Today’s episode is an interview with Sean Pratt. We know one another because he was my non-fiction audiobook narration coach.
Sean Pratt has been a working actor for over 30 years. He has been an audiobook narrator for 25 years (aka – Lloyd James), recording over 1,000 books in almost every genre and has received 8 AudioFile Magazine “Earphones” awards, 3 SOVAS nominations, and 5 “Audie” nominations from the Audio Publishers Association.
Sean is also the author of “ To Be or Wanna Be – The Top Ten Differences between a Successful Actor and a Starving Artist,” an actor’s how-to book that talks about approaches and behaviors that separate a thriving actor from a starving artist.
Currently, Sean coaches performers on audiobook narration technique, as well as teaching classes on and writes articles about the business of the Biz.
Mentioned in this episode
Website – https://www.seanprattpresents.com
Twitter – @SPPresents
Instagram – @SPPresents
Facebook – Sean Pratt Presents
LinkedIn – Sean Pratt
Kenny Pappaconstantinou linkedin.com/in/kennypmusic, elephantaudiobooks.com
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel A. van Der Kolk
The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols
Highlights from the interview
Sean uses his voice to educate and entertain.
Sean coaches two different types of narrators: authors narrating their own book(s) and professional audiobook narrators. He commented on both types of narration coaching during the interview.
How did Sean get started training authors to narrate their audiobooks? He was already training authors to narrate their own books. Then, he got the opportunity to do even more of that when Kenny Pappaconstantinou from Elephant Audiobooks asked Sean to train authors to perform their own books. Sean teaches authors how to give the best possible performance.
A narrator needs to consider: Is the performance entertaining? Does it hold the listener’s attention? Will the listener give you a poor review because the performance was bad? Will the listener return the book? Bad reviews can affect an author’s career. Casting the right person to narrate an audiobook is important!
What do authors who are narrators need to learn?
- Stamina: vocal, physical, and mental stamina are needed to narrate a book. Sean insists authors narrate 2 hours/day to practice.
- Rent studio space because of all the different hats a narrator must wear (producer, director, and engineer). It’s worth the time and money to hire studio space and a director if they can.
- Do the “gap exercise.” Compare your natural speaking voice to your narration voice. There is a gap there. Try to close the gap. On a scale from 1 to 100, authors should sound >90% entertaining, enthusiastic, and engaging while narrating their own text.
- Authors who are narrators maybe need 1-2 lessons one week apart. They will learn the Gap Exercise, when to breathe, scoring text (entire book), rhythm and melody, basic acting, paragraph colors (color = tone/communicating how they feel about what’s in the text).
There are several “voices” that must be used in narration: conversational voice, teaching voice, “voice of the other,” and documentary voice. Clarity is part of the entertainment value of non-fiction. The listener can pick up on cues by the type of voice the narrator uses.
How is preparing to be a professional audiobook narrator different from an author preparing to narrate their own book? Professional audiobook narrators need a broad and deep understanding of analyzing the text in order to narrate professionally. Different genres require different approaches. Sean’s curriculum provides broad exposure to approaching different genres as a narrator.
Audio quality is important. Noises are distracting. Audio quality affects listeners’ impression of the content in the book (the author’s idea). Poor audio quality lowers the listener’s experience. The listener retains less information with bad audio and a poor performance. You know you have a good narrator when your amazon reviews talk about content, not poor audio/bad performance.
Audiobooks help authors reach a broader audience. Having an audiobook could have a broader impact on their future as a writer. Opportunities arise for authors who make their books available as audiobooks (ex: speaking engagements). You never know WHO is going to listen to it. It’s smart for career goals. A Publisher might be interested in picking up the second book if the first was self-published.
Sean knows what it takes to be an engaging and entertaining audiobook narrator. He’s an effective teacher because he is also a narrator. He has narrated more than 1,000 audiobooks and won several awards. His most recent award is the 2020 AudioFile Magazine “Earphones” Award in the category of History & Biography for narrating Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker. It was one of Oprah’s Book Club books.
We discussed Sean’s change from actor to audiobook narrator and coach. Narrating audiobooks was the next life challenge after acting. Sean likes to evolve. He saw an opportunity to become an audiobook narrator. The current challenge is coaching. Anyone considering a life change needs to consider, “Will it be satisfying? Will it meet needs I have?”
Sean has classical theater training. He learned about text analysis, language, voice and diction, breathing, and physical comedy on-the-job. He learned how to approach spoken language like music: melody, rhythm, tempo, and how to speak it so listeners can hear it.
In 1996, he was introduced to audiobooks by another actor while working in Washington DC. His first books were fiction. He asked for non-fiction titles and narrated some lengthy ones in the beginning.
One of Sean’s most successful non-fiction audiobooks was The Body Keeps The Score by Van Der Kolk. Sean says there’s a higher calling in non-fiction audiobooks. He has had a hand in making listeners’ lives better. Sean has been narrating for 25-26 years. Positive feedback from fans fuels Sean to continue narrating.
Sean started getting serious about non-fiction audiobook coaching 6 years ago (~2015).
Sean gave advice for anyone considering a career transition. It’s easy to live a lifestyle we think we’re supposed to have. We get handcuffed to it. Then, if our job doesn’t turn out to be as fulfilling as we thought it would be, we find ourselves stuck, and that’s a horrible place to be in (feeling emotionally and psychologically calcified). The challenge will be to scale down to open up the space (time and money) to pursue something else and embrace a new challenge. Leaving a full-time job (the devil you know) can be scary.
Sean said, “Life is way too short to be unhappy.” If you really want to do something else, find out what it takes to do it. He also said, “The only permanent thing in life is change.” Sean says those who are best able to manage change are the ones looking ahead to the next challenge or opportunity.
Sean’s current challenge is being a nonfiction audiobook narration coach. It’s unique. He has a curriculum that also includes the business of the business. He has 100 students currently and sees about 23 students/week. He’s happy with his life, loves teaching, and narrates 25 books/year now instead of 50.
Sean wrapped up the interview with some advice for authors thinking of performing their own piece.
- Build stamina. Read out loud.
- Get coaching with Sean or someone else.
- Work with an audio engineer and a director in a studio to get the highest-quality audio possible.
- Remember how it can affect your career in the long run.
- This could be your gateway to something else.