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Is Audiobook Narration Right For You?
5 'Tough Love' Realities To Consider ...

By Tom Jordan
Voice Actor & Audiobook Narrator

It's no secret that audiobooks have been enjoying impressive and steady sales increases for several years now. Year after year, double-digit growth has spawned an onslaught of people looking at audiobook narration as a new, potentially profitable voice-over opportunity.

A substantial number of new audiobook narrators have migrated from the voice-over realm, and some have found a comfortable home here.

But others were shocked by the severe contrasts between these two art forms and struggled madly through their audiobook production, only to swear off ever trying to narrate a "whole friggin book" ever again.  

So... where would you land if you took the leap?


Here's where setting expectations is crucial. From the pool of over 500 members of my Facebook Orange County Voice Acting page, I've consulted with dozens of people who want to learn more about moving into audiobook narration.

Here are some of the points I make as part of my "tough love" advice:  

1. Don't quit your day job.

Audiobook narration is NOT the road to riches. Yes, you can make money, and yes, some people make a decent living at it, but don't confuse available work opportunities with unlimited profit potential.

Aside from sharing some common hardware - a microphone, audio interface, a computer, a quiet space, voice-over and audiobook narration are entirely different beasts with very different approaches at monetization.  

2. Get used to the idea of not making much money for a while.

Continuing on with the theme from #1, as glamorous as being an audiobook narrator might sound (cough), for the first couple of years, your rewards will chiefly revolve around self-fulfillment and the pride of watching your new art form blossom, rather than anything tangible that could be used for such practical purposes as paying rent or putting food on the table.

One quick note here: Do NOT charge less than industry minimum standard rates ($250 per finished hour, as of November 2019), simply because you're "new" to narration.

Get yourself the training you need and build the confidence necessary to hit the ground as a working professional before recording your first project. It's how the industry works, and will greatly benefit you in the long-term.

If doing royalty shares, there are many strategies to, and reasons for, choosing the right projects from your very first one.

There's much more to discuss regarding monetization and choosing projects that I'll talk about in other articles soon. Contact me if you need info before then (see links below).  

3. Expect to spend a lot more time in your recording space.

This is one of the most difficult transitional elements for most VO folks. While it's not always necessary to spend eight hours a day in your recording booth, there are times when that actually might happen.

A more realistic schedule for most full-time narrators is three hours in the morning - broken into two 90-minute sessions with a one-half hour to hour break in between, and the same for the afternoon.

Depending on deadlines and other factors, booth time is a moving target, and you simply have to do what works best for you and your clients.

If you are recording, editing, and proofing your own work, then plan on starting out with about an 8:1 ratio of production hours vs hours of finished audio.

This also loops back to numbers 1 and 2, above. Time is money, and you'll be spending a LOT of time producing audiobooks.  

4. Hone your acting chops.

I believe all voice-over work involves acting. From recording and delivering a single word to the most demanding commercial, video game, or animation VO - we're all actors.

Audiobook narration will take this to the next level. Stepping in and out of characters thousands of times during the course of a 15-hour audiobook is very challenging work. It requires fluidity of thought, quick and delicate decision making, and adroit acting abilities. And don't think nonfiction is any easier.

Ask audiobook coach Sean Pratt about how non-fiction is often even more difficult than fiction, and you'll be convinced there are no easy paths where acting and superior narration skills aren't essential components.

"So what if I'm not an actor?"

Sorry, this is a profession where some skill is required, and mad skills are greatly rewarded.

Acting classes can be found at your local colleges. Check with your local community theater groups for their recommendations, as well.

Also, improvisation classes are very useful for audiobook narration, and are readily found in most cities of moderate size. Can't find anything local? Online acting and improv workshops will be your new best friend.  

5. Be ready to work with authors and rights holders (independent publishers).

This applies specifically to being an independent audiobook narrator, as opposed to narrating a project for a publishing company, where you likely won't have any contact with authors.

Just as VO work is based on building relationships, audiobook narration requires a similar customer-first approach.

The main difference between a VO client and an author comes down to the often deep personal interest that an author has for their art. The trick here is that you, as the hired, responsible talent, need to guide the author's expectations and point them gently to the fact that you will do everything you can to help bring their work to life; but they will need to allow you to do this without ongoing guidance.

In so many words, I let authors know that I understand their books are their babies and I will take care of them. There is no need for them, in turn, to babysit me along the way.  

Tom Jordan is an award-winning audiobook narrator and Audible Approved Producer who entered the world of professional voice acting in 1994. He has worked for hundreds of clients in a broad variety of voice-over genres from commercials to E-learning, and everything in between. A few years back, Tom steered his talents toward audiobook narration and has found his true calling with this creative and infinitely-rewarding endeavor. Tom is a 2018 RONE Audiobook Award Finalist and 2019 Independent Audiobook Award winner for his performance of Gutter Medicine: Twenty-six Years as a Firefighter Paramedic, by Roger Huder. He will also be speaking on audiobooks at the VO Atlanta 2020 conference in March.

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Comments (2)
Peter Hopkins
11/11/2019 at 9:10 PM
I can confirm that non fiction is definitely harder. You still need to act, but you will also encounter some seriously long sentences with complicated words. This is where word-pronunciation websites come in really handy. Wikipedia is also good since it will include phonetic pronunciation of the word. And you better get the pronunciation right or you’ll have a pissed-off client on your hands.

8 to 1 actual work to finished hour? Yup: that’s been my experience.
Linda Lee
11/6/2019 at 11:15 AM
Thank you for sharing the insights it's taken you years to learn. As a fairly new VO talent, I have considered this avenue but did conclude very early that I was unsure if I could stay in the fight until the last bell was rung so have steered clear for now. I am considering volunteering at ALLY. Will be interested to read more of your words of wisdom.

Thanks again
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