“I knew a friend who had done some reading for the blind — this was in the ‘80s — and I thought, this will be interesting because I love reading,” said Vance. “One afternoon a week for 8 or 9 years, I would go in and read books. I look on that as my apprenticeship.”Vance estimates he narrates 40-50 books a year — usually working alone in his home studio — and even fields a job offer in the middle of the interview.

But things weren’t always so busy.“The late ‘90s were not really a very good time. I was going through a divorce, bankruptcy and depression — I was having a downtime,” said Vance. “What turned it around was the introduction of the iPod and mp3s. The iPod made a huge difference because suddenly you didn’t have to deal with all of these cassettes that would get lost under the driver’s seat in the car or swapping different CDs.

“It just started getting busier and busier and I stopped doing theater in 2005 because I started winning awards.”

What the secret of all those awards? It’s more complicated than you might think.


We don’t just read books. Acting is a crucial part of being a narrator, said Vance.
It’s a business. You have to be organized, focused, committed.

If reading all day sounds good, Vance suggests taking a book, reading it aloud for an hour, take a 10-minute break, then do it again. Have lunch, do it again. Continue all that for a week, and then decide whether you want to be a narrator.

“It really is a marathon; you need stamina,” said Vance.


“I think the best narrators pace the reading to give the listener a chance to absorb what’s being said. Because if you say everything at the same pace and you don’t change your pace and just keep going forever and ever, eventually (makes a snoring sound). You’ve got to take a pause every so often. It can build tension, it can do any number of things — that’s the obvious one, if you use pauses correctly you can build tension — but it also really helps with comprehension.”

Research time varies by the project. Stories that he’s familiar with, such as the works of Dickens, will take less time than providing voices for a newly created series set in an alternate world.

“I do a lot of fantasy (novels). I usually have a conversation with the author. If I’m lucky, the author’s got a breakdown of their own about who the important people are and what’s going on. They know and I can say, ‘What goes on here?’ If you’re doing a series, it’s really important to know. If this is a minor character in this book, are they a major character in the third book?” said Vance. “If the author is dead, then you’ve got to do all the work yourself. Unless there are SparkNotes.”

Finally, Vance said he and others like him in the business are just trying to serve the author’s work.

“We’re storytellers, but because of technology, we’re able to be storytellers at one remove. In the old days, before we had printed pages, that was the only way — Beowulf and stuff — that’s how stories got told,” said Vance.

“If I can give the listener what the author had in their head, I think that’s job well done.”