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How To Choose A Book To Narrate That
Could Become A Money-Making Audiobook

October 3, 2017

By Bettye Zoller
Voice Actor, Coach, Audiobook Narrator

Don't ask me to read tea leaves or tell you when you'll find that next big romance - or when you'll pick a winning lottery ticket.

But I have learned, through trial and error - mostly error - how to choose a book to narrate that will probably earn money.

Of course, if you request a "per finished hour" fee, you know exactly what the narration will pay. But if you choose a royalty deal, book sales are your paycheck.


How did I learn this?

First, I owned an audiobook publishing house (non-fiction titles) for nine years in the 1990s. I researched every article I could find about how the publishing world works. I attended publisher's seminars, often at great expense. I talked to people in the business. 

How did my company do? Sure, we had some meager-sellers (think: flops), but also had several books that were distributed by Audio Book Club and Doubleday and Simon & Schuster and others. They ordered 25,000 books at one time!

I learned how to sell book rights and much more. Publishing houses (that said "no" to my queries about writing a book for them to publish explained "wider markets" and why they insisted on mass appeal of a title. This showed me how to write or (or narrate) books that would probably sell well. 

But owning a corporation with employees soon became tiresome and I missed being a voice over performer, audio producer, editor, and working at my home studio instead of in that dreary office building with no windows. The job was not creative. I dissolved the corporation, paid lawyer's fees, accountants' charges and paid off expensive charge cards. It was worth it! I was free again!


Today, let me share with you what I learned about choosing a book to narrate.

1. If the manuscript is horrid, RUN, don't walk, away.

If you hate it now, you'll abhor it - and yourself - by page 10!

2. Research and talk with the rights holder / author.

State clearly that you expect some effort on their part toward generating sales. Keep in mind that you should make some sort of effort at publicity too.

Is this their first foray into publishing or published writing? 

Are they writing or publishing "vanity" - to advertise their business or gain publicity for themselves - but not primarily to sell books?

Thoroughly research the author online.
  • Are his or her online activities meager? You'd want a strong online following.
  • Does the author have any awards or credits?
  • Teaching at a university often indicates a higher level of achievement, as does service to community or job titles in business and industry.
  • Does the author have a website? Is one planned?
  • Read quotes from readers of the author's previous books. Bad reviews are very "telling." 

Of course, look up the book title online and check previous sales figures or research other book titles by this author to assess failures or successes.  

3. What about the publisher?

If the book was not self-published, check out the publisher's track record.
  • Does the publisher have a website?
  • Investigate prior book sale figures
  • Sometimes - though not always, of course - a publisher with a "name" or credits, sells more than an author's name alone.    
  • Is the book you may narrate part of a series? Plans show seriousness, planning for the future.
No one can predict with complete certainty if a book will sell well, but we can try! This is called "an educated guess." Try it!
Bettye Zoller is a voice actor, voice over coach and audiobook narrator based in Dallas, where she offers personal and group coaching in her studio. She is currently writing a novel - also to become an audiobook, of course - based on her experiences as a child actor on the MGM movie lot.



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Comments (5)
Tim Miller
10/6/2017 at 8:10 AM
Thank you for the tips, Bettye! There's no education like narrating one wrong book!
--Tim Miller
Joe Loesch
10/3/2017 at 11:32 PM
Bettye always has great advice. Lots of wisdom here.
Dan Bolivar
10/3/2017 at 8:31 PM
Such a great article!
Jim Conlan
10/3/2017 at 2:45 PM
Good advice, Bettye! Narrators are usually in the dark when it comes to predicting the success of a royalty-share title. Anything that will give us an edge in this uncertain business is worth exploring.
Larry Wayne
10/3/2017 at 1:56 PM
Betty...Thanks for sharing about your early experience with publishing and knowing that what you really like to do is more important than other things that aren't so fun! Although I have recorded over 25 audio books, sales have been meager. These are great pointers to do further research before saying yes to an offer to produce. Looking for my next project to be more mass appeal.....and I will do my homework first!

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