A Narrator’s Place in the Voice Over Mansion

by | Aug 8, 2012 | Audiobooks | 5 comments


(A) AudioBooks are what you do as a voice-actor when you can’t get commercial work.

(B) Only the really good voice-actors are the ones capable of mustering the talent needed to complete an audiobook.

(C) AudioBooks don’t pay well, but they’re much more fulfilling to the actor within you.

(D) AudioBook narrators are not true voice over talent…they’re not voicing “over” anything.  They’re storytellers!

(E) The time spent vs. pay received in producing an audiobook means it’s more pro-bono than professional.


I’m not interested in how you answered the above questions, but I hope it made you think.



While a voice actor has scores of possible applications for his/her voice…I still see the entire population of voice actors being divided into two camps:  short form and long form.

Most of those who are making their career in :30 or :60 spots or :10 promo’s and movie trailers can’t fathom how someone would sit in front of a mic for hours at a time, day after day for weeks to finish a book that results in 11 hours of voice product.  I don’t care if you’re Simon Vance, Tavia Gilbert, or Scott Brick…you’re not being paid $1200-$1500 for every 30 seconds of finished copy…instead, you’re maybe getting $450-$500 per finished hour.  The math doesn’t even compare!!

Wouldn’t we all rather voice a :30 National TV spot under a union scale contract, and go play with our kids or go see a movie after half-an-hour in front of the mic?

So who’s smarter?…or who’s more talented…or who’s crazier?…or who’s more dedicated?

Nobody.  Everybody.



The fact is, in the huge Voice-Over Mansion of opportunity, AudioBook narration is long-format (a distant cousin of E-Learning), and people mostly do long format because….it fits!  It fits their expectation, their talent set, their schedule, and their demeanor.  That wing of the mansion looks and feels different than over there…on another floor…across the hall.

Another fact is that the rat-race of commercial auditioning: slaving over P2P sites, currying Agents, making cold-calls, chasing leads, and suffering the indignity of endless rejection tends to separate out those who can stomach that lifestyle, and those who can’t.

Luckily, it’s a big mansion.

A smaller subset in the Voice-Over Mansion flits comfortably between long and short formats. God bless ’em!  Maybe it’s more people than I thought.



Where did all this ruminating over the haves and the have-nots begin?

I posted a job opportunity on my Voice-Over Friends FaceBook group explaining that a certain audio book production house was seeking narrators immediately for a bunch of work that landed in their lap.  The notice went on to say that the narrator was not expected to edit out breath sounds, pop, clicks, or other anomalies… nor were they expected to master or post-produce the audio.  They WERE expected to return a narration with no false takes, and subsequently correct flubs after a proofer had listened to it.  For that, the narrator would receive $100 per finished hour.

The result?  A reaction of gratitude for the opportunity, matched by an equally abhorrent reaction that this scale was beneath any true professional’s pride.

This is not going to be a blog about pay-scales and what the market allows, or should allow, or shouldn’t allow.

My point is an audiobook narrator BEGINS with an assumption that the work is long, and often challenging, and comes with a per-word pay-off incredibly below that of a commercial voice-actor.  I dare say most don’t approach it with that rubric, though, and hope for the best pay for their best work that the market allows. As they should.

Well, the market allows a different scale than a typical commercial “Voice Over” person.

The audiobook narrators I’ve met this year at APAC, and the Audies, and VOICE2012 LOVE what they do.  They’re fulfilled.  They’re enthused. They’re a subculture, an ethic, and an attitude all their own.

So who’s the better talent?  Who’s making more money?  Who’s more satisfied in their work?

Who cares?

The question is: does it work for YOU?  Are you happy?

It’s a big mansion.




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  1. Mike Coon

    Well written Dave! It IS a big house! …and there are many rooms!

    • CourVO

      You got it, Mike! Thanks for being a regular visitor here…and for commenting.

      Have a great weekend!

      Dave C

  2. Otis Jiry

    It seems that the skillsets involved with audiobook production are greater than other VO fare. If this is so, why does it seem (to me anyway) that so many newbies are directed to audiobooks to get their feet wet in the industry?

  3. amy rubinate

    For me, audiobook narration feels like a calling. I do it because I’m passionate about it, and I’m making a nice living doing it, while fitting in gigs in my short-form career as an animation actor between books. Totally different work with the short and long form, but the ability to differentiate characters and make them sound authentic is essential for audiobooks, so the two careers match in a weird way.

    $100 pfh is a disgraceful rate. The more narrators accept $100 pfh instead of standing up for expecting standard industry rates (well-justified by our professional training and experience) the more things will go downhill in the industry and no one will be able to earn a living at this. We all need have enough respect for our work to hold the line.

    • CourVO


      You grace me with your visit to my blog and commenting! Thanks!

      I agree that $100 is a frightfully low compensation for the narration of an audiobook, but I try not to stand in judgement of those who see things differently than we.

      I, too, find audiobook narrating the most fulfilling of my voice acting work….looking forward to the next book after scarcely finishing the last.

      Write soon, Amy, write often!

      Dave Courvoisier


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