Splitting Hairs

by | Feb 19, 2010 | Audiobooks, Books, Business-end-of-things | 2 comments

What’s a fair price for earnest work?

The quibbling over that simple question can cost you money if things aren’t laid out clearly from the outset.  Now I understand why some Voice actors demand a contract, and at least some pay up front.

Here’s a real-life example (names omitted to protect the innocent):


A friend approached me about recording the first chapter of a newly-written book.  The author is a multi-millionaire, rags-to-riches CEO of a hugely successful XYZ firm.  The book is his inspirational personal story of how entrepreneurship lifted him out of life’s early disarray to find wild success.

My friend is handling some of the online marketing and SEO challenges for this company, and needed the chapter narrated ASAP for a deadline to launch a certain milestone for this company.


Within 24 hours, I had the chapter narration done, editing completed, and file delivered with a smile.  My friend was grateful for the favor, and promised payment whenever I invoiced.

The uncertain but hoped-for promise in all this was that I may eventually get the nod to narrate the entire book. 


When the author heard my read, he liked it, but HIS public relations people were telling him since it was such a personal story, that maybe HE should narrate it.  That’s still undecided.  We all know there are just a handful of authors who have the wherewithal to artfully narrate their own book.  I don’t know…maybe he’s one of those.

Regardless, when my friend attempted to pass the cost of my narration on to the author, this is the response we got:

“I asked for a test version just to hear how he sounds with the book. I wasn’t expecting an invoice for the test or I would have had him reread it with changes until it was a finished to my satisfaction. I am considering him for the full audio, but that phase isn’t ready as of yet. My understanding was this was his bid for the entire project and not something I was paying to test."


Let me offer a handful of observations:

It strikes me as somewhat insincere that a guy who’s a self-made millionaire based on principles of entrepreneurship (as stated in this very book)…is unwilling to recognize the efforts of another entrepreneur in setting a fair price for earnest work.

Granted, there may have been a miscommunication between my friend and the author, and it’s to his credit that my friend is stepping up to offer compensation even though the author is unwilling.

Finally, disregarding the quibbling about whether the narration was an “audition” for the whole book, or verbally-contracted work…an “audition” or “scratch-track” of this length (18 mins) would certainly demand SOME renumeration.  No?


Some voice actors have a hard ‘n’ fast rule about signed contracts, and at least some pay up front.  They say it’s just a matter of time before you get burned.  I haven’t been burned yet, and my business doesn’t have the force of, say, a Jennifer Vaughn or a Harlan Hogan.

How do you, or would you handle this?




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  1. Anthony Mendez

    Sorry about your experience, Dave. However, if you didn’t mention price or compensation from the outset, then that is something to note. Going forward, make sure it *has* to be part of the initial conversation.

    In regard to contracts: Unless it’s a recurring account (imaging, etc.) I have yet to have any formal contract drawn up and have never been burned (I do save email communication however.) A contract is only worth as much as you’re willing to put into litigation. I’m not willing to do that, because unless we’re talking 20K or more, my time is worth more than chasing after a relationship that started off with a negative experience.

    Better to move on. I’d go so far as to say not to do the work if it comes back for the full book. Why? This is someone who doesn’t value your time and craft. Do you really want to work with them anyway?

  2. Dan Nims

    Hindsight is 20-20. I don’t believe you would do an 18 minute ‘audition’ and meet a client’s quick turn-around requirements without expecting compensation. The thought of becoming the voice for the entire project may entice a person to be less meticulous about being ‘up front’ with the fee for the introductory project.

    Maybe you were and the guy who gave you the go-ahead was being duped by his ‘client.’ He may have fully understood that payment was expected but the author reigned him in.

    This incident may speak volumes about how the author of the book went from rags to riches. Perhaps a good title would be ‘Stiffing People On The Way To The Top.’

    Sorry you had to suffer the indignation. Aside from being more specific about what your charges are and getting confirmation that your terms are acceptable, there’s not much more you can do. Just remember this: When ever you work with the public, it’s wonderful. (A little tongue in cheek humor.)


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