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Monday, November 30, 2015

Audiobook Narrator Rebecca Roberts Shares With Authors What It's Like to Narrate Books and How The Audiobook Process Works


(REBECCA ROBERTS, IN HER OWN WORDS) I’ve been a professional audiobook narrator (yes, that’s what we call ourselves) for about three years. However, I also refer to myself as a voice actress because my areas of work include audiobooks, poems, children’s characters, and commercial work. I consider myself an actress. Of all of my voice-acting experiences, I must say the audiobook is, by far, my favorite genre.

Within the world of audiobook narration, the variety of materials available for audition is amazing. Authors tell me all the time, “no one will audition for my book!” Well, that’s not because your work isn’t interesting or worthy. It’s because there is SO much writing going on out there just waiting to be recorded. The dawn of the independent author has created a deluge of work for narrators.

However, it is not easy work and many narrators don’t stick around for more than a few books. It doesn’t get you rich. It doesn’t get you noticed, and it doesn’t exactly lend itself to an incredibly active social life (it can be lonely in the studio). 

So, why do I do it? Why do I spend 5-6 hours a day alone in a small room barely making enough to put food on the table? There are many reasons. First, I am a passionate person and never do anything without complete commitment. And that is easier when what you are doing is something that you are already in love with.

I have been an avid reader since I was a tot—a goofy, skinny, red-headed, freckle-faced girl with a terribly odd sense of humor and a pretty distressing family life who found escape in her books. I don’t read to achieve a goal. I read like I’m breathing. It’s just part of what I do—like breathing. So, this makes it a bit easier to love being a narrator despite the lack of glory. 

Also, it’s wonderful to have a job where I can immerse myself for several weeks at a time in everything from reading about ancient religions, diet tips, children’s fantasy stories, romance, or espionage. Plus, I get to actually take part in creating material in some way.

My job provides a stage for constant learning. With each book I read, my own personal views of the world and the people in it are given the opportunity to assimilate AND accommodate new perspectives, ideas, and concepts. I don’t always agree with my authors’ opinions or aesthetics, but I do practice a sense of gratitude that I am privileged enough to have exposure to so many individuals’ ideas and great loves.

I try with each book to look for nuggets of wisdom, warning signs, revelations, and/or confirmations. And yes, I also greatly enjoy the laughs and glorious characters.

My favorite genre, if I absolutely had to pick one, would be First Person Contemporary Fiction. I find it easier to immerse myself into the text when the words are describing real emotions and subjective experiences rather than physical actions and observations. I hope that makes sense.

I know narrators who feel just the opposite. Their strengths lie in the ability to paint a scene or portray action in the physical realm much better than I do. My strength is in dialogue, emotion, and creating characters—two different types of storytellers, and also, two different types of people, I have discovered.

My favorite book so far involved the story of a jaded, young woman who moved back to her hometown to face the demons of her past and get answers to some very destructive family secrets. It was set in North Carolina, and the characters ranged from New York City attorneys, Hillbilly police officers, teenage boys, depressed elderly women, and on and on. By far my favorite character was the narrator. She was what one would call in the author’s circles an “unreliable narrator.” I LOVE doing these. They are complicated and delicious as you get to hint to the audience and show the development of the narrator’s own understanding of the story. I really enjoy complex characters. Again, a lot of narrators prefer the omnipotent narrator with a clear consistent voice. Call me crazy!  

I have recently discovered the joy of Young Adult and Children’s books. They are a welcomed diversion from my sometimes darker or complicated work. Growing up, my family was… well … unique. I know every little kid has a “voice” for their puppy or kitty cat. That, in and of itself, is not unusual.

However, our family had ongoing relationships with not only our pets but pretty much every animal we ever came across. They ALL talked to us (we for them). I remember being at the petting zoo as a teenager helping out at a birthday party and my mom and I, without hesitation, began conversing with the goats.. and yes… they would talk back in funny goat voices. I was 17 years old and probably scared the poop out of those kids and their parents. What was scarier was that my mother was speaking “goat” too!    

So, it’s not much surprise that this type of work has very quickly become a favorite of mine. Frankly I didn’t even try it out until very recently as it does take a kind of confidence in your performance to just let go and make crazy noises that could get you laughed at. But ever since I began, I find a kind of bittersweet joy while doing it. I am brought back to some very happy occasions that were blessed distractions from some very ugly times. 

I’ve got a GREAT CHICKEN… you should hear it! (and Rebecca makes characters like a grumpy donkey, a youthful bunny, a wicked crow, and other animals sound even more awesome; Seventh Dimension– The Door, a Young Adult Fantasy, Book One.)

Lorilyn mentioned that some of you have questions about how to get a book narrated. I’ll give you guys some basics, but to be honest, there are actually quite a few more options and opportunities to get your books produced than is most commonly thought. I have relationships with a few major audiobook publishers that offer distribution channels that are all a little bit different. So, these specifics I can provide to anyone who asks after I have a quick look at your book. Then I will be able to advise you on your best options. Believe me, you do have them. 

But, here are the basics. 


Authors can elect to offer a Royalty Share program to their narrators. It is usually half of total royalties earned. However, with some publishers, this number can be divvied up any way that is agreed upon.

Authors can also elect to simply pay a Per Finished Hour fee that includes the narration, the editing, the mastering, and any submission requirements. I am experienced in delivering final finished audio to several different companies, and they all have different audio requirements.

Many narrators will record and then send the work out to be edited/mastered. These authors unfortunately will often charge a bit more than I do as they have to pay the subcontractor. It does allow them to take on more work at once, though, which is a benefit to them. I prefer and always will prefer to do my own. My reasons?

First of all, it’s financial. I do this full time, and right now it is our family’s sole income due to an injury that my husband has suffered. So, every penny stays here in my family’s coffers.

Second, I’m a control freak. I have my own tricks, methods, and preferences that can’t be written down in a series of steps to hand to an assistant. I feel like this is as much my artistic process as it is for the author. I don’t feel that editing can be farmed out as it takes a delicate and perceptive touch. The only exception to this would be in-studio work with a live director and producer who handle everything from top to bottom. 

When narrators work on an hourly basis, it is PER FINISHED HOUR of audio, not per actual hours worked. It takes AT LEAST two hours (and sometimes up to four hours if there are a lot of voices, accents, or other challenges) of studio time to record one hour of finished audio. 

Plus any good narrator first does the prep—reading the entire book, making
notes on characters and voices, researching any accents, characters, concepts, or whatever else is needed. This takes an additional 1-2 hours of work per finished hour of audio.

So, the payment per-finished-hour requires anywhere from 3-6 hours of actual work. PFH fees vary widely in the industry. The top dogs can earn as much as $500 PFH (which actually works out to about 100 per actual hours worked.)  It goes down from there based on experience, demand for that particular narrator, whether or not their husband is out of work (LOL), and the author’s desire for that particular voice/personality/skill set.

It’s not like a grocery store where everything has a price tag on it. My peers would hate to hear me say this, but I charge quite a bit less at this point in my life. It’s not because I don’t think I’m worth it; it’s because I LOVE the work and want to read what I WANT to read, and sometimes, those aren’t the big retail titles. They are from the little guys. So, in short. If you think you want your book narrated, reach out to me. Nine times out of ten, I’m able to accommodate any author with good material for me to work with. 


There are quite a few websites out there that will count words for you and tell you how long your book will be, but an average 200-page book in paperback will be about 50,000 words and have a running time of about six hours. This would be the number used to determine the fee for narrating. It is your FINISHED HOURS. 


Some narrators will deliver the entire book recorded and then the author will listen to it, offering up any edit requests that are errors or omissions on the part of the narrator. Narrators like to do things this way as it restricts the editorial/feedback process to verbatim issues and misspoken words. Many of us have had horrible experiences with authors requesting a multitude of revisions based on stylistic opinions or a change of heart about phrasing, etc. Most of us try to accommodate these to keep in goodwill with the author.

However, it can easily become beyond the scope of the contracted arrangement. Most authors do not realize that every single edit takes a significant amount of time in order to ensure continuity of sound, tone, mood, etc. It is not an easy feat, and I think authors don’t realize this. So, it is important to have a clear understanding of that before edits are requested. Is the edit necessary to protect the artistic integrity of the scene/writing style? It is necessary to prevent confusion for the reader? Is it necessary because it is an actual mispronunciation or error? The answer to all of these should be YES. If it does not satisfy these criteria, the narrator will not be incredibly happy to make them.

However, I like to do it a little differently. I will upload each chapter as it’s completed, giving the author the opportunity to meet each character as I begin to voice them and to hear the tone for each chapter (often each chapter requires a different tone). The author can then request certain stylistic changes BEFORE I continue on with said character. I don’t mind this at all. I love collaborating with the author. My only request is that you keep up with me, or I will just continue reading!  I do work very quickly. 

HOW DO YOU HIRE ME or someone like me? 

I work with ACX 

Brilliance Audio, and Blackstone Audio,
among others. My work can be seen at, and you can see my reviews on my over 60 titles by searching for Rebecca Roberts on

If you would like to hear a sample of your book, I will happily record a bit for you. I know authors LOVE to hear their words come alive for the first time, and it’s such a joy for me to hear their excitement. I can’t tell you how much I love that. So, please do not hesitate to ask. Even if you aren’t ready to move forward, and maybe you’re just curious, send me an email and I can give you a quick sample of the work and a proposal. I fully expect an open dialogue with my authors. I may even recommend a different narrator who might be a better fit for your book. 

My biggest piece of advice for getting your book produced (and it applies to most things that are goal-oriented) is to not overthink anything. The companies that I prefer to work with allow you to keep all of your rights and will allow for multiple “editions” or releases. The overwhelming feeling that you pick THE PERFECT narrator, have THE PERFECT cover, and THE PERFECT-ly obvious signs from above that you should move forward can go BYE-BYE!   

Keep it simple. If you want to have a book recorded, take the first step. Let me do a sample for you and at least point you in the right direction.

Follow me on Twitter @Rebeccas_Voice

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