Daniella Acitelli is an audio book narrator and voiceover artist with a background in acting. This interview has been a long time coming, so without further ado…
Daniella, what’s it like to go from a corporate job, with a regular salary, to setting up your own business as an audio book narrator and voiceover artist?
I wanted to be an actress when I was young. But there’s a lot of desperation when you’re in LA because everyone who moves there, that’s what they move there to do. I wasn’t seeing the dreams and the excitement. I was just seeing a lot of the desperation. So I took the salaries and I learned to be Miss Corporate Girl. But I never really fit in.
The scary part of not having a salary? Well, I was never secure in my corporate job either. It’s a false security when you work in those companies anyway – they could get rid of you tomorrow.
So you’re an American living in the UK. How did that happen?
I married a Scotsman. Yes, we traveled back and forth, but one of us was always going to be an expat whatever country we’re in. But I always loved it here [the UK]. My father’s from Italy, so I grew up just assuming I would move somewhere exciting when I grew up. That’s what happened with my parents.
How did you become an audiobook narrator?
Well, there are really two separate areas of the field; audiobook narration and voiceover artist. But I call myself an audiobook narrator. Although I’d listened to audiobooks for 20 years every night before going to sleep, I never actually thought that I could be one of the people doing it. To me, that was like just impossible.
I signed up to do the Royal National Institute of the Blind audition and I got in. I remember that after doing my first book for them I walked out and called my friend, screaming. I was like, “I have to do this. I have to do this. I want to do more.”
But it’s not been easy. People think you just read a book, but it’s so much more than that. I’ve had a coach. Being an actor, you’re used to getting coaches. But I’ve had several coaches, one in particular, for over a year. I’ve signed up for webinars. I’ve signed up for courses. I’ve taken further acting classes. I’ve read everything that I can get my hands on to be better at it, because it’s important to me. So even though I’ve got about 30 books, I’m just now, feeling…
…Like you’re getting started?
Yeah. I mean the big publishers won’t even look at you until you’ve done at least 50 audios. And now, I’m with three publishers. Not the big guys, but you know, really good professional ones. I remember, in Christmas 2016, I had a cold, one that most people wouldn’t notice. But when you put your face up to a microphone that powerful, you hear everything.
And then, I had to learn to edit and produce the sound levels, and it was a shock how much there was to learn. It was scary, but I loved every single second of it.
As an author, I’m not going to wake up one day and decide I’m going to audio record my own book. But I know some authors that are like, “I’m just going to do it”, because they think it’s cheaper. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m not as hardline as a lot of people, but this is what I feel. It’s funny, because it’s the same as writing. I come from a family with a lot of writers and I had a minor in school in writing. I loved writing and I always thought that I would love to write. And when I first started this, I thought, “Maybe I’ll write some things on the side.”
But when I started narrating, I realised that the books that I loved reading and listening to were the ones that the authors gave their heart and soul. It’s the same with narration – the best narrators are narrators that are giving their heart and soul. They’re not doing it on the side to pick up a few dollars or pounds.
Here’s the problem, I think: it’s the same authors that might not pay for an editor because they think it is too expensive. Or, they won’t pay for a book cover or they’re not sure how to get a book cover. Sometimes, it’s a license issue with the book cover, but those things are a sign and a matter of production quality. And in the market today, no production quality reflects badly on the author and can hurt your sales.
If you’re going to produce it yourself, it takes about two weeks to do a book.
If you’re going to just read it, it takes about a week.
And there’s no point in doing it if you’re not going to sell those audio books. So for an author to narrate their own book, the only thing I would say is this: it can be a disaster.
I spent years training. I spent years getting acting experience. I spent years refining my skills, and so it’s like you, as a writer says, “Oh, I think I’ll just give it a try.”
You know what I mean?
I will say this, though: if it’s a personal story, and you want it to be your own voice, then the only way I would ever advise you to do it is to go into a studio, hire a director and have someone produce it for you. Because they’ve got a professional ear they can guide you.
Good, go to the experts. So, how does someone actually become an audiobook narrator?
Well, the first place I’d say for everyone to start is YouTube. There’s a video by Sean Pratt who guides you though a little exercise – millions of people have seen it.
Basically, he makes you sit in a room by yourself for five hours and read. And every single time you make a mistake you go back in and fix it. And if at the end of that exercise you’re still kind of excited about it, then perhaps audio book narration is right for you.
Now, a lot of people contact him afterwards and say: Thank you for the video. I’ve decided not to do this now.
I think you, as a writer, would understand this. You have to sit down, focus and fight your own mental demons to get things on paper. You know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s like you’re battling yourself, basically
Yeah. So if you don’t love it a lot, you’re not going to read a 13-hour book, because it takes three to four hours for me to record one hour of finished audio.
So if I was starting out, I would listen to that audio and get some demos together, and I’ll have a professional to help me smooth things over, so to speak.
I imagine the field is very competitive…
I think it’s lovely. I’ve learnt that if you feel like every new person starting is a threat, then it means that you’re insecure. You’re not thinking of yourself as one of the made-its, you’re thinking of yourself as one of the desperate I-might-not-make-it.
Why not be friends with them, and in 20 years, look back and go, “Remember when we all started…”
If you’re one of those people who feel threatened by ‘the new people’, you’re pushing yourself down into this pool of insecurity. You’re not rising up and making yourself a stronger, more secure person so that you can succeed – Daniella Acitelli, voiceover artist.
What is your ideal narrating job?
I love thrillers and suspense. I didn’t think I liked romance, but one of my authors – I’ve just finished a series for her – is so great, that now, I actually like romance.
I’ve learned so much from authors. I just think they’re the best people in the world.
Oh, bless your heart, and thank you for saying yes to this interview
Also published on Medium.