“Audio is a popular shelf.” — Jim Seybert, nonfiction audiobook narrator

By Blake Atwood

Jim Seybert, nonfiction audiobook narrator
Jim Seybert, nonfiction audiobook narrator

Jim Seybert is a nonfiction audiobook narrator.

We were recently connected through a mutual friend in the publishing profession.

After reviewing his site, I realized I’d seen his hilarious narration-blunder video before, which is embedded toward the end of this post.

I reached out to Jim for this quick interview and was rewarded with more than a few great takeaways for authors looking to publish an audiobook.

Why should an author consider having their book published as an audiobook?

Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry.

They have made authored content available to a vast number of people who like to read but don’t have the time.

There’s also a growing number of people who, as they age, find it harder to focus on printed pages.

Research done by the Audio Publishers Association (APA) indicates that every demographic is attracted to audiobooks. Both ends of the age spectrum are attracted to audiobooks—younger consumers like the portability and digital availability, while older folks appreciate the benefits of being read to.

When you’re marketing a product, you want to be on as many “shelves” as possible. Audio is a popular shelf.

When you’re marketing a product, you want to be on as many 'shelves' as possible. Audio is a popular shelf.— @jimseybert Click To Tweet

How can an author best prepare their work for audiobook production?

WRITE GREAT CONTENT.

That said, keep in mind that audiobook listeners do not have the luxury of seeing the page. Font changes, sidebars, bullets—all these things that look great on the printed page—create challenges for the narrator.

Good narrators will work with their authors to develop alternatives, such as a book I did recently where I wrote copy describing a couple of simple drawings. Many times, the chart or image is merely a repetition of what the author has already written, so it’s simply left out.

Also, and this is especially true for nonfiction books, narrators very rarely include footnotes. There are exceptions, but it is something to keep in mind.

Going back to my initial comment — write great content. Don’t worry about how your book will “sound.” There’s no need to “write FOR audio.” A good narrator will make minor adjustments to shape your work into an engaging and entertaining audiobook.

How can an author best prepare their work for audiobook production? WRITE GREAT CONTENT.— @jimseybert Click To Tweet

How did you get into audiobook narration?

Narration is a combination of experiences and skills I’ve gathered over forty-plus years of work around the marketing, entertainment, and publishing industry.

Four years ago, I had a job that required me to drive three to four hours every night from one city to the next. I started listening to audiobooks while I drove and, one evening, while listening to R.C. Bray’s performance of The Martian, the thought hit me that I might like to try doing what he did.

In the late-1990s I’d worked as a marketing exec for a group of retail bookstores and knew quite a few folks in the publishing industry, so I fired off a bunch of “what-should-I-do-to-get-into-audiobooks” emails. Of the thirty or so that went out, one guy responded with an introduction to a friend of his who was the president of an audiobook publishing and distribution company. After a couple of phone calls and a demo tape, he hired me to record five “b-level” titles.

That was the summer of 2016. By the end of 2018, I will have finished thirty books. One of my coaches will finish his 1,000th book by the end of the year. I have a long way to go.

Why do you mainly record nonfiction audiobooks?

Three reasons:

First, my voice is a classic baritone and, although there are some great fiction narrators with voices similar to mine, I find it difficult to do the various characters that fiction listeners often expect.

Also, it’s a branding thing. I would rather be known as an excellent nonfiction narrator than as a pretty good narrator in many genres.

Finally, and this is only partly a joke—I like being the smartest guy in the room. When I narrate nonfiction, for the length of the book, I am teaching the listener something they didn’t know. I like that feeling.

Aside from epistemological, what other words are your least favorite to pronounce?

Hah. That book actually had 187 “big words.” I hired an assistant to research all of them and provide me with a digital library of pronunciations. The cool thing is that Audiofile Magazine reviewed the book (Atheism on Trial) and called my work “a sparkling diamond.”

I struggle with the word asked. If I don’t pay attention, it comes out in the present tense without the hard T at the end. On any given day, my tongue can lift a picket sign and decide to not cooperate on even the simplest words. An experienced narrator can record one hour of “finished audio” in about two hours.

Audible honored a group of narrators this year with entry into the first-ever Audiobook Narrators Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, one of the inductees said, “We revere the spoken word.” I really liked that. I like being part of a small group of professional people who are dedicated to taking authored content and meticulously performing it for a new audience.

If you’re interested in discussing how to turn your nonfiction book into an accessible and compelling audiobook, contact nonfiction audiobook narrator Jim Seybert.