Ann Richardson

Narrators Supporting Others During a Virus Quarantine: The Nuts and Bolts of Prepping a Manuscript

In these unprecedented times of turmoil and “shelter in place”, many people suddenly find themselves with loads of free time on their hands. The search for temporary employment done from home can be daunting but take heart! There are some opportunities in the audiobook world that don’t require a degree, large muscles, or driving. Narrators are beginning to farm out an important step in the audiobook creation chain, in an effort to support unemployed friends, as well as keep themselves on schedule. A quick background on the audiobook narration process… In order to turn out a top-notch audiobook, a narrator must “pre-read” the manuscript before stepping into the booth, and be prepared to inhabit the story, whether fiction or non-fiction. Much of this prep-work is done at night after we’ve already spent the day sequestered, narrating. As one can imagine, this doesn’t leave much time for family or extracurricular activities. If your spouse, offspring, or best friend suddenly needs income and something to occupy their mind while they’re not mingling in public or touching their faces, amidst the current Covid-19 crisis, it could be a win-win situation if they could prep a manuscript for you!
How much to pay a prepper? You might want to barter with family members (cleaning the garage or walking the dog can be more valuable than money sometimes), or you might want to pay friends/associates the going market rate for this service. There are organizations that specialize in manuscript preparation for audiobooks, and the first one that comes to mind is Rip City Research. But for this article I’m focusing on the individual who is new to prepping. Preppers usually charge by the hour (independent of the runtime of the audiobook) and rates range from $25 per hour to $45 per hour or more.
How do you communicate exactly what you need to a person new to prepping? The process will flow smoother if you’re both on the same page, and headaches will be avoided if details are established up front. Plus, you don’t know what you don’t know (or what THEY don’t know) and it’s best to be specific with your needs. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention that Karen Commin’s website has a section dedicated to the subject of prepping an audiobook, and it even includes comprehensive guidelines to her iAnnotate process. But for brevity and ease of quickly sharing, following are two guides I’ve put together that a narrator can share with someone new to book prepping. One is for non-fiction and the other for fiction. Obviously, there is overlap of information, but I felt the need to create two separate guides, given the stark differences between the two types of literature, so they can be shared separately.

How to Prep a Non-fiction Manuscript

  • There is no need to give a synopsis of each chapter or a description of characters, unless it’s a fictionalized, story-style learning text.
  • Skip the Table of Contents, any indices and glossaries as well as footnotes
  • Do include research on call-out boxes, tables, graphs, charts, unless otherwise specified.
  • Pronunciation research should include all foreign words, proper nouns, and any seldom used words that are outside common usage, with links to audible pronunciations. You may need to consult several sources in order to find an authoritative answer. The first pronunciation listed in a dictionary may not be correct for this book. Also, names of cities, towns, and streets should be pronounced the way the locals say it. For instance, Milan, Georgia is pronounced “MYluhn”.
  • Submit only completed research in one document/spreadsheet, unless otherwise discussed.Think like a narrator as much as possible. ALL of the words will have to be spoken, and every one of them must be pronounced correctly!
    Valuable research sites*: and https://www.audioeloquence (for foreign words)
    *Note: you may not find the pronunciation on any of these sites. You may have to do further research online or consult a local establishment via phone or find another creative way to get the correct pronunciation.

Pronunciation Spreadsheet example:

Example of words to research in a non-fiction manuscript:
“…psychologists call working memory and executive functions—how a person plans a strategic approach to a task, controls what is attended to, and how he or she manages the mind in the process, so it doesn’t become flaccid. Psychologist Chandramallika Basak, then at the University of Illinois, and her colleagues showed that training in a real-time strategy video game that demands planning and executive control…Some studies have also increased the amount of practice provided. For instance, Florian Schmiedek and one of us (Lindenberger) of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and Martin Lövdén of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm asked 101 younger and 103 older adults to practice 12 different tasks for 100 days….”

How to Prep a Fiction Manuscript

  • Story synopsis can be from inside cover of the book, or back flap or Amazon listing.
  • Chapter synopsis should be brief yet comprehensive. Acting suggestions are not necessary, but rather focus on significant developments in each chapter including main plot points and all spoilers.

(Example: Chpt 1 – Introduces main characters John and Jane Doe, who live in a suburb of Chicago during the Great Depression. John gets laid off and comes home to Jane, who is reluctant to share that she just discovered she’s pregnant.)

  • Character descriptions should include name, relation to other characters (especially if this is revealed in a plot twist later in the book), any significant physical descriptions or descriptions of vocal qualities. Any other hints that would help a narrator solidify a character’s voice would be helpful, such as if a character was hard of hearing, or a high-ranking military officer, or was an abused wife with low self-esteem. List any factors that will help a narrator make a voice choice.

(Example: John Doe – main character, married to Jane Doe, brother to Tom Doe. Snide personality, selfish, rushes to judgment. Was a drill sergeant before being dishonorably discharged and treats others like the newly-enlisted.
Jane Doe – Married to John Doe, grew up in deep South, only daughter with seven older brothers, meek, subservient. In chapter 34 it is revealed that she was adopted and is actually the kidnapped heiress of a wealthy department store owner.)

  • Pronunciation research should include all foreign words, proper nouns, and any seldom used words that are outside common usage, with links to audible pronunciations. You may need to consult several sources in order to find an authoritative answer. The first pronunciation listed in a dictionary may not be correct for this book Also, names of cities, towns, and streets should be pronounced the way the locals say it. For instance, Milan, Georgia is pronounced “MYluhn”.
  • Submit only completed research in one document/spreadsheet, unless otherwise discussed.

Pronunciation Spreadsheet example:

I hope that this health crisis soon resolves, and life gets back to mostly normal. It would be nice if we learned, by living through this experience, how to shop smarter, be kinder and more conscious of how we interact with and support each other even when contagious illness is not looming over our heads. In the meantime, hopefully this article helps facilitate us supporting others by sharing some of the work, if we can. I invite you to visit my blogs on my website for more information on what it takes to be a successful narrator, outside of the booth.

Homework Before Narrating: Pre-reading and Prepping the Book

Herbie ate my book-prep notes.

I finish narrating, turn off my “RECORDING” sign, and step out of the booth for the day. Time to make dinner, feed the dogs, and relax a little. The operable word here is “little”. After tending to family and animal obligations, I sit down to enjoy some TV with my husband, pull my laptop onto my lap, and open the pdf for my next project.  Yes, I’m only 1/3 of the way through narrating my current book, but if I wait until I’m finished to begin prepping the next book, my schedule will be impacted and I’ll be punishing myself to meet deadlines.

I’ve been asked many times if I read the book before I begin narrating.  Resoundingly, yes, and the rest of this blog focuses on the pitfalls of not doing so, plus what “prepping” a book entails.


Say I have a non-fiction book on high density animal operations.  This is a high-level book with many technical, medical, and latin words describing zoonotic infections, infections with AMR bacteria, and respiratory disorders.

I don’t pre-read and prep… I haven’t even made it through the introduction and am now stopping mid-sentence, going online to research pronunciations. I go to YouTube to find examples of lectures on this topic in order to hear the word spoken. You know what happens then? YouTube suggests another video for me to watch. And oh, looky!  A cute kitten video!  Aawwwwwww, puppies!  Oh, I should really check my email while I’m at it. Rats, did I forget to pay off my credit card?  Hey, what’s going on in that FaceBook group? I’d better chime in and add my two cents to that flaming thread on outsourcing. What was I doing in the first place? I really ought to get back to narrating… wait…. How do I pronounce that word again?  Shit. Back to YouTube….   This is known as “falling down a rabbit hole”, and is one of the biggest productivity killers I’ve faced. I have a precious recording window of quiet time during the day; I cannot afford to spend half of my time in the booth falling down rabbit holes. I need to look up all of these words BEFORE I begin narration so that I can perform the audiobook smoothly, maintaining pacing, energy level, and vocal quality throughout. Interruptions damage this consistency.


A fictional romance comes into my queue.  I figure, “I don’t need to pre-read this book; I’ve already narrated three books in this series, I know the characters pretty well, and I really don’t have time to spend on it. I’m just gonna get in there and do it.

You know what happens then? I narrate happily away and learn that the female protagonist has a new boyfriend, and cool, everything seems to be going well. Yay for her. Until the second half of the book, when the author reveals that this boyfriend has a strong Irish brogue. Crappola. The time it will take to go back and re-record all of the dialog involving this Irish fellow, giving him his accent, is going to blow my schedule out of the water. Not to mention hampering the aforementioned consistency of energy, pacing, and vocal quality.

Not prepping a fiction book is detrimental in other ways, as well. Authors will sprinkle clues and background throughout that define and refine a character. You may learn that your heroine’s little sister has a lisp. But without pre-reading and absorbing the other characteristics that flesh out their personalities, the narrator cannot climb into that character’s skin and perform AS the character. Maybe you assume “lisp” means shy or reticent to speak up, when in reality, the little sister loves the limelight and is a child prodigy who discusses Einstein’s theories with anyone who will listen. In a recent coaching session, I asked a beginning narrator how he arrived at his decision to voice a character the way he did. He replied “I pictured her as an actress in one of those old-timey movies. You know, a real grande dame.” We then explored the pitfalls of playing a stereotype, rather than inhabiting the character’s true self. Without pre-reading, a narrator misses out on the hints embedded throughout the book that help form the character.


If you are interested in becoming a part of the thriving audiobook industry, but not as a narrator, maybe becoming a professional book-prepper is for you!  Here is what a prepper is expected to do:

-Research pronunciations of all unfamiliar words and proper nouns and acronyms (are they spelled out or if they form something pronounceable, is it commonly spoken as a word?  Example: “ARF” is known as “arf” but the acronym stands for “Animal Rescue Foundation”).  My blog “How Do Narrators Know How to Pronounce Stuff?” would be a great help to read before you start.

-Give not only a synopsis of the book, but of each chapter.

-Give character breakdown, including physical attributes, significant events about their past that contribute to characterization (example: she grew up in South Carolina, has a heavy accent, and was kicked in the head by a mule and has a perpetual stutter. Or, he was in the military for most of his life and his speech patterns are stilted and formal.) I recently asked my prepper to give me suggestions of movie characters he thought might be similar to those in my book.  He made several helpful suggestions such as “his personality is similar to ‘Chunk’ in The Goonies. This is applicable mainly to fiction, but depending on the nature of the non-fiction book, it may occasionally pertain.

Be able to create a spreadsheet and populate it with words, their phonetic spelling, and a link to a site where the pronunciation is audible

Be able to write coherently enough to compile a character list, including any history or attribute that would contribute to knowing how a character would speak (accents, posture, tics, or the way they speak or interact with others… is she always rushed? Is he a surfer-dude? Does the father work 18 hours a day and come home exhausted?)

Be able to write a clear, concise, brief synopsis of each chapter and/or the whole book.

Be technically capable of email correspondence and file sharing.

Be reliable and don’t miss deadlines!

Book preppers charge between $25 and $45 per hour. It is important that they be thorough, but also fast. Of course, each book is different, and non-fiction technical books will obviously be more labor-intensive, as will books with lots of foreign phrases and words.  I narrated a 10.5 hour audiobook that took the prepper 12 hours to prep. It was a simple historical romance, so it did not require the heavy lifting of foreign words or technical jargon. A narrator or publisher who depends on prepping services must be able to afford them, and falling down rabbit holes and charging for that time is not a tenable business practice.

Once you’re adept at these aspects, join audiobook social media groups and learn all you can about the industry. If someone posts inquires about needing a prepper, you could respond with your credentials/availability/rate, and whatever you’d like them to know.

In conclusion, hiring a book prepper is not “cheating”, rather it’s another avenue for doing due diligence and delivering an informed performance.  If you’re considering becoming a book prepper, you’re welcome to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to chat with you.