This is definitely one of the questions I get most often.
I don’t know if people are just curious, or if they want to narrate themselves, but I’m always happy to share my story.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how a non-celeb began recording books (and getting paid for it), here’s how…
Back in January 2013
I was talking with a friend in San Diego about translations of books; she had been hired to do a Japanese translation of a successful relationship book.
That reminded me of Chris Guillebeau’s A Brief Guide to World Domination and how there were many translations of the guide, but no audio version: what a missed opportunity!
(If you’d like a copy of this audiobook, it’s over here!)
So with just my friend’s encouragement, I started recording it! While I did study acting in college and knew others who were narrators, I had never done voice work before (which is a whole ‘nother beast vs. stage or film acting).
I guess I had enough confidence (or chutzpah!) to take a crack at this. If it turned out REALLY horribly, I could just shelve it forever.
It took me a LONG time to both record and edit: probably 3-4 months total (which is super slow for one finished hour of audio).
As I was putting it together, I was really pleased with the product. Of course I can be nit-picky, but overall, I was really happy. I shared it with others who were positive, too.
This was something kinda new to me: a creative product that others actually enjoy! WOW! 🙂
Once I was done, I sent it off to Chris, who was very appreciative. I wasn’t seeking payment with this; I was just happy to do it as it was material I really liked, and I enjoy the creative process.
Since that seemed to go well, I then decided to record samples of other guides and manifestos online—usually ones of friends—and send them out in hopes of getting work. While people generally thought it was cool, it didn’t lead anywhere. I tried this for a little bit, and then just stopped pursuing it. Something wasn’t working.
Fast-forward two years later, to August 2015
Within about two weeks, three different people mentioned to me that I had “a great voice.” I’d been hearing that kind of stuff since high school (partly lucky, partly actor training), but I started wondering: am I missing something here? What is the Universe trying to tell me?
Very often, great ideas are right in front of us, but we either gloss over them as being too simple, or just miss them entirely!
I had been working with my friend Warren as kind of a business/happiness coach, and when I posed these questions to him and asked if I should try audiobook narrating again, he had a great suggestion:
Go to Amazon, look at independently-published books that are performing well (high-ranking), make samples of *those* books, and then send them to the authors.
This was genius for two reasons:
- By going the “independent” route, you’re speaking with the sole decision maker (the author), and don’t have to contend with a publishing company and rights.
- By looking at high-ranking books, these are authors that may actually have some capital to throw towards a project like this.
The second item resolved the issue with asking my friends about their (often free) guides: while they definitely saw the value, these guides didn’t generate any money themselves, and so the authors would need to find additional money to cover costs.
With this advice in hand, I immediately started researching authors; I did look at people I knew (would be easier/less stress to write emails to them), and also branched out to related categories. I recorded about 15 demos and sent them out.
14 of the 15 went nowhere. Of everyone who responded, they were very positive about it, thought the pitch was great, and it sounded fantastic, but either it wasn’t something they could invest in, or not of interest.
However, ONE of those demos got picked up for the full audiobook!
Listen to the WSKB sample:
I didn’t know the author at all, but he was really impressed, saw the value of this, and we got started right away. I almost couldn’t believe how “easy” it was (after it not working two years before).
Here’s the super-professional audio booth I used to record that book. Ha.
The good news is I’ve since upgraded.
So, that’s how it all got started. 🙂
If that’s all you wanted to know and enjoyed the story, thanks for reading!
If you have your own service that you’re marketing and looking to get off the ground, I’ve got more…
I continue to make lots of demos and send them out. Most never go anywhere, and like anything, it’s a numbers game: the more you send out, the more likely you’ll get a hit.
Of the first 40 demos I sent out, 3 turned into projects: the aforementioned WSKB, 5000 Words Per Hour, and recording the 2010-2016 archive of Mark Manson’s articles. The Manson catalog was HUGE—not only financially, but a big confidence booster in the early days of this venture that I could really do this and get paid for it!
As of July 2017, I’ve made 160+ demos or auditions, and have narrated 8 books (plus the Manson archive, which would be about another 8 books at the same length of the others).
(If you’d like to hear samples of my work, head over here!)
So a 5-10% return on my investment of demos is pretty good! Not everyone responds to my cold emails, but I have a very high rate there as well (about 60%)—and everyone loves the demo and loves the approach.
Think about it: even though it’s out of the blue, I’m delivering a high-quality sample of their work, showing (with stats) how popular audio is and how it could make them more money, and saying that I can handle *everything* for them. I’m a one-stop shop.
Plus, I’m auditioning for books that no one else is. Sure, there are websites where you can audition for audiobook projects (and I do that occasionally, too), but so are thousandsof other narrators. With this, I’m the only one competing for this project.
If you’ve got something to offer, how can you go about marketing this differently?How can you go after the work that no one else is (but still needs to get done)?
Can you send personalized samples of what you could do? Excerpts or demos?
Not just showing past work (which you can always link to), but actually taking the time to do something *new*.
So many authors thank me for doing just that—they really appreciate that someone has spent the time with “their little baby,” even if they don’t hire me.
With web design work, I’ve taken an existing website and made a “mock” site with current content and a new layout and sent it off to the owner.
Again, not everything turns into a paid project, but it keeps me productive, it keeps me creative, and it has me doing something different that works!
Hope you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane.
If you have any questions, thoughts, ideas, or suggestions about this story or marketing a service, I’d love to hear back from you.
Inspired. I am semi retired and have grown weary of the corporate lifestyle. My love of reading and presentation led me here. Happened to stumble on your blog. It doesn’t present a false narrative or mask the realities of what it takes to get started. It’s doable. Starting from scratch, following your lead. Wish me luck. Thanks!
Glad this helped, Shana! Thanks for letting me know. Lots of good narration advice out there, but the best bit is: just start! PS: I also have a podcast interviewing long-time actors, and there may just be an upcoming interview that would be of interest…stay tuned! 🙂
Nathan what a great idea. Writing authors directly. Can you give me an idea of what you charge?
Also how do you get their email?
Most beginning narrators fall in the range of $200-$400 per finished hour. However, most narrators also need to do the editing and mastering, so be sure you build that into your price. Last I checked, I believe SAG-AFTRA minimums for narrating *only* (nothing else), was around $250 PFH, so to do everything else, you’ll want to price accordingly.
As far as finding emails, there’s a variety of ways: sometimes it’s in the Kindle book, sometimes they have a website, and other times you just have to spend some time on Google – but at a certain point, you may just have to throw in the towel and go to the next book! Good luck.