the good, the bad, and the ugly about the writing life

Guest Blogger Diane Piron-Gelman: “Speak the Speech, I Pray You”–Adventures in Audiobook Narration

microphone and headset

It’s beginning to look a lot like…well, you get the picture. Here’s a new feature for those of you who LOVE writers (and who doesn’t).

What do writers want for Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? They may want Diane Piron-Gelman to narrate their book. Read on to find out more about what Diane does to make books come alive as she narrates them.  Listen to a SAMPLE of Diane narrating Libby Fischer Hellman’s book, Set the Night on Fire (11.7 MB).

This week, author and freelance editor, Diane Piron-Gelman has been talking about editing (see Part 1 and Part 2). Today, she waxes poetic about acting and narrating books.

I am a word nerd. Written and spoken, I get drunk on language. Which makes me a natural for audiobook narration, a line of work I’ve been in for about a year and a half now, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever gotten paid to have.

I started out as an actor, with conservatory training at the Drama Studio London (Berkeley, CA branch) and a good 20 years of acting experience since, mostly stage. I also take workshops on Shakespeare for actors. There’s nothing like Shakespeare to sharpen your awareness of spoken language—the sound and weight and shape of it, and how those things give the words their emotional impact. Most writers I know, myself included, don’t claim to be anywhere near Shakespeare’s league, but the principle translates to any good piece of writing.

I recorded my first audiobook for Libby Fischer Hellman, a terrific Chicago-based writer who wanted someone to narrate SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, her 1960s thriller. She mentioned it at Love is Murder, a mystery conference we were both attending, and I offered to do it. She had me audition on the spot and liked what she heard. After we recorded the book at a studio in Northbrook, she told me, “You really need to do this for a living.” Libby pointed me toward some people whose brains I could pick, I sent a few emails soliciting advice (which was generously given), and I ended up converting my bedroom closet into a sound studio with my hard drive outside where the mic won’t pick up sound from it. Since then I’ve done two more books for Libby, one project through ACX, and three books for Audible through Bee Audio, a production house based in Oregon that uses remote narrators from all over the country.

What I love best about narrating is using my acting skills. Reading an audiobook lets me play all the characters and bring out the full flavor of the language. I start with cues from the book—whether a character is male or female, how old, where they’re from, whether they have an accent. Easy stuff. After that, I go by the kind of person they are. Laid back, high-strung, young and innocent, streetwise, optimistic, gloomy, chatty, reserved? What profession are they—a cop, a grade-school teacher, a coffee shop waitress, a high-powered lawyer, a politician? All these things can be reflected to a certain extent in the voice. It can get tricky switching from one character to another during a stretch of dialogue, and from character to “neutral narrator” and back. But I enjoy the challenge.

Diane Piron-Gelman is a writer, audiobook narrator and editor, and sole proprietor of Word Nerd, Inc. You can check out her business website at; her author website at; and her personal blog, Word Nerd Notes, at

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