While readers and writers have skeptically watched the fluctuating publishing industry in recent years, one literary market has caught us all a bit by surprise: audiobooks
An audiobook (sometimes stylized as “audio book”), like the name suggests, is a recording of a book that readers can listen to. Somewhere along the path of lengthy commutes (pre-COVID 19, anyway) and ubiquitous smartphones, a market for audiobooks erupted — people who don’t otherwise read much.
Whether you’re on a treadmill or have a couple hours to kill before boarding your flight, audiobooks are a great way to fit in learning and entertainment. Not to mention, it’s a nice reprieve from staring at a screen all day.
Audiobooks are a popular form of media in which a performer reads a book out loud for a recording and consumers then listen to at their leisure. If you enjoy reading and you have experience or interest in performance, you might consider a career as an audiobook narrator. Many narrators for audiobooks work on a freelance basis and enjoy the benefits of that type of work structure. In this article, we explain what audiobook narrators do and how to become one, with frequently asked questions about narrating for audiobooks.
Many people want to become audiobook narrators because they love books and audiobooks, and they like reading aloud. Others are inspired to follow this path because they’re told they have a unique talent and a great voice for narration. While those are both great starting points, it takes a lot more than a pleasant voice and a love of audiobooks to become a successful audiobook narrator.
Listening to an audiobook isn’t simply about reading the words on the page: an audiobook narrator must have the skills and empathy to bring a book to life for the listener.
What Skills Do You Need to Become an Audiobook Narrator?
Here is a video on how to become an audiobook narrator:
It goes without saying that audiobook narration isn’t just a hobby; it’s a career. And like any career, there are certain skills required to just get started. So, before you dive into the world of narration, make sure that you can confidently say that you possess the following:
1.Background in Acting
It may seem obvious but having some type of foundational knowledge of acting makes a huge difference when making the transition to narration. Narration is an acting gig. You’re embodying different characters, you’re telling stories. So, it’s really important to be able to do that.Lots of people have gone to theater school. Some people have come to us from other parts of the acting world. But no matter what, being able to act is a foundational skill…you’re telling a story, and it’s not your story.
2.Ability to Differentiate Voices, Accents, and Dialects
This may seem like another given but knowing how to expertly embody characters of different backgrounds is an essential skill that will separate you from other narrators. Inevitably you’ll run into a scene with seven sisters or four women who are in their 30s, and you have to find a way to make their voices all sound distinct for your listener.
Getting through a day of narrating may seem simple: you’re sitting down for a few hours and reading a book you like (hopefully) out loud. But in reality, these hours can chug along and exhaust you in the process, so it’s important to be able to keep up as best you can.
4.Research Skills and Know all
And finally, research! Now how does this fit in? You’re just narrating a book, right? But what happens when you’re in the studio and you stumble across a word, country name, or anything else you aren’t familiar with how to say? Doing your research beforehand can go a long way towards making your narrating skills that much better. So rather than pretending to know it all, the ability to know what you don’t know, and to go out there and do that research is important.
As a narrator, you need to know how the story ends before you even step up to the mic. Being informed is key to building your confidence as a performer.
A good narrator is in full control. He or she knows the terrain, anticipates the ups and downs of a journey and serves as a constant, like the reader’s North star.
The narrator does not purposefully mislead his or her listeners. You are tasked with ferrying the audience from one end of the story to the other. The words you say are deliberate and measured. You should never be surprised by the text or anything that a character does. After all, you know everything!
What Equipment Will You Need to Do Audiobook Narration?
It will really depend on how “full-time” you want to be and whether or not the equipment or recording studio will be supplied for you.
One idea is to rent out a recording studio to do your own demo tapes, or even do some of the recording. This can get expensive as most recording studios charge by the hour.
However, you might want to start thinking about purchasing or finding a:
- Laptop or PC for managing schedules, invoicing, tracking clients, and email.
- Smartphone for pulling up industry-related apps.
- Voice over mic.
- Pair of studio headphones, which do not pick up the sound from your speakers or any background sounds.
- Mic stand to hold the microphone and free up your hands to handle the script.
- Pop filters, which block the initial popping and breathing when a mouth first encounters the microphone.
- Recording software (Audacity or others) is free to hear a playback of your voice.
What are the Most Popular Audiobook Platforms?
Like we mentioned, audiobook popularity has been on the rise for about a decade. This booming market makes it imperative for authors and publishers to get traditional books into audio form ASAP and on the most popular platforms: Audible (owned by Amazon) and iTunes (owned by Apple).
Enter Amazon’s Audiobook Creative Exchange (ACX), which connects audiobook narrators with books to narrate. Like other publishing services you’ll find at Amazon — CreateSpace for print-on-demand books, CDs and DVDs; and Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks — ACX simplifies the process of producing an audiobook from start to finish.
So, to recap, two of the top players in the industry are Amazon and Apple quelle surprise.
With that said, there are quite a few indie audiobook publishers out there, too.
How Long Does it Take to Record an Audiobook?
Speaking of “from start to finish,” how long does it take to actually record the thing?
To put it bluntly: It depends. And it can vary based on a number of factors.
For instance, if you’re working with shoddy equipment (where you may have to abandon recordings or re-record often), you’ll add to your total time. Whether or not you have a home studio or need to rent space can muddy up your timeline, too. Whether it’s your first or 500th recording will also add to your tally.
A 350-page audiobook will be roughly 10 hours of audio, and take about 35 hours to record and edit it, according to Sound Adventurer. Writer Peter Mitchell saw varying numbers, and based on the average data he saw, he found it took around 3.5 hours — of both recording and editing — to arrive at one hour of polished audio.
SUMMARY: It can take anywhere from a couple hours to several days (and longer) to record and edit an audiobook, depending on a number of factors.
How Much Can You Make Recording Audiobooks?
So, similarly, the data varies here. Depending on your years of experience, where you’re located and whether or not you’re a union worker can affect your wages.
ACX doesn’t set or recommend rates for producers to charge. But, it does point out many narrators are members of the SAG-AFTRA union, which lists minimum rate restrictions. For instance, if you’re a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), you’ll be paid $139.25 per hour as a new narrator, according to Sapling.com. Veteran narrators command about $168.25 per hour. So, either group would make over $1K for an eight-hour-day’s worth of work.
These guaranteed rates vary by publisher/producer. Author Roz Morris tells authors to expect to pay around $200 per finished hour for audiobook narration.
If you check Indeed and gig-work sites, you’ll find a range of responses there, too. For instance,a quick search on Indeed pulled up a few six-figure jobs for voice-over artists.
SUMMARY: You can make over $100 an hour if you’re in a union. You can also find gig and full-time salaried work for voice professionals, and payment will vary.
Where to Find Audiobook Work
Now you’re ready to start looking for work as an audiobook narrator–where do you begin? Thankfully, there are plenty of routes to enter the world of narration.
1.Volunteering to Read
One of the simplest, and likely most rewarding, ways to get into narration is by volunteering to read for the blind. While this method may not pay, it’s a good way to get your foot in the door while doing a service for someone–a winning proposition. Volunteering to read is a great way to refine the narration skills that you’ve been practicing. But it’s also a great way to meet other people in the space.A lot of really well-known narrators do volunteer work as a public service, which is lovely.
2.Networking In-Person and Virtually
No matter your career path, networking events are always a great place to meet others in your field and potentially find your next job. The same holds true for narrators. You’ll be able to meet other aspiring narrators, learn tips and hear advice from pros, and even pitch yourself for potential gigs. Networking is really important. You can consider joining the Audio Publishers Association. Pre-COVID, they hosted mixers, and events. But even now, they’re actually doing producers speed dating, virtually–which has been awesome.
3.Create a Standout Website to Showcase Your Work
Especially today, being able to market yourself online is key to gaining any traction in the narration space–so having a strong website is essential. You should have a good selection of samples that showcase your talents and abilities. To stand out even more, be sure to highlight some skills that can potentially set you apart, like fluency in another language or a specific topic that you’re an expert in. “When I’m looking for a narrator, or when I’m researching somebody, I will listen to their samples. And it’s always better if you have them easily accessible on your website. In short, the more you can showcase, the better off you’ll be.
4.Resources to Find Work
You might want to gain some experience before auditioning for major audiobook publishers, so consider looking for work on Guru, Freelancer, Fiver, or Upwork. You might not find audiobook narration jobs right away, but you can build your portfolio. More audiobook-specific venues for jobs include ACX.com, VoiceBunny.com, and Voices.com, though some of these platforms are looking for narrators with experience.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are the top FAQs regarding audiobook narrators and audiobook narrator jobs.
How Much Does an Audiobook Narrator Make?
A voice actor in a union can make about $100-$200 an hour to record an audiobook. Depending on the gig and a host of other factors, compensation will vary per person and per job. Refer to the section “How Much Can You Make Recording Audiobooks?” in this article for more information.
How Much Do Audiobook Narrators Make a Year?
Related, this will depend on a number of things, from your years of experience on the freelance circuit to what type of salaried job you get. The range is anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to tens (or even hundreds) of thousands a year.
How Do I Become an Audible Narrator?
Amazon has a guide for budding Audible audiobook narrators.
Can Anyone Be an Audiobook Narrator?
Technically yes, though you’ll increase your chances of getting hired with training or coaching, lots of practice and past successful work you can showcase. In general, being an audiobook narrator would be an aligned gig for voice-over artists, vocal talent and other voice actors.
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