How to Become an Audiobook Narrator

Article Image
Photo Source: Angelica Pasquali/Shutterstock

Do you dream of following in the footsteps of famed audiobook narrators like Cassandra Campbell and Dion Graham, lending your voice to tales of adventure, deep-dive biographies, and affecting poetry? This is a fun, flexible line of work that uses voiceover actors’ creativity and storytelling skills to engage, entertain, and inform. Read on to learn the tricks of the trade.


Seven steps to becoming an audiobook narrator

You’ll need a variety of skills and equipment to find success in the field. Here’s what to do before applying for jobs.

1. Listen to audiobooks. To know what works, it’s best to check some examples out for yourself. You’ll get an idea of the types of books you enjoy and how your voice measures up against the pros. You can also find examples of performers you’d like to emulate. 

2. Identify your niche. Audiobook narration is very different from other types of VO acting. You aren’t trying to sell a product like commercial voice actors or create high-energy characters like animation voice artists. It’s all about telling a story in a specific genre, as written and intended by the author. Every audiobook narrator has a specialty; finding your own will come from experience. 

  • Define your voice. Make a short list of words that describe your vocal personality and delivery. This will help you figure out which areas of narration you’re best positioned to excel in.
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses. What emotions are easy for you to perform? Is it challenging for you to tackle a variety of accents? Do you have great comic timing? Knowing what your skills are is key to figuring out where you fit.
  • Think about what genres you enjoy. If you’re a fan of a specific type of literature, your excitement and interest will show in your performance. If you’re interested in narrating nonfiction or how-to books, having expertise on a particular topic will help build your credibility. 
  • Tailor your skills to the conventions of the genre. Each audiobook category comes with a distinct set of characteristics that your vocal skills will need to match. If you’re able to create multiple characters and sustain them for the duration of a project, then fiction might be worth looking into. If you have a friendly, engaging, informative voice, e-learning books may be for you.

3. Set up a home studio. If you’re planning on auditioning, seeking agents, or just plain old practicing, it’s imperative that you have somewhere to record and the right equipment for the job. Here’s what you’ll need: 

  • A quality microphone: Two common types to consider are condenser and dynamic microphones. Condenser mics have a higher sensitivity and pick up more detail in the recording process, making them ideal for most voiceover needs.

    Dynamic mics aren’t as sensitive, which may seem like a downside; but it also means they pick up less distracting background noise. 
  • Your budget, the sound you’re trying to achieve, and the characteristics of your recording space should all factor into your decision, so do your research.
  • A pop filter: This is a protective screen that minimizes cracking mouth noises, pops, and other types of “plosives.”
  • Noise-canceling headphones: Recording audio requires focus, so using these types of headphones will help you stay in the zone.
  • A computer with ample storage space: Recording and rendering audio files is a big task for any computer, so make sure your hardware can handle it. Invest in an external hard drive or cloud storage to keep your files safe and organized.
  • A secondary screen: Invest in a tablet or second monitor that you can use to read your materials. The last thing you want is to hear the sound of pages turning when you listen back to your audio file.
  • Audio production software: Audacity is a great option for narrators who are just starting out. It’s free to download, compatible with Mac and Windows, user-friendly, and easy to learn. Adobe Audition and Logic Pro X are more advanced options for seasoned professionals that offer more granular recording, editing, and mastering tools.
  • A quiet area: While some professional audiobook narrators record in a studio with a producer, most of the work happens remotely. You don’t need to have your own at-home audio booth, but soundproofing a secluded area of your living space will create consistency in room tone throughout the recording process.

4. Record a demo. Your audiobook demo reel should be no more than five minutes in length and contain three samples: a first-person fiction piece, a third-person fiction sample, and one nonfiction excerpt (history books, memoirs, biographies, and self-help books all fall under this umbrella).

Your demo reel is your calling card as a voiceover artist, so pick material that best showcases your abilities as a narrator, your age and vocal range, and the genres you’re good at performing. 

5. Practice. Record yourself reading a chapter of a book of your choosing in a space that’s free from outside distractions. When you listen back, pay attention to your pacing, storytelling stamina, and vocal consistency, and determine where you excel and where you could use improvement. 

6. Network. Networking events can help broaden your connections in the audiobook world. Find panels, Q&As, and workshops that interest you, and reach out to publishers and authors you know. You’ll meet peers in your field, build a supportive community, get helpful advice from seasoned narrators—and maybe even get the chance to pitch yourself for work.

7. Find representation. A voiceover agent will submit your name for projects and roles. However, finding a rep who’s specifically focused on audiobook narration can be challenging. The field occupies a small niche in the larger voiceover world, considering it generally doesn’t pay as well as work in commercials, animation, and video games.

Stand out as a voice artist on Backstage

What skills do you need to be an audiobook narrator?

Books between a pair of headphonesStas Knop/Pexels

Having a strong, clear voice and knowing how to maintain it over time is the first step for succeeding in any type of VO acting. But there are numerous skills that are unique to the world of audiobooks, such as:

  • Delivery: It’s your responsibility to make sure that your storytelling style matches the author’s vision. Narrating a full book is a marathon that can take days or weeks to complete, and your pitch, tone, and energy must remain consistent throughout. 
  • Characterization: Separating your narrator voice and the characters’ voices is key. Each role you play must convey a distinct attitude, age, and tone. Pay attention to character descriptions in the text.
  • Articulation and pronunciation: Know how to say each word and phrase in the book you’re narrating correctly, succinctly, and clearly. You should only add flair if it’s in the service of a specific character’s way of speaking.
  • Breath control: Knowing how to avoid running out of air mid-sentence streamlines the recording process and cuts down on editing. It’s also important to avoid audibly swallowing or gulping in the recording. A pop filter can help, but maintaining your breath will allow you to control your body.
  • Sound editing: Audiobook narrators are often expected to record remotely and edit each finished chapter for approval by the publisher.
  • Endurance: You’ll spend roughly four to six hours behind a microphone in an average recording session, so it’s vital to maintain your energy and stamina. Recording an audiobook requires proper rest, vocal warmups, and plenty of hydration.

How to find work as an audiobook narrator

Woman reading a book while wearing headphonesUriel Mont/Pexels

Once you’ve compiled a demo reel and built out your network, it’s time to start auditioning so you can get professional, paying gigs onto your résumé. Here are a few places to look for jobs. 

Voiceover casting calls: Uploading your demo reels to websites like Backstage and Voice123 will help get your work heard by potential clients, which can lead to paying gigs. This is an invaluable way to gain experience and build relationships with authors and publishers.

Audiobook production houses: A less direct—but possibly more prestigious—route is to find an in with major production companies in the field, such as New Village Press, Macmillan Audio, or Grand Central Publishing. These companies record audiobooks in-house, which means that they typically have a set roster of narrators for clients to choose from. Check to see if the production house is taking submissions, and make sure to follow its guidelines to the letter.

Workshops: For beginner narrators, this can be a great way to learn about the audiobook industry, get tips on upping your voiceover game, and receive feedback on your skills. David H. Lawrence XVII’s ACX Master Class and Patrick Fraley’s website are two reputable hubs where you can find in-depth courses on all facets of audiobook narration. Taking a workshop won’t guarantee that you’ll find gigs, but it’s a great networking and educational opportunity.

How much do audiobook narrators make?

Microphone with other recording equipment in the backgroundBrian A Jackson/Shutterstock

According to ZipRecruiter, earnings range from $37K to $112K per year, with an average salary of approximately $65K.

Usually, audiobook narrators are paid on a per-project basis. Here are the most common compensation models:

  • Per finished hour: This rate ties the narrator’s pay to the length of the finished product, no matter what the recording process entails. In this case, one “finished hour” means a 60-minute audio file that’s completely edited and polished. For example, if your PFH rate is $200, recording an audiobook that’s six hours long will net you $1,200.

According to Kevin Kemp, a professional narrator and the founder of the Audiobook Guy blog, beginner PFH rates start around $180 for jobs at production houses and $200 on platforms like the Audiobook Creation Exchange

“Once you feel like you are an experienced narrator with a solid production system in place, you can start raising your rate from there,” Kemp told us. “I think $300 PFH is fair, but if you are booked out consistently and feel you can command the price, lift it up further.”

  • Royalty share: Audiobook narrators can receive a portion of the royalties—usually 25%–40% of sales.
  • Union rates: SAG members earn hourly rates as set by the union. These minimums currently range from $200 to $275 depending on the producer or publishing house you’re working with.

Famous audiobook narrators

Book pages bent in the shape of a heartVelaMar/Shutterstock

Here are six standouts in the field who have honed their storytelling craft to perfection, exude emotional depth and versatility, and consistently deliver enthralling performances. 

  • Scott Brick: Brick has narrated more than 800 books in his storied career, ranging from works by Mary Shelley to Michael Crichton. He’s known for his sonorous baritone delivery and is the winner of five Audie Awards for his work across science fiction, fantasy, memoir, and middle-grade novels. His résumé includes “The Patriot Threat” by Steve Berry, “Dune” by Frank Herbert, and “Deep Six” by Clive Cussler.
  • Cassandra Campbell: Campbell has won an Odyssey Award and multiple Audie and Earphones Awards for her versatile work; she has over 900 titles to her name. In every read, she delivers clarity, honesty, and emotion in a singsong cadence that makes for an engaging listening experience. Her work includes “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman, “Orange Is the New Black” by Piper Kerman, and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.
  • Jim Dale: This Tony Award winner’s audiobook narration is world-renowned. He’s won multiple Audie Awards and was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his efforts to promote English children’s literature. Until 2004, he held the Guinness World Record for most character voices performed in an audiobook (146 in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”). His other notable work includes “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, “Peter and the Starcatchers” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and “Liesl & Po” by Lauren Oliver.
  • Dion Graham: Graham has numerous Audie and Earphone Awards under his belt; he’s a regular inclusion on “best of” lists for his consistently enthralling performances. His work runs the gamut from children’s lit to memoirs to mystery novels. Check out his recordings of “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” by Marlon James, “The Cut” by George Pelecanos, and “Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead. 
  • JD Jackson: Named “Voice of Choice” by Booklist in 2022—a title that goes along with his whopping 26 Earphone Awards—Jackson’s impressive list of credits include two Pulitzer Prize–winning novels: Jericho Brown’s poetry collection “The Tradition” and Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Nickel Boys.” He also narrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Why We Can’t Wait.”
  • Davina Porter: Named a Golden Voice Narrator by AudioFile Magazine, Porter is famed for her elegant, refined style. Her attention to detail, subtle character work, and skill with accents set her apart. A few of her major works include Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, “Lady Fortescue Steps Out” by M.C. Beaton, and “The Cater Street Hangman” by Anne Perry.
  • Bahni Turpin: A nine-time Audie winner and member of Audible’s Narrator Hall of Fame, Turpin’s dynamic, diverse résumé includes Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help,” Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” and Tomi Adeyemi’s “Children of Blood and Bone.”
  • Simon Vance: Vance has been in the audiobook game for more than two decades, and he has 16 Audies and 75 Earphone Awards to show for it. His storytelling stamina and characterizations make him a consistent favorite with listeners, whether he’s performing science fiction, thrillers, or Charles Dickens. Audiobooks to check out include “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson, “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, and “Three Blind Mice and Other Stories” by Agatha Christie.

More From Backstage Guides


More From Acting

More From Voiceover

Now Trending