You’re probably reading this article because you either have a book that you’d like to make into an audiobook and are wondering how to go about it, or you’re just curious about the factors that go into deciding what an audiobook will sound like.
There are two logistical factors that should be considered first: budget and the experience of the editor.
Large full-cast productions can become pretty pricey, not just because you have to pay the individual actors, but also because you will spend a lot of time casting and splicing together audio files during the editing process. Of course, all of this depends on the overall logistics of your project. You may also have to factor in that your editor may not have the skill level to complete all of these tasks at the level they need to be completed. If they are up for the challenge of learning this process, they will most likely need extra time to complete the tasks, so that needs to be taken into consideration as well. I recommend taking a hard look at these factors before even considering if you want to do a full-cast or a single narrator for your audiobook. You can check out this article for some more guidance on the logistics for casting audiobooks.
If you’re still contemplating a full-cast versus a single narrator audiobook, next you should consider your genre, target audience, and personal taste.
In terms of genre, most people prefer to have nonfiction books read by a single narrator, not only because the genre tends to use the third person, which lends itself naturally to this type of narration, but also because it provides a similar feeling to being read to or attending a lecture. This is an experience that the reader is usually familiar with.
Fiction, however, is a little more tricky. This genre is where factors such as target audience, personal taste, and narrative style comes into play.
There is a lot of debate among readers, producers, and reviewers on the preference of a single narrator versus a full-cast. The points of contention between the two mostly revolve around if characters of a different gender than that of the narrator are voiced well/badly, and if a full-cast audiobook sounds too much like the audiotrack of a film instead of a book.
To clarify these two points, those who are fans of a single narrator are usually fans because it replicates the feeling of being read to like we were as children. It also provides a more traditional book experience—it feels like an extension of the reader’s own inner voice is narrating the book. Those who are opposed to a single narrator usually worry about things like having a male narrator who isn’t able to do feminine voices convincingly or vice versa.
Fans of full-cast audiobooks like the added immersion and suspense of having multiple voices, which makes the experience seem more life-like. This can also add some clarity to the story for books that use multiple perspectives, timelines, or unknown narrators. Those who oppose full-casts usually feel like the line between a book and a performance are blurred too much for comfort; they feel like the audiobook sounds more like a play or movie instead of a book.
It’s understandable if you still feel confused on what to do about casting for an audiobook. With that being said, there are some trends in publishing that might help steer your decision: fantasy and science fiction titles seem to gravitate towards full-cast audiobooks, as do younger readers such as millennials. Older readers, however, seem to prefer a single narrator. Whether the story is told in the first person versus third person also makes a considerable difference, with the former usually done by a single narrator and the latter being either/or.
All in all, the decision to do a single narrator versus a full-cast audiobook is dependent on the project and the company, as well as to the taste of the author. If you are still unsure of what to do, you could always go for the happy medium of having a male actor for male parts and a female one for female characters.