What Does an Audiobook Narrator Do

Audiobooks are more popular nowadays than ever before. Since the times of the phonograph, cassettes, vinyl records, and CDs, the digital evolution has sky-rocketed the audiobook industry, demanding year after year more qualified narrators.

An audiobook narrator reads aloud a book using a steady and interesting intonation that can keep the listener’s attention until the end of the book. Nonfiction titles require a rather neutral intonation, whereas fiction works need the narrator to express the emotions of each character, to differentiate them from the story’s narrator.

In this article you will know:

  • Differences Between Voice Over and Audiobook Narration
  • Examples of Voice-Over Narration
  • Examples of Audiobook Narration for Non-Fiction Audiobooks
  • Examples of Audiobook Narration for Fiction Audiobooks
  • How Much Does A Voice Over Narrator Make
  • How Much Does An Audiobook Narrator Make
  • How Do Audiobook Narrators Get Paid
  • Do Audiobook Narrators Get Royalties
  • How Do I Start Narrating Audiobooks

Differences Between Voice Over and Audiobook Narration

Voice-over narration is the general field that ranges from audio narration for fiction and non-fiction projects, such as TV series, documentaries, TV and radio commercials, as well to narration for commercial purposes required by companies in any niche.        

Thus audiobook narration fits in the category of fiction and non-fiction projects based on a previously written abridged or unabridged book. In the case of fiction titles, narrators can be considered voice-over actors.

Examples of Voice-Over Narration

A good quality voice narration work complies with great intonation that suits the purpose of the project (TV or radio commercials), corporative narration projects, and timing, which is the art of leaving pauses in specific moments of the narration.

The following models are great examples of good quality voice-over narration:

Examples of Audiobook Narration for Non-Fiction Audiobooks

Although a good quality audiobook narration for non-fiction audiobooks tends to sound neutral and formal, it doesn’t mean that intonation has to be dull and steady all the time. Variations in intonation should be perceived as if the narrator were speaking in a friendly and clear way.

The following examples are perfect models of good quality audiobook narration for non-fiction audiobooks:

Examples of Audiobook Narration for Fiction Audiobooks

A good quality audiobook narration for fiction audiobooks tends to sound as if the narrator were acting out the roles of the story, without turning into a radio drama project. The narrator may raise the tone and pitch of his/her voice to differentiate the characters, as well as the narrator of the story.

These are excellent examples of audiobook narration for fiction audiobooks:

How Much Does A Voice Over Narrator Make

The average gig for freelance narrators goes from $10 for beginners to $150 for experienced narrators. The level of expertise, talent, the number of works recorded, and the status of being a freelance or union voice-over narrator, determine how much a voice-over narrator makes.

I contacted the highest-reviewed narrators on Fiverr and Upwork, on the three levels of expertise and concluded that they don’t find 1+ hour projects profitable enough. After doing the math, a customer would definitely choose an audiobook narrator rather than a voice-over narrator.

The following table shows the fee per word and per finished hour :

Level of ExperienceFreelance / Union Per wordPer hour (9300 words on average)
Expert (5+ years)Freelance150 words  $100 – 150
1 word: $0,67 – $1
Intermediate (3 – 5 years)Freelance50 – 149 words $20 – 30
1 word: $0,2 – $0,4
$1835 – $2750
Beginner (0 -2 years)Freelance50 – 149 words $10 – 15
1 word: $0,1 – $0,2
They propose a financial agreement according to the customer’s budget
Freelance voice narrators don’t use to work through unions

How Much Does An Audiobook Narrator Make 

As the fees per finished hour range from $139 to $250 (beginner to expert narrators), and professional audiobook narration requires an average of 4 to 8 hours per day, most expert narrators prefer joining a labor union, which will negotiate a fair deal, and help earn credits towards a quality health plan, life insurance, and retirement benefits.

It’s very common that the client (publishing house or author) wants an express delivery, meaning little or no preparation time to know the script. 

This challenge makes many audiobook narrators consider joining a labor union, which will provide frequent projects per year, with a standard fee per finished hour. It will demand a quality audiobook in a timely and efficient manner.

The following table shows the fees per finished hour, per word and an 8-hours average finished audiobook, for beginner, and advanced expertise levels.

Level of ExperienceFreelance / Union Per Finished Hour (PFH)8 Hour Audiobook
(average length)
Expert narrator  
Union$250 – $450$2000 – $3600
Beginner narrator
Expert narrator Freelance$250 – $450$2000 – $3600
Beginner narratorFreelance$65 – $100$520 – $800

* Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA

Becoming an audiobook narrator labor union requires a membership fee. The following table shows the data of the two main labor unions in the United States:

Labor UnionAnnual Fee
Audio Publishers Association APA$165 Voice Talent Narrators
SAG – AFTRA$222.96 $3000 Initiation fee (lifetime)

How Do Audiobook Narrators Get Paid

Recording an audiobook as a member of a union:  once a narrator has presented the audition for a specific title, the author, producer or audiobook recording service will let the union know that he/she has been cast for the project. 

  • In this stage, the narrator will be contacted by a member of the union staff to know how much time has been set to record the project and an accurate idea of the fee that he/she will receive
  • 100% of the union agreements imply paying for the entire project after it has been fully completed; that includes re-recording certain parts until it satisfies the expectations of the producer or author, at no extra fees

The following table shows the average fees since 2013 for narrators who work through SAG-AFTRA for Audible:

Rate PFHRequirement
$155After having performed more than 4 audiobooks
$210After having performed more than 14 audiobooks
$225After having performed more than 60 audiobooks
13-week contract
$17000 – $33000K
(depending on experience)
* 15 finished hours per week expected (30 acting hours on average)
* This contract is also available at 2/3 of the weekly hours at 2/3 the base rate
12% on top of the narrator’s compensation, paid by Audible
Source: SAG-AFTRA Foundation
  • SAF-AFTRA’s requirements for ACX:
    • $225 PFH for a Pay for Production project or
    • $100 PFH stipend or advance on a royalty share project

Recording an audiobook as a freelance narrator: In most cases, freelance audiobook narrators work through a professional platform, such as ACX. 

  • After sending an audition, the platform will let the narrator know if he/she has been successfully cast for the project, presenting the number of hours set for the project and the average fees as an offer, which the narrator will approve or reject. 
  • Although the narrator is the one who states his/her PHF rate, the offer’s fee may be based on the credits for previous works demonstrated by the narrator; the more the credits the higher the PHF rate will be paid

Recording an audiobook to share 50% of royalties: in this case, the casting and selection process is very much the same as when recording through a union or as a freelancer through a professional platform, but now the narrator won’t receive any PHF fees but only a percentage per every audiobook sold.

  • When an audiobook is recorded through a professional platform, such as ACX, the platform will keep 60% of the total earnings based on the monthly sales. The remaining 40% will be split between the rights holder and the narrator on a 20% – 20% fair proportion    
  • The royalties fees will be received on a monthly basis as long as there are sales

An interesting profitable option is when the narrator promotes new listeners to get an Audible account: the bounty program. Audible will pay $25 for each new subscriber, splitting $12,5 for the author and for the narrator. Just learn the basics to set an organic social media campaign to lead new customer to Audible

Do Audiobook Narrators Get Royalties

It’s common for a beginner narrator to choose to be paid upon shared royalties with the rights holder.

If a narrator is the same author or rights holder, the percentage of royalties will be 40% on average.

The bounty program has been profitable for many beginner narrators when they manage to lead new subscribers to Audible.

How Do I Start Narrating Audiobooks

The first step to start narrating audiobooks is to be passionate about reading aloud with an interesting intonation and for long periods of time.

The second step is to guarantee the necessary technical conditions to record your auditions: 

  • A soundproof booth of room or space with no reverb at all and no unwanted noises, even from a computer or ventilation systems. 
  • Make sure to run a sound meter app on your cell phone to see if the noise floor is under 10 dB, as well as a spectrum analyzer app to detect what frequencies the sound leakage is, so you can use the right sound insulation materials
  • A good quality condenser  microphone:
    • CAD M179, between hypercardioid and cardioid polar pattern
    • Rode NT1A cardioid polar pattern
    • Newmann TLM 102
  • HACK: Create your demos based on audiobook material for the blind; that’s volunteer work but it can boost your resumé as a beginner narrator

  • Include demos in all types of fiction and nonfiction genres

The final step is to participate in auditions on different professional audiobook production platforms or to join a union.

  • Keep in mind updating your resumé on time. The more credits for previous works you can demonstrate, the higher your PHF rate can be.
  • A key strategy to boost your resume is to do freelance work on Fiverr or Upwork, to demonstrate that those micro project has been successful. In doing so, make sure that you set an organic social media campaign to gain visitors to your gigs on those platforms

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