7 Reasons To Narrate Your Own Audiobook

Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in publishing. Most authors license their audio rights and work with professional narrators to produce their books, so why might you consider narrating your own audiobook?

I have now narrated my own non-fiction, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, and also fiction, A Thousand Fiendish Angels, three short stories inspired by Dante's Inferno.

Here's why I am doubling down on narration in 2019 and why you might consider narration for your own books.

(1) You love audio

I presume you're reading (or listening to) this because you love listening to audio. Yes, it's a growth segment in terms of income, but if you don't love a medium, you will not master it.

When people ask about writing a book but say they do not read, I tune them out, because they will likely never be successful as an author. Why would they be? They don't spend time devouring books. The same applies to audio. Don't even think about narrating audio unless you love it.

I listen to podcasts and audiobooks every day — when I am walking to spin or yoga or the shops, when I'm cleaning or cooking, or just relaxing and need to close my eyes. When I want to learn something new, or challenge myself, or sink into another world.

Thinking back, I listened to tapes when I was young. I remember Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and The Prisoner of Zenda in particular. I listened to those over and over again and found more at the library in those plastic cases that used to get so grubby (remember those!). Years later, I listened to self-help tapes and later still, downloadable audio MP3s before they become podcasts and digital audiobooks.

Humans have always escaped into stories told around the fire and lives have been changed, for both good and bad, through the power of the spoken word.

Audio is a powerful medium. You have to love it if you want to master it.

(2) The power of voice to build connection in a crowded market

Joanna Penn recording Business for Authors in a professional studio sound booth

There are a lot of books in the world, and more are published every day. With the advent of AI tools that will generate more text or mass translate existing works, there will only be more content for people to consume.

So, how do you stand out and build a sustainable author business for the long-term?

I've been podcasting for 10 years now, and although I've written 28 books, more people tell me that I have helped them through the podcast than through my writing. I listen to lots of podcasts too, and you feel as if you know the speaker. If people have your voice in their head, it's an intimate experience.

There is so much more than words in a voice.

The interesting thing with audiobooks, in particular, is that a ‘reader' must connect with the voice of the author in the story, but also the voice of the narrator who brings the book alive. Finding a voice to speak your words can be a challenge, especially one that fits your budget! But when you narrate your own work, your voice is consistent. It cannot be a bad match because it's the same voice.

An author who also narrates is memorable. 

I became a fan of thriller author, Scott Sigler, over 10 years ago when I listened to him narrate Infected and the subsequent books in his sci-fi/horror series. I've bought a number of his books since and still have his voice in my head on some of the climactic scenes. I'm not a rabid fan of all his work but I have spread the word about his books for 10+ years because he stood out with his audio readings.

[Listen to my podcast episode here with Scott Sigler on moving from self-publishing to traditional deals as well as podcasting and audiobooks.]

Voice builds connection and in an increasingly crowded market, we all need connection with readers to sustain a creative career.

(3) Improve your writing skill and characterization

Reading your work aloud can dramatically improve your writing craft.

With non-fiction, you are forced to read aloud sentences that might be full of jargon, or difficult to read or make sense of. You will end up editing for content, structure and flow.

With fiction, every character needs a ‘voice,' so you have to think hard about who they are, taking them off the written page and into spoken dialogue. I've ended up rewriting dialogue as I read it aloud because the character developed in such a way that I now know they wouldn't speak like that.

[Independent authors have control of later editions, and updating a previously published book is not difficult with print-on-demand and ebooks. More on publishing here.]

You will become a better storyteller because you are performing your story, thinking about your listener far more than you do when you're writing the book.

Regardless of genre, it's another line edit and you often pick up things you missed while ‘reading' in your mind, or even that a proofreader missed.

You will also notice repeated sounds rather than repeated words, which I have also been editing out. For example, consider the words: peak, Monique, speak. They have different meanings and different spellings but the same sounds. If repeated in a sentence or two, they produce the same feeling as a repeated word which is much more common in our writing, but most of us edit out in the drafting process.

(4) Create another intellectual property asset (and another stream of income) that you control

Your book is not one book. Your manuscript is an intellectual property asset that you can turn into multiple products and multiple streams of income.

Independent authors have mastered ebooks and print-on-demand over the last 10 years. We can publish on almost every global platform these days and produce editions as diverse as mass market paperback, hardback, and large print.

As independent authors, we like to control our assets, publishing them to new platforms when they become available, expanding our streams of income into the global market. At least, this is what I love to do!

Authors now have the option to create audiobooks across the global market through ACX, Findaway Voices, and Author's Republic. You can even sell direct from your website or through an app like Authors Direct (from Findaway).

You can choose your price and sell to libraries, and as more opportunities arise, you can jump in and explore them — if you control the rights.

Many authors accept audiobook deals because they don't want to, or can't afford to, produce the books themselves. Of course, there are stories of incredible audiobook opportunities and even six-figure+ deals and that would be something I'd jump on if it came along!

But for many, the deals are not so exciting and some authors sign contracts they regret later. Many also start with royalty split deals which can be a fantastic way to get into audio without outlaying too much cost. I certainly did royalty share deals at the beginning before I had the money to invest to pay upfront and keep all the rights.

But what if you could spend your time rather than your money and narrate your book yourself — and control the timing?

(5) Self-development and increased self-confidence in performing your creative work

At the time of writing this, I have still never read my fiction in public. I've spoken professionally all over the world, but I have never read so much of a line of my novels.

I have been afraid of it for so long because it means so much. My fiction is my heart and by putting it out there, I make myself vulnerable. So I have turned down many opportunities to read or speak as my fiction self, J.F.Penn.

But no more.

The process of learning to narrate my fiction has given me confidence because audiobook narration is essentially a performance.

It's an adaptation of the words on a flat page and my voice brings them alive.

(6) Development of another skill and extending your body of work

Through the process of voice coaching and learning about narration, I am discovering a whole world of sound that I didn't know about before. I'm learning more about my body and my voice as an instrument, about how to care for something I have always taken for granted.

As a learning junkie, this is so much fun!

I also appreciate extending my body of work into the audio sphere. I don't like relying on one way of making money, because change happens fast and if you rely on one company, or one product, or one form on income, you may find yourself running out of money someday.

I intend to be writing and creating for at least the next 50 years, and developing audio as part of my body of work is an exciting possibility.

You can buy audiobooks direct from authors with the Authors Direct app

I once visited the attic storeroom of a well-known voice talent who has narrated books for 40+ years. The shelves were full of tapes and CDs representing a huge body of work that was far more significant than the films and TV shows she is more well-known for. I'm just starting out but what will my attic shelves look like when I am in my later years?

(7) Marketing within a genre

I have only narrated my own books right now, but I can see a point where I would narrate other books that related to my brand. Audio listeners become a fan of the narrator, not just the author, and will follow them from book to book.

If I narrated other books in the same genre, then that may lead more readers to my work. It's certainly a way off yet, as it takes a lot of time and energy to narrate and edit, as well as a budget for mastering. But it's on my longer-term plan.

Audio is also a significant chunk of my non-fiction book sales these days, so why not fiction?

Part of the reason is marketing. Even though I have far more fiction audiobooks than I have non-fiction, I have a non-fiction form of audio marketing through The Creative Penn Podcast.

I'm currently working on a new site and new podcast that will relate to my fiction, so I am developing a marketing platform for that other side of my creative self.

In conclusion, I am thrilled to have my stories in the world in another format and I'll be doing more audio from now on. I'll still work with other narrators for some books, but I'll also be recording my own.

What do you think about authors narrating their own audiobooks? Please do leave any thoughts, questions, or your experience in the comments. 

Ready for the next step?

I'll be doing another article about my tips on how to narrate and tech tips in the future, but here are some resources that will help right now if you want to get going:

Want to try some books read by the author? Check these out:

Joanna Penn:

View Comments (64)

  • Hi Joanna,
    Great Podcast. Your narration was very atmospheric, and yes, the narrator’s voice disappeared into the mists of the story.
    I narrated 6 episodes of my own epic sci-fi series and put them on YouTube. It was a lot of work to build a sound box, narrate, edit the sound, music, graphics, etc., but enjoyable, just like writing. Now, thanks to you, I plan to resume narrating the story for audio, and hopefully, my voice too will fade into the story canvas, so readers will see the landscape of the theme, plot and character. Thanks again for your great work.

  • Very timely. Beyond rereading On Writing every year since it came out, I'm right now listening to it for the third time. There's always something new to glean, and I love his reading his work (also listened to Bag of Bones, which SK narrated). I listened to American Gods narrated by Gaiman while driving 2400 miles across the US (yes, surreal). I'm sold, thanks!

  • This was brilliant, Joanna. Thank you! I've just built the padded cell in the cellar for recording my books. So, finding your post - and the brilliant Findaway podcast you published a few weeks ago, is both timely and inspiring.

    You're so right, it adds a whole new level of enjoyment, and, hopefully, revenue.

    Thanks again for your hard work and generosity.


  • Hi Joanna,
    I always get so much out of your articles, so I share them with other authors and at times on my webpage and social media sites.
    This article is very timely since I've decided to ask my husband to narrate the male voice on my novels and I the main protagonist, however, what to do when you have several protagonists?
    I am also thinking of about using art and doing the narration on YouTube.
    Any comments and advice are welcomed.
    Thank you again and also to all the responders!

    • Hi Marta, Most audiobooks are single voice only, so one narrator performs the whole book. When there are more voices, that is usually a whole cast, so more like an audio production or audio drama. The best thing to do is find an audiobook that is like the one you want to produce and learn about how they did that. I only have experience with single narrator.

  • Inspiring as always! I’m addicted to audio, so creating an audiobook of my recently indie-published novel is at the top of my list.
    I’ve just found this Lynda.com course, which is a good intro to parts of the process (especially the 'tricks for better line readings' and 'voice over for your own projects' sections): https://www.lynda.com/Video-tutorials/Voice-Over-Video-Animation/647682-2.html
    Some folks might have free access to Lynda.com from their local libraries. (Thanks San Francisco Public Library!)

  • Spot-on, Joanna! I'm a narrator, and I love everything you are saying in this article. Things have been busy over here in my studio, but I'm really looking forward to taking some time out for this episode of the podcast.

  • I loved this episode, thanks! In point 6, you mention voice coaching and learning about narration. Is there someone in particular you would recommend as a voice coach for podcasting/narration? Also, what other resources do you recommend for learning about narration (anything that isn't linked already)?

    Back when I started my podcast almost six years ago, I really wanted to learn how to use my voice properly, but then I just jumped into it and didn't look into voice coaching. Now I feel like that's something I really want to look into before starting to narrate my own books.


    • If you want a voice coach in person, best to just google locally :) That's what I did! There are coaches who also do skype coaching, but I found the in-person stuff a lot better.

  • Hi Joanna,

    I'm relatively new to your podcast, been following it for about 4 or 5 months now and have been listening with great interest to your audio journey. Sorry for being late to comment but I've just caught up on this episode. I loved every minute of it, thought you made excellent points from the craft perspective about the benefits of reading your writing aloud and was dying to hear you narrate your work, especially after you said you'd always refused to read your fiction in public in the past. I'm sure many writers feel the same way.

    Listening to you read your work gave me goosebumps. It was such an authentic experience. Seriously, every author should narrate their own book!

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts - and I am so glad you enjoyed my narration. More to come :)

  • Thank you, Joanna. Loved your narration and fully appreaciate the benefit of doing your own fiction reading after listening in - lots of benefits.

  • You are a very smart lady, Miss Joanna. Very smart indeed.

    We are talking about doing this... and we can obviously do both the male and female voices. :)

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