The Pink Chair: Tweets about "Untrained Narrators"

Lea Hensley (@lea_hensley) has written a Speaking of Audiobooks post titled, “Untrained narrators? I’m not interested” over at the All About Romance blog:

The blog post spawned an hours-long twitter convo  in which a number of different people from the audiobook community (listeners, reviewers, narrators and producers) from all different levels of expertise participated. I’ve copied my own tweets down in this post, only editing out things like “YES!” or a reference to Highlander for which you kinda had to be there to get 😉

Anyway, I see that Lea’s blog will be hosting a 6 narrator panel in February to discuss “positive solutions – path to success” and I’m hoping that further on, she will hold a roundtable that includes producers/studio directors/casting agents.

@dogearedcopy 10:51am 
At one point all the A-List narrators were untrained narrators.

@dogearedcopy 10:53am 
If audiobook publishers never take a chance on someone, where are the future narrators to come from?

@dogearedcopy 10:57am 
Yes, Big publishers do! Let’s think about the past three months when the work flooded the studios. Experienced narrators were swamped bu the books had to go out. New voices had to be found!

@dogearedcopy 11:13am 
We have to take chances all the time. Some work out and some do not.

@dogearedcopy 11:14am 
You have to weigh the risk of the new talent vs the grade of the book

@dogearedcopy 11:16am 
Meaning that you’re not going to put new talent on a high-end book…

@dogearedcopy 11:17am
Absolutely, positively QC must be present. I think that’s wehere the real issue lies from the user’s/listener’s end…

@dogearedcopy 11:22am 
Just be a little bit more clear, the free market model of which a certain audiobook pub uses is factoring in the backlash. The risk is minimized is placing the bets on backlist titles.

@dogearedcopy 12:13pm 
Just for discussion’s sake, ALL audiobook publishers make these decisions re new talent…

@dogearedcopy 12:14pm 
While not on a Goliath scale, the matrix of of price, availability & appropriateness along with the risk factor are all played out daily.

@dogearedcopy 12:21pm 
And too, what exactly *is* an untrained narrator?

@dogearedcopy 12:22pm 
There are no narrator schools and… workshops may introduce to the business but certainly aren’t training grounds. ACting background is no guarantee either

@dogearedcopy 12:24pm 
So is it really about “training” as much as ongoing development?

@dogearedcopy 12:24pm 
And as a casting/studio director being able to identify potential?

@dogearedcopy 12:25pm 
I won’t name names, but there have been artistic successes from narrators whose initial efforts were, quite frankly crap.You gotta know when to hold’em /fold ’em.

@dogearedcopy 12:47pm 
Ability to take direction = development. Once a narrator becomes concretized or resistant to direction, it’s over.

@dogearedcopy 12:49pm 
But again we get back to getting the newbie in the studio to begin with!

@dogearedcopy 12:59pm 
The reason why actors are generally preferred is bc they understand things like direction, subtext and how an audience responds.

@dogearedcopy 1:01pm
I often find voice over crossovers more of a challenge bc their direction is in regard to information being delivered in a short span rather than the long haul of a full narrative

@dogearedcopy 1:05pm 
… I view audio drama more akin to acting than voice over; but I was actually going back to what looks promising

@dogearedcopy 2:57pm 
I’ve often decried the extinction of studio directors from the audiobook industry. Now I’m witnessing the passing of casting agents…

@dogearedcopy 2:58pm 
No, I’m sorry but assigning audiobooks is NOT the same as casting.

@dogearedcopy 3:08pm
Honestly, not for the better. It may serve audiobook publishers in the short run in terms of profits, but the backlash will not be worth it. 

The Pink Chair: Ways to "Back Burner" Yourself as a Narrator

You’re good, in fact you may be very good; but for some reason the number of calls for work has been dropping. Chances are, it’s because, really and truly, you aren’t right for the books that we have on hand. Gone are the days when we had shelves of books to mete out to narrators who needed work. Gone are the days of indiscriminately or blindly casting a book. The fall-out has simply been too expensive. But you’re looking at the catalog and saying, “I would be perfect for that book! What aren’t I getting the call?” Here may be a few reasons as to why:

You are not paying attention: Every week, I get e-mails from narrators who recommend themselves for a list of books and, every week I send out explanations as to why they are not getting the call: because the book already as an narrator attached, or; they really, truly are not right for the book. Admittedly, on the company’s web-site, the narrator may be listed as “To Be Announced;” but the company’s priority is to list the book first and the narrator later. If it’s a series, chances are the narrator who read the previous titles, will read the next one. Also, reading the book’s description, though sometime seemingly vague, will let you know if you are the right voice for the African-American Kentuckian vampire slayer who has fallen in love with the Amish boy. Or not. Chances are, if you’re an older British male narrator, not. Still, the self-recommended requests roll in and the hit rate is proportionately small and now you think, “They never call me.” It should be noted that, the highest rate of success for a narrator who wants to narrate a particular book is the narrator who asks for that particular book; not a scatter shot selection.

You don’t do your homework: Turnaround times between the publishing houses’ editorial staffs and the audiobook publishers is often very tight. Whenever possible, we will send out a preliminary so that the narrator can get an idea of the language and style of the book before the final arrives. If, on our end, skimming the book, we think that it needs to have research done, we send it out for research; but it is up to the narrator to let us know if there is a list of terms that we may have overlooked but that s/he needs to have looked-up before s/he will or can begin narrating the book. If the narrator waits until the last minute though, s/he has just caused production delay$ 😦
Also, there are still narrators out there who don’t pre-read their scripts and who think they are getting away with it. You’re not. Our casting director himself has been a narrator for at least three decades; I’ve been critically listening to them for at least two; and we have an insanely deep and experienced proofing department. We know.

You are careless in your reading: You’re counting on that same insanely deep and experienced proofing department to catch all your misreads and mispronunciations. Or maybe other companies don’t have as careful a proofing department so you think that a verbatim read doesn’t matter. But it does, now more than ever as new technologies are being developed that bear a more unforgiving light on mis-reads and mis-pronunciations; and too there is as an ever more discerning ear amongst the public. The more time the proofing and post-engineering departments have to spend on your work, the more expensive you become. All of the sudden, you find yourself narrating fewer new titles, and mostly just series to which you’ve been attached.

You can’t or won’t upgrade your home studio: As the famous American, Johnny Heller once said [something to the effect of], “The home narrating trend has made all us narrators suspect engineers.” True! And yet, we have a studio director and engineers standing by to help you, at no charge. Grover Gardner has handed out a home narrator’s set-up guide for years to all and sundry. And I’ve personally witnessed engineers go to lengths way above and beyond the call of duty to help home narrators out. And yet, there are narrators who have remained stubborn, insisting that whatever is good enough for [insert another audiobook publisher’s name here], should be good enough for us. Um, no. Again, new technologies are emerging that require better overall sound quality than even five years ago. The days of thinking that car noise will mask the flaws of an inferior recording or, that the post-engineers have a magic “de-crapping” plug-in are simply… wrong.  Later, in The Pink Chair series, we will talk a little about post-processing, so if you’ve got you’re hackles up about what “they did to my recording,” relax, we’ll get to it.

You are late: Deadlines are very serious business nowadays, whether it is for a simultaneous release or a backlist. For every day that a recording is late for a simultaneous release, the best “Golden Hour” monies are lost. In the publishing world, new releases are published on Tuesdays. Everybody wants the new title on the date of release. By next Tuesday, consumers want the new New Releases, so for every day beyond the date of release of the print book that the audio edition is not available, the demand decreases and perforce revenue. For both simultaneous releases and backlists, there are promotions put in place: Sometime it’s a matter of placing a title in a catalog (which is the product of hundreds of man-hours), sometimes it’s about library pre-orders and, sometime it’s a cross-promotion with If the book is late, if all or most of your books are late, you are causing the audiobook publisher massive headaches and costing them beaucoup dollars.

You don’t deliver and you don’t communicate: There have been a couple of narrators who have gone A.W.O.L. We send them a book. We hear nothing. We send e-mails expressing concern. Nothing. We make phone calls, only to be screened by voice-mail, and still nothing. Clearly, you have a lot of things going on in your life and you’ve made some choices – prioritized things as it were and, somehow, we have come out on the short end of the stick. Um, not great, but it is the not-telling-us -about-it that will piss us off more than anything else. And before you know it, you’re not hearing from us anymore either. And when you decide that you want to re-start the relationship, it’s pretty damaged. Sour milk doesn’t get fresh after cooling.

You have too much drama going in your life: I’m not taking about actors who take on roles – that’s par for the course. What I am talking about are the narrator’s whose personal and emotional lives have manifested themselves into a state of constant crises and upheavals. The narrator can’t help it, s/he brings the drama into the booth and everybody is put through an emotional wringer. Or, even worse, the narrator needs to take some time to go take care of business. It becomes a very hit-or-miss proposition as to whether the narrator will be in any shape to actually work. Yes, I know, shit happens, but when you become a magnet for trouble, we’ll give you wide berth. Helpful hint for other audiobook professionals who have a Drama King/Queen in their midst: Never ever ask how they are doing. They will tell you :-/

You don’t take care of yourself: As a narrator, your voice is your most important asset. If you are chronically ill with colds, allergies, laryngitis, strep throat, throat cancer, etc. you’re going to get iced. It makes sense, yes? And yet, the are an unusual number of narrators who try and get away with it.

You don’t follow instructions: This, oddly enough, comes from mostly veteran narrators who have been doing things a certain way for so long, they don’t know any other way. You would think that they would have learned that to be flexible and capacious was the key to the social Darwinism in play in the audiobook industry; but they remain stubborn in their ways. One of the more blatant examples of this would be contacting the author directly even when we’ve told you not to! There are many situations now in which narrator-author contact needs to be pre-approved. When the author, agent and/or the publisher asks that contact with the author be limited, or prohibited, it is not cool to take to take it upon yourself to contact the author anyway, relying on your charm and experience. This backfires more often than you would think and really smacks just short of hubris and a lack of respect for the studio director. (See The Pink Chair; Contacting the Author.)

You took bad advice: You were doing great, but now you’ve attended some sort of workshop and you think you’ve made huge strides forward in your style; but something’s gone awry. This is usually a voice-over workshop as opposed to a narrator workshop; and we can only hope that you will “Stop it” because now you’ve gone back to square one and think it’s all abut your voice and how nice it sounds. It’s a very narcissistic sound, superficial and slick; and great for telling me about the Memorial Day car sales being extended an extra week-end; but not so great for telling stories.

You have hidden costs: You told us you have a home studio; but not really. FYI: Having access to a studio is not the same as having a home studio. Accounting gets hit with unexpected invoices from studios, outside engineers etc. and the cost of hiring you just went through the roof. Or maybe you were happy to get work from us and “forgot” to tell us you were AFTRA-SAG and you need to be paid through TEAM. There have been narrators who have given themselves a raise by bumping up the numbers on their invoices without having discussed this first with the studio director. Um, you really need to tell us how much you really cost. When the production costs double, treble or even quadruple because of hidden costs, we feel conned. Get me once, shame on you. And there it ends.

You backed us into a corner: You’re attached to a series. You think that you can’t possibly be replaced. You demand more money. You’re effectively blackmailing us. Guess what? No one is indispensable (See The Pink Chair: Changing Horses Mid-Stream.) Another neat maneuver is to ask for advances on your next book, holding up corrections on the current book until the advance comes in. Just to let you know, there is a point at which a company will cut their losses and say “Later, alligator!” If you think Advance Extortion is very clever and that you might like to try it, please be aware that our company no longer makes advances because some narrators abused the policy and ruined it for everyone.

You are an asshole: Yep, no one likes working with you. Maybe you’re a male chauvinist pig. Maybe you’re a boor. Maybe you’re just downright mean. Whatever contact you have with anybody in the company, it seems to always result in walls being thrown up in your face and feelings of animosity. Chances are, you’ll be hired to work at home or remotely, but everyone is glad to have as little contact with you as possible. Why do they call you at all? Because, for right now, they have to; but don’t think that they aren’t looking for alternatives.

Social Faux Pas: Maybe you said something incredibly inappropriate that was overheard at The Audies or in an interview;  or maybe you posted something on Facebook that was downright mean; or maybe you over estimated your sobriety and propositioned the wrong person at a mixer. It’s funny how when you slam somebody’s religion, politics, sexual orientation or generosity or; pawed at somebody’s significant other without pawee’s consent, how that can come back to haunt you :-/

So how do you know if you’ve really been “back burnered” or if things are a bit slow? Ask. I don’t know how honest other audiobook publishers are; but I’ll tell you because very simply, I don’t believe in killing with kindness and I think people are much less sensitive to the truth than we give them credit for. Please don’t get me wrong. We’re not looking for ways to “back-burner” our narrators – in fact, far from it. We try to be understanding and work through whatever it is that may be an issue. I like to consider many narrators as my friends. And maybe that’s my problem as I expect them to behave in kind and, when they don’t, my feelings are hurt. Whatever, I know that the audiobook publishers aren’t perfect friends either.

If you’re a narrator and there are reasons you would back-burner an audiobook company, please feel free to comment below or; you can e-mail me at I will treat all e-mails confidentially and reply to them in a future Pink Chair post as anonymously delivered unless you tell me otherwise. If you are not a narrator, you can still leave comments and/or e-mail me 🙂

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 🙂

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:

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:

The Pink Chair: Changing Horses Mid-Stream

Audiobook publishers don’t want to do it. Fans of a series don’t like it. But it happens? Why?
In no particular order:
  • The original narrator sucked. The reviews are in and they are all bad. The listener advisory service reviews (professional reviewers) are scathing. Customer reviews are generous with one star posts. The audiobook company is getting hate mail and customer service is fielding call-in complaints. And still, the audiobook publisher will be reluctant to pull the narrator; but if they do, can you really blame them? The audiobook publisher has really no where to go but up.
  • The original narrator has gotten worse. The narrator has developed a unique style as a result of bad advice, a workshop experience or maybe just thinks s/he sounds better with a new mannerism or; years of smoking and drinking have lent a not particularly pleasant new quality to the narrator’s voice… The studio director has called the narrator on it (“Stop it!”) but the narrator can’t or won’t and, now the character totally sounds different then when the narrator was originally cast for it. In this case, sticking with the same narrator isn’t doing anyone – the listeners, the author, the book, the publishers – any favors.
  • The original narrator died. For obvious reasons, this is awful. And for less obvious reasons, it is also awful: The succeeding narrator will never be as good as the now-beatified voice of the original narrator who passed away.
  • The original narrator is otherwise engaged. Sometimes a narrator lands a juicy film role or a television gig or a role in a stage play or; maybe the narrator is ill or; having a baby or; in jail… It could be anything. The narrator is unable to meet the deadline of submitting the recording files. This is where the audiobook publisher weighs delaying the release of the title versus changing the narrator. For every day after the release of the print title that the audio edition is not available, the audiobook publisher and the author lose sales and royalties respectively. On the other hand, fans of a series may very simply not be interested in another narrator and would be willing to wait. It’s a tough call and some of the factors that go into making it are things like weighing lost sales, contractural clauses and, whether the narrator’s situation is one-time, chronic or, permanent.
  • The original narrator has retired from narrating. Many narrators are not full-time narrators. They have other careers or sidelines that are augmented by narration work. Sometimes those other lives develop into more meaningful pursuits and they move on from narrating. Other times, a narrator may rebel against being typecast into a certain series (e.g. the family man who doesn’t like being known for his pedophile-character’s predilections; the narrator who has a profound distaste for narrating passages involving bestiality, etc.)
  • The original narrator is difficult to work with. Maybe the narrator is off his or her meds. Maybe the narrator is an absolute asshole. Whatever, the narrator has gone beyond being eccentric into being truly impossible to work with. Studio sessions implode and everybody is tense and anxious. Almost inevitably, at one point the phrase “no one is indispensable” will be thrown into the mix.
  • The original narrator is too expensive. The narrator fees can be too high, the studio sessions can be getting too long (in the studio, time=$$$), the post-edit can be labor intensive (again, time=$$$)… Exactly how much is too much? When the costs of producing a book turn the title into a possible revenue generator into at best, a loss leader. This means that instead of hoping to ever eke out a literal dime in profits, the title will never even break even. The title will remain in the catalog and might attract customers to other titles; but overall the title becomes the weapon against which the bean counters wield against producers at every quarter’s budget meeting. When the uber expensive production fails even to generate backlist sales, “actionable efficiencies” (cost cutting measures) are executed. Bye-bye, narrator with the non-negotiable fees.
  • The author disapproves of the original narrator. The author’s reason(s) for being unhappy with a narrator can be many; but the reason always given is that the author does not agree with the interpretation that the narrator gave of the book. What triggers this decision can also be mysterious: Sometimes a narrator and an author do not becomes BFFs (see The Pink Chair: Contacting the Author); in fact, quite the opposite during a narrator consultation. Sometimes the author thinks that the audiobook royalties or the book’s reputation will improve with a different narrator. Sometimes, the author may just exercise his or her prerogative to get more involved in the audiobook process. Sometimes, they even listen to the audiobook and truly do believe that the narrator didn’t quite get it right. The audiobook publishers will generally fight against narrator changes, especially if the series is doing well; but sometimes the audiobook publisher loses.
  • The original narrator ages but the character hasn’t/new title is a prequel to extant series. This is an issue with series that have gone on for decades; but the protagonist remains the twenty-something-year old, stuck in time without a cell phone or perhaps with her immortal cat… Unfortunately, the narrator originally selected to narrate the series has aged. The vocal quality has matured and/or thinned and there is an disconcerting difference between the protagonist’s and the narrator’s voices. Sometimes, an author will write a prequel to the series. The adolescence of a pushing-forty protagonist will be explored and there’s no way it’s not going to sound bad using the same narrator.
  • The series gets picked up by new audiobook publisher. Sometimes a series will be picked up by another audiobook publisher and the new guys cannot get access to the original narrator or; the new guys think they can cast the audiobook better. In the former case, it should be noted that the audiobook publisher tries very hard to retain the same narrator for the series; but sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. The narrator can be under an exclusive contract with another audiobook company or, perhaps the original narrator and the new audiobook publisher simply cannot come to an agreement. In the case of the new guys thinking they can cast the audiobook better, it should be noted that the new guys were attracted to the series in the first place because of the series’ reputation; but oddly there are producers who seek to either fix what isn’t broken or; think that a soap opera star or B actor will do a better job than the professional narrator who developed the series. It’s usually a short-lived delusion that corrects itself with the next title in the series.
Whatever the reason(s), know that an audiobook publisher does not make the decision to change narrators mid-series lightly. They know, as do you, that if you’re unhappy with the change, you can always go to print.

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