Why Are Narrators So Expensive?
Written by Traci Arlene.
As a narrator, one of the most common questions I get from authors is: Why do you charge so much?! It’s a fair question. I mean, why WOULD you pay me $250 PFH (per finished hour) when you could hire some guy named Bob on a cheap freelance site for a flat $50?!
Well, think of it this way. You could also buy a used car for less than a grand. It might last awhile; it might not.
Wait, you weren’t expecting quality, were you?
Keep in mind that the same logic applies to storytelling. A narrator can make or break your audiobook. And as we’re all aware, word gets out fast and even faster when a product is bad.
So why do narrators charge “so much?”
After all, we’re just talking, right?!
Believe it or not, $250 PFH is the minimum amount set forth by the SAG-AFTRA Union. And that rate can increase depending upon the narrator’s experience and how in-demand they are.
That minimum is based largely on the amount of work that goes into the production of an audiobook.
Having produced several myself, I can tell you it’s an enormous time commitment, especially if you’re doing your own editing.
Picture this: for every finished hour of audio, you can expect to spend up to 3-6 hours between recording and post production PER finished hour. Inexperienced producers will take even longer (upwards of 8-10 in some instances). So 1 hour of your amazing novel can become 3 or more hours of work for the narrator.
And what is it we’re doing during that time?
For $250 PFH, you are getting the following:
Your narrator’s mad skills.
Any serious narrator invests in a coach, sometimes 2, 3, or more. This can add up to thousands of dollars each year. Not to mention the various conventions, workshops, webinars, and any associated travel expenses.
All this so you, the author, can have a great audiobook.
This is where the magic happens. It’s the actual telling of the story, which many not in the loop, mistakenly label as just “talking” or “reading.” It’s the acting, nuances, subtleties; the creating of distinct characters with all of their accents, twangs, and mannerisms. It’s beautiful and it’s the reason you hire a professional narrator to deliver your story.
This step happens before we ever step in the booth to record. In order to understand the story, we must read it first. Mark it up. Highlight unfamiliar words so we can research proper pronunciation and meaning. Perhaps assign colors to specific characters so that we can quickly see who is about to speak as we go along. I personally prefer to do my own prepping, but there are other narrators who hire “preppers” to do it for them adding to their overhead costs. Some books require more prep time than others. Non-fiction for example can be full of research for pronunciation. This is also the phase where narrators may have to learn or brush up on an accent or two! Accent coaches ain’t cheap either. Quick tip for authors: list the dialects up front so your narrator knows going in!)
Have you ever noticed a typo that sticks out like a sore thumb? A great way to jar readers is to leave errors uncorrected. That’s why hiring a proofer, with an average price tag of $25 PFH, is so important. The proofer reads and listens to the finished story, searching for any errors, weird sounds, mispronunciations, or repeated sentences so that they can be corrected and never heard by the listening audience.
At this point in production, the nitty gets gritty. This is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time removing those pesky mouth noises and the like. Many narrators choose to outsource to professional editors, though it is common for newer narrators to do the job themselves. Why? Because Editors aren’t cheap! With an average price tag of $75 PFH, it starts to become clear why narrators require $250 PFH. In the Indie world, it is often an unfortunate truth that the narrator must foot the bill for an editor when the author is unwilling to pay. If a narrator is fortunate enough to be on an established publishing agency’s roster, this part is usually taken care of in house. #goals.
If a narrator chooses to edit themselves, you can bet that they have spent a lot of money on software and training and time learning the skills.
And finally, the step that normalizes the audio files to be retail ready. This is to ensure it is going to pass muster! And with the delays in QC as of late, its imperative to make sure all files are mastered to quality to they don’t get kicked back! Many editors will also master the files for an additional fee, somewhere around $25PFH.
Hey, we get it.
Producing a quality audiobook ain’t cheap. (Mercifully, there are ways to raise or earn money to cover these costs, but I’ll save those for another time.)
In the meantime, we narrators sincerely appreciate authors who take the time to learn about our craft. We want you to know what is involved in our work so that price tag won’t be quite as shocking.
And here’s the other thing: if you truly believe in your story, and you have the marketing and promo to back it up, your sales are more than going to make up for the expense of a narrator. Remember: an inexperienced narrator can severely damage your title and reputation as an author.
So now that you understand what goes into the cost of producing a quality audiobook, the question becomes: can you afford NOT to hire a professional narrator?