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How to Become an Audiobook Narrator

If you’ve ever wondered, “How can I become an audiobook narrator?”, this is the article for you. I’m going to break down exactly how to get started with audiobook narration and give you some insider tips and tricks for succeeding in the audiobook industry. By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to know about how to become a successful audiobook narrator, so let’s get started!

The Big Question

The big question right at the outset is whether you enjoy, at least to some degree, acting and performing.

It’s not that you have to be a stage actor or a Hollywood star to narrate an audio book. Far from it. I’ve personally narrated 26 full-length fiction works – zombie apocalypse, espionage, horror, historical fiction, SciFi – and I’m far from being a professional actor.

But you do need to use performance and acting skills in audiobook narration, even if narrating nonfiction. Simply reading the books aloud is not enough. As an audiobook narrator, you are a voice actor.

Therefore, to narrate audiobooks you need to play your part well, mimic voice inflections, and experiment with different voices.

Do I Need to Do Accents?

Depending on the genre and specific books you choose to narrate, you may also need to be able to do accents and dialects. If doing fiction, you’ll need to differentiate characters – therefore an awareness of vocal sounds, and a preparedness to work on techniques to elicit them will be needed.

As with any creative art and craft, it takes time to develop performance skills when recording audiobooks; so a willingness to make mistakes, learn and work on your techniques is important.

Audiobook narration is not just a matter of reading aloud.

Skills You’ll Need

Aside from preparedness to engage in performance, it’s worth understanding some of the other skills that you will need to engage when narrating audiobooks.

The fact is that most people start by not only narrating books but also producing them also. Especially if engaging with the main hub that connects audiobook narrators with authors – ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), about which we speak in more detail below.

Therefore, you need to be comfortable with:

  • Using a computer, and a handful of apps involved in recording, editing, and mastering audiobooks
  • Networking to find author-clients
  • Keeping files organized and backed up
  • Some business savvy to choose which projects to take on, and which to pass by
  • A thick skin to handle audition rejections and keep going
  • Patience to get through days when nothing flows, but you need to record usable audio nevertheless. Unlike voice overs, audiobooks are a marathon not a sprint.

A Quick Test Before Investing Any Money

There’s a quick test, devised by an experienced audiobook narrator, that is very useful to determine whether audiobook narrating might be for you:

Take a book – fiction or nonfiction – and read it aloud for an hour or two every day for a week. Every time you fluff the lines, start the sentence anew.

If after several days of doing this, you are still going and even enjoy the experience, then audiobook narration could well be for you. Your readings don’t have to be perfect – far from it – but you do need to show yourself that you have the determination and attitude to keep going.

Equipment You’ll Need

There is a difference between the kind of scratch recording you’ll get if you speak into a smartphone, or on a Zoom call, and what you need to deliver as an audiobook narrator.

Hop over to Audible and listen to a few audiobook samples, and you’ll immediately see what I mean.

Getting a professional result involves:

  1. Performance skill
  2. Technical skills and equipment

If you are using a professional studio in which to record and for a professional sound mixer to edit and master your performances, then you will not need to invest in much gear. But that is quite rare for most folk.

Narrator AND Producer

However, the chances are that you will be by producing as well as narrating, at least at the start of your audiobook narrator career. Here is a list of the basic stuff that you will need:

  • Professional or semi-professional microphone
  • Computer
  • Digital audio interface to connect a microphone to the computer
  • Swingarm for the microphone
  • Digital audio workstation; this is a specialized type of software that records, and enables editing and mastering of your recordings.
  • Drives and a cloud storage account, because over time the audio files Mount up and absolutely need to be backed up.
  • Some editing and mastering apps, which we will cover below. Options include Audacity, Reaper, Adobe Audition.

Assuming that you already have a computer, you can get going with your own equipment for around $250 to $300. Perhaps less, if you use the free Audacity app rather than Reaper (which is the DAW – Digital Audio Workstation – I recommend).

The Recording Environment You’ll Need

This may be obvious, but you will need a quiet environment in which to record audiobooks. This does not have to be a fully professional studio recording booth (at least, when first starting out), but you don’t want to have loud extraneous noises cutting across you every time you sit down to record.

This may mean recording at a time of day, or even night when extraneous noises are diminished.

Although some people literally record in cupboards, in order to deaden the audio environment (a process known as ‘treatment’ of the room), most narrators will choose to work at a desk. You will want to have a space that is well away from things like fridges, air conditioning units, and open windows.

Types of Microphone You’ll Need

If recording non-fiction audiobooks, you may be able to use dynamic microphones which helped greatly to eliminate extraneous noises.

However, if you are recording fiction then you will probably need a condenser microphone, which will be incredibly sensitive at picking up noises from inside your home, and outside also.

Noise Reduction and Room Treatment

Noise reduction can be very difficult to achieve, and expensive. Experienced audiobook narrators and voice actors usually invest in home recording booths sooner or later, which cut out these noises. But such booths are expensive, running into thousands of dollars.

Keeping external noises off your recordings is only part of the battle. The other thing you will need to do is to carry out a degree of so-called room treatment in order to avoid reflected sound waves cutting across the microphone, and causing reverberations on your recording.

The low-cost way to do this is to suspend heavy blankets around you and the microphone, or you may choose to get a small soft audio booth that costs a few hundred dollars, that will deaden the sound very effectively. Note that this type of booth does not cut extraneous noise.

The Time You’ll Need

Something many authors and clients do not understand is the amount of time it takes to record and edit audiobooks.

The typical novel will be about 8 hours of audio. However, each final hour of the audiobook will have taken a minimum of 3 or 4 hours of work to create. Probably 5 to 8 hours, especially if you are less experienced.

One of the most important things to develop when starting out in audiobook narration and production is a workflow that cuts this ratio down as much as possible. You’ll find some advice on this specific point below.

The Audiobook Market

The number of people listening to audiobooks, and the number of audiobooks produced have risen year on year for many years now.

At a time when we are used to very rich media on the Internet, streaming services, virtual reality, and so forth it may seem strange that relatively simple media like audiobooks has become so popular.

However, when you stop to think about it, you realize that people enjoy being entertained and educated on the move, perhaps driving their car, exercising in the gym, and in lots of other situations where are they can listen to something while engaging in another activity.

People also like to have some calm and peaceful time, and even use audiobooks as a way to go to sleep.

Services like Audible have made audiobooks very accessible and easy to consume. From the book publishing and authorship point of view, audiobooks are a natural and easy extension of the existing product.

Audiobooks are also being adapted into podcasts.

How to Get Paid Properly

The bottom line is that there is a healthy and diverse audiobook market that has a constant need for narrators and produces. However, it’s important to understand that this market operates at two levels:

  1. Professional, where are audiobooks narrators are paid at Union rates and a professional recording studio is normally used to edit and master the audiobooks. this will often be a professional narrator, voice talent, or actor.
  2. Amateur, where smaller publishers and self-publishing authors seek to hire the best option they can find to produce and narrate the audiobook of an existing book.

This means that as an independent audiobook producer narrator it is very important to choose wisely the books which you take on. As we noted above, narrating and producing an 8-hour finished audio audiobook will probably take between 40 and 50 hours of work.

Before committing to a narration job, make sure:

  • You have the skill and time to do it
  • The deal is sufficiently promising to justify your time and energy

Revenue Share vs PFH Payment

In the second, amateur scenario above you will be paid either under a revenue share basis, based on sales of the audiobook, or on what is called a per-finished-hour (PFH) basis.

If doing revenue share, it is very important to only commit to books where there is a realistic chance of sales. You need to assess the number of reviews and if possible sales that a book has, before committing.

If you agree to a PFH contract, make sure that the amount of money to be paid will cover the amount of time that you will need to narrate and produce the audiobook.

The contractual side of things is quite well organized on ACX. The platform has a large number and range of audiobook narrator jobs listed.

There are also other independent audiobook production platforms, like Findaway Voices.

Fiction or Nonfiction Narrating

Although it’s possible to narrate both fiction and non-fiction books, sooner or later it makes sense to commit to one or the other.

The fact is that narrating non-fiction, although it may seem to be simpler than fiction, can in many ways be more challenging. The advantage of non-fiction work is that it does open up the business book market, which can be better paid depending on the level at which you play it.

However, finding and maintaining an engaging performance in a nonfiction book over several hours is definitely difficult. The best way to maintain a performance will be too to dial into the emotional subtext of a wise guide and go with that.

With fiction narrating, something I personally have done, you have more leeway in interpretation. In general, this is a good thing. Plus you also have a tremendous amount of fun in portraying characters and the situations into which they tumble.

Scan the Book Before Starting

When narrating fiction, it is very important to quickly scan the whole book through, to make sure that there is no accident or dialogue reference later in the book that impacts the way that you would pronounce or narrate passages earlier in the book.

This latter exercise takes time, which you need to allow for in your overall financial planning.

If operating as an independent audiobook producer narrator, the market may decide for you. The way ACX works is that you posted up demo tracks of your voice, and authors or publishers approach you. Or, you spot a call for auditions on the site and submit a brief sample to compete for the work.

You will quite quickly get a sense of who responds warmly to your voice and style, and who does not. Which will help you choose Sandra, and whether or not to engage in non-fiction narrating.

Should I Take on Coaching

Many audiobook narrators take on some coaching at some point or another in their careers. Usually, this is connected to voice acting coaching.

A lot depends on your personal budget and experience. Personally, I would advise getting in the swim a bit, narrating and producing a handful of audiobooks, before looking for a coach.

This will give you a better sense of the type of coach who would suit you, and a better sense of the amount that it would be sensible to invest in coaching.

Be sure to check out the credentials and references for any coach, and that they are an experienced narrator since unfortunately there are people around who do not have the requisite experience and who nevertheless charge many hundreds or even thousands of dollars for voice coaching.

Simplify the Audiobook Production Process

As an independent and freelance audiobook narrator and producer, it is incredibly important to streamline the overall production and delivery process.

This means getting very good at selecting projects on which to work, getting to know the equipment and software setup such that you can keep it out of the way as much as possible, and understanding certain production techniques that will simplify the whole process.

Specific Production Techniques to Save Time

When recording, learning to use the punch and roll recording technique will save a huge amount of time in editing.

One of these specific challenges of delivering audiobooks is to ensure that you have correctly mastered the levels. This can be very tricky to attain; my personal solution is to use Auphonic Leveler is a one-stop solution to achieve audio files that pass ACX requirements each and every time.

In order to check your audio files before submission, I recommend the wonderful and free app available online 2nd Opinion. It’s donationware, therefore do make a contribution to the app’s author if you can.

Should I Give Up the Day Job?

In a word, no.

Until you get very established, or unless you get very lucky or are insanely talented, all very well connected, the chances are that it will take quite a few months, if not years, to get to the point where you have a full-time income from audiobook narration.

Some voice actors and aspiring narrators combine it with commercial voice acting gigs as a voiceover artist to create a viable income. Again, this is a process that takes time and determination to build.

That said, being a good audiobook narrator can be a wonderful side activity that can provide a very useful source of income. There are also no charities that engage in audiobook narration for the blind, for example.

Audiobook narration can be an interesting side business, but it should not be your sole source of income at the start.