The Questions To Ask When Choosing Your Next Audiobook

I am an avid audiobook listener and love using the Libby app to listen to titles for free from the public library. Unfortunately, public libraries can’t carry everything and the newest releases usually have crazy long waitlists. That’s when I turn to Audible. I only get one credit a month, so it’s always tough deciding which audiobook to spend my credit on.

One reason I find it extra hard to pick audiobooks is because it’s crucial that I like the narrator. I know I’ll be spending hours with this voice in my ears, so I want to make sure it won’t grate on my nerves. A book like Outlander (a whopping 32 hours and 43 minutes!) would have been unbearable if I hadn’t liked the Davina Porter’s narration.

Luckily, Audible gives a five-minute sample of all the books offered on the site. It’s not a ton of time, but I’ve developed a set of questions that help me decide whether the book is worth listening to or not. Hopefully they’ll be helpful to you too when you’re picking your next audiobook. (Libraries also provide five-minute samples, so if you don’t want to commit to a checking out a title, you can apply these questions to Overdrive/Libby audiobooks too.)

Questions To Ask Yourself When Listening To an Audiobook Sample:

Accents – Does the narrator’s accent sound natural? Is it believable?
A well-done accent pulls me into the setting of the book, but less convincing accents are a huge distraction. If a book’s description makes it clear where the story takes place, pay close attention to whether the narrator uses an accent appropriate for the setting and whether you think it’s convincing or not.

Gendered Voices – Does the narrator perform lines of the opposite sex in an overdone and stereotypical way?
I’ve studied a little voice acting and when it came to reading male voices, my coach the focus shouldn’t be on lowering my voice, but understanding and capturing the attitude of the character. I can’t stand it when female narrators take their voices way low when reading male characters, and male narrators who use a wispy falsetto for female characters make me want to pull my hair out. When listening to an audiobook sample, try and determine if the narrator performs the opposite sex with appropriate attitude or if they pitch their voices up or down in an exaggerated way.

Author Narration – Is the author of the book doing the narration?
Most audiobook narrators are trained actors and have experience emoting when they read. Authors without that kind of experience often don’t do their books justice when they read them. If they’re reading their memoir or if their book is nonfiction, the result is usually better than if they’re reading a fiction, but I’ve usually found that most author-read books fall a bit flat.

Vocal Characteristics – Does the narrator have a distinctive voice? Does he/she have a vocal characteristic that is bearable?
By vocal characteristics, I mean things like nasality, upspeak (sentences all end with a question mark), breathiness, etc. For me, a nasal voice is tolerable but vocal fry is a no-go. If you know there’s a certain kind of vocal characteristic that grates on you, make sure to listen for it when sampling audiobooks.

Recording Quality – Does the recording sound clear? How old is the recording?
I’ve found that most recordings done within the last 10 years are very high quality. The older ones, however, can be iffy. Check the release date in the book description to see when the recording was made. When listening to the sample, determine whether the recording is at a quality level worthy of your darling ears.

Multiple Narrators – Is more than one narrator listed in the book description? Is it a full-cast recording?
Having multiple narrators can make listening to the sample tricky, because it isn’t guaranteed that all the narrators will be represented. My feeling is that if I like at least one of the narrators, then I can weather through the other ones since the narrator(s) I like will eventually come back.The same goes for full-cast recordings. Having a bunch of different voices keeps things interesting and if one narrator is annoying, you know that there are other better narrators coming. I’m personally a huge fan of full-cast audiobooks. It’s like a stage show in your ears!


A final word of advice: once you find a narrator you really like, make note of his/her name. You can always search Audible or library catalogs by narrator name. It’s a bit silly, but listening to multiple audiobooks with the same awesome narrator makes me feel like they’ve become my friend 🙂

Keep an eye out for more posts on audiobooks in the near future. I plan on sharing a list of my favorite narrators, as well as audiobooks that have made me want to sit in traffic so I could listen to more of them!

How do you decide whether an audiobook is worth listening to? Please share in the comments below!

4 responses to “The Questions To Ask When Choosing Your Next Audiobook”

  1. Allison Avatar

    These are great tips! I still struggle with audiobooks, mostly because of time, but I’m hoping to listen to more in the coming years (when both my kids are in school). You’re totally right that a narrator can make or break the experience. And how they handle different genders and distinguishing between characters is important–little annoyances become really hard to bear when they’re right in your ear!

    1. Kristen Avatar

      What I love about audiobooks is that you can listen to them during those times that you’d normally be bored (dishes, folding laundry, etc.) Good luck on your audiobook listening ventures in the future!

  2. Debbie Avatar

    Me too! Audiobooks are an invaluable part of my life since I love to read and have eye problems. I either use Overdrive,Hoopla or physically pick up the book on CD from whatever library I can find it at.

    1. Kristen Avatar

      What do you usually do while you’re listening? I listen to most of mine in the car, but I also get through a lot of audiobooks at the gym.

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