schedules. If I weren't married to my co-star, the scheduling step alone could have derailed the production. The schedule is less of a consideration when the narrators are reading whole chapters instead of performing dialogue.  


Once the schedule is worked out, you turn to the cost of studio time, both for the recording and the editing/mastering.

The Big 5 publishers can afford real-time studio hours in big cities for their high-profile, bestselling titles.

Everyone else - small and mid-size publishers and indie authors - usually look to control costs by casting narrators with home studios. Depending on the project, the editing might be done by the publisher, the narrator, or an editor sub-contracted by the narrator.  


Normally, my rule of thumb is that it takes two hours in real time to record one finished hour, and three hours in real time to proof/edit/master for one finished hour.

With the books in this series, we spent at least an additional hour on both phases. A book that runs 10 hours with one narrator (or two or more narrators who read different chapters) therefore might require 50 hours in real time to record and edit.

The same book with two narrators and interspersed dialogue might require 70 hours of production time.  

Studio time isn't the only cost consideration, though. There is also the indirect cost of other projects or promotions that you can't do when an audiobook requires more time than usual to complete.  


In this series, I did all of the narrative portions and the female voices. I left airtime in the dialogue where male characters spoke.

As my male narrator Drew directed me, he mouthed his lines and cued me in for my next sentence.  

Then we switched places; I directed him as we recorded his parts: I cued him by playing my audio in his headphones. I pressed RECORD in the software. He delivered his lines.

Everything true of solo narration is true here, too, as far as re-recording to fix inflection, accent, flubs, etc.

In fact, it may be harder to be the second person because you're kind of coming into the dialogue cold. I think that person has to work harder to connect to the text because they weren't immersed in the story to that point. I stopped recording before he spoke over my next line.


Sometimes we originally left too much time for his parts, sometimes not enough. Sometimes his delivery caused me go back to my part and re-do it to change some nuance.  

As a result, editing the dialogue is EXTREMELY time-consuming. When I am narrating all voices, as is customary, I naturally leave the appropriate amount of time between characters. The editor is not constantly adjusting the timing to make the conversations flow smoothly and naturally.

In these productions with true M/F dialogue, the editor's job was even tougher given the timing issues.  

Due to the considerable amount of time needed for this kind of production, I'm not too eager to produce another one. Instead, I'm looking for projects with two or three first-person POVs (romance or mystery) where each narrator is responsible for entire chapters.


Karen Commins is a voice actor based in Atlanta specializing in narrations, e-learning modules and audiobooks. With over two decades of experience as an information technology professional, she is a subject matter expert in performing technical scripts about computer-related topics. She records in a soundproof studio and writes A VOICE Above The Crowd, an insightful and entertaining blog about working and marketing oneself in the voice over profession.

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Comments (5)
Darla Middlebrook
3/7/2015 at 3:12 PM
"The Help" comes to mind as an example of an audio book wherein multiple narrators voiced all parts in the chapters where their character had the main POV. I really enjoyed that one.
Karen Commins
3/6/2015 at 2:26 PM
Hi, Darla! It's certainly becoming popular to co-narrate a book the way you did with Mike Vendetti. In fact, I love listening to audiobooks with multiple narrators, especially for epistolary texts.

Dual narration also works very well for narrators of the same gender. I recently produced and published a dual narration of a non-fiction book with Melissa Reizian Frank where we each voiced individual chapters written by 2 different authors (BLY VS BISLAND: BEATING PHILEAS FOGG IN A RACE AROUND THE WORLD).

Our overall schedules still had to mesh in order to finish the audiobook to meet my targeted release date. However, we retained the flexibility over our day-to-day recording sessions.

I definitely encourage you and other narrators to seek out opportunities to collaborate with other narrators! I would even produce a true dual gender narration again if the price is right! :)

Karen Commins
Karen Commins
3/6/2015 at 11:58 AM
Greetings, David! Thanks for the interesting comment.

It's common to have multiple narrators voice all parts in the chapters where their character has the main POV. The production would be inconsistent if male narrators delivered the male dialogue during the female's narration, but not the other way around.

I haven't heard the book you referenced. I see that it does have 3 narrators: 1 woman and 2 men. The retail sample was taken only from the female narrator. She voiced all of the parts, including several male characters. I assume that the male narrators also voiced the female dialogue in their sections of the audiobook.

Audiobook narration is a performance art based on the narrator's interpretation of the author's words. A character voice that that sounds disturbing to one listener may sound perfect to the author.

Thanks again for your interest!

Karen Commins
Darla Middlebrook
3/6/2015 at 10:56 AM
Wow! I knew it was hard work, but did not realize how hard. I had the privilege last year of working with Mike Vendetti on a public domain project (Jack London's THE IRON HEEL). My job was to narrate the chapters that were meant to be the diary of the female character. Therefore, I voiced both male and female parts of her "recollections". Mike voiced the chapters that were meant to be the "notes" of the "researcher" who had "discovered" the lost diary. Because of this setup, Mike and I did not have to try to make our schedules mesh. Mike, however, was saddled with the chores of final editing and mastering. The hours of work were high, but the finished product was marketable.

I would like to try something like that again, but after reading about the hoops you and your co-narrator had to leap through, I'm thinking maybe not.
David Compton
3/6/2015 at 8:51 AM
I wonder if you've listened to Margaret Atwood's MADDADAM. The female narrator renders the dialogue of one of the principal male characters by adopting a husky, throaty sound, which I found disturbing to listen to. Of course, she had to make it a "male" voice, but I found myself wondering if she could have done it in a less disturbing way.

It is one example where the technique you describe, i.e., having a man insert the male dialogue, would have been more pleasing.
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