The Pink Chair: Q4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of: $ __________

4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of:
$ __________
Today, I’m going to try and answer the last of four questions (see above) that were posed in a letter of inquiry from a narrator candidate. Before we go there, you should probably go back and review the pay models in question one (click on the link above).
4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of:
$ 0 – …

Well, now we come to the heart of the matter don’t we? Let’s face it: times are really rough economically speaking and, many people are hoping to leverage whatever skill sets they might have for money. Perhaps you’ve been told you have a really nice voice. Or maybe you’ve been volunteering as a story teller at your local library. Maybe you have some voice over experience. Maybe you’ve listened to audiobooks and said, “I can do that” or even, “I can do better than that.” And maybe, you can; but let’s be perfectly candid here: as a beginning narrator, your compensation levels are going to going to be fairly low. If you are currently unemployed however, anything is something or; if you’re looking to narrate for a little extra cash, baby could probably get a new pair of shoes 🙂
You’re probably looking at the answer I gave to question 4 above and going “WTF? That’s no answer!”; but it is actually the most accurate one that can be given. Please also keep in mind that, for the finished hour rate, different companies expect different things from their narrators besides simply reading. Pre-reading the book, doing your homework, some preliminary editing (home studio narrators should be delivering product without double takes, etc) and corrections are not figured into the finished hour rates.
$0 – $49/finished hour: We start at “$0” because there are narrators who will do a book for free. The narrator maybe volunteering for a company like Librivox which provides free dnloads of public domain titles. It’s a way for some people to get some experience. At slightly above “$0” are the narrators who work speculatively on a title, hoping for a cut on the unit(s) actually sold in a revenue or royalty sharing scheme. If you are working on an rShare project, it should be because you really love the story and feel you could do it justice. [Before the rShare crowd starts sending me e-mails about how this model is still developing and, that there are success stories, wherein a narrator can make more than s/he would make in flat fees, I say put up or shut up. There has been one confirmed success story. I know who it is; but more importantly, I know more people for whom this has NOT been a success story.]
$50 – $124/finished hour: I’ve heard of a studio that pays its narrators $50/finished hour. The narrators come in to the studio and narrate. I do not know who does the engineering or post or; what other support services may be provided (e.g. research) so maybe the narrator does more than narrate and so the $50/finished hour rate may be an inflated figure. I know of another studio that pays $100/finished hour. The narrator comes into the studio to record; but they are also expected to self-direct, self-engineer and, are responsible for their own research. The studio also charges the narrators $500 to learn how to use ProTools, though they are not a ProTools certification or training center. Also at the $100/fh mark is the stipend offered by ACX (the Audible Creative Exchange program) in lieu of rShare. The narrator provides the finished product to ACX and uploads the book from his/her home studio.
$125 – $199/finished hour: I recently read a story wherein a home narrator was being paid $125/finished hour; but he was not only narrating but was doing the post-editing and cutting the masters as well, which helped bring his actual rate down to $37/finished hour. It made me wonder what else he would do for the money/experience 😦
Generally, however, narrators working in this range are goto readers. They pre-read, do their look-ups ahead of the sessions, either work from home or come into a studio and, do the corrections sessions. Their work is solid and reviews are generally good. At Blackstone Audio, Inc. the narrators have their research provided for or their own research is paid for; technical assistance is available (no charge); post engineers handle the processing, editing and cut the formats; and proofers go over the audio with their bat ears. This is not the same model every audiobook publisher uses however, and you, as a narrator, should ask what exactly is expected of you when you take on a job for an audiobook company.
$200 – $350/finished hour: Narrators working in this range have experience, name recognition, industry awards. They work regularly and play well with others. It’s nice place to be. Per finished hour rates that exceed $350/finished hour (maybe even those that exceed $300/finished hour) are disappearing; but it’s nice work when you can get it 🙂
Flat fees: I have heard of a couple of incredible flat fees paid to some celebrity readers. I cannot confirm them, so I’m not going to offer them up for discussion; but really, it’s so outside of the business norm that they really shouldn’t be considered in the mix. Chances are, the person who wrote me wasn’t using a pseudonym to cover his/her megastar status so we’ll throw the celebrity fees out of the equation. An author read, however, is not the same as a celebrity read (unless the author also happens to be a celebrity.) In this case, the author is paid a flat fee for his work; but that is a privately negotiated deal and, again, shouldn’t be considered in terms of what a good narrator makes in a year.
What a good narrator makes in a year, depends on what pay model s/he is working for (see questions one), how many books the s/he completes in a year (see questions two and three) and, what rate s/he is working for (see above.) It completely varies from person to person and from audiobook publisher to audiobook publisher.
I know of very few narrators at any skill level who “just” narrate audiobooks. Many have other revenue streams including acting, voice over gigs, teaching, selling insurance, lawyering…. As little or as much money as you may make in audiobook narrating, I might suggest that you not quit your day job 🙂

Go the F*ck to Sleep

Go the F*ck to Sleep

by Alan Mansbach
narrated by Samuel L. Jackson
Ⓟ 2011, Audible, Inc.
6 minutes
In general, there seem to be two types of parenting models when either of the parents are engaged with their child or children:
The first model, involves bringing the child into the parent’s or parents’ orbit. The parents bring the child along on their errands and outings. Example: Dad has Little Mary for the day. He takes her to Home Depot, The Guitar Center, to the car wash. He lets her punch in the four-digit security code when checking out items and paying with a debit card. Or maybe Mom brings Junior along on the grocery shopping trip, to the veterinarian’s office or the library to pick up some holds. She lets Junior scan the library books. The parent is involving the child in the parent’s routines, showing him or her how things are done in the grown up world.
The second model is child-centric. The parent or parents are pulled into the child’s orbit. The day’s activities focus on the child. Example: Mom takes Little Mary to Little Mary’s favorite playground, takes Little Mary out to lunch at McDonald’s because the Happy Meal premium is a Little Pet Shop Toy or, takes Little Mary to the bookstore to buy the next title in the The Tiara Club series. Or maybe Dad attends all of Juniors football practices, teaches his son how to cast a perfect fly or, they build a bird house together. The parent sublimates his egocentric goals to the interest of the child.
Go the F*ck to Sleep appeals strongly to the parent who holds to the first model, a person who is trying to fit parenthood into his/her schedule rather than the other way around. In an effort to watch a grown-up movie, the father (in the story) tries to get his child to bed and asleep. His frustration mounts and, profanity in storybook verse ensues.
Samuel L. Jackson, famous for his expletive-rich vocabulary, narrated the audio edition of Go the F*ck to Sleep. He delivers the irritation of the story’s disgruntled father well, tip-toing on the edge of resentment without actually going there. Samuel L. Jackson is a strong personality for the book, bringing his bad-ass reputation with him and, the question as to how this no-nonsense figure would let things go this far; but there it is 🙂
Other stuff: I dnloaded Go te F*ck to Sleep from
I receive no goods or services in exchange for reviewing this product, mentioning any of the persons or companies that may be named or implied in this post (including but not limited to the audiobook publisher, the vendor from which I purchased the audiobook, author, narrator and/or, the hosts of any challenges that this title may qualify for) or, the challenges for which this title may qualify.

The Pink Chair: Q3: Per year, the number of books a narrator submits is: ▢ fewer than 10 ▢ greater than ten (on average)

A few weeks ago, I received a letter of inquiry from a potential narrator. It contained four questions that the person wanted answered:
3. Per year, the number of books a narrator submits is:
▢ fewer than 10 ▢ greater than ten (on average)
4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of:
$ __________
Today let’s look at question three:
3. Per year, the number of books a narrator submits is:
☑ fewer than 10 ☑greater than ten (on average)

That’s right, the answer is both! But before we get to the explanation, we need to go back to the idea of the quota which seems to underpin this question (reference the word “submits.”) There is no narrator factory of people churning out titles to meet a quota. Books are cast, meaning that the casting director looks at the book and determines who might be the best candidate(s) for that title and then, either arranges for auditions or, contacts the narrator to check on the narrator’s willingness and availability. If the casting director has six Amish Romance novels on his desk, chances are that s/he is not going to be calling a British male narrator to get them done. The casting of an audiobook is primarily based on the appropriateness of narrator’s voice for the book at hand; not on producing six titles per se.
It’s also a mistake to tie the idea of narrator excellence to the number of books that s/he read in any given year. Scott Brick, Grover Gardner and, Simon Vance have each recorded more than ten titles in 2011; but Jim Dale, Anthony Heald and Kevin Kenerly have narrated less than ten in 2011. There are also a lot of sucky narrators (who I am NOT going to name – and please if you’re a narrator reading this and you don’t see your name mentioned, that does NOT mean I think you’re sucky! Or maybe it does… Anyway… ) that seem to getting work as well. Any number of factors drives the number of titles that they produce for any audiobook publisher, including but not limited to:
  • appropriateness of voice to the material
  • narrator availability
  • narrator willingness
  • author/publisher approval
  • narrator/studio cost
So yeah, more than ten? less than ten? It all depends on the books and the narrators.
Next week on The Pink Chair :

The Pink Chair: Q2: A quota is imposed on a narrator: ▢ True ▢ False

A few weeks ago, I received a letter of inquiry from a potential narrator. It contained four questions that the person wanted answered:
1. A narrator is paid by the: ▢ hour ▢ page ▢ book ▢ other
2. A quota is imposed upon the narrator: ▢ true ▢ false
3. Per year, the number of books a narrator submits is:
▢ fewer than 10 ▢ greater than ten (on average)
4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of:
$ __________
Question one was answered last week; and now we move on to tackle question two:
A quota is imposed on a narrator: ▢ True ☑ False

The answer is “False”: To the best of my knowledge, no audiobook company imposes a quota upon a narrator in terms of books submitted. In fifteen years, I’ve never heard of a publisher requiring x number of books from any of their narrators; So when I read the question the first time, my reaction was puzzlement. I also happened to have briefly entertained visions of myself on board a slave galley ship with a megaphone and whip in hand, yelling “READ!” to a bunch of narrators furiously reading while seated on benches, while a big drum sounded out a beat in the background… 🙂
But do audiobook publishers impose other kinds of quotas? I heard that one audiobook publisher required it’s potential narrators to have narrated x number of audio books for other companies; and to have earned x number of Earphone Awards; but looking at their roster online, it’s clear that if that was ever true, it’s certainly not now.
An imposed quota implies that it is the narrator’s responsibility to draw assignments and complete them. In reality, the studio director casts the audio book and checks to see if a narrator is willing and able.
Can a narrator narrate too many books for an audiobook publisher? Yes. When a name appears with too much frequency in a catalog, it signals to customers, librarians and others a lack of diversity in the talent pool, a lack of casting creativity and/or suspicions that the audiobook publisher can’t get anyone else.
On the other hand, if you put ourself out there as a narrator; but keep turning down assignments for whatever reason, then the probability of you being called again is negligible.
UPDATE: As le0pard13 pointed out, this is actually Ben-Hur, NOT Spartacus;
but you know what? From where I’m standing on deck,
“READ, SPARTACUS, READ!” sounds better than “READ, BEN-HUR, READ!”
I dunno why, maybe it’s the /t/ and /k/ sounds, more aggressive somehow
Anyway, I’m keepin’ it 🙂
Next week on The Pink Chair:

A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War

First in the Kenzie/Gennaro series
by Dennis Lehane
narrated by Joanathan Davis
Ⓟ 2011, Harper Audio
8.8 hours
Patrick Kenzie, and by extension his partner, Angela Gennaro, are private detectives hired to retrieve documents stolen from a state senator’s office. Except that the documents aren’t really documents and, what these “documents” are and why they are important, provide the link to a story which highlights a Boston beyond what tourists see: Racial tensions, extreme economic disparity within blocks and, political corruption. Dennis Lehane has written a hard, truthful story about a city, about a culture within the context of a fictional thriller. Black vs White racial tensions are the biggest axe that Lehane grinds in A Drink Before the War. The politicians are white, the cleaning lady is black; blue collar workers hole up in dives in black neighborhoods and, count the number of black players on opposing football teams on TV; the gang wars are drawn along geo-racial lines: the blacks of The Bury (Roxbury) and the white kids of Dorchester; even a newscasting team on television consisting of a white newsman and a black newswoman, show up the racial lines drawn in the racist city. The economic inequality is played out across the neighborhoods in and around Boston: An obsequious doorman pulls open the doors to posh restaurants and hotels and, Copley Square is a testament to the gaudy splendors of the monied; but in Dorchester, the the lower middle class watches as the dual forces of gentrification and urban decay obliterate their homes into the dust and; in Roxbury, the tenements and sagging homes fall prey to entropy. The environments do not encourage correlative levels of crime, only better cover for the crimes in the better neighborhoods. The dome of the capitol, it turns out, provides better protection against punishment than the streets of Roxbury. Lehane’s key protagonist, Patrick Kenzie, has the self awareness to recognize how the city has informed him and; despite his attempts to rise above his circumstances, the scars of his past are ever-present both literally and figuratively. Kenzie’s internal struggle to identify his moral dilemmas and excoriate his ghosts add dimension to a character that could all too easily been rendered a mere action figure.
Jonathan Davis gives a solid, nearly neutral and careful reading of the text. He gives the story a very light, somewhat Ben Affleckian Boston accent, and affects an appropriate Irish accent to the equally affected state senator with a deliberate and near comic manner. A light Boston accent is better than a bad Boston accent; but there are inherent risks in that approach because authenticity is sacrificed. Davis slows his meter down to create an illusion of a deepened register for the black characters, but the street cadence is missing. We always know who’s talking; but all the voices are slightly “off” either in measure or in idiom. One also has to wonder if Davis has a sense of humor in the literary or narrative sense: Some lines could have benefited from a quicker, more ironic delivery.
Recommendation: For those who like grittier fare a la Adrian McKinty (The Dead Trilogy: Dead I Well May Be; The Dead Yard and, The Bloomsbury Dead; or Richard Price (Lush Life.)
Other Stuff: I received a digital dnload copy from Harper Audio for review purposes.
Also, it turns out that the narrator is the nephew of a consultant for the company I work for. This fact did not inform my review on any conscious level.

This book qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. A Drink Before the War takes place in Dorchester and Boston, Massachusetts.

View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map

The Pink Chair: Q1. A narrator is paid by the: ▢ hour ▢ page ▢ book ▢ other

A couple of weeks ago, a letter of inquiry from a potential narrator crossed my desk. This letter was unique in that it did not include a resume or curriculum vitae or, a sample of the candidate’s works or, even a link to the person’s web-site. Instead, it was a hand written letter that contained four questions that the candidate wanted to have answered before s/he took the the time to create a demo:
1. A narrator is paid by the: ▢ hour ▢ page ▢ book ▢ other
2. A quota is imposed upon a narrator: ▢ true ▢ false
3. Per year, the number of books a narrator submits is:
▢ fewer than 10 ▢ greater than 10 (on average)
4. A good narrator can expect an annual income of:
I’ll admit that when I first read the letter, I… :
Ⓐ Rolled by eyes and had a head-desk moment
Ⓑ Wanted to have it framed for the elegant simplicity of it
Ⓒ Wanted to write snarky comments to all the questions
Ⓓ Actually sit down and answer each question in earnest
Ⓔ All of the above, simultaneously, which caused my brain to nearly implode
And the answer is ; but I have decided to go with Ⓓ! Now, there is an outside chance that someone is pulling my leg; but I think not and so, I’m going to answer these questions to the best of my ability this month, starting with Q1 today:
A narrator is paid by the: ☑ hour ▢ page ▢ book ☑ other

Many narrators are paid per finished hour. This means that the narrator gets paid his hourly rate times the length of the finished audiobook. If the narrator’s fee is $200 per finished hour and the completed audiobook is ten hours long, then the narrator would earn $2000 for that book:
$NR x FH = $$$$
NR = Narrator Rate; FH = Finished Hour
There are some models out there wherein narrators are paid by studio hours. This means that the narrator would be paid for the time he or she actually spent in the studio to record the book. So, if it took the narrator 25 hours to record a ten hour book, and charged $200 per studio hour, then narrator would earn $5000 for that book:
$NR x SH = $$$$
NR = Narrator Rate; SH = Studio Hour
The studio hour model is not used with those who have home studios because there is no way to confirm how much time a narrator actually spends on recording a title at home.
You may have heard about revenue sharing or royalty sharing. This is a model wherein the narrator basically works on spec, earning no fees for his work. If the audiobook sells, then the narrator gets a percentage of the sales. Iambik, Steerforth Press and Crossroads Press are three audiobook companies that offer revenue sharing agreements and,’s ACX program offers a royalty sharing option. There’s no universal or industry equation for this model as it depends on the company; but if I were a snarky person I might put out something like:
(((GS – DT)/50%)/7) !@#$ = $0
You don’t really need to know what all the variables mean, just that the number on the right hand side equals zero

Now, I have been told that there are a couple of success stories as far as rShare is concerned; but I haven’t met them yet and quite frankly I have my doubts. What I am hearing is that it’s not really working out for the narrators and that the rShare publishers are still working on it to make it work. We’ll see. rShare has it’s champions and we’ll talk more about it in a future post. (For more about a narrator’s experience with ACX, check out Johnny Heller’s blog, Abbreviated Audio: FOR THE HELL OF IT: Special Edition: ACX and Me)

There is one other model for payment that I’ve come across and that is the straight fee or flat fee. The narrator, usually a celebrity, is paid a set fee for a title or a series and, can run anywhere from four to seven figures:

FF = Flat Fee

On the other end of the flat fee spectrum, a narrator can be paid to come in to do some piecework. Piecework can be a narrator coming in to re-read a section that has been re-written since the last final was submitted or; marginalia or title work or, even end scripts. These fees are usually a couple of hundred dollars and are comparable to an honorarium paid to guests on late night talk shows:

ff = flat fee

So basically, it comes down to this:
A narrator is paid by the: ☑ finished hour ☑ studio hour ☑ rShare ☑ flat fee

Welcome to the 1099 world, my friend 🙂

Next week on The Pink Chair:










Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley
narrated by Simon Vance
Ⓟ 2008, Tantor Audio
8.50 hours

For those who have not read the novel and only been subjected to film versions, it’s “nothing” like the movies. The doctor, not the monster, is named Frankenstein and, the monster fully develops as a sentient being, not as a green, square-headed zombie with bolts stuck in the side of his head! The story is heavily influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost and some radical social theory at the time, something along the lines that a man’s nature is most profoundly influenced in reaction to his societal upbringing, an earlier version of “it takes a village.”

Many, many years ago, a friend in college, for whom this was his favorite book, lent me his copy. I read it and was moved to tears by the monster’s plight and could not help but feel that my friend identified with the monster. By extension, I felt that I understood my friend better. I returned the book; but always meant to come back to it. Flash forward many, many years later and I’ve settled down to re-read this Classic. I was absolutely bemused that I did not recognize the story at all! Not only was the story coming across as completely new-to-me, I had no sympathy for the monster whatsoever! I have to admit I didn’t like the novel as much this time around, but that may be my inner existentialist reacting against the moral equivocation about responsibility for one’s own actions. I’ve come back to Frankenstein again in hopes of rediscovering what its was that appealed to me the first time I experienced it.
Frankenstein is a book that definitely bears rereading. There are multiple layers and approaches to take to the story: literally, emotionally, philosophically and metaphorically. On the basic linear narrative level, it is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young ambitious man who leaves home and pursues his studies in Ingolstadt, Germany. His interests lie in the life sciences and his passion leads him to the secret of reanimating dead flesh into a living, sentient being. Mary Shelley, pulls the reader into the sympathies of both Frankenstein and his unnamed creature by creating pathos- and angst-ridden first person narratives into the story for both characters. Philosophically, there’s plenty of material to vet: theism, existentialism, free will, fate vs destiny, Nature vs Nurture… The author makes several allusions to Milton’s Paradise Lost; but comparisons to Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy are equally obvious and relevant. Milton’s and Dante’s works deal with the fall from divine grace and the soul’s state of disgrace and, like Milton’s and Dante’s works, the listener cannot help but wonder if the story of Frankenstein is also a reflection of an interior journey.

Simon Vance narrates the Tantor edition of Frankenstein. His consummate skill with character-work comes to the fore and, bears an uncanny resemblance to his voices for The Millennium Trilogy 🙂


Other Stuff: I do not recall what edition or publisher produced the copy that my friend lent me. I only recall that it was a mass market paperback with a black cover and a small rectangular picture inset on the front. I want to say it was a Signet Classic; but I’m not sure.
I purchased a Barnes & Noble Classics edition copy from the Barnes & Noble store in Medford, OR in 2009.
I dnloaded a copy of Frankenstein (narrated by Simon Vance) from the Audiobook Community’s SYNC YA program in 2010.

The Nightmare (by Henry Fuseli)