To share, or not to share?

In audio book narration, there are two popular ways that a publisher pays a narrator for creating an audio book, royalty share and a flat rate. The royalty share is pretty self-explanatory: the publisher shares the royalties from any sales with the narrator according to a predetermined schedule defined in the production contract. The flat rate payment is also intuitive: the publisher pays the narrator for the work they do, and the publisher keeps all the royalties generated from the audio book’s sales.

Many new publishers and authors choose a royalty share contract because they can get their audio book produced at no cost and pay the audio book producer from their royalty stream. This can be very lucrative for the producer if the author’s name happens to be something like “King”, “Patterson”, or “Rowling”, but for most books, royalty share deals are often a big gamble with a small pay-off for an audio book producer. Additionally, the author seems uncertain of their book’s quality when they sell their audio book for a share of their royalty payments: if an author believes in their book, it should be in their interest to retain as much of their royalty stream as possible because they’ve written such an excellent book.

Royalty share contracts pose a problem for narrators who earn their living from voice over work because it’s a difficult way to make money on voice over work, but it is a popular choice for small authors and publishers. I believe there probably are profitable royalty share deals out there, but I don’t think that most royalty share deals are profitable.

Edit: I’ve recently heard of one audio book narrator who quit his job on royalty share books, so it appears there are profitable royalty share deals out there. Time to go hunting and find them!

How to…

One of the most-frequently asked questions I get about starting a voice over business is, “How did you learn that?” There is no secret sauce. I learned how to do voice over the same way that you and I learned how to talk: trial and error. Go find a large collection of vocal recordings, like, and start listening! You’ll hone your ear for what kinds of vocal techniques sound good in different situations, and you’ll also learn about how to make a good recording. An obvious but real example is: you don’t want to sound like a sports announcer when you’re reading a novel. You want your voice to match your context.

How do you learn context? Trial and error, and it helps to find somebody who is willing to be your sound board. That way, you can tune your voice to different contexts with less fumbling and better focus. Volunteer for a local radio station, if you have one in your town, or join an improv acting group. Groups like that will help you learn vocal delivery much faster than just talking to yourself, although that can work too.

Sound Booths

One thing every voice over or audio production business needs is a quiet place to record. There are several solutions to this problem. Many companies make different types of sound booths. The problem with these prefabricated booths is their price. They cost thousands of dollars. For a fledgling voice over company, that is a steep cost, although it is essential to have a quiet place to do your work!

If you’re feeling saucy, one way to reduce the cost of a sound booth is to build your own. Fortunately, the Internet is brimming with good information on acoustics and building techniques that you can use to create your own custom sound booth. The company Acoustic Fields has many great videos on the topic, and with a little “Google-Fu”, you can find good information on how to build soundproof walls. Check the websites of building supply companies and standards organizations. With this information you can put together a good design for a sound booth. For example, this video shows a high-quality project. The Booth Junkie YouTube channel also has many good sound treatment ideas that are less ambitious than a complete “room within a room” sound booth.

Save the world, listen to audio books.

I’m reading a book called, Hello World. It’s about the history of design, and how to design well. Good design makes a product desirable, useful, and valuable. Audio books have elements of good design. They help us use our time meaningfully because we can listen to them while we commute or wait. They are easy to transport because we can ship them over the Internet. And their production costs are low, since copying and distributing digital audio files is essentially free. So help save the world, one audio book at a time.