“Who are those voices telling the story?” you might ask as you listen to an audiobook. “I’d be good at that,” you think to yourself. You may be right. Audiobook narrators are a diverse group of talent coming from a variety of backgrounds.
Scott Brick, for example, spent his early career touring California in a Shakespearean repertory company, which accounted for about half of his income. “I spent the other half of my time at a day job, answering phones at the World Trade Bank in Beverly Hills, and trying to stave off boredom,” he says. Also a freelance writer of more than 300 articles, Brick is so grateful that he discovered book narration. He has since voiced more than 600 titles, “all of which thrill me no end. Far more satisfying than answering phones!” he exclaims.
Then there’s Randy Haymes who spent decades as a morning co-host of the Hudson & Harrigan show on KILT in Houston. He made a seamless transition into audio book narration, and has now voiced close to a dozen books.
Grover Gardner narrates and casts audio books for Blackstone Audio. He began narrating audiobooks for the Library of Congress’ “Talking Books” program when he was a graduate acting student in the early 1980s. “It was something I’d always wanted to do, based on my love of reading, theatre, and radio broadcasting,” Gardner says. To date he’s recorded more than 800 books.
Vanessa Hart was a fulltime professional actor for 25 years before she transitioned into voice-over, and subsequently book narration. Her first break in audiobooks came when another narrator dropped out of an audio book production. A mutual acquaintance recommended Vanessa for the job. She received acclaim for that first book, and her career took off. She has voiced more than 65 audiobooks in the past 5 years.
Unlike the voice-over industry, the audio book narration field is fairly easy to get into–if you have the skills to perform books. And by that I mean the ability to tell a story. You don’t necessarily need to do lots of character voices and dialects, although there is a place for these skills, primarily in fiction audio books.
How do you know if you have what it takes to excel in audiobook narration? Here are a few indicators that you might be a good storyteller:
Do you love reading aloud?
Do you like working at home?
Are you a self-starter who is good at meeting deadlines?
Could you handle auditioning and NOT getting the job without taking it personally?
Do you like reading stories using character voices?
Do you read a lot?
Do you listen to audiobooks?
If some of these describe you, you may want to look into the field of audiobook narration as a career, or a second career. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t say “yes” to all of the indicators listed above. Neither do I. But the first three, in my opinion, are essential.
Audio book narration is one of the fastest growing fields in voice-over today. There are literally thousands of books awaiting narrators, and anyone can audition for them through sites such as the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). The publishing industry is striving to get many older titles (their “back lists”) onto audio, and that means a lot of opportunity for aspiring book narrators.
I’ve heard it said that only celebrities get cast for audiobooks. While it is true that celebrities are often cast, it’s often for abridged versions of books aimed at the retail markets. There is an increasing demand for unabridged versions to sell online and to libraries, which want books to be “true to the author’s intent,” read word-for-word. These projects require many hours of recording; hiring celebrities to voice them is cost prohibitive.
Compensation for audiobooks varies based on experience and skill. Narrators are typically paid on either a revenue share basis (receiving a percentage of sales) or per finished hour (pfh). That means if the final product is ten hours long, the narrator is paid for ten hours. It typically takes me about 15-20 hours to voice a 10-hour book, depending on the difficulty of the text. The hourly rate can range anywhere from $ 100-$ 400 pfh. And only highly skilled talents receive the high end of that range. Typical audiobook narration jobs pay $ 150-$ 300 pfh. The average freelance narrator (based on my experience) can expect to earn about $ 200 pfh, and beginners will command less in the marketplace.
Voicing audiobooks is not the most lucrative voice-over genre, but for those who love to read aloud, tell stories, and leave a tangible legacy, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like having fun and getting a present from the mailman when the check comes in!