Guest Blog: Karen Commins – Thoughts About Advice in Narrator Groups

Guest Blog: Karen Commins – Thoughts About Advice in Narrator Groups

Thoughts About Advice in Narrator Groups

By: Karen Commins

From: Karen Commins


You don’t have to be a student of American history to know about the Donner party.

In the 1840s, this group of around 90 people had heard about the wonders of California and decided to travel west to seek their fortune.

Rather than following the rutted road of the hundreds of settlers before them, they took an unproven shortcut given by a person who had not actually made the trip he proposed and therefore had no business in directing others to go that way. None of the Donner party had traveled the route before, either, so they had no experience or knowledge to measure the shortcut against.

As a direct result of taking the disastrous advice about the shortcut, most of the party didn’t live to tell the tale. Those who did live endured unimaginable and grisly hardships in camp.

People today have heard about the gold rush in audiobooks, leading many to decide to become a narrator. While mistakes in audiobook narration don’t carry such severe consequences, they do have repercussions. Therefore, narrators participating in online forums need to be careful about the advice they give and take.

Regardless of the site/group and discussion, established narrators have the same goal — maintain and even improve the quality of the art form.

I can’t express how incredibly frustrating and maddening it is to spend my valuable time offering guidance learned through years of expensive training classes and hands-on practice only to have a newcomer dismiss my hard-won knowledge with the comment “in my experience” and/or an argumentative reply.

I’ve been a member the Facebook Indie (ACX And Others) Audiobook Narrators and Producers group for almost 8 years. Recently, I have pulled back a lot from responding in this group because it looks like so many people don’t do any research before dashing off their basic question and only want to be validated in their approach. I repeatedly see questions that are answered in the group FAQ, in the ACX Help Center, and/or on

I’d much rather help someone who has made some effort, done their research, has a more informed and thoughtful question, and shows a sincere desire to become a great narrator. They say things like:

* I followed your advice, but this is where I got stuck.
* Can you clarify what you meant about this topic?

Instead of gratitude for the assistance received, I see a steady stream of complaints from newcomers about the “snark” from longtime group members and our “vitriolic”, “toxic” comments. People say they are afraid to even ask a question because they don’t want a “mean” answer. Veterans are constantly told we should be more supportive.

No other competitive, artistic field is as supportive as audiobook narrators are to each other! The fact that so many well-established narrators spend our precious spare time trying to help newbies for FREE shows that we want you to succeed.

Why do you insist we reply to you in a way that makes you feel good about yourself? That sense of entitlement stops many veteran narrators from participating.

Why do you expect us to be warm and soothing in our responses, especially when we see bad advice being handed out and adopted?

We despair when newbies authoritatively advise each other; it’s like “the blind leading the blind”. If a veteran’s answer seems harsh, it’s because we’re jumping in for the umpteenth time — maybe even today — to save the blind from going in the alley and being beaten up at the end. Sometimes niceties get dropped for a very good reason.

We know what casting people expect. We know what listeners expect. We know you won’t get jobs from publishers or good reviews by implementing the bad habits and practices we’re trying to stop.

No one gave most of us any shortcuts. We paid for classes, read everything we could find, attended conferences which usually involved travel expenses, and took many other actions for years, all to improve as a narrator.

We learned from our own and others’ mistakes and now strive to save newbies from breaking with industry standards and heading into the wilderness. Unfortunately, we might guide 1 person down the safe path of best practices while 20 others run to the “do whatever you want” camp.

It’s not my job to offer info, advice, and encouragement to people on the trail. It’s my CHOICE.

If my advice is not respected and appreciated, I’ll choose to do other things with my time.

Before complaining about the icy tone of a response, just think how it would be if every veteran in the group felt as I do and simply left all the newbies to fend for themselves.

Rather than moving forward in your career as a narrator, you might just find yourself sitting out in the cold.


Karen Commins is an award-winning, professional audiobook narrator, producer, publisher, writer, and leading curator of information about the audiobook industry. In addition to earning a BA in broadcast journalism and MS in computer information systems, Karen has completed extensive specialized training in voiceover and audiobook narration technique, as well as digital audio production. She’s also the chief cartographer of

This article originally appeared on Karen’s site at and is reprinted here with her permission. Copyright 2021 Karen Commins. All rights reserved.


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