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AUDIOBOOK DEMOS - PART 1
How To Pick Your Audiobook Demo Materials
... And Some Other Good Demo Stuff, Too
January 15, 2019

Note: This Thursday night online (January 17), VoiceOverXtra begins the Complete Audiobook Narrator webinar series - the how-to guide to narrating fiction and non-fiction, and recording and editing audiobooks. Details are here. In addition, the author of this article shares how to craft winning audiobook demos ...

By Dawn Harvey
Voice Actor / Audiobook Narrator & Coach

Since I began working in the voice-over industry a couple or ten thousand technological advancements ago, the industry standard for the production and distribution of demos has changed dramatically.

Back then, we physically handed over or mailed out our demos. And the content of what we handed out was different from what it is today, as well.

So it's pretty likely that the information that I am about to share with you also has a shelf life. I can't imagine how it will change, but I've no doubt that it will.

For today then, here's what I have gleaned from coaches, classes, producers, webinars and casting people along the way about the audiobook demo.

THE DEMO SPECS ...

Of course, different publishers and casting people have different preferences regarding what they want to have delivered where and how often, but a beginning narrator should start with three demo pieces.

Unlike other voice-over genres, an audiobook compilation demo generally runs about five minutes, contains three pieces, and is devoid of any music or sound effects.

And the demo should contain:
  • one first-person fiction,
  • one third-person fiction, and
  • one non-fiction, for a total of three pieces.     
To refresh your memory:   

FOR FICTION ...
First-person:
A story told by one of the characters in the story. The narrator (not you) explicitly refers to himself or herself using words and phrases such as "I," "me" or "we."  

Third-person:
A story told by someone OUTSIDE of the story. They are an omniscient being who relates the story to the listener. The narrator (again, not you) explicitly refers to all of the characters using words and phrases such as "he", "she", "they" and/or the characters' names.  
Ensure that one of the fiction pieces you choose contains some male/female dialogue, as most publishers want to know how you handle men's voices if you're a woman and vice versa.  

FOR NON-FICTION ...
Non-fiction is a narrative, account, or other work whose assertions and descriptions are believed by the author to be true and include works such as history, memoirs, self-help, biographies, text books, religious books, travel books, etc.

Humor is also in this category, but I'm not sure it can be said that the author always believes what they are saying is true. Funny, yes. True? Maybe not so much.  
SELECTING YOUR BOOKS

Look for selections from contemporary books (written over the past 50 or so years) in genres that you love, that you want to pursue and that you could conceivably be cast to record.

So, if you're a 25-year-old male, don't choose something from The Life and Times of Imelda Marcos.

You may love reading business books, but if your natural speaking voice sounds more like a munchkin than a manager, it might be better to leave those books to others while you focus on children's books and sci-fi/fantasy, for example.

The Audie Award categories are a good place to start for a quick list of genres. Then it's a matter of finding a selection that is between 1.5 and 2 minutes in length.

You have complete liberty to edit the piece as you desire, cutting out and adding bits to suit your needs. There's no need to worry about copyright infringement for "demo only" use of materials.  

Also, choose books that are well written, but it's best not to select recent or well-recognized best-sellers narrated by top ranking audiobook narrators so as to avoid direct comparison.

For example, I wouldn't advise selecting a piece from Harry Potter.  

START WITH A BANG!

I try to find pieces that are interesting and that tell a story in the time allotted ,with an eye to keeping people listening for as long as possible.

But it must start off with a bang!

If you don't capture them within the first 10 seconds, your listener will likely move on.  

As far as accents go, it's great to have those on a demo if you do them well, but it is more important that your first demos showcase your natural voice. If some of the characters in your fiction pieces have accents but the narrator is you, that could be a good choice.

Certainly, you should have demos showing off your proficiency with accents, characters, genre specializations and technical expertise (from other lives you've lived in medicine, the military, engineering, or whatever – in my case, the oil industry, management and law). But those should generally come later. You've got the whole rest of your life to keep creating new demos as your skills grow and you explore new genres.  

DEALING WITH DIALOGUE

For the male/female dialogue piece, I find using paper books, rather than eBooks, as an easier way to locate potential selections.

Since dialogue is so easy to spot on the printed page, I do a flip through the book (like fanning a deck of cards) to locate dialogue-heavy pages, and then determine whether the selection showcases both male and female voices.

If it does, I read the selection and if it has potential, I flag it with a post-it and repeat the process until I have a dozen or so potential pieces that I will then go over (ad nauseam) to find the "perfect" piece.

As usual, I spend way more time at this than most people, but that's just me. I'd hate to think that I might have missed the pièce de résistance of all pieces.

I follow the same flagging and narrowing down process with the other pieces as well, but that generally involves more "reading" and less "flipping through" than when looking for dialogue pieces.  

USE A PREVIOUS NARRATION?

It's not necessary that your demo material be from a title that you've recorded. In fact, if the writing is not stellar, it's better that you don't use it.

Most demos are made from materials the narrator was not personally hired to record.

Even if the material you were hired to narrate meets all of the other demo selection criteria, you should still re-record the selection rather than using what you recorded for the book.

And you'll want to give this selection extra special attention to ensure that it presents you in the absolutely best way possible. That's worth the time it takes to be sure that you have explored every nuance, fully understood every word and character, and connected with every bit of sub-text that exists in the piece.  

See Part 2 - More Tips For Creating Great Audiobook Narration Demos
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ABOUT DAWN

Dawn Harvey is an actress, singer and voice over artist who has narrated over 50 audiobooks and is the recipient of an Earphone Award and a SOVAS Award for her audiobook work. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge, developing and teaching land and law courses in her "past life" in the oil and gas industries. She developed and began teaching workshops on the art and business of audiobook narration in 2014, and now teaches several times a year in various Canadian cities, as well as private coaching via Skype.



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