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Nathan Agin

You’ve finished your book, and you’re a smart, savvy author who wants to take advantage of the exploding audiobook market — great idea!

Now while many nonfiction authors consider narrating their own book, working with a professional narrator can often be the best approach. Narrators bring a number of skills, not only in the performance of your book (yes, even in nonfiction!), but also in the technical requirements needed to produce a quality product.

For most authors, your time is much better spent marketing your book and writing your next book vs. taking on a whole new career of learning how to narrate, edit, and produce an audiobook.

But how do you proceed? Which contract should you choose? Which one will be the best for you long-term and will yield you the most money?

Let’s dive into the first (and often best!) contract type with narrators…
Pay for Production

This is a “work-for hire” contract, where the narrator is paid “per finished hour” (PFH) of audio, based on the length of the completed audiobook multiplied by the agreed upon rate. A professional narrator will usually quote you $250-$350 PFH.

While the final audio amount is primarily based on the word count, there’s also a narrator’s speed to consider. Just as no two people speak exactly the same way, no two narrators will be the same. Generally, you can expect a narrator to speak at 8000-9000 words per hour. Even knowing the narrator’s speed, the book may end up shorter or longer, depending on the content and what might need to be trimmed, further explained, or removed.

This type of agreement is used by nearly all professional narrators and is best if you want to collect all future royalties and sales of the audiobook. There’s nothing to share with the narrator after production is done.

While more “budget-friendly” options exist, I would strongly encourage authors to find a way to afford a Pay for Production contract, as it is truly a “win-win” for both parties. If needed, crowdsourcing with IndieGogo or Patreon (from family, friends, and even fans of your work) can be a great way to raise the capital needed.

Let’s break down the (simple!) math…

Imagine your nonfiction audiobook is roughly 45,000 words. The narrator estimates the book will be about 5 hours long (based on his speed) and will retail for ~$12 (based on the finished length). He quotes you $300 PFH.

With a Pay for Production contract, you cost would be:

5 hours of finished audio x $300 PFH = $1500 total for the audiobook

With most distributors, you earn 40% of each sale, so you would need to sell 312 copies of the audiobook (earning $4.80 per book) to recoup your initial investment.

Now don’t get “sticker shock”! The PFH rate covers many items, including:

  • recording
  • a check-in sample for you to provide feedback
  • editing
  • any pick-ups or fixes
  • proofing
  • mixing
  • production
  • file delivery

Remember: you’re not paying “per hour”, as with many freelancers, but “per finished hour”. As you can imagine, many hours of work go into *one* finished hour of audio; even with professionals, it can require up to 6 hours to create 1 hour of audio. First time authors-as-narrators might spend *double* that in time, plus all the additional costs of equipment! Now you can see why doing this yourself is no small project!

Narrators often hire additional professionals to complete your project, such as an editor and proofer. The editor handles all the technical requirements of readying your audiobook, and the proofer listens back to the entire project to ensure it’s word-perfect and ready to go!

All of this work is done to save you time. When you receive the completed audiobook, you are welcome to listen, but it is ready to publish. Creating a quality product takes time and expertise, and your audiobook deserves no less.

Is Pay for Production right for you?
The contract you choose may change from book to book or with different narrators. You need to examine the costs, assess the risk, and understand your own ability to market your audiobook. I believe that “Pay for Production” can be very profitable for both narrators and authors: one earns their full rate and the other keeps any and all royalties.

The goal is to find the best narrator possible for your book, and that means considering all options and all costs. Just as authors see the value in great editors and a well-designed cover (and will pay for those services), know that the audio version can impact sales of all formats of your book, in both an upward or downward direction. With so much riding on your success as an author, there’s no need to “cut corners” just to get the audiobook done. Make it count!

Regardless of which contract you choose, always do your homework on the narrator. You are entering into a business agreement and you want to know that this individual can deliver a quality product on-time and on-budget.

Next time I’ll explore another type of contract with narrators: Royalty Share!

Want to avoid audiobook mistakes?

Many authors pick the wrong contract and regret their experience. I hope this helped you know what to do with your book! There are plenty of other traps authors can fall into, so if you’d like to know what to do instead, click below to get my exclusive tips.

I’ll share with you the 7 mistakes that most authors make with audiobooks. Access here.

About the author: Nathan Agin is an actor, online marketer, and audiobook narrator/producer. He has completed over a dozen audiobooks for independent and self-published authors (including Chris Fox, Jim Kukral, Sean Platt, and Johnny B. Truant), as well as narrating 100+ articles for New York Times best-selling author Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck). He also brings 10+ years of web design, email marketing, and social media experience to his work as an audiobook coach and consultant. Learn more at

Nathan recently completed an online teleseminar for NFAA on “Double Your Audience with Audiobooks”. Authority members can login to listen!

If you like this blog post, you’ll love this book: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan by Nonfiction Authors Association CEO Stephanie Chandler!