Adding audiobooks to your daily routine can change your reading life. Suddenly, walking the dog, doing the dishes, or waiting in the carpool lane are opportunities to sink into a good book. However, like any habit, it takes time and effort to make audiobooks work for YOU. A truly great audiobook doesn’t just replicate the on-paper reading experience—it elevates it.
The best audiobooks are more than a simple hands-free replacement of readable text. Their narrator, format, style, and listening environment together create a reading event. Many new audiobook listeners immediately take to the audio format, but for others the transition is bumpy. If you relate, I’m here to help.
Many readers are surprised to find that their reading taste on paper does not directly translate to audiobooks. They are dismayed to find that books they thought they’d love feel distracting, hard to follow, or just plain boring when they’re reading with their ears. That’s why taking the time to find your perfect audiobook experience is well worth the effort.
Through trial and error, and quite a few Audible credits, I finally found my personal audiobook style. I like compelling stories that keep my attention, (mostly—but not all—fictional), simple prose (not flowery), and confident narrators (accents are always appreciated). Knowing your personal audiobook style will save you from wasting those precious audiobook credits, or worse, nine hours of your life struggling to listen to an audiobook that isn’t right for you.
Want to discover your own personal audiobook style? Use these 7 tips to find the audiobooks that are right for you:
1. Try a few different genres
Discovering your personal style requires experimentation, whether you’re taking a fashion risk or trying a new audiobook. Collecting data on what you don’t like is just as important as discovering what you love. When I started listening to audiobooks, I downloaded self-help and personality guides, which I love to read on paper with a pen and book darts nearby. As I listened in the car and desperately wished I could take notes, I realized that informational nonfiction is probably not for me, on audio. Finding my audiobook style meant setting aside a beloved genre in favor of books with narrative drive, but I didn’t discover that overnight. Trying audiobooks in a few different genres and taking notes on what I liked, or didn’t like, helped me narrow down my personal audiobook style.
Venture out of your comfort zone to find the ideal audiobook genre for you.
- Historical nonfiction is popular among audiobook listeners. It’s like sitting in a lecture hall, except you can check things off your to-do list as you learn. Try Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, or Fall and Rise by Mitchell Zuckoff for a more recent history.
- If you prefer your audio nonfiction to have more of a narrative arc (as I do), memoir is the genre for you. Books read by their authors are especially popular in this category. Becoming by Michelle Obama is amazing on audio, as is Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.
- Young adult and middle grade books are entertaining and family-friendly. The combination of plot-driven stories and expressive narration makes for a great listening experience. Try The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill or Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
- Enjoy some laugh-out-loud moments in your car with funny contemporary fiction on audio. The right narrator knows how to punch up the humor and add flair in just the right places. I loved listening to Less by Andrew Sean Greer and 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith.
- Cozy mysteries or romance novels provide easy-to-follow plot structure and plenty of entertainment. If you’re a multitasking listener who loves a good story, try The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley or A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole. (Please note the open-door romance factor on Alyssa Cole!)
2. Find a few favorite narrators
The narrator can make or break an audiobook. I treat my favorite narrators with the respect given to beloved authors: once I come across a narrator I love, I visit their backlist, and pay attention to what they’re narrating next. (Plus, choosing based on narrator gives you a simple way to reduce the overwhelming number of great books available on audio. Goodbye, decision fatigue!)
3. Consider your podcast habits
Your favorite podcasts might hold the key to your listening style: what do you love to listen to when you’re not listening to audiobooks? Consider the hosts’ personalities as well as the topics they discuss.
If you enjoy the snarky wit of Knox and Jamie on The Popcast, try Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. If you gravitate towards the investigative style of Sarah Koenig on Serial, try Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. And if you enjoy listening to me chat with guests on What Should I Read Next?, I can’t help but recommend my book I’d Rather Be Reading on audio—it’s full of the same thoughtful bookish enthusiasm, plus I narrated it myself.
4. Mind your speed
A common complaint I hear from new audiobook listeners is I just can’t pay attention. If you’re struggling with a certain audiobook, your obstacle might not be the book itself, but the way you’re listening to it.
Specifically, if you’re struggling to pay attention, try speeding up. It’s counterintuitive—if your mind is wandering, shouldn’t you give it time to focus? I’ve found that usually, the answer is no: when you speed up, your mind doesn’t have time to wander.
5. Watch what you’re doing
Furthermore, how—and how fast—I listen often depends on where I am in the story. For example, the opening chapters of a new audiobook often feel disorienting; my brain must scramble to figure out where I am, what is happening, and who are all these new characters?
At the beginning, I listen slowly, and I listen in big chunks of time—30 minutes at a go, not 5. But once I’m thoroughly immersed in a story, I can happily listen to it in five-minute bursts, and I can listen to it fast. (I know you want specifics: for some narrators, 2x speed is my go-to. For others, 1.5x is my max. I can listen faster on a quiet walk than when I’m driving. Tailor your listening to your surroundings.)
I know this might sound complicated to new listeners, but after three or four audiobooks—after you’ve found your style, that is—it will feel like second nature.
6. It’s okay to set that book aside
No one wants to waste their audiobook credits, but I’d also hate for you to waste eight hours of your life on an audiobook that’s not working for you. Abandoning books is a great way to make the most of your reading life, and the same principle applies here. The less time you spend on a book you don’t like, the more time you can devote to a better book for you. Some audiobook companies will even allow you to return your audiobook if you let them know you weren’t satisfied.
7. Use a free trial or the library (or both!)
Another way to avoid the pressure of audiobook credits is to utilize free trials from companies like Libro.fm. Modern Mrs. Darcy readers can get 2 audiobooks for the price of 1 with Libro.fm. If you don’t know where to start, check out our playlist from Volume I of One Great Book. The best thing about Libro.fm is that your membership supports independent bookstores. When you sign up for a Libro.fm account, you select the bookstore you want to purchase from, and they get credit for all of your audiobook purchases. Sign up, choose your store, and start listening.
Audible is also a popular platform; it’s the one that first hooked me on audiobooks. Click here to give Audible a try and get two free audiobooks when you do. Audible has some great Audible Originals books, like this version of Anne of Green Gables read by Rachel McAdams, and the versions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility narrated by Rosamund Pike.
You can also use Overdrive, Hoopla, or Libby through your local library to test out audiobooks for free, without the high stakes of credits. Depending on your library system, you might have access to thousands of titles at multiple libraries. Needless to say, this is a great way to experiment and discover what works best for you.
Do you have any tips and tricks for choosing audiobooks that are right for YOU? I would love to hear about your personal audiobook style—and how you discovered it—in the comments.
P.S. We have so much great audiobook content here on Modern Mrs Darcy! Click here to peruse the audiobook archives.
P.P.S. Your audiobook style might not be the same as mine, but I can’t resist sharing a few summer reads I adored on audio: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth, The Huntress by Kate Quinn, and The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali, which I loved so much it will be our January pick for the MMD Book Club.