How Long It Takes to Record an Audiobook

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Photo Source: Jai Stokes/Recorded Books

Audiobooks are more popular and accessible than ever, whether you’re storing the latest bestseller on your smartphone for a weekend getaway or diving into a lengthy read on your morning commute. Podcasts and media outlets even compile year-end lists of the best audiobooks as a separate ranking from their best books lists. According to analysts, the market for audiobooks is set to keep growing over the next few years. 

Talented voice actors are essential to successful audiobooks, so opportunities abound for aspiring narrators. Want to consider audiobook voice work as a side hustle or primary gig? You’ll need to know all about the time commitment to judge if the audiobook arena is right for you.

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How Long is a Typical Audiobook?

Woman recording an audiobookKarolina Grabowska/Pexels

For every hour of an audiobook, audiences are listening to about 10,000 words—as a rough rule of thumb, a 300-page book usually contains about 80,000–100,000 words. Ultimately, it’s the narrator’s performance and various production choices that can affect the length of an audiobook.

You’ve seen those hulking 1,000-page fantasy novels and headline-making 900-page literary debuts. The good news is that those hefty tomes are the outliers on the audiobook charts, and a length of 300–350 pages is closer to industry standard.

Abridged vs. Unabridged Recording

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An abridged edition of a book is one that has been shortened and condensed, usually by cutting passages and occasionally by summarizing material. Originally, audiobooks were only available on physical media like tapes and CDS, so abridged editions were more common. Think of the load of tapes and CDs you’d need to cart around for one book! Today, most audiobooks are purchased as digital downloads, eliminating the need to create abridged editions. As an audiobook narrator, that means more studio time, as you’re far more likely to be reading the unabridged work.

How Long Does It Take to Record an Audiobook?

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Generally, a voice actor should expect to spend about 20 hours in the studio recording a typical 10-hour audiobook. Audiobook producer Drew Allen Brown, author of “Audiobooks: The Definitive How to Guide,” estimates that it typically takes twice as long to record as the finished product. In other words, for every hour you spend in the studio reading, you’ll end up with about 30 minutes of audiobook. Additionally, you’ll need time to prepare to record—getting familiar with the material and developing distinct voices for each character—and edit. 

Don’t worry—you won’t need to record in one 20-hour marathon session. Brown recommends recording for no more than three to four hours per day, taking regular breaks throughout each recording session. A typical 10-hour audiobook will likely require five or six days for a voice actor to record.

“All in a day’s work” may not be the right adage for recording an unabridged audiobook—you’re going to need more time.

Why Does Recording an Audiobook Take So Much Time?

Closeup of a microphone near a bookKarolina Grabowska/Pexels

As a performer, you know there’s a limit to how much use you can get out of your voice in a given day. Audiobook producers want to get the best, most consistent performance out of their voice actors, so it’s important to set sensible limits to protect your instrument. 

There are other factors that can affect how much of an audiobook gets recorded in each session. For instance, it will likely require more than one take to get certain sections right. As with any performance, the production’s director may stop to give you notes and adjust your performance. This excerpt from a New York Times profile of author Toni Morrison highlights what the process can be like:  

“That day, she would go into a narrow, low-lit booth, carrying a small pillow for her back, sit down and read from her new book… The hours went by. ‘Toni,’ the director said at one point through his microphone, ‘can you do that sentence over? Can you pronounce “tangerine” with more emphasis on the “rine?” ’ Sometimes her voice dipped down too low to be heard. ‘Toni,’ he would say, ‘let’s do that part over again.’ ”

Remember, you’re not simply reading—you’re creating multiple characters, building worlds, and conveying an atmosphere. Every choice matters, so it takes time to get it all right.

What if I’m Reading a Single Part in a Full-Cast Audiobook Recording?

Unplugged headphones next to three booksMarek Mnich/Shutterstock

While the vast majority of audiobooks feature a single narrator, a growing number of productions employ multiple voice actors or even a full cast. These aim to give listeners a richer experience of the material, something more akin to a radio play. It can also allow for the voices and perspectives of different characters to be represented by the appropriate performers. Regardless of whether you are playing one character or even a few, the amount of time you will commit to the audiobook production will be significantly less than if you are narrating the entire book.

How to Speed Up the Audiobook Recording Process

Recording equipment on a deskThomas Bethge/Shutterstock

The best way to reduce the time it takes to record an audiobook is to know the material. While you won’t be required to memorize the entire book, you will need to understand the story and the characters you’ll be performing. You’ll likely have a few weeks to read the book, develop characterizations, and make notes to prepare for the recording sessions. After you’ve read the book, try to meet with the director at least once before recording to talk through your ideas and make sure you’re both on the same page.  

The amount of time it takes to record an audiobook will largely be dictated by the producers and director. The production team will set the pace and call for retakes as required. That said, studio time costs money, and your producers and directors will likely want to get the recording right in as few takes as possible. As a voice actor, being prepared is key.

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