Regional Accents For Audiobooks
Romance novels, self help books, and other stories. Authors and publishers want narrators who can bring the book to life, tell stories, and sound compelling.
Self help books are typically looking for specific emotions. Motivation. Positivity. Calm. Happiness. Reassurance. Comfort. Compassion.
So when should an audiobook have a regional accent?
I was auditioning for some self help audiobooks and some authors wanted a New York accent. This appeared to be because the authors had New York accents; their bios mention growing up or living for a long time in Brooklyn, Queens, or Long Island.
Another author was considering a Mid-West accent for her 10-hour self help book because she had a bit of a Chicago accent.
If you are from the south and you feel a southern accent is important to the telling of your story, then perhaps you look for someone with a southern accent. If your commercial will air in Chicago, then perhaps you want a voice talent that is or can sound like Chicago residents. Or perhaps your novel has characters with regional accents and you want your narrator to include that.
But what about a motivational self help book in a New York accent? Growing up in NY, I never thought of the NY accent as sounding motivational. New Yorkers with heavy accents don’t easily sound calm, comforting, or compassionate. In fact, if you watch commercials and TV shows carefully, many people with NY accents are normally cast as the tough or annoying person or anthropomorphic object.
Seeing a self help book up for audition that asked for a NY accent gave me an idea. What if I read two of the pages with a Nassau County, Long Island accent and then read the same two pages in my “unaccented” narration voice? I wonder if the author will like one or either of those.
A regional accent can be distracting.
I also played some of it for my day job co-workers. The ones who heard the audition in the NY accent cracked up laughing. They thought it was hilarious. I asked if they caught anything I was saying or any points the book was making. No, but listening to this is SO funny. One whose mother is from NY said, “I feel like my mother is telling me what to do!” She didn’t sound happy about that.
I am not sure the author was going for funny. If I’m that author, I would want everybody to get the points of my book and take them to heart. Make life changes. Not laugh at the material.
When I played the unaccented audition for the same people, they felt it sounded OK but not funny at all. I said it’s not meant to be funny; this is a serious self-help book. They said they would rather fear the book in what to them was a funny accent.
So I sent the dual audition to the author without telling her any of this. I suggested that a NY accent might be distracting to non-New Yorkers… and that an 8-hour audiobook might be a lot of New Yawk! As of writing this, I have not heard back.
My suggestion to authors of publishers is that a regional accent should be used sparingly. It can be distracting to people who do not have that accent or hold that accent in low regard. I am not sure I would want to hear an 8-hour, general, self-help audiobook in a heavy Boston accent or heavy Atlanta accent. Not because those accents don’t have their charm. But because it might be a distraction rather than an enhancement.
Go for enhancements.
Stay away from choices that could be distracting to the listener. And remember that the narrator does not have to have your accent unless you feel that your accent will bring something to your story that another accent (or no accent) would sadly miss.
Currently 29 books on ACX looking for NY accented narrators. Even though I grew up on Long Island, it’s hard for me to imagine hours of listening to Rhoda reading a romance novel.