Newcomers Guide for ACX NarratorsJuly 24, 2019
So, you want to narrate books on ACX? Welcome to the club. The narrators here are a mixed group (skill-wise and background-wise), but we’re friendly enough. Since so many people want to get started narrating audiobooks, we get the same questions over and over. Rather than get annoyed, I’m putting together this unofficial newcomers guide to working with books on ACX.
While not specifically a primer on starting your own podcast, many of the equipment recommendations and tools are the same, so feel free to check that out.
Disclaimer: I don’t work for ACX and they have no input on this blog post. This is all based on the observations made by myself and others while working on ACX. This blog post may go out of date as ACX rolls out new features. If you spot anything that doesn’t jive with what you’re seeing on ACX or have seen in the industry, please feel free to send me a note, either as a comment below or use the Contact form up top.
Go Read the ACX Documentation
No, I’m not copping out, it’s a great place to start. They cover a lot of ground on what they expect from a narrator (or producer, to use their terminology). Once you’re done there, come on back.
Seriously. Go. I’ll wait.
Getting Your Equipment Together
How do I tell if my setup is working properly?
Record yourself with your setup. Do your editing, etc. Listen to it. Now pull down an audiobook from Audible. Does the sound quality match? Probably not. You’ve probably got too much floor noise, mouth noise, breaths, and so on.
ACX has some recommendations for studio gear. But you read that already, didn’t you? A good microphone is an investment. That cheap USB mic you got at OfficeMax/Best Buy/Wal-Mart sounds like crap. Even the best narrator in the world is going to sound terrible on a cheap mic. You’re going to have spend some money. There’s no cheap way around this.
- Rode NT1-A Anniversary Vocal Cardioid Condenser Microphone Package
- Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR
- Audio-Technica AT2020USB PLUS Cardioid Condenser USB
- NEAT King Bee Cardioid Solid State Condenser Microphone with Pop Filter and Shockmount
- Neumann TLM 102
- Blue Bluebird SL+ Bundle
AKA: Something to connect your microphone to your PC. If you’re using a USB microphone, you will not need an interface.
- Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools
- PreSonus Studio USB-C Audio Interface
- M-Audio AIR 192|4
You’re probably going to be doing your own editing to start and you’ll want to listen to yourself. The better the headphones, the more you’ll catch.
- Sennheiser HD 280Pro
- Sennheiser HD 300Pro
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
- Audio-Technica ATH-M70x
- Sony MDR7506
Now, if your space is too noisy, you’re going to have to look into soundproofing and the like. ACX covers that as well (surprise). Basically, you’re looking to surround yourself with sound absorbing materials. At the cheapest, you can use clothing (a closet is not a bad place to start a home studio). As you move your way up, there are foam panels that are specifically designed for studios. Do some searches for DIY home studios for more information.
- Acoustic Foam Panels (walls, booth)
- Stand-Mounted Acoustic Panels
- Microphone Shield
Other Studio Gear
- Microphone Stand
- Music Stand
- Memory Foam Standing Mat (comfy and sound absorbing)
- Pop filter
There’s a lot of debate and discussion on DAW software out there. My advice is: Find the one that works for you. They all do the same thing, just have different ways of doing it. If you already own something and it’s familiar, run with it. If you’re brand-new, try a few out to find the one that’s right for you.
- Adobe Audition
- Avid Pro Tools
- Sony Sound Forge
Royalty Share vs RS+ vs PFH
Royalty Share (RS): You get a portion (20%) of the book sales while the book is on sale on Audible for the next seven years (after that, the Rights Holder can take it elsewhere). You’re paid on a monthly basis based on sales for the previous month.
Pros: Recurring income. Potential for large revenue, if the book is successful
Cons: No guarantee of making decent money. Or any money at all. I’m not kidding, there are Royalty Share books that have sold zero copies even after months of being on sale. You also have no say or control in the pricing of the books. Audible could drop the price and you just have to take 20% of whatever that is.
Royalty Share+ (RS+): This is a (relatively) new critter to ACX. It harkens back to the old days of Stipends. Basically, an author is offering a Royalty Share (see above) plus a bonus PFH rate. That rate is almost always less than a straight PFH title, so you’re still incurring some risk, but not as much as a pure Royalty Share contract.
Pros: Same as those for Royalty Share.
Cons: There’s still no guarantee that you’ll make any royalty money at all. However, because you got the “plus” up front, your risk is less, because you’re still getting paid something for your work, though it might not be as much as PFH.
Per Finished Hour (PFH): The narrator is paid after completing the book based on the length of the finished audiobook. It’s a one-time payment.
Pros: Guaranteed payment of a pre-agreed amount.
Cons: No recurring income. You could miss out on future royalties, if the book is a success.
So which is better?
They both have their merits, but, statistically speaking, PFH is nearly always the better deal for the narrator. The vast majority of books produced through ACX won’t sell more than 100 copies.
But that’s not all. Keep in mind that not all PFH rates are a good deal. Assuming you’re doing the recording, editing, and post-production on the audiobook, you’re looking at 6-8 hours of work per finished hour of audio. That includes pre-reading, editing & mark-up, narration, editing, and mastering. So, if we assume an average of 7 hours of work per 1 hour of audiobook, you get this breakdown:
- $50 PFH = $7.14/hr
- $100 PFH = $14.28/hr
- $200 PFH = $28.57/hr
If you live in the US, taking $50 PFH means you make less than the federal minimum wage. And much less than most states’ minimum wage. Sobering, isn’t it?
Stay Up-To-Date and Get Connected
Seriously, there are some fabulously smart and generous folks in our industry, which is pretty amazing considering we’re all in competition with each other for jobs. Here are some communities to check out and join.
- ACX Narrators & Producers Facebook Group
- Voice Talent Community on Google+
- Audiobook Narrators Club on Google+
- Follow Me on Twitter
- Follow Me on Facebook
- Shop For Audiobooks (Support this site)
[Originally published 2015-02-05, Updated 2020-02-24]