Tips for Choosing and Working With an Audiobook Narrator

Amazon has made it super easy for authors to hire narrators to turn their books into audiobooks, and the best part is, you don’t need to have a pocket full of money to pay the narrator.

In the same genius way that Amazon allows authors to publish paperback and Kindle books, they’ve set up a system for audiobooks as well.

Not only will your audiobooks be sold on Amazon, they’ll also be marketed on Audible and iTunes as well, and you don’t have to jump through hoops to make it happen. Amazon’s got it covered, bringing authors and audiobook narrators together through Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX.

Getting started

The first thing to do as an author is to sign up on the ACX website, and then click Add Your Title to get your book into the system. Amazon may already have a list of your books and the book blurbs if you’ve published through Createspace or Kindle Direct Publishing.

If you, as an author, or your book stand out in any way, include that information under Comments from the Rights Holder. This is where you sell yourself to narrators. Do you have a Facebook page with 2,000 friends? Or 3,300 Twitter followers? Does your website get a lot of traffic and if so, how much? Has your book been featured on the New York Times bestseller list?

This type of information is important because if you’re trying to hire a narrator via the 50-50 split option, rather than paying them outright for their time, they’re going to want to know why you’re worth betting on. Narrators accepting the 50-50 split will end up investing a considerable amount of their time in your book, with no guarantee of getting paid. Show them a marketing campaign to sell the book once it’s produced, and your book becomes a better gamble.

Audition script

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make prior to hiring an audiobook narrator, is what segment of your book should be in the audition script. Some narrators are really good at doing different voices, so when you’re trying to figure out what to upload for the audition script, pick a part of your book that reflects what you most need to know about the narrator. If it’s varied dialog, then make that part of the audition script. If you want a narrator who can demonstrate emotion, then choose an emotional scene.

Listen to narrator samples

Don’t just listen to the audiobook samples of the narrators that audition for your book, listen to others as well so that you’ll have an idea of the talent that is available to you. Whose voice best reflects the content of your book?

Choosing a narrator

Narrators come to you in two different ways: they may audition for your book, or you can seek them out. You can send a message to a narrator whose audio samples you liked, and either ask them to audition, or simply hire them if you feel comfortable.

When listening to auditions, if the narrator doesn’t grab you in the first couple of paragraphs, they probably won’t grab your listeners, either. The narrator should be able to sell the story with their voice. If you get a lot of auditions, this can help you narrow it down.

So what happens when you’re ready to hire a narrator? You click the Make Offer button for your chosen narrator, and in that dialog is where you decide whether to pay by the hour or do a 50-50 royalty split. In essence, you’re saying, “I’m ready to hire you. Here’s the offer.” Once they accept the offer, you’ve entered into a legal, binding agreement.

Keep in mind that once you make an offer, the narrator can refuse if they are too busy, don’t like the terms you are offering, or other reasons. Don’t take it personally if they refuse, especially if they didn’t audition. Even narrators have preferences in the books they want to work with, and considering how much time they are going to invest in your book, they need to be happy in their choices.

Who pays the narrator?

That depends on what you spelled out in your offer. If you chose to pay an hourly rate, then you’ll pay the narrator based on finished hours. The number of hours it takes a narrator to produce a finished hour has no bearing on what you pay them. If the finished book is 5.5 hours and you’re paying $300 per finished hour, then 5.5 times $300 = $1,650 out of your pocket.

For a flat fee (hourly) payment, you pay the narrator after they’ve recorded the book. First you listen to and approve the recording, then you send payment, and once they acknowledge receipt of the payment, the book is sent into the ACX system. ACX distributes the finished book to Amazon, Audible and iTunes. Check out the ACX help docs for more info on how to send payment.

For the 50-50 royalty split, no money changes hands between author and narrator, nor does Amazon pay the narrator an hourly fee. In this case, the narrator invests their time in the hopes that your book will sell enough copies for them to recoup the time spent, as what they’ll earn is 50% of the royalties of the audiobook sales. In other words, the narrator is betting their time on the success of your audiobook selling.

Amazon takes a percentage off the top of each audiobook sold, and the balance is split between author and narrator 50-50, with Amazon paying each.

What’s a stipend?

For some books, Amazon may sweeten the pot by offering a stipend. If an author has a really good sales record, Amazon may, at its own discretion, offer an hourly fee to narrators in addition to the 50-50 split.

This doesn’t affect how much you pay the narrator, as Amazon pays this stipend money out of their own pocket. You still share the 50-50 split without paying anything out of your pocket, if that’s the contract you have.

The stipend guarantees that you’ll get a lot more auditions to choose from, and it’s designed to entice the top-ranked narrators to audition. Audiobook narrators come at all levels of experience and equipment, from someone with a good voice and simple home recording setup, to actors and actresses looking for voice work, radio personalities, and voiceover specialists with decades of experience in voice work and sophisticated recording studios. Regardless of set up or experience, however, ACX performs quality checks to ensure that the finished audiobook meets their recording standards.

You can find out how much experience a narrator has by looking at their ACX profile. Read the About, Credits and Awards sections for the narrators you are interested in. You can also plug their name into Amazon, Audible or iTunes to see what pops up. Not all narrators fill in their ACX bios, so an empty bio does not always indicate lack of experience. In addition, a narrator may work under multiple names, so you may not be aware of everything they’ve done, especially if their credits involved movies, radio, etc. which wouldn’t show up in an audiobook search.

How much time should you give a narrator?

As for how much time to give a narrator, keep in mind that many narrators are doing this on the side, and may be recording during their off hours from another job. They may only be able to record on weekends, or in the evenings. It can take 6-12 hours to produce a single finished hour, and that number varies with each narrator. Some work faster than others.

In addition, several factors influence a narrator’s ability to record: pollen count setting off allergies, getting sick, or someone cutting down a tree nearby. A good narrator will not record when conditions will produce a bad recording.

Also, good narrators tend to stay busy. They may not want downtime between projects, so they may line up books to narrate in advance. If so, they’d need time to finish current projects before starting on yours. While you want your book recorded as soon as possible, it’s better to wait for the right voice to be available than to accept a narrator whose work isn’t going to make you happy.

Pronunciation list

It’s a good idea to provide your narrator with a pronunciation list for names and places. What you “hear” when you wrote it, and what they “hear” when they read it, may be radically different, and neither may match the official pronunciation.

For example, the name Feinstein — should stein rhyme with “mine” or “mean”? The name Delarose, should the emphasis be on the first syllable, or the second? The city of Joliet in Illinois, do you want it pronounced the French way, “Jhoe-lee-ay” where ay rhymes with “hay”, the American way according to pronuciation sites on the internet which is “Joe-lee-et,” or the way the locals pronounce it, “Jolly-et”?

Your narrator needs to know. Use an apostrophe to denote where the emphasis should be. A list like this should suffice:

  • Rochester: RAH-chester
  • Delarose: Della-ROSE
  • Hadji: HOD-gee
  • Louis: LOO-ee unless you want them to say LOO-iss

You can also provide links to websites they can refer to for pronunciation of any word they are unfamiliar with, rather than having them guess, such as In the end, however, you may need to make decisions if you catch an error in pronunciation. It’s not always easy for a narrator to punch a different word in later and have it be perfectly blended. How important is it to you? Can it slide?

Character list

You may want to provide a character list, if you believe the narrator needs to know something about the characters. This is particularly useful if the narrator can do different voices for dialog, which not all can.

For example:

  • Della: Seven year old girl, sweet, innocent
  • Billy Bob: Good old boy, redneck, Southern
  • Joey: Italian, New Yorker, mafia underling
  • Myron: Twelve year old boy other kids pick on, scrawny, pimply

In just a few words you painted a vivid picture of the characters. Even without doing voices, a narrator knows which passages to emphasize for each character.

Approving the first fifteen minutes

The first thing your narrator will upload after being hired is the first fifteen minutes. The purpose is to make sure that you and the narrator are on the same page with the direction of the book.

This is not a rough draft of the narration. It should be polished, and reflect exactly what the narrator is going to produce for you.

Your job is to listen to it, and approve it if you’re happy, so that the narrator can continue. They might not record any more until you’ve given the go ahead, so delaying approval could shorten the time they have to produce the audiobook for you. A delay can also cost a narrator man-hours that they won’t get paid for, unless they are working on multiple projects simultaneously.

Also, become familiar with the ACX contract you entered into. Delaying approval without asking for changes eventually becomes automatic approval. Just as your narrator has deadlines, so do you.

If you aren’t happy with the first fifteen minutes, refer to the ACX documentation on what to do. ACX offers extensive help docs which are easily accessible on the ACX website, and they cover just about every question you could ask.

Working with your narrator

Listen to each chapter or segment as they upload it. Don’t wait until the very end. It’s harder to find a large block of time to listen all at once. Also, if a mistake is make, it’s better to catch it right away, especially if it’s the type of mistake they might make over and over, such as a pronunciation that radically changes the meaning of a word.

If you’re delighted with what you are hearing, let them know. Encouragement and positive feedback might add liveliness to the narrator’s voice, as they will be happy while they are working on your book. On the flip side, too much negativity can have the opposite affect, sucking the life out of their voice. Moods can affect a voice recording so keep that in mind when interacting with your narrator.

Five minute sample

While you’re listening to the uploads, be listening for that perfect five minute sales pitch. You do NOT have to use the first five minutes of the book. The retail audio sample, which is the same concept as Look Inside of a paperback or Kindle book, can come from anywhere in the book. If you don’t specify a segment, the narrator will pick one, probably the first five.

Why wouldn’t you use the first five minutes? In a story book, if it’s written to suck a reader in right from the get-go and make them want more, then use the first five minutes for the audio “hear inside” sample. But what if it’s a non-fiction book on meditation techniques, for example? You may want to demonstrate one of the meditations rather than the lead in.


If you’re an author looking for a narrator, you can listen to my voice samples, and hire me, through ACX, an Amazon company.

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