Last updated 2/7/21
My email inbox continues to provide fodder for blog articles. Last week, someone sent me this question:
I’ve been asked to record a 200 page audiobook. I’m not in a union or guild. I do have some voiceover experience. What do you recommend I charge?
While the question you asked seems simple, the answer requires more explanation, as found in this blog post and the one from Paul Strikwerda linked within it.
As basic info, you need to know the WORD count, not the page count, of the book you would narrate. You can figure out the finished run-time based on the word count. For instance, Audible uses an average rate of speed of 155 words a minute, or 9300 words per finished hour.
Paul’s article shows you a formula to calculate finished time. My article shows you how to calculate the real time required for editing to produce the book. As Paul points out in his comment to my article, you also need to add time for preliminary research.
You’ll have to consider all of these factors about the time commitment along with your experience, relationship with the client, training, and studio equipment to determine a rate that is fair compensation.
Small publishers only pay $50-100 per finished hour. I would only perform an audiobook at that very low rate if I wanted to build commercial credits.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. Best wishes for your continued success!
New Answer (WARNING: MATH IS INVOLVED!)
Apparently, I overwhelmed this person with good information that would require her to actually do some research because she re-posted her question on a voiceover forum within an hour of receiving my reply.
Here’s the simple mathematical formula for solving this problem:
1. Divide the word count of the book by your rate of speech per hour to get the estimated number of finished hours. If you don’t know your rate of speech, Audible uses 9300 words per hour, or 155 words per minute (WPM), in its calculation for books posted on ACX. Your actual rate of speech and finished time may vary significantly from the estimate due to the complexity of the text and your acting choices.
Some narrators have reported that using 9000 words per hour (or 150 wpm) is a better average rate for more people. If you’ve done some projects where you were given a word count, divide the word count by your finished time to learn your average words-per-minute rate of speech.
If you don’t have the word count available, you can estimate the finished time by following these steps:
Let’s say you a have a 300-page book. To estimate finished time, start a stopwatch as you read 3-5 representative pages aloud as if narrating. Keep going when you have errors, and stop your timer when you’re done.
Divide the time you obtained doing the sample read by the number of pages in the sample to get the average time to read each page. For instance, if it takes you 10 minutes to read 5 pages, your average time per page would be 2 minutes per page. (10 / 5 = 2)
Multiply the total pages in the book by your average reading time per page from your sample read to see the total estimated minutes. (300 * 2 = 600 minutes)
Divide the total number of minutes in the previous step by 60 to get the finished hours. (600 / 60 = 10 finished hours)
Real life examples usually aren’t so tidy with whole numbers. You find it helpful to use a decimal-to-time calculator with your finished hours figure to see the minutes and seconds.
2. Multiply the number of finished hours by 6. This number is a very conservative estimate of the number of real-time hours you and your team will spend in recording, editing, and transmitting your book. For instance, a 10-hour book may require at least 20 and, if you are doing your own editing (which I don’t recommend — instead, outsource it), 60 or more hours of your life from the time you record the first word until the last byte is uploaded or mailed to the client.
The general breakdown of hours for experienced narrators is:
Recording: 2 hours for 1 finished hour
Editing: 3 hours for 1 finished hour
Proofing: 1.2 hours for proofing
Note that preparing to read (pre-reading the book, looking up pronunciations, etc.) is NOT included in this calculation, so you will need to add time for that process.
3. Multiply the real-time hours by the hourly rate of pay you need to survive. Chances are very good that you will come up with a pay rate for this audiobook that is $1000s MORE than your client wishes to pay. You have to decide how to negotiate a rate acceptable to both of you.
Even with this formula in hand, you still will want to research current audiobook rates. Be aware that the SAG/AFTRA union minimum on ACX is $250 per finished hour. which is an all-inclusive rate. If you are producing the retail-ready project, you need to factor in costs for an editor and proofer as you will pay those out of your PFH rate. (Each publisher has negotiated contracts with SAG/AFTRA, and only the ACX rate is publicly available. The narration rate with other publishers varies.) If you want tips for negotiating a higher price, check out my article Cruising for a competitive advantage
Once you know the amount of time you’ll invest in the project and the amount of money you need to get for your time, you’ll know whether to accept an audiobook project.
For instance, I would voice a royalty-share book only if I’m willing to bet that based on from the book’s ratings and reviews that I would earn back my fee over time. Otherwise, I might do a RS book if I were passionate about the topic and had the time available for the project. I’m much more interested in a hybrid arrangement of a PFH payment up-front and a RS contract. On ACX, this type of arrangement is called a Royalty Share Plus contract.
It’s always good to be working and gaining credits if your survival needs are being met.
If you have more thoughts on this topic or questions on other topics related to voiceover, marketing, or just living your best life,, I’d love to get your comments on the blog!