Audiobooks have become an increasingly popular way for people to “read” books. And thanks to the rise in sites like Audible, which offer audio versions of thousands of print books, even people who don’t enjoy reading can benefit from some of the best books listening.
Major publishers usually prefer to hire celebrities to do the audiobook narrations of the books they publish. But as major publishers no longer dominate the publishing world, options for audiobook narrators are now wide open.
Just as Amazon has become a leading player in print and ebook publishing, it also owns Audible, the leading brand in audiobooks today. And the great thing is that Audible invites audiobook narrators to earn through ACX, or the Audiobook Creation Exchange.
How Much Does an Audiobook Narrator Make?
Now, if you’re thinking of becoming an audiobook narrator to pay an upcoming bill, you probably would not make it. Why? Because it takes a bit of time to record a good quality audiobook, and it also takes time for you to earn money.
Here’s how the process works. When you first want to break into the audiobook world, you have two options:
- Find your own clients
- Work through a platform like ACX for selling audiobooks on Audible
Finding your own clients may or may not mean that you’ll get a higher pay, since you’ll be able to negotiate yourself. This path also requires so much more effort, such as building your platform and marketing yourself. And, if you don’t have any experience yet, you will likely have a harder time doing this.
On the other hand, working through a trusted platform like Audible means that you will be exactly where authors are looking for people to narrate their books.
Audible gives you 3 ways to earn money:
With royalty shares, Audible takes 60% of the sale price of the book, and the remaining 40% is split 50-50 between the author and the audiobook narrator. That means you get 20% of the price of every audiobook sold.
If the book sells 100 copies at $10 each in one month, that means you get $2 per book, or $200 for the month. Not bad.
The problem with this scenario is if the book you narrate doesn’t sell too well, in which case your cut won’t add up to much. This is why many narrators don’t choose the royalty route when they have an option.
But, if you find a book that sells really well, this can pay dividends years down the road for an audiobook that you recorded over, perhaps, 30 hours for a 6-hour finished product.
Per Finished Hour
The second way of earning through Audible is the Per Finished Hour model. Just as it’s called, you get a fixed rate per “finished” hour. An average-length book usually has 5-6 hours worth of audio, which typically takes up to 40 hours to complete, taking into account the actual reading, editing, and re-recording of sections.
So no matter how long it took you to produce the final output, you only get paid for the actual finished number of hours.
For this type of pay, you normally set a price per hour that potential clients can choose from.
An advantage of this model is that you can charge higher, such as $200 per hour. But, if you don’t have any experience yet, authors may hesitate to pay such a high fee. Additionally, most budding authors don’t have much budget to pay a high price for their narrators.
The stipend is a combination of royalty share and per finished hour. This is usually available for the best quality books, and you will need to win an audition for them.
What Makes a Good Audiobook Narrator?
A good audiobook narrator has the following characteristics that distinguish them from an amateur narrator:
- Good recording quality: A good recording is one that is clear and does not have any white noise. This means that the best audiobook narrators need to have a conducive space for recording their work.
- A good voice: A good narrator voice is enthusiastic and energetic, engaging the listeners and increasing their interest.
- Effective characterization: It helps to think of audiobook narration as voice acting. What makes an audiobook compelling and engaging is when the audiobook narrator is able to give characterization to the characters in the book, including the narration. As Scott Brick, a narrator of 950 audiobooks, teaches in this video, you need to give yourself permission to infuse your readings with characterization.
How to Become an Audiobook Narrator
So how do you achieve these 3 key qualities when becoming an audiobook narrator? Here are the steps you can follow on your way to success.
1. Set up your recording space.
You don’t have to spend big bucks to get a space for recording, especially if you are just starting and on the road to figuring out if this is something you want to do long-term.
But you do need to have a quiet space to record, or else your recording will just get rejected over and over again.
How do you set up a recording space? Keep the following in mind:
- Find the quietest room in the house, or consider a walk-in closet. You need to be able to block out all outside noise.
- Find a way to deaden the sound. Deadening the sound means making sure every move you make in your space does not get picked up by your microphone. You can do this by adding cushions in your space, or even putting up egg-tray type insulation. Putting carpet or padding onto your work surfaces also helps.
2. Get all the equipment you need.
To become an audiobook narrator, you need the following hardware:
- A computer: Either a desktop or a laptop works fine, and it also doesn’t matter what operating system you use. You just need to make sure, though, that the computer you use doesn’t have a fan that makes a distracting noise while you’re recording. Also check that your computer has a working USB port for your microphone to plug into.
- An external drive: It’s always wise to save your recordings on an external drive, and be sure to back up everything you make.
- A good microphone: Good quality microphones usually go for about $1,000. Be sure to find one that plugs directly into your laptop. The good thing is, the AudioTechnica or AT2020 USB+ has gotten good reviews, and they currently cost less than $200. Not bad for a newbie audiobook narrator.
- A microphone stand and shock mount: A microphone stand will ensure that your microphone is just the right height for best recording. A shock mount will help your microphone not pick up on other noises you make as you move your stuff around on your desk.
- A pop filter: This makes sure that explosive sounds like “p” get filtered out so that they don’t sound too distracting. You can also make your own using a sock that you put around your microphone.
- Headphones: Headphones will help you hear how you sound. You can opt for noise-cancelling headphones to make the experience even better.
- A book stand: If you’ll be using hard copy books, you don’t want to flip pages while you’re reading, as it will make a sound that will be recorded straight into your audio. Instead, make use of a book stand, preferably one that you can adjust to the correct visual height. Remember, you want the book to be at eye level so that you don’t strain your voice by bending your neck to look down on the desk.
- A comfortable chair: Since you will be spending countless hours recording (an estimate of 40 hours for every 6 hours finished output), you will want to have an ergonomic and comfortable chair.
3. Get the software you need.
The good news is, many recording and editing software that you can use for becoming an audiobook narrator are free! To start off, you will need the following suggested software:
- Audacity: This is where you will record your actual reading and also edit your recording.
- LAME: This allows you to convert your recording on Audacity into an mp3 file, which is the standard format for audiobooks.
- Levelator: This program helps to regulate the volume of your recordings.
4. Set up an account on ACX.
Since Audible is an Amazon company, you can easily sign up using your Amazon credentials. The first thing you want to do when you get on the platform is practice by recording a royalty-free or public domain book.
While you still have little to no experience under your belt, it will be hard for authors to pick you over perhaps a few others who have already recorded some books. One way to get around this is by practicing and building your portfolio using royalty-free books.
You can find a great variety of books whose copyrights have expired and have now entered the public domain. A great source is the Gutenberg Project. Take your pick among the different genres.
5. Give yourself permission to infuse character into your reading.
Some audiobook narrators enjoy reading the dialogue because they feel that it gives them a chance to play-act. But expert audiobook narrators also infuse character into the narrated portions.
Practice reading a book out loud several times before you start recording.
6. Edit your recording.
Editing may form the nitty-gritty of the audiobook production process. You can either learn to do it yourself, or start by hiring an audio editor.
First, you need to splice your files into the different chapters, as audiobooks are typically divided by chapters. Make sure you put 0.5 to 1 second of silence at the beginning and end of every chapter. This is also the time to add clear auditory headings if you were not able to include them during the recording process.
Another important task during editing is removing unwanted noise. iZotope’s RX is one program that analyzes your audio and detects unwanted sounds like clicks or clips, allowing you to remove these unnecessary sounds.
7. Upload your file.
Once you feel confident with your recordings, you can upload your file and start auditioning for other authors on ACX.
Earn Extra Income as an Audiobook Narrator
Becoming an audiobook narrator is just one of the many ways you can make money from home, but it’s not for everyone. Try it out part-time for a few months and see if you would like to do it as a full-time career.
If you do find that it’s for you, then you can start investing in more costly equipment that will also surely produce more quality output for you.
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