Things To Look For When Picking YOUR Next Audiobook by Narrator Xe Sands

Audio month

I admit, there are not a lot of narrators that I recognize by name on the audiobooks I listen to. Xe Sands is the exception.  Xe Sands is also (so far) the only narrator that I have looked up and picked audio not by book title or author… but because she narrated it.  Please welcome to Book Journey, Xe Sands. ~Sheila



Hello!  My name is Xe Sands.  I started narrating in 2010 and just passed the 100 audio books I have narrated mark.  Oh gracious!  Let’s cull that a bit.  LOL!


Most recently I have worked on literacy and historical fiction including Wonderland, by Stacey d’Erasmo, Euphoria (with Simon Vance) by Lily King, The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland, and The Witch of Truro (from Blackbird House) by Alice Hoffman.  I have also just completed Vision in Velvet (6th in the Witchcraft Mystery Series) by Juliet Blackwell, Motherless Child by Glen Hirsberg, Something Sweeter by Candis Terry, Forged by Jacqueline Frank, and Never Marry a Viscount by Anne Stuart.

I do also enjoy listening to audio.  I spent years listening to them with my daughter during our morning/afternoon commute.  These days I find them especially wonderful to listen to while I am doing something I *really* don’t want to do, such as dishes, exercise, folding laundry… well, CHORES of any type actually.  🙂  I find them incredibly distracting in the very best of ways.  There have even been times that I’ve dragged a chore out just so I could finish a particularity well-delivered scene.


I find audiobooks incredibly distracting in the very best of ways. ~Xe Sand


My topic today – is to tell you what I think a listener should pay attention to when choosing audiobooks.


First, I think a listener should figure out what type of storytelling they enjoy.  Do they enjoy a full storytelling experience, with differentiated characters and appropriate rise and fall in emotion, or an “audio theater” type of experience with sound effects and different voice actors, or perhaps a more straight forward read, naturally delivered, but with little variation of voice?


Then, within that preferred type of experience, they might think about how enunciation is to them vs. a very natural delivery, whether or not they can tolerate shifts in volume, etc.  For example, Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors and narrators, tends to be a fairly quiet and intimate narrator, and that suits his books perfectly.  So although I might fiddle with my volume control while listening, I wouldn’t have him deliver it any other way – it’s perfect for the material.  However, having to tweak the volume can prove frustrating for some listeners and adversely affect their experience.  Good to know what you can tolerate going in.

PicMonkey Collage

Sometimes it is also helpful to consider whether the material is going to be appropriately served in audio.  There are books that simply work better in print, or that lose something in the translation to audio…  books with extensive charts, graphs, etc., or those with very clever or entertaining illustrations or maps.  Those types of books are excellent candidates for a tandem read – having the print version handy for reference as you move through the audio.


Next, listen to the first chapter (or at the very least the full sample available – better yet, several) to get a feel for the delivery style and cadence of the narrator.  Are you able to sink into the story and essentially forget the narrator, as a separate entity?  Do you find their voice pleasing (you’ll be spending a good number of hours with it!).  If yes, then it is a good sign that you’re in for an enjoyable ride.  Basically you are listening for a delivery that melts away and leaves just you and the story.


Basically you are listening for a delivery that melts away and leaves just you and the story. 


If you have a few narrators who have led you into amazing journey’s in the past, you can always start to look for books based on the narrator.

Sheila asked me what makes for good (and great) listening.  That’s such a tough question to answer in a broad sense because each listener brings their own preferences to the listening experience.  So I’ll just offer what makes a listen compelling to me.  Here’s what I’m looking for:  a natural delivery.  I want narration that makes me believe that if I closed my eyes, it would be just me and the narrator, sitting somewhere, them telling me this really odd/cool/weird/amazing series of events that happened.  Just that.  I don’t give a fig about their enunciation – I just want them to sound like they do when they’re talking to me in person, telling me a story, with dialog that sounds as if I was in the room when it was originally exchanged, and with emotion that feels real to me, as if I was witnessing the scene myself.  That’s what makes great listening for me – natural, connected to the emotion, PRESENT.  The rest, such as enunciation or consistent volume, etc?  That can all go by the wayside if the storytelling is solid and they are truly present with it.



Please watch this site for June audio book related posts, like this one.  For every post you comment on in June that has this audio book symbol:

Audio month, Sheila DeChantal, Book Journey

I will put you into a drawing for a $25 book certificate for each comment (Barnes and Noble or Amazon – your choice).  Winner will be drawn in July.

38 thoughts on “Things To Look For When Picking YOUR Next Audiobook by Narrator Xe Sands

  1. I can totally agree with her listening to audiobooks while doing chores. My player broke and I had such a hard time getting motivated to do anything yesterday. Boring things are just not as doable without a story.

    I also agree with a “delivery that melts away.” When I’ve truly enjoyed an audiobook, I haven’t noticed the narrator, they let me get lost in the story.

    1. I almost did not go out and mow the lawn yesterday evening because I could not find my ear buds so I could listen to my audio while I worked. Thankfully – I remembered I had them in the car from my previous days run with my IPOD. 🙂

  2. I love Xe’s performance of The Art Forger – so good! I love listening while cleaning. Makes a chore so much more enjoyable. I also listen while walking outdoors. 2 miles go by way too fast 🙂

  3. I can totally picture myself lingering over the kitchen sink doing dishes while listening to a great book.

    I had never thought of tandem reading with grown up books. Not a new concept for me with children’s books though.

      1. I think that for me, with fiction, so much of the joy is in holding the actual book, turning the pages and reading the words themselves. It’s such a quiet experience and very tangible to me (I’m not an e-book person). Listening to someone else express the words hasn’t fully appealed to me yet. Nonfiction is totally different in experience, at least for me. I’m not sure what book I’d want to listen to should I choose fiction! There have been SO many suggestions on these posts, but I’m still clueless *sigh*

  4. Back when I tried my first audio book and was reflecting on my experience on my blog, I never thought about talking to someone who actually is involved with narration of books. Thank you for such an enlightening and interesting post!

    1. I am so glad you like the posts! I was inspired by a luncheon we had in New York with Narrators. I suddenly realized I had a ton of questions for them (seriously,I had no idea until i was there!)

  5. It was my pleasure and honor to join you yesterday, Shelia! Thanks so much for having me over, so to speak 🙂 I’ve thought a bunch about this topic recently, in choosing (and sometimes rejecting) what I want to listen to. And when I friend and author asked me what I’m hoping to achieve in performance and what *I* want to hear when I listen, got me thinking a bit more. Realized that it really is that “melting away” experience, combined with an intimacy, immediacy and naturalness that I’m both going for and listening for.

    1. Thanks Xe! I like how you say “melting away”, I get that. I had told Karen White that I do not want to “hear” the narrator reading which I think is the same thing. I want to get lost in the story.

  6. I am so picky when it comes to narration. I like someone who can do different voices and make me recognize the character by hearing them. I just recently listened to a narrator who had an accent, and that took a while to get used to, but once I did it was fine.

    I haven’t listened to any books narrated by Xe Sands, but will look her up next time I’m searching for a book to listen to.

  7. I’m always looking for that perfect narration: just enough emotion/drama to bring the story alive but not so much that it gets in the way of my own interpretation.

  8. I have come to realize that I appreciate narrators who can differentiate the voices of their characters at least enough that I won’t have a hard time figuring out who is talking. I hate when a narrator loses continuity with a character’s voice. If a character has a certain accent then they should have that accent for the entire audio book. If a narrator is narrating multiple books in a series then the character voices should sound the same across series. I am currently listening to an audiobook series where that is the case.

    Also if a male narrator is voicing a female character he should at least try to make her sound female. I had to give up listening to A Game of Thrones after listening to Roy Dotrice’s version of DaenerysTargaryen! I guess I am picky about narration. 🙂

  9. I just started an audiobook with Xe Sands narrating . Noooooo!!!! Her voice trails off to a choke at the end of each sentence ..
    Shouldnt there be some kind of training in modulation? Your idiosyncratic emotive flourishes can still annoy , however .
    Ralph Chesum , the best narrator ive heard so far .

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