It’s always a bit of a challenge to switch horses midstream in any endeavor. It’s particularly difficult to change audiobook narrators throughout a series. As you come to know the characters, the setting, and have lived within the inner active dialog amongst those characters, you grow to know them fairly intimately. Sounds form memory. So, you associate pronunciation with people, tone with certain types of activity and pacing with narrative drive. A new voice comes along and now you have all sorts of challenges to that subconscious memory of the story. Everything feels a little off because you do not have those audio cues that tell you about the character, the narrative or the setting. A new narrator whose voice is starkly different from his or her predecessor makes the transition even more difficult. So, my dear publishing and author friends, while I get it’s a business, people have conflicting schedules and sometimes you cannot continue with the same narrator, if the narrator’s good, do all that you can to keep consistency. If the narrator’s not working out, of course, look elsewhere in the second book in the series (don’t drag out the transition).
Even if you must switch, there are some things you can do to mitigate the challenge. One of which is to use the same dog-gone pronunciations. It seems to me the audiobook publishers are being a bit lazy or cheap if they don’t pay narrators to insure the transition goes smoothly by paying them for this transition time. This is not a matter of “a right way,” it’s simply a way to make the transition easier for the listener. I have listened to a series where the voices were relatively similar, where I barely noticed the transition. That’s rare. One of the most challenging transitions I have ever had is in the anazingly brilliant Jean le Flambeaur series (The Quantum Thief, The Fractal Prince & The Causal Angel). Now Scott Brick, admittedly, is one of my favorite narrators. I’ve heard him narrate everything from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to being in the cast on Orson Scott Card’s audioplay Ender’s Game Alive (best audioplay ever). He is a prolific narrator. He narrates the first two books in the Jean le Flambeaur series. One of the reasons his voice lends itself so well to this series is that it takes on an ethereal, other-world quality. It’s a sci-fi series that includes virtual worlds within worlds, minds taken from living beings and placed within quantum machines and three of the four major players are female. While a number of male narrators do a nice job with females, it is particularly difficult to do well. Mr. Brick’s voice meshes well in this world. It has a softer, dream-like quality with nearly perfect pacing to match both the action and the introspection.
I’m not sure why he wasn’t the narrator for the third book. Maybe other projects got in the way. I don’t know. [UPDATE: it wasn’t other projects (see comments below), he simply wasn’t asked. What?] I do know that any narrator after him would have large shoes to fill. Roger Wayne does a nice job narrating, but, due to the limitations in the industry, makes the transition hard; he is the narrator of The Causal Angel. Overall, Mr. Wayne’s narration isn’t bad. If fact, he strikes me as a more than capable narrator. I do believe that his voice is not ideally suited for this type of world, this type of story. It seems to have too much edge, too much hardness to it. However, that’s a mere preference and his voice would work well for other stories. I could easily see him narrating Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy. However, to exacerbate the transition, he pronounces nearly every name differently. For example, take the ship with a snarky AI personality, Perhonen. (All names mean or reference something in Hannu Rajaniemi’s world, this one means butterfly.) Mr. Brick pronounces the pair-ho-nen with a ho being light. Mr. Wayne’s is purr-HO-nen with the ho being heavy. It’s silly to argue who’s “right” but given that Mr. Wayne follows Mr. Brick’s two books, he ought to mirror Mr. Brick’s pronunciation. I end up involuntarily rolling my eyes whenever Mr. Wayne reads the ship’s name. Obviously, that pulls me out of the moment; it pulls me out of the book. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s a slap in the face to anyone following the series, and let’s face it, the vast majority of folks listening to the third book in a series is going to have listened to the previous two. I understand about tight schedules, limited budgets and the trials of making a profit in the audiobook industry. If you’re going to get a new narrator, make sure the transition is as smooth as possible. Better still, don’t get a new narrator. Narrators matter; if an audiobook publisher doesn’t believe that, they should check out the sales differences between audie winners and others. I listen to more books than the average bear; there’s a number of books where I only get the ebook due to the narration. I doubt I’m alone. I also look for books done by my favorite narrators.
That should never be the aim of narrating a book. Just like great writing typically doesn’t bring attention to itself but simply provides a way into the story (hopefully a lovely, clear and endearing way), so too narration should not draw attention to itself. Good narration may be lovely, winsome and soothing, but it shouldn’t pull you out of the story. For example, I could listen to Emma Newman (author and narrator of the delightful Split Worlds series) all day long and revel in her narration in a way that, quite frankly, I never would listening to Scott Brick. Even with her dulcet tones, she never pulls me out of the story but envelops me in it with her voice. It seems to me that’s the epitome of good narration.
So here’s the plea: authors of series, their publishers and agents, if you’ve got a good narrator, fight for that person to stay on your series. Fight hard. If schedules conflict, in my humble opinion, it’s even worth a little bit of publishing delay to the audiobook. Narrators, if you are called to come into a series midway through, please listen to your predecessor(s) and try to match, as far as reasonable, both the pronunciations and the pacing. Audiobook publishers, please require and recompense narrators to make a smoother transition. I should not feel like I’ve just walked into a new world when I have a new narrator. Make the crooked straight and the rough places plain in my transition to a new voice within the same series.