Two weeks ago, the following ad appeared on one of the freelance work sites. While it wasn’t on a site aimed solely at voiceover talent, it prompted me to write about the time required for audiobook production.
Hello. I am looking to turn 14000 word e-books into audio and or video format, this will be ongoing work i know it is a simple process to do and can be done free with max and or various softwares, if you have the knowledge and have done this before please reply this will be ongoing work i will pay $40 per e-book converted into audio. If you have a sample of your work please provide it this will help me make my dicission. [sic]
In reading this ad, I’m not clear what kind of work is actually requested. I’m not even sure the ad’s author knows what s/he wants. However, 2 things are immediately evident to me:
- a 14,000-word book is about 1.5 hours of finished audio narration
- $40 is entirely too little pay to even consider narrating this e-book
Paul Strikwerda, a Pennsylvania voice talent and thought-provoking blogger, wrote a most excellent and thorough analysis of the recording aspect of audiobook work titled Breaking down an audio book rate. He outlines the process for estimating the finished run time and consequently a recording rate based on the pages and words in a book. It’s a terrific article that I wish I had written, and I highly encourage you to read it and his other articles about setting rates.
But Paul’s article only tells half the story. What about the editing and production aspects of audiobook work?
Since I usually work alone in my stunning soundproof studio, I have to consider my total time commitment when submitting a bid on audiobook work. My rule-of-thumb is that each finished hour of audio requires 4 hours of real time to create: 1.5-2 hours to record and 2 hours to edit. While editing, you must consider the overall story flow when determining tracks, as well as editing pauses for dramatic effect.
If the person who wrote the ad above is expecting a voice talent to narrate his e-book, I can easily estimate that I might need 6 hours in my studio to complete the process. If I divide 6 into 40, I get an hourly rate of $6.66. If that rate looks like a devilish number, consider this point: At this moment, the US federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Do you really want to do voiceover or audiobook work so much that you’re willing to make less than minimum wage?
The example Paul used in his blog is a book that would run about 8.33 hours of finished time. I don’t think even the world’s most accomplished narrator could record an 8-hour book in 10 hours. Not only might the narrator stumble on words, but other influences can stop the recording, like growling stomachs, external noise, and calls of nature. In addition, the vocal chords grow tired after hours of recording. Furthermore, errors like mispronunciations and incorrect inflections are caught during the editing process that must re-recorded and inserted into the edited material. Using my time commitment formula with Paul’s sample book, I would actually expect to spend over 33 hours in my studio to complete the assignment!
Establishing rates is always a concern for voice talent and all freelance professionals. Whether you’re quoting rates for audiobooks or some other kind of long-form narration, don’t be afraid to set a rate that truly compensates you for your time spent on the project.
PS. Speaking of time commitments, I wrote this article on 15 November but haven’t made time to record it. I decided I’d rather post it for you now without the accompanying narration than continue to delay its publication.