How to Pick an Audiobook Narrator

Tara Parachuk | November 18, 2021

Woman in a blue shirt standing behing a gold mic and pop filter, delivering an audiobook narration read.

After deciding whether or not your title will work as an audiobook, the next question most people have is “How much does it cost to create an audiobook?”

If you’re an independent author, chances are you’re looking to find the most cost-effective means to produce your audiobook. You may have an idea of what you’re hoping to spend to produce this audiobook or you may not. The good news is that you can create an audiobook in a cost-effective manner. 

In this article

  1. Audiobook Production Activities
  2. Time Required to Record an Audiobook
  3. Average time to narrate an audiobook:
  4. Average time to edit and run quality assurance on audiobook recordings:
  5. Reading speed could increase or decrease your costs, but only slightly
  6. Reading Speed
  7. Line Count and Word Count Estimates
  8. Budgeting for Audiobook Production Costs
  9. Audiobook Editing Costs
  10. Audiobook Narration
  11. Types of Audiobook Narration Style
  12. Single Narrator Audiobook
  13. Full Cast Audiobook Narration
  14. Selecting a Narrator for Your Audiobook
  15. Why Hire a Professional Narrator:
  16. Why Narrate Your Own Audiobook:
  17. Consider carefully what AI narration for your audiobook means to its success:
  18. Recording Your Own Audiobook Narration
  19. Voice Over Equipment
  20. Set up an Audiobook Recording Studio Space
  21. Getting Feedback on Your Audiobook Narration Skills
  22. Recording Your Audiobook
  23. Working with a Professional Audiobook Narrator
  24. 1. Find the voice for your audiobook
  25. 2. Record the audiobook
  26. 3. Edit the audio files
  27. 4. Receive the edited and completed audio files
  28. On to Publishing and Promoting Audiobooks

One of the most important factors that influences how much it costs to create an audiobook is the word count of your book. This is because word count dictates how much time is required for production, including time to record/narrate, edit, mix, and master.

We’ll explore the options of recording your own audiobook or hiring a professional narrator further on in this piece.

Audiobook Production Activities

Audiobook production time is composed of three elements:

  1. Time to record the narration, including retakes.
  2. Editing the narration file, including adding any sound effects.
  3. Quality assurance check (listening back on the file to ensure it sounds as it should).

Each one of these elements has its own time considerations and, as we know, time is money. 

Time Required to Record an Audiobook

Here’s what you need to know about how long each audiobook production component takes:

Average time to narrate an audiobook:

  • The standard audiobook has 100,000 words
  • The standard audiobook run time = 11 hours of finished audio
  • For every finished hour of edited audio, the voice actor will need approximately 2 hours to lay down the track, including retakes
  • Therefore, the average amount of time to record the audiobook voice over narration takes around 22 studio hours (2 x 11 = 22 hours of recording time)

Once your book is narrated, you’ll also need to process the audio so that the end product is crisp and clean. This extra processing time can be completed by either an audio engineer/producer or the voice actor.

Average time to edit and run quality assurance on audiobook recordings:

  • Each finished hour of audio requires three hours of editing, mixing, and mastering (3 x 11 hours of finished audio = 33 hours)
  • Each finished hour of audio also requires one hour for quality assurance (QA) (1 x 11 hours of finished audio = 11 hours)
  • Editing, mixing, mastering, and quality assurance take an average of 44 hours (33+11 = 44 hours).

To sum it up, the average 100,000 word audiobook will take 66 hours to create: 22 hours for the narration, plus 44 hours for editing, mixing, mastering, and quality assurance.

Reading speed could increase or decrease your costs, but only slightly

While you might think you could save money having the narrator read at a hurried pace, the listening experience will suffer, resulting in an audiobook that sounds like a radio commercial.

Reading Speed

  • The average person reads 3 words per second
  • The average person reads 88 words per half-minute
  • The average person reads 170 words per minute

Line Count and Word Count Estimates

For a manuscript that is 12 point Arial, double-spaced, margin-to-margin:

  • There is an average of 13 words per line
  • An average of 21 lines per page
  • An average of 273 words per page

Budgeting for Audiobook Production Costs

How much does audiobook narration cost? Narration costs can vary, but most narrators charge between $200 (on the low end) up to $600 or more per finished hour (on the high end). That breaks down to a per word rate ranging from $0.01 to $0.05.

Check out Voices’ voice over rates to get a sense of the price range of your project. Note that audiobooks are considered to be ‘non-broadcast’ projects.

Audiobook Editing Costs

Essentially, the amount of time spent editing hinges on how organized and talented both the voice actor and the audio engineer are. Naturally, fewer mistakes in the audio will result in fewer edits, which is one of the many reasons why hiring a professional voice actor is a great idea. 

Plus, on the editing front, some professional voice actors on Voices will also professionally edit their work, which can often save you from spending more on an audio engineer. 

The average audiobook editing fees cost around $50 per finished hour. Audiobook producer Lee Pritchard says the average audiobook in the UK costs an estimated £2963.40, or $3,756.08 USD to produce.

If you have an audio editing background, you could save some serious money by doing the editing through your own software and equipment.

Audiobook Narration

Audiobook narration is an absolute marathon. Thousands of words have to be spoken—not just recited, but presented with a level of emotion and engagement that will keep listeners enthralled for hours. When it comes to narration, you have a few key choices to make:

  1. What style of narration do you want/need?
  2. Who will narrate your audiobook?

Types of Audiobook Narration Style

Audiobook publishers are mixed on what format works better, as it often varies based on audience preferences. Here are some considerations for each:

Single Narrator Audiobook

Some more traditional publishers believe it doesn’t sound proper to have a full cast of voice actors for an audiobook as it makes the audiobook feel more like a theatrical drama. Many publishers cite the fact that we grew up listening to a book being read out loud by one voice, such as a parent or teacher. Additionally, traditional publishers may source a talented narrator who can pull off multiple voices for each character. 

Full Cast Audiobook Narration

Other publishers would much rather have a full cast of professional voice actors to truly give each character a unique and distinctive voice. Millennials have been shown to gravitate more to audiobooks with a cast of multiple voice actors. Much of the popularity of the full cast option derives from its ability to keep the audience fully engaged for 10+ hours. 

Make sure you do your research on full cast vs. single narrator audiobooks to determine what makes the most sense for your listeners. This article breaks down the pros and cons of various narration styles.

Selecting a Narrator for Your Audiobook

When it comes time to decide who will narrate your book, you have two options: Recording your own audiobook (voice of the author) or hiring a professional narrator.

It can be tricky for an author to decide when they should be narrating the audiobook themselves or hiring someone else for the job. If you’re a public figure, celebrity, or thought-leader or have a very large following for your special niche, then you may want to narrate in your own voice, as people will want to hear directly from you. This may be more common for business, self-help, and health and fitness audiobooks. 

However, you may want to have your book brought to life by another storyteller. This is very common for romance, fantasy, and mystery books. . 

We dive into the pros and cons for each option below: 

Why Hire a Professional Narrator:

  • They’ll add a level of polish and legitimacy that an untrained voice (or AI voice) can’t.
  • As storytellers, they will bring your characters and audiobook to life.
  • They’ll possess the technical know-how and familiarity with the audiobook process.
  • Narrators are physically and vocally prepared for hours of recording.
  • Most own their own professional recording equipment and software.
  • Credibility and distribution will be impacted, as fans of the particular narrator may discover your audiobook.

Why Narrate Your Own Audiobook:

  • No one understands your characters’ voices more than you do.
  • You could avoid potential communication breakdowns or fallout with voice talent.
  • Full financial control of your published book assets.
  • It will likely save you money.

Consider carefully what AI narration for your audiobook means to its success:

  • Narration projects suited for AI voice would be those not requiring emotion or inflection in the delivery. 
  • It would be very cost-effective in the production-phase, but may not garner you much success in the market, especially as you provide free samples of the audio content prior to purchase. 
  • An AI voice doesn’t have the benefit of bolstering the promotion of your audiobook with the fan following of a professional narrator, nor does it give you the stage as an author to tell your own story, either. 

Now let’s take a look at how both options work:

Recording Your Own Audiobook Narration

If you’re an independent author who has the skill set and endurance to record your own audiobook, hats off to you! There’s a few things you should know before you start recording. 

Voice Over Equipment

If you want anyone to take your audiobook seriously, it has to be recorded with professional equipment, not your smartphone or a built-in laptop microphone. Low audio quality will be noticed by listeners and your book’s credibility will be jeopardized if you don’t have these three essentials:

  • Quality Microphone: It’s important you find a microphone that highlights the best qualities of your voice. And just because the mic is expensive doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your voice. Check out our article on the best microphones for voice over.
  • Pop Filter: Also known as a ‘pop screen,’ this microphone attachment will reduce plosive sounds that are produced from letters like ‘p’ and ‘b’. Here’s a thorough read on how to pick the right pop filter
  • Audio Editing Software: If you have a Mac computer, then you already have a free audio editor in Garageband. Read this walkthrough on how to edit on GarageBand. Another great option is Audacity, which is a free audio editing software that will certainly do the trick for recording your audiobook. Check out what the best voice over software is here.

Set up an Audiobook Recording Studio Space

Every voice over actor needs to have that quiet sanctuary where they can get in their groove and not be disturbed. The reality is, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to set up a soundproof studio to begin recording. 

Do you have a decent-sized closet or tiny crawl space? You can quickly and cost-effectively convert that room into your recording space. 

Here are some tips to keep in mind when setting up your recording space:

  • Filter External Sound: Take a look at your doors, windows, or any other entry points in your recording space. See how much external noise is coming through them. Cracks under doors are the most common and can be soundproofed with a plastic sweep.
  • Double Up On Drywall: Many studios add another layer of drywall on top of the original layer to reduce sound transmission. A more cost-effective option is soundproofing your space with bags of insulation and spreading them out around the room. The cheapest option is loading a closet with clothes (on hangers) and stuffing it with as many pillows and blankets as possible.
  • Thick Carpet: You’d be surprised how much of a difference thick carpet can make with noise reduction. The thicker the carpet, the better for recording quality. You can also hang up strips of carpet on your walls, windows and doors to dampen noise. 

Get the full low-down on the do’s and don’ts of soundproofing a room before you start recording your audiobook.

Getting Feedback on Your Audiobook Narration Skills

Before you start recording, you need to make sure you have a strong enough voice to give your audiobook the best shot at success. To do this, you’ll need honest feedback from others over whether or not you’re able to provide a believable and engaging listen.

Rafe Gomez, the co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing, narrated his own audiobook ‘What’s In It For ME? A Powerful New Interview Strategy to Get You Hired in Today’s Challenging Economy,’ which landed coverage on various high-profile outlets like Fox News, MSNBC and NY1. Rafe says, “It’s important to share a sample of your read with friends and family to see if your voice is entertaining and professional enough to carry the audiobook.”

“To get a sense of whether or not your voice is audiobook appropriate, share a one to two minute passage of your read with friends and family and listen to their feedback,” he says.

“While your audiobook content may be great, your audiobook voicing skills may not, so it’s crucial to be honest with yourself about your capabilities.”

If your sample read passes the test of others, then you’re good to start recording.

Recording Your Audiobook

In order to record your audiobook, you need to have a script version of your book to actually read from. You would think that a printed version of the manuscript would work for the read. But the shuffling of pages creates background noise that can be hard to edit out afterwards. Audiobook narrators often use an iPad or Tablet of the book to read from to avoid the added noise of physical paper.

Once you have your recording equipment and your studio space set up,  it’s time to record your audiobook. Here are a few unique strategies to keep in mind before your press that big red ‘record’ button:

1. Character Cheat Sheet

Well known audiobook narrators Suzy Jackson (Jodi Picoult, Gordon Korman, and Dean Koontz audiobooks) and Jim Dale (Harry Potter) both said they make a character cheat sheet that shows each character’s traits and denotes each character by color on their manuscript. If you have a horde of heroes and villains, this will be key.

2. Loads Of Preparation Time

Many narrators will take two to three weeks to prepare for an audiobook recording before they step into the booth. You have to make sure you’re ready for countless hours of isolation and ensure you don’t go into autopilot. It’s also key to prepare your voice and body for such a long read, especially if you’ve never professionally voiced an audiobook. The last thing you want to do is strain and lose your voice early on in the recording process. Stretching and vocal exercise breaks need to be planned through the recording process. 

3. Listen To The Last Recording

All great narrators listen to their previous session to make sure they’re in tune with the pace, volume and tone that they were using for the book in the last recording session. Consistency is key to keeping an audiobook believable and engaging. Also there’s nothing worse than having to re-record hours of audiobook recordings to realign tone. 

Get more narration tips and tricks for recording your own audiobook.

Working with a Professional Audiobook Narrator

Most authors end up teaming up with a professional voice actor to narrate their audiobook. Being able to deliver a compelling, consistent, and professional read for hours’ worth of audio content can be extremely difficult for an independent author who is often untrained in the art of voice acting and narration. From providing near flawless performances that help cut down on editing time and costs to bringing your character or story to life in ways you could only dream of, professional voice actors offer many advantages.

Provide narrators with a few paragraphs—if not a page—of text for them to read from, and consider also providing a digital copy of the manuscript so that they may review the contents before committing to an audition. By doing so, only the most interested of the qualified narrators will respond.

Independent author John Wilker, who created the ‘Space Rogues’ series, says there were a few reasons why he really wanted to have a professional voice actor narrate his series.

“One, I lacked the equipment, so the investment would have been significant. Two, I wanted to focus on writing the stories and narrating my own would have taken, from my understanding, a fair bit of time. I’d rather have a pro do it,” he says.

“The narrator is a pro, not only equipment wise, but skillset. I wanted my readers, or listeners, to be greeted with a professional sounding story.”

John Wilker, Creator of Space Rogues

There are four basic steps in hiring and working with a professional narrator or multiple narrators:

1. Find the voice for your audiobook

There’s a reason why J. K. Rowling opted for legendary British narrator Jim Dale to voice all 300 characters in the seven Harry Potter audiobooks. You know your characters intimately and know the voice of each, as you brought them to life. That’s why it’s important to find the right professional voice actor who can bring your characters’ voices to life. 

Luckily at Voices, we have the world’s largest selection of professional voice actors right at your fingertips. You can easily search and listen to talented and unique voices from around the globe for your audiobook project with our amazing selection of audiobook narrators

Check out these audiobook sample scripts to get an idea of how to give artistic direction to professional voice actors: Non fiction, fiction, young adult fiction

Once you have found your narrator, settle upon the final price and deadline for completing the recording. It is also recommended that you have the narrator agree to a full-buyout, which means that you wholly own the rights to the recording and do not need to pay the narrator any royalties derived from future sales.

2. Record the audiobook

Once you have selected the voice actor or actors you want to voice your audiobook, they’ll need to start recording for you. 

It’s extremely common for professional voice actors to have their own home studio and editing equipment. Some will also offer editing services along with their voice over work for your project. Do keep in mind that because of the volume of audio files with audiobooks, the voice talent will be charging much more than they would for just recording the audio files for you. 

It’s advised that you seek a more accomplished audio engineer to edit your audiobook files, instead of getting a voice actor to edit after the fact. Most voice actors are used to editing much smaller and less complex audio files. 

When it comes to recording sessions with the voice actor, how involved you want to be in the recordings will dictate the process. Typically, a few preliminary phone calls are set up to make sure you’re on the same page with the voice actor. The background on the book, your vision for the audiobook, and any preferences on pacing and tone will be important to establish. 

Back in the day, most recording sessions were directed in-person and in-studio. These days, tons of voice over work is done remotely, making recording sessions much more affordable by reducing travel costs and studio fees. Live, remote-directed sessions are possible, but are typically leveraged by creative directors of large scale projects. For an independent audiobook, it would be better to fully brief the voice actor and then set them free to record the first few pages—or chapter—and see what’s produced. 

Find out how to give the best voice over direction to voice actors and how to give voice over direction to multiple remote voice actors.

Once you get the recorded files and you’re pleased with the final product, you’ll have to pay your voice actor for their work.

3. Edit the audio files

Now you need to edit your audiobook files.

You have three options: 

  1. Edit the hours of audio files yourself 
  2. Have the voice talent edit the audio after they record 
  3. Have an audio engineer master the files

For maximum quality, you’ll want to get a professional audio engineer to properly polish your hours and hours of audiobook files. 

Discover the four main benefits to outsourcing your audiobook editing before you decide who’s going to edit your ‘baby.’

4. Receive the edited and completed audio files

Once all your audio files are edited and mastered, it’s important to make sure the finished product meets your expectations. 

The audio files will need to be formatted for the final destination. This might be for CD or, more likely in 2022, formatted to specification as an audiobook for distribution on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. 

 This is also the stage where you’ll know if the recording is one large file, in chapters that follow the book, or audio chapters every five minutes—an important formatting aspect to understand depending on your distribution! 

Make sure you store your audiobook files on an external hard drive and not just on your personal computer. All it takes is for your computer to crash for your audiobook files to be erased! 

Now your audiobook is ready to be uploaded and distributed. 

On to Publishing and Promoting Audiobooks

 In the next article of this audiobook mini series, we’re covering the publishing, distribution, and promotion of your freshly produced audiobook! Be sure to subscribe to our blog to bring the next article right to your email inbox next week.

Listen to some audiobook narrator demos while you wait!

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  • Avatar for Nellie Ayodo
    Nellie Ayodo
    November 20, 2021, 3:48 am

    This is very informative. I did not know the level of preparedness needed for audio book narration.