Last revised 11/14/18 to add and update links
Audiobooks have become mainstream entertainment. As a result, many voiceover talent, actors, and others are interested in becoming narrators. As I wrote previously:
A good narrator will make the performance transparent and SEEM like the easiest thing on earth….just like talking. However, good narrators usually have completed professional training in voice-over and also have thoroughly prepared the material they are reading by researching pronunciations and determining characterizations before they ever walked into the recording studio.
Before you do anything toward actually becoming a narrator, my first question to you is:
Do you actually LISTEN to audiobooks? If not, your first step should be to start listening to books. You can borrow audiobooks from the library or buy them on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.
If you have never recorded an audiobook, I suggest that you first watch prolific and award-winning audiobook narrator and teacher Sean Pratt‘s video “So You Want to Be An Audiobook Narrator”. Warning: You will be tested!
Audiobook narration requires different skills than commercial voiceover or theatre acting, though either or both disciplines are very helpful toward becoming a successful narrator. A great way to start developing these skills is to record for the blind and/or volunteer for LibriVox. Both options are wonderful ways to gain and practice skills in storytellng and production.
To volunteer for LibriVox, you would need a computer, a microphone, and some sort of audio editing program. Since Audacity is a free audio editor, many people start recording with it. Be aware that proficiency in audio recording and editing comes with a learning curve. I wrote an article that lists 7 ways to get up to speed on your DAW. You also can do a Google search to find innumerable videos and blogs to help you learn audio editing techniques.
You might have to go to a designated studio to record for the blind as many of those organizations do not utilize remote narrators.
Like any performance art, audiobook narration is a highly competitive BUSINESS. It’s not a field in which you should expect on-the-job training. When you are cast to narrate a book, you are expected to know how to complete the project within your deadline.
I recommend that newcomers take classes from established coaches before creating a demo to gain work. Listeners expect a very high level of performance and pristine audio free of background sounds, mouth noises, etc.
Pat Fraley is a fabulous and highly entertaining voiceover and audiobook teacher. He often teaches narration classes with Scott Brick, a superstar narrator in the audiobook industry. If you can’t get to one of their classes, Pat also has home-study courses on his web site, along with The Gypsy’s Guide to Professional Home Recording. This guide is an excellent resource to help you create a better sounding studio on a budget. You’ll find other terrific, vetted audiobook coaches and consultants in this spreadsheet.
With a demo and some storytelling and production skills, it’s time to start marketing yourself for work. Audible’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX.com) is a terrific site for beginners and professionals alike. Narrators can establish a profile that includes an unlimited number of samples. Author, agents, and publishers — collectively known as rights holders — post titles for which narrators can audition. Everyone participates for FREE! Audible created the site in 2011 in order to produce more audiobooks for the ever-growing market.
First, I recommend that you read my article and its comments on the ACX blog titled How to Act Like an Audiobook Narrator. Next, read my article 4 Keys to Becoming a Successful ACX Audiobook Producer.
The video below will give you some more info about working as a narrator through ACX, as well as some introductory coaching. Listen closely when Pat Fraley, Scott Brick, and Hillary Huber, another award-winning narrator, offer performance direction to some volunteers.
The majority of books posted on ACX are paid on a royalty share basis. You receive no money up front but receive royalties on each sale for 7 years. The royalty percentage is currently capped at 40%, which means you and the rights holder would each earn 20% of the proceeds. You will NOT earn 20% of the retail sales price due to the variances from Audible member credits, price reductions, Whispersync sales, and foreign currency exchanges. Due to the monetary risk involved with royalty share projects, many narrators refuse to do them.
However, money isn’t the only consideration when deciding whether to accept a royalty share offer. This article outlines other pros and cons of royalty share agreements.
If you decide to audition for royalty share projects, you’ll find some helpful tips about choosing a good project and managing your expectations in this post. It also links to my post about my audiobook marketing articles on the ACX blog.
You should establish a profile on ACX if only to join the Facebook group named Indie (ACX And Others) Audiobook Narrators and Producers. Members of this very active group range from the newest person to industry veterans with years of experience and 100s of audiobooks to their credit. You could spend weeks reading and learning from the helpful discussions listed in the comprehensive group FAQ, which I created and maintain. The FAQ contains a link to a spreadsheet of proofers and editors.
Auditioning on ACX is just one way to find work as a narrator. I listed 9 other ideas in this essay. One of those suggestions was to start your own audiobook production company. I did (!), and I outlined my steps for you here. One narrator made a spreadsheet of the top 50 books they had heard, researched the producers and publishers associated with them, and contacted all of them. Another option is to license the audio rights to a favorite book, cast yourself to narrate it, and publish it yourself! This article will give you inspiration for that approach.
Manage Your Time
Once you start your first project, you might be surprised how much time is required to narrate, edit and master an audiobook before release. A rule of thumb is that 6 or more hours are needed in real-time for EXPERIENCED people to produce 1 finished hour of audio. While this blog post explains more about it, the time breaks down as:
- 1 hour to pre-read each hour’s text and research pronunciations
- 2 hours to record an hour’s worth of text (allows for re-takes due to stomach rumbles, coughs, or any other kind of mistake or noise)
- 3 hours to edit, proof, and master the hour you just recorded
Not all of these tasks are necessarily performed by the narrator. The narrator working at home either must do them or pay another professional to do them. A book with a 10-hour finished time therefore may require 60 hours in real time to create.
You can use the word count to estimate the the finished time as described in this article about determining your rate.
Study Other Resources
I also recommend that you read these thoughtful articles and guides from other established narrators about getting started in audiobook narration:
- “Breaking Into Audiobooks” part 1 and part 2 by Rachel Fulginiti
- “Curious About Becoming a Narrator? Learn to Fish…” by Ann Richardson
- Become A Narrator by Erin deWard
- Two Cents by R. C. Bray (click on the menu option)
You may also find these books and audiobooks from industry veterans to be very helpful:
- Audiobook Narrator: The Art of Recording Audio Books by Barbara Rosenblat
- Audiobook Narration Manual: How to Set Up a Home Studio and Record Audiobooks for a Living by Derek Perkins
- Acting With The Voice: The Art of Recording Books by Robert Blumenfeld
- Storyteller: How to Be An Audiobook Narrator by Lorelei King and Ali Muirden
While other people who call themselves narrators have written books and/or created on-line courses, I’d advise that you look at the author’s audiobook credits on Audible before deciding to buy one. Some people with little to no actual experience in this profession have written books to cash in on the audiobook boom. If most of the books in a narrator’s portfolio have a finished time of 3-4 hours or less and/or are book summaries, diet plans, or cookbooks, I suggest that you spend your money on a product from a more well-established person who has narrated popular genres.
Being a professional audiobook narrator is the fulfillment of a dream for me! Is it also your dream? By taking the actions you’ve read here, you’ll be on your way to bringing your own dream to fruition! I’d love to hear from you when you publish your first audiobook!