What is your narrator worth?
As audio books and voice over’s become more popular, narrators are becoming sought after for their skills in storytelling, so let’s look at what that means.
Having the ability to ‘narrate’ is not the same as being able to ‘speak’. When you are talking, you are moving your mouth, imparting knowledge, gossip etc, when narrating, it is slightly different and so the skills need to be slightly different too.
I cannot imagine anything worse than listening to a ‘narrator’ who merely, ‘talks’ their way through the book. Reading it as though to themselves in a droll monologue tone – BORING!! And I’m not expecting lots of different voices of characters either, however, there has to be a variety of tones and speech patterns, with fast and slow moments and a way of speaking that fits the circumstances of the story. Can you imagine listening to a narrator who reads an exciting or terrifying scene in the book like their shopping list, or an erotic moment in which the narrator is giggling their way through like a self-conscious teenager?
A narrator has to have the ability to match every scene with the unique tones and fluctuations of each specific scene – and this takes time and experience.
So, you’ve created this masterpiece and you want it available in all formats. Audio books are big business and the next step, audio drama is gaining ground, so you need to choose a narrator who has the experience to bring your novel to life for your listeners. So who do you choose? How long will it take? How much are you willing to invest in your project to achieve a high goal?
Sadly, I see a lot of authors expecting a narrator to do a decent job for a pitiful amount and I’d like to believe it is because they do not understand the huge amount of work that goes into narrating, so here’s a small example on how a narrator works to get you your perfect project.
As I’ve already stated, talking or reading a book, is NOT the same as narrating it. Understanding the term PFH will give you an insight into how the costs are broken down by the narrator.
When you are looking to hire a narrator, they will mention PFH which stands for PER FINISHED HOUR. This does not mean, an hour’s work, this means an hour’s finished work. A professional narrator can probably do 20/25 minutes of narration in one hour of studio time. Followed by a couple of hours or more of editing and finally producing, which means PFH can add up to around a full day’s work = 20 mins x 2 hours of editing = 60 mins x 6 hours which does not include researching for the correct pronunciations and language if the book has various languages in it, (such as Notre-Dame I finished recently!) and listening back to double-check for problems and then producing it. All in all, PFH can take a day and a bit.
So to be clear, one finished hour of narration is sixty minutes of professionally recorded, edited and produced, ready for publication.
With all that in mind, I hear you shout, ‘Is that all? 20 minutes of narration in one hour of studio time?’
Well, yes, you see, as I’ve already said, narration is not like talking. On average, someone can narrate around 75 words per minute as long as the pace is perfect for the setting so this can change consistently throughout the book. Reading fast is just as bad as reading too slow, which is where the experience comes in. A professional narrator knows what is needed for each scene, how long between pauses, between paragraphs, between characters etc.
When an author is considering hiring a narrator, they may like the idea of someone who charges a low rate, and it might seem like a good deal, but once you know what is involved in creating a decent, first class audio book, they may change their minds.
When speaking everybody inevitably makes other noises, pops, clicks, umms and arhhs, shovelling, sniffs, coughs and may not even realise they are doing it. You make mistakes; you might repeat yourself, fumble with words, stutter, groping for the right words. Imagine how that would sound to a listener if they were on the audio book?!! Even background noises, planes flying over, car engines, cat’s meowing, and phone ringing, can all be captured on the recording and must be edited out.
On average, a professional narrator may be able to record anything from 7,000 – 10,000 words in one hour of audio, depending on the pace, but all of this now needs to go through the rigorous editing process to take out all superfluous noises, and in many instances, sentences need repeating if the tone is wrong, or the pronunciation is off. Being a narrator is much harder than people imagine!
All of this work to create ONE HOUR of FINISHED AUDIO can equate to anything from 6-9 hours of work at a minimum – A full day of recording and editing, with breaks.
With all this in mind, what would you consider a fair PFH rate?
In the beginning of my career, I sold myself short while I tried to learn the techniques and gain experience. I saw $50 PFH as a learning curve. Once I had a few books under my belt, I moved it up to $100, but realised very quickly that I was working for peanuts once the dollar was converted to pounds.
Knowing it can take up to 9 hours to create one finished hour of audio; do you think this is worthwhile? 9 hrs/50 = $5.50PFH
A professional narrator brings your book to life. Brings the characters to life in the minds of the listeners. What is that worth? If you look at your audio book as an asset, consider how much work went into creating it, and hire the best narrator you can afford. When hiring, if they are via a company like, Findaway Voices, you will be sent a short audition that the narrator will read from your book, to give you a better idea of who is perfect for your project.
Experienced narrators will have a few books under their belt, don’t be shy to ask how many and what they were.
If you hire cheap narrators, don’t expect a high quality of audio, which will not impress your audience and may lose you potential readers in the future. The audio book should enhance the book and leave the listeners with a lasting positive impression.
Treat your narrator as a partner. Together you are bringing your characters to life, so treat them well and pay a decent wage; otherwise, you get what you paid for.
On average, an experienced narrator charges anything between $200 – $300PFH
View your audio production as an investment in your brand and attract accomplished narrators to audition, who together, you can take your project and audience to a higher level.
P.J. Roscoe can be found on FindawayVoices.com and charges $180PFH (subject to changes) and Voquent.com
Narrator of 21books and Voice-actress for MyStorymore.com cast in three characters so far, (2021) author of internationally award winning historical and paranormal novels, along with her faerie books for children, Adventures of Faerie folk