8 Reasons for Hiring a Professional Audio book Narrator

Being an independent author is a mostly do-it-yourself venture. While I generally applaud the DIY mentality especially as it comes to things like mowing your own lawn or building a deck, I wonder how much better people’s books would be received if they had a professional quality narration, as opposed to doing themselves or hiring their uncle bill with a headset microphone.

In my humble opinion, here’s why you should consider hiring a professional narrator:

1. Savings

I can hear it now: “But Jeff, your services are EXPENSIVE!! How can paying you to read my book save me money??” Quite easily, actually. First of all, my rate is very affordable at around $.03 per word. The average 80,000 word books comes out to $2400. Now, for the unpublished writer with a day-job, this may seem horribly expensive. But what the naysayers are not factoring in is time. Let’s break it down.

80,000 words = 500 minutes = about an 8 hour book
Average time investment per finished hour = 5-6 hours on a  good day.
Total time to produce = 40-50 hours

That’s an 8-hour-a-day work week, folks. Suddenly $2400 for 1-2 weeks worth of work doesn’t seem like such and unreasonable salary, does it? This is, after all, my job. And what could you be doing with that time?

Marketing! PR! Networking! Marketing! Marketing!

Why in the world would you want to spend your time sitting behind a microphone when you could be out there drumming up business for the release? Isn’t your time better spent building the business aspect of your book and leaving the narration part to an expert?

2. Professional Quality

You’ve got a professional quality book. You’ve got professional quality business cards. You’ve got a professional quality website. You’ve got a professional quality cover design.

Then why wouldn’t you want the centerpiece of the release, the very product you’re putting out there to be professional as well? Grabbing a $50 podcasting mic and recording in your den is not professional. Why would you represent your work in such a mediocre way?

I don’t listen to amateur audiobooks. Why? Because I’m spoiled to the likes of Scott Brick and Grover Gardner, people who know how to narrate books. And with the proliferation of audio books, I can’t be the only one who gets turned off by a dull reader creating subpar recordings? Your book needs to have the same level of professional narration that you put into writing it.

3. Bringing your book to Life

If you’re one of those authors who’s so married to their debut novel that you figure you’re the only one who can truly capture the voice of Treenok the Terrible, then you’ve got a problem. Because if that is indeed true, your audience won’t be able to capture it in their minds either.

Thankfully, most writers who feel that way are incorrect. Most good voice talent are actors, plain and simple. It is their job to find the characters and bring them to life. If you think you’re as good as classically-trained Shakespearean actor Scott Brick, then, power to you. I’m certainly no Scott Brick, but I do have 20 years of theater experience. It’s my passion and job to have these characters possess my voice and make them alive. Narrating a book is not reading a book. Narrating a book is putting on a performance with a single actor playing all the roles. If you don’t honestly have those acting chops, outsource it to someone who does. Doesn’t your work deserve it?

4. Technical aptitude

OK, perhaps you’re a podcaster. Sorry, it’s not the same thing. While your audio book may be in podcast format, you really should think of it as an audio book. And audio books are different from podcasts. If you think that recording in Audacity and dropping your files into Levelator and sending them off is going to give you the best sound, then think again.  Will it be good enough? Perhaps. But do you really want your work represented in a way that’s just “good enough”?

You need to properly compress and EQ your voice for optimal quality. Failure to do so will cause fatigue with your audience. I use professional software in which I’ve fine-tuned the compression and EQ to best fit my voice and give professional results. As well, such publishers as Audible have fairly strict guidelines about how their audio is to be produced. I’ve narrated for Audible. I know how to do it.

5. Stamina

Narrating an audio book is hard work. Seriously. If you think sitting in front of a mic for several days reading a book is easy, I urge you to give it a try. There’s a reason why the folks at Podiobooks request 5 episodes up front. Not only is it to hook the reader, but to assure that you or your narrator have the stamina to pull off the whole thing. Because you’ll realize a few chapters in after you’ve spent the good part of a day just to record one single hour, that vocal stamina plays a huge role in this.

After recording dozens of audio books, I’ve built up stamina and patience for the process. I’ve also learned how to pace myself to get the most bang for my vocal buck.

6. Avoiding the “read by the author” Stigma

Go to Audible.com right now. Do it. Note how many novel writers narrate their own books?Very few. And they usually suck for a myriad of reasons, the primary one being that they are authors, not narrators.

Longtime audio book listeners often avoid listening to books read by the author. I learned my lesson with Harlan Coben. His book, Promise Me, gets absolutely slaughtered in the listener comments simply due to his narration. It’s bad. But honestly, I’ve heard worse. John Nance insists on reading his own books, and he has a pronounced lisp, for goodness sake.

Now, you may not have a speech impediment, but think about how it looks to a potential listener that you took the time to seek out someone else to narrate your book. You love your work so much, that you wanted to make sure it was in the right hands. You avoided the stigma of “read by the author” that turns off so many listeners. Plus, unlike most podiobooks, there’s a certain coolness to working with a pro. It’s a step above the rest of the pile.

7. Tax write-off

First of all, I have to say that I’m not an accountant or lawyer and this shouldn’t be taken as actual legal tax advice. However, if your book-writing is a business, you should be able to write off this expense on your taxes as a legitimate marketing expense. Consult your accountant about this, as tax laws vary from state to state.

8. Distribution

So once you record this book, what do you do? Where do you sell it? If you simply have one book, I guarantee you that distributors won’t give you the time of day and probably won’t even return your emails. There’s no point in making an audiobook if you can’t recoup your expenses.

I have your solution. With my partner company, SpringBrook Digital, I’ve got distribution channels and can offer higher commissions than anyone I know of in the industry. I can get your audiobook on Audible.com, iTunes, and Amazon.

Still not sold on the idea? Head over to my website for a FREE sample reading of your writing. I know you will be thrilled with what you hear.
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About Jeffrey Kafer

I am a Seattle-based voice over artist specializing in audiobooks, but also working in corporate narration and commercials. You can find me at http://audiobook-voice-over.com View all posts by Jeffrey Kafer

17 responses to “8 Reasons for Hiring a Professional Audio book Narrator

  • Matt Cowlrick

    There’s not a lot to disagree with. I don’t have the stamina yet for audiobooks – getting through long form narration is still a pretty good workout for me!

    Heaps of this is transferable to other genres, so thank you for sharing.

  • D.L. Walker

    THANK YOU for breaking this down this way. I’ve been doing audio books for a small publisher for the last 10 years, and am just now branching out nationally. You’ve captured exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate to a client.

    Nicely said.

  • Bob Souer

    Jeff,

    Good stuff here. Thank you!

    Be well,
    Bob

  • Susan Dunman

    I’m no narrator, but as an avid listener, I enthusiastically agree with your comments. Evidently, folks who opt for “reading” their own work have no idea how bad they sound to ears accustomed to hearing Grover and Scott and any number of other great professional narrators. It’s one of the main reasons I rarely listen to podiobooks. It’s not the stories – many of them are excellent – it’s the narration that keeps me away.

    • Harry

      Before I buy a reading of my work, I need to know how to sell it or to whom. Got a means of doing that?

      I’m in San Francisco. Where are you?

      H

      • Jeffrey Kafer

        Hi Harry,
        As a narrator, I’m not an agent and as such, I’m not in the business of selling the book. My job is to give you a product that you can sell. That said, there are places such as Podiobooks.com that allow you to distribute your book, build a fan base and test the waters. Many authors have given their books away there and then gone on to sign contracts with publishers. Other established authors such as Jeremy Robinson use Podiobooks as a marketing tool for other releases.

        As to your other question, I’m based in the Seattle area.

  • voice over

    Audio books are the rage nowadays, especially for people on the move who would like to spend their time while travelling to listen to a good book. Audio books are also way for the elderly and even children to enjoy a good story and other kind of information that these kinds of books can give.

    This article was quite informative, Jeffrey. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jenny

    I’ve just listened to my last audio book narrated by the author. When Barbara K’s reads her book the Lacuna, she sounds like she is talking very carefully and very slowly to second graders. Amy T. sounds like she’s talking to a nursery school. This curious American propensity for women to talk like little girls does not translate well into audiobooks.

  • Jennie

    It’s true that some narrators — not necessarily the book author — can put one to sleep faster than a glass of wine. But what about an author who was formerly involved in amateur theatre? Yes, that’s me. Do I dare try reading my own book or must I still hire a professional??

    • Jeffrey Kafer

      There’s nothing that says you *can’t* do your own. And if you have acting experience, you’re ahead of most authors. So give it a shot. But don’t fall in love with the sound of your own voice. If it isn’t working, accept it.

  • Vivian

    Jeff – This was very informative thank you. I’ve just revised an old book whose rights reverted to me and I plan on releasing it myself as an ebook and possibly print on demand. I’ve been toying with the idea of audio as well. My book is a mystery with various dialects and it is narrated in female first person. How comfortable are you voicing for female characters?

  • andreahicks

    are you still doing audio books? I would like some help on making money in this field. I’ve recorded 6 books for ACX this year and have made about $80.00!

    Any help would be appreciated. I enjoy the work.

  • islesfreelance

    Very good article. Except for the fact that in those two weeks that you’re making 2,400, I’m making 200.
    I need to find an actor who will do it because they believe in the book.

    • Jeffrey Kafer

      I hear this a lot and it’s nonsense based solely on ego. What does “believing in your book” even mean? Are you suggesting that I shouldn’t get paid $2400 and should be doing for the sheer pleasure of narrating your book?

      Silly and insulting. And no other profession would allow that.

      “Hey Mr. plumber, thanks for fixing my sink, isn’t it pretty? I made it myself. Since its so pretty, don’t you think I should get a discount? As a matter of fact, just do it for free since its obviously a pleasure for you just to be able to touch my pretty sink.”

    • D.L. Walker

      Apples and oranges my friend. The $2400 is for the life of the book. Not just for the 2 weeks it took to make it. Compare what YOU’RE making for the life of the book to that.

      If youre still only making $200, then that’s a failing on YOUR part. You probably should not be trying to make an audio book. Rethink. Try again. But DON’T punish other people for it.

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