Lots of people daydream about reading books aloud and getting paid for it. With audiobooks getting more popular, it may sound like the perfect way to make some cash by doing something you already love.
And with so many online articles saying it’s easy money, no wonder you’d think anyone could succeed and start raking in money fast as a narrator.
But making it in this competitive business is nowhere near that simple. Good narrating requires specific talents – a nice voice, solid acting chops, and top-notch storytelling abilities. You’ll also need pro-level gear to record quality audio, and learn technical skills to edit everything professionally.
Don’t let this discourage you, though. If you really like the idea of telling stories and sharing books with others, then I have some information to help you become an audiobook narrator.
What is an audiobook narrator?
An audiobook narrator reads entire books out loud for recorded audiobooks, also called books on tape. Their job is to use their voice to make the listening experience fun, like a radio show or podcast.
To do this well, narrators become voice actors to bring the stories and different characters to life. They change their voice for dialogue and make it match the book’s mood – getting soft for sad parts or loud and excited for adventures. They have to keep their voice lively and steady through long recording sessions without getting tired or hoarse.
Audiobook narrators help turn regular books into in-depth recordings people can play from devices and listen to wherever they want, like on their phone while driving or through headphones while exercising. Their readings need to entertain the listener for many hours, not just a few minutes.
It’s a unique talent to capture someone’s interest with only the human voice! Narrators get to know books super well from reading them closely, then figure out how to infuse their voice acting with the book’s spirit.
Also see: How to get paid to read books
What Skills Do Audiobook Narrators Need?
Being an audiobook narrator is more than just having a nice voice and reading words aloud. To make the listening experience really good, narrators need to put on a voice performance that brings the book to life. Before you start, work on these important abilities:
- Reading Skills – While not a surprise, narrators need to read smoothly without long pauses, say every word right, and know how to say complicated names or words in foreign languages. It’s important to read the book carefully first and look up any terms you don’t know. Narrators also need to breathe smoothly and quietly between sentences so listeners don’t notice. Proper breathing also keeps your voice relaxed so you sound pleasant.
Before diving in, listen to various audiobooks to understand different narration styles and genres. Practice storytelling and consider voice training. Remember, narrating involves more than just reading aloud; it’s about bringing stories to life.
- Acting – Good narrators are like actors and use different voices for the characters when they talk. They have to match how a character from a certain place might sound. And they show emotion – getting super excited, soft and sad, or even scary sounding to match what’s happening in the story.
The field is becoming more filled with talented actors, so it’s essential to have or develop strong narration skills. While you don’t need to be a professional actor, acting skills give you a significant advantage as an audiobook narrator. Consider investing in acting or vocal lessons to hone verbal storytelling abilities, as conveying the book’s narrative and characters compellingly is essential. Having a niche background or language skills can also provide an advantage. But generic skills like being an engaging parent reader alone may not cut it.
- Stamina – Reading an entire book aloud takes many hours! Narrators have to record for long sessions without losing their voice. Drink tea or honey, do vocal warm ups, and avoid straining your voice to keep it strong.
- Marketing and self-promotion – Being a good reader is one aspect of being a professional audiobook narrator. You also need to have skills in getting gigs. Especially for indie authors and royalty share programs, actively marketing your services and developing name recognition in the industry leads to more opportunities.
Tips To Start As An Audiobook Narrator
Recording Studio Set-Up
To be successful at professional audiobook recording, having the right set-up is important. Many people assume that all they need is a microphone and a computer, but the truth is that you need a quiet and acoustically treated space to ensure the best possible recording quality, and a small, insulated space like a closet or a professional recording booth can be ideal for recording audiobooks. These spaces help to reduce unwanted noise and echo, which can negatively affect the quality of the recording. Additionally, acoustic treatments such as sound-absorbing panels or foam can help to further improve the sound quality.
As an audiobook narrator, you’ll not only be responsible for reading the book, but you’re also the engineer responsible for recording quality and editing. This means you’ll need a basic understanding of audio engineering and editing software. By investing in a good quality microphone and learning how to use editing software, you can produce high-quality recordings that will help you stand out in the audiobook industry.
While USB mics are improving, professional-grade equipment is usually necessary to compete at a higher level. To edge out lesser competitors, learning to use Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) for recording, editing, and mastering is a way to level up your recordings. This requires time and possibly financial investment in equipment and software.
Regardless of the equipment used, expect a significant learning curve in audio editing and mastering skills as well. Between recording and post-production, estimate 5-10 hours of work per finished hour—so quality cannot be rushed.
Most publishers seek experienced narrators. Platforms like Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), which is owned by Audible which is a subsidary or Amazon, Librivox, and Learning Ally are great starting points. While ACX offers potential earnings, the latter two are more about gaining experience as these projects are for recording material for visually impaired or dyslexic people.
Many narrators get their start on ACX.com, recording for indie authors on a royalty-share basis. However, with over 1 million narrators now registered on the platform, competition is extremely high. Focus on continually bettering your abilities and building up a diverse portfolio before expecting meaningful income. Understand that well-established narrators often work exclusively with major publishers.
Understand the payment structures in the industry. Many opportunities on platforms like ACX are royalty share-based, meaning income depends on sales. Income potential as a new narrator is quite variable and unreliable in the beginning through royalty share programs. Many completed titles may sell only a handful of copies. So have modest expectations of likely only supplemental income rather than replacing a full-time job.
Navigating the Market
Be aware of the competition. With a vast number of freelance audiobook narrators on platforms like ACX, standing out can be challenging. Joining communities, such as the indie ACX narrators group on Facebook, can provide insights and support.
Is An Audiobook Narrator a Legitimate Side Hustle?
You might have seen lots of articles and videos saying how easy it is to make a lot of money as an audiobook narrator. Some folks might be doing well, but remember, a lot of what you see online is more about selling you something—a product, a training session, or they might just want your name on their list.
Here’s the deal: narrating audiobooks is real work, and it’s tough work. Yes, you can earn a decent living from it, but it’s not a walk in the park, especially these days. It takes significant time and effort to produce quality recordings and depending on the length of the book, expect anywhere from 5 to 15+ hours of work for each finished hour of audio. So treat it more as a passion project at first rather than expecting immediate high payoff.
I’m not trying to scare you off. It’s just important to know what you’re getting into. Narrating means you’ve got to do a lot of things right. You need to understand the book, bring characters to life, handle different accents, and even pronounce tricky words correctly. And that’s not all. There’s a big investment at the start. You need good equipment like a microphone, computer, and a quiet place to record. Plus, you’ll either spend a lot of your time doing editing and technical stuff or pay someone else to do it, which can get pricey.
Expect to work hard for two to three years before things really start to click. And making it big usually means getting to know people in the business, either online or in person. So, the bottom line is that if you approach audiobook narration as a passion-driven outlet for storytelling that may earn pocket change rather than expecting to quickly earn a meaningful living, it can absolutely work as a side hustle! Just ensure you have the time, financial means, and reasonable expectations to sustainably integrate it into your routine. Be patient, work hard, and have fun with it!