Beginners 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 with 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 This blog post may go out of date as ACX rolls out new features.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 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
- More options
AKA: Something to connect your microphone to your PC. If you’re using a USB microphone, you will not need an interface. There are pros and cons to using a USB microphone. No interface is one of the big pros.
- Focusrite Scarlett USB Audio Interface (Some bundles come with cords and headphones)
- PreSonus USB (Some bundles come with Studio One software)
- M-Audio AIR
- More options
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. This is one of those places where you’re going to hear any issues with your sound. Don’t skimp if you can.
Comfort is a consideration. You will be wearing these headphones for hours. An extra $20 might be worth it to save your ears some pain and sweat.
Do not use earbuds! Even if they’re shiny high-end ones. You want sound quality that’s better than average at a minimum.
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)
- Acoustic Blankets (build your own booth)
- Stand-Mounted Acoustic Panels (Free standing and easily moved)
- Microphone Shield
Other Studio Gear
- Microphone Stand
- Music Stand
- Memory Foam Standing Mat (comfy and sound absorbing)
- Saddle stool (if you need to sit)
- 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, they 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. Some of these offer free demos for your test drive.
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 audiobook is successful and the author is willing to market the audiobook.
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 Per Finished Hour 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 but you have a slight bonus up front.
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 all have their merits, but, statistically speaking, Per Finished Hour is nearly always the better deal for the narrator. The vast majority of books produced through ACX won’t sell more than 100 copies. These are self-published and self-marketed books. Again, Royalty Share+ helps mitigate those risks. If you factor in zero copies sold and the money you get from the “bonus” is enough for you, go for it.
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. This 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? When you accept a low-ball PFH rate, you’re not only cheating yourself, you hurt the industry as a whole.
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
- ACX Narrators & Producers on Reddit
- ACX Marketplace on Reddit
- Follow Me on Twitter
- Follow Me on Facebook
- Shop For Audiobooks (Support this site)
[Originally published 2015-02-05, Updated 2021-07-27]