Joel Simler, Audiobook Narrator
Pacific Northwest based Audiobook Narrator. Wry, Warm, and Welcoming...A Voice that's Delightfully Curious, and Facetiously Serious
Who would’ve thought that the kid who attended remedial reading classes would end up reading books for a living?
It’s true, as a child my teacher sent me to a remedial reading program - but given time, I soon became that kid in class constantly getting in trouble for having his nose in a book instead of listening to his teachers.
I am an audiobook narrator born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. Audiobook narration is a beautiful coalescence of my deep need to perform (I have a history of stage/radio/ballroom-dance/and music performance), plus my degree in Audio Production from The Art Institute of Seattle. In 2019 I realized that audiobook narration was my calling, and since then I’ve thrown myself fully into the craft and committed to extensive training with reputable coaches, and invested in a high quality recording studio.
Having recently made audiobook narration my full time “job”, I work out of my purpose-built recording studio (affectionately named “The Audio Hovel”) in Bellingham, WA. I spend many hours in my studio, learning how to manage an audiobook business, and reading many MANY books.
This job entails sitting in a small closet sized room (or, literal closet in many people’s cases), talking to yourself, and listening back to your own voice for many hours. For a lot of people, that is a special sort of hell. But for some others, it’s a strange dream come true!
On the surface, audiobook narration sounds easy: turn on your microphone (everyone’s got one now), sit down (or stand), and simply read a book out loud. Of course once you actually start doing any one of these steps, you quickly learn how much work it actually is. A single finished hour of an audiobook takes roughly 4-6 hours of labor, which consists of reading the book and preparing it for recording, narrating the book out loud, proof-listening to what was recorded, editing, and then finally mastering the final files. That average I mentioned is for those experienced and good at what they do. If you’re new, it can take even longer. My very first book was 25 minutes long, and it took me at least 30 hours of work. Of course, the more you do it, the faster you get. Plus, there are amazing coaches out there to help with every step of the process; from setting up a proper recording space and using the equipment needed for a quality product, to how to actually perform the book! Yes, narrating audiobooks (even nonfiction) is an acting job.
For anyone looking to get into this industry, I would start by doing lots and lots of research. Research the hell out of the industry before you ask any questions, because there is already a TON of information publicly available at your fingertips. Search facebook for narrator groups. Attend Clubhouse audiobook groups. Study, in extreme detail, Karen Commins’ Narrator Roadmap resource page (https://www.narratorsroadmap.com/welcome-center/?fbclid=IwAR3S5wGsBAv4k45PLpW60encJttriAlcP8O6CL-UDVl2FWwORqr0ZdWQbJY). Then, once you’ve done that, get yourself a coach. This industry vastly rewards those that treat the craft seriously, and take the time to invest in themselves and their skills.
Audiobook Narration Basics
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. This phrase encompasses every. Single. Facet. of the process. Audiobook narration is a long-game, a career that can last a lifetime if care is taken to not burn yourself out. Take time to research and study, and talk to LOTS of people. When someone is an “overnight success”, the phrase leaves out the couple years of hard work that took place before that “one” epic “night”.
And when it comes to the actual act of recording the book, the “marathon” phrase still applies: great care needs to be taken to not rush through it. This is for the audience's sake, and your own. The number one note that coaches give to new (and even experienced) narrators, is to S-L-O-W down. Slowing down lets the listener actually comprehend the story, making it much more enjoyable. Slowing down also lets you absorb the words as you are performing them, making it a better performance! Plus, slowing down can be easier on your vocal chords and let you narrate for longer stretches.
Another tip, treat your voice well by hydrating heavily, and warming up before recording.
The audiobook production community is hands down the most inclusive and communal community I have ever been a part of. The narrator community consists of self described “book and/or theatre nerds” that love reading and performing. The job of a narrator is often a lonely one, as they are usually at home recording by themselves in a small space. To combat loneliness, narrators band together and have created some amazing spaces to share thoughts and ideas, commiserate, laugh, and enjoy each other's company. Jump in, learn from others, and have fun!
My Creative Process
My creative process starts when I sit down and start reading the book; the prep stage. While reading the book, especially for fiction, I take copious notes on all the characters, marking down any distinguishing features (short or tall? Education level? Boxers or briefs? etc.) and I try to really visualize who this person is. The clearer picture I have in my mind of who they are, the more realistically and accurately I can voice them in the story. For nonfiction, I really analyze the text and, in a sense, try to reverse engineer the author's words so that I can get into their head. The better I understand the author and the material, the better the book will sound.
Once I’ve gone through the entire book and made my notes and envisioned the characters and their story, it’s time to hop into the booth. As I can also be a lazy creator, I make sure there are as few obstacles in the way for me to start as possible. I keep my recording booth and equipment ready to go at all times. Equipment in place, distractions aside, busy work done/saved for later, I then step up to the mic.
This next part is tricky, and that's because there are a lot of nerves involved in beginning a new book. You just want it to be perfect, right? I really sweat as I hover over the record button, convincing myself that I know what I’m doing and that this book is going to sound great. Gah! The pressure!
My special trick at this time is to press record before I begin to think too much. I do this knowing full well that I am going to mess up the very first sentence. But I do it because it breaks my tendency to want it to start out perfect. Even if I don’t feel ready, I will sometimes just start, knowing that as I read the book out loud, I will eventually find it’s flow and get to know the characters even better. Often this means that I need to go back and re-record the first few chapters, but it’s worth it to just get started!