The world of audiobooks is an exciting and fast-growing segment of the literary industry. While "books on tape" have been around for years, digital technology and Internet distribution have given the audiobook a new relevance and lease on life. So how do you get in on this? How might someone develop and market the vocal talent for reading audiobooks?
There are several different pools from which vocal talent for audiobooks is drawn. Professional audiobook readers are seasoned actors or vocal performers, so it's a good idea to seek training in these areas. Perform regular vocal exercises and take classes in acting or public speaking to develop an expressive, well-rounded voice. There are even coaches and training facilities that will work with you to develop your voice-over skills for use in audiobooks, commercials and vocal performances.
Audiobook narration is as competitive a field as acting or voice overs. There is a near limitless supply of potential vocal talent to choose from. As with any other acting field, a big part of the work is getting noticed by the right people, in this case authors and audiobook publishers. If you have friends in the literary world who are looking to publish their work through audiobooks, don't be shy offering them a sample of your services. Go to literary trade events such as those held by library associations and book expos and cultivate contacts in the literary world. Don't restrict your networking to authors. You should be making yourself known to the publishers of the kinds of audiobooks you want to be working in. Beggars cannot be choosers, and you should be casting your net as wide as possible. There are limits: if your dream is to narrate romance audiobooks, cold-calling a horror publisher may not be the best use of your time.
Getting your work heard
While the role of networking cannot be underemphasised, equally important is doing good work and making sure it is heard. Record samples of your vocal work in which you demonstrate your dramatic range and ability to pitch to different audiences (children/young adults, literary, science-fiction) If you are fluent in other languages or able to adopt different accents and dialects, make sure to demonstrate this skill. Work to get these samples heard by people at the publishers you wish to work for. There are also talent agencies that manage audiobook narrators. These can help you to develop a portfolio and be heard by the right people.
Making a living
An audiobook narrator is a voice-over artist. Narration work for audiobooks is on par with other voice-over jobs in terms of compensation. The vocal talent agency "Voices.com" puts the standard rate for an audiobook narrator at £195 per session, and £65 per additional hour. There is fierce competition for good jobs. Realistically, an audiobook narrator should be putting her vocal or dramatic training and expertise to use across the discipline of voice-over jobs. Don't expect to be able to make a living for yourself solely as an audiobook narrator before putting in the time to develop your skills and build a profile.