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Should You Be An Audiobook Narrator?
If So, How Will You Define Success?

June 9, 2015

By Tom Dheere
Voice Actor& Coach

Life is but a series of questions.
  • Who am I?
  • What is my purpose?
  • Sennheiser or Neumann?
The key is to know what questions to ask, when to ask them, and why.

Over the years, many aspiring voice talents have asked me about the intriguing world of audiobook narration and whether it’s right for them.
  • "Is it hard?”
  • "How’s the pay?”
  • "Can you hook me up?”
The short answers are yes, meh, and no.

While those are valid questions (well, maybe not the third one), are they the right questions you should be asking? To that end, I’ve come up with:
  • "CAN I be an audiobook narrator?"
  • "SHOULD I be an audiobook narrator?"
  • "How do I define success?"
Armed with these thoughts, I went to the 2015 Audio Publishers Association Conference (APAC) in New York on May 27 and approached three key people in the audiobook industry: multi award-winning narrators Johnny Heller and Tavia Gilbert, and the executive director of the Audio Publishers Association, Michele Cobb. Listen and read their fascinating insights ...


Audiobook Narrator, Commercial Voice Actor, Coach

Click the arrow to hear on SoundCloud, or read below ...

Tom: Johnny, how can you determine whether you can be a successful audiobook narrator?

Johnny: The determination is based on your ability to tell a story. Truthfully, honestly. Keeping in mind the pacing – you need to be first and foremost an actor. You can have the best voice in the world, and assuming you have the artistic talent, you also need to be able to tell a story – to connect with the author’s truth.

Tom: Next, how can you determine if you SHOULD be an audiobook narrator?

Johnny: You should know that it’s a business. And how to be in business. What processes will be involved. Spiritually, financially, and whether or not you can afford – or want to afford – to be in this business.

There are no residuals, for example. If you’re doing voice over commercials there are residuals. You can also be doing eLearning, corporate narrations. With those you can make a lot of money for a lot less work.

So, should you do it? Yes, if you want to do it.

Tom: How can you make a determination of what success means for you?

Johhny: Well, what does success mean for YOU? Does it mean getting the best audiobooks from the biggest companies regularly? Does it mean getting one good shot? Does it mean working consistently? Does it mean doing a book? I can’t determine that for someone else.

If you get your name on the site of a book and it goes out to the public and people can buy it if they want to, and then they don’t – are you a success? I can't answer that for you.

To me, no. But for someone else, perhaps yes. That’s all they want, to see their name in lights.

To me, success means I’m making a living doing this - or am I being an idiot? Am I spending all this time, all this money, and perhaps I still suck? If that’s the case then don’t do that, fix that. Either fix what’s wrong to get you where you want to be, or consider that maybe it’s not for you.


Audiobook Narrator, Writer, Producer

Tom: How do you determine if you can or should narrate audiobooks?

Tavia: Narration is not a fast-developing, linear journey to success. It’s a business, it’s a marathon, it's competitive, it’s enormously challenging, there are ups and downs, times when you’re overbooked or underbooked.

There is support available, there are resources at hand, but it’s not the right career for just anyone and everyone.

APAC, for instance, offers valuable information and experience that can help a person honestly evaluate if they have the commitment, interest, stamina, upfront investment, training, talent, and skill to make a serious go of it.

As Grover Gardner affirmed at this year's conference, though the industry is growing rapidly, it’s still a business built on relationships and trust. One way to begin to build relationships is by attending the conference and meeting key people - producers, publishers, and narrator colleagues. You need a network, and APAC is the place to begin to create it.

Tom: How do you define success as an audiobook narrator?

Tavia: My own success is measured in the response from writers who say, "You got it. You got what I was trying to do, the characters I was writing. Thank you for taking such good care of my story.”

It’s in messages from listeners, who thank me for entertaining, comforting, and encouraging them, or in keeping them company during tough times.

It’s in the trust that publishers extend to me, recognizing that I bring skill and expertise and care to a project, and that I’m going to be gracious, deferential, and supportive of the writer who brought this book into the world.

There’s an idea gaining prevalence that some narrators are "rock stars,” and I hear people with the ambition to be a narrator rock star in their own right. Actors have healthy egos. We really must, in order to weather the challenges of a fierce industry.

But I promise you - what makes Scott Brick and Simon Vance and Katherine Kellgren and Barbara Rosenblat amazing is not that they think to themselves and share with others, "I’m amazing! I’m such a successful narrator. How awesome I am!”

They’re getting out of the way and placing the emphasis and focus where it belongs - on the story, the book, the character, the writer, the listener. That’s success.

I see so many posts on social media that, in my opinion, are incredibly crass. Don’t share your stats, please. When you’re offering with great self-congratulation how many books you’ve recorded this month or this year, the sales you’ve achieved, the number of authors you produce for, you are missing the point.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take pride in your work and your accomplishments, or that you shouldn’t share good news or accolades.

But if you can share what moved you about a book or a character, how the project connected with your heart and mind, what you learned from it, what it made you think about, then I think you understand what your role is.

I’d rather hear an honest, authentic account of how a first book project made someone grow and deepen as a human being than hear that someone just recorded their hundredth title and their thousandth finished hour.

It’s not about you. It’s about the book, the story, and the listener.


Executive Director, Audio Publishers Association

As the production of audiobooks grows, the technology is changing. The opportunities exist, but potential narrators have to be willing to roll with the changes and learn the new technologies. With those things in mind you have to determine if you're enticed into this changing world.

APAC, by the way, is a great place to learn about changes and what narrators are doing to keep up.

The best narrators continue to grow and get feedback throughout their careers. Plus, they build strong relationships with listeners, authors, publishers, producers and each other.

We are a fairly small, but encouraging community. Successful narrators, in my estimation, not only give great performances but they participate in the audio publishing world - welcoming new people into the industry circle, but more importantly, helping us get the word out about audiobooks and encouraging people to become listeners.


When it comes to answering these questions, this is what I came away with:
  • Just because you have a nice voice doesn’t mean you can be an audiobook narrator.
  • Just because you have the desire doesn’t mean you should be an audiobook narrator.
  • And your definition of success should be truly yours, not what society tells you it should be.
Work hard, work smart, and ask the right questions!
Over nearly two decades, Tom Dheere has narrated thousands of projects for clients in over a dozen countries and voiced more than 40 audiobooks. He is also a voice over business consultant, coach at Edge Studio, was the marketing consultant for the Voice Over Virtual online conference, and is writing and producing the comic book Agent 1.22 (, which will be released in Summer 2015.


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Comments (3)
Matilda Novak
6/9/2015 at 9:12 PM
Thank you for this Fine article!
Excellent advice, all around.....
Steve Latham
6/9/2015 at 2:50 PM
Thank you for the article.I seriously have been investigating doing audio-book's this article did help and shed some light for me.
Taylor Stonely
6/9/2015 at 2:07 PM
Very candid advice, thank you for getting the perspective of both narrators and producers of audio books! This is a career that many wish they could pursue, but only the diligent will succeed, however you wish to define success.
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