How this 34-year-old mom makes 6 figures as a book narrator: ‘I get to work my dream job from home’

From CNBC:

In 2017, I was 29 years old and making $30,000 a year as a church music director and private music teacher. My husband was a middle school music teacher, and made $48,000 a year.

With two children — both under four years old at the time — and $80,000 in combined student debt, we struggled to keep up with our finances.

But I’m in a much different place today. Switching careers to become an audiobook narrator has changed my life immensely. I now bring in six figures a year, and we have only $10,000 left on our student loans, thanks in part to the student loan forgiveness plan.

I get to do my dream job from home and spend more time with family in our cozy home, perched on a mountaintop in Northern Virginia. Here’s how I did it:

I graduated with a master’s degree in vocal performance in 2014, with hopes of becoming an opera singer. But between the low wages and unpaid artist programs, I started to feel discouraged.

I considered going back to school to study dental hygiene or medical sonography — anything with a decent salary that would better help me support my family.

As I commuted to my church music jobs, opera rehearsals and private lessons, I’d listen to audiobooks to pass the time, often for three or more hours a day. I’ve always been an avid reader, and particularly enjoyed audiobooks. I loved the comfort of a familiar voice keeping me company, telling me a story.

One day, it occurred to me that recording audiobooks could be a real job for me. So on a whim, I Googled “How to become an audiobook narrator.” I learned that audiobooks were one of the fastest-growing mediums in publishing, and that most were recorded by voice actors in professional-grade home studios.

I was thrilled at the idea that all the things I loved about opera — the stories, the acting, the beautiful words — could still be a part of this new career.

When I brought the idea up to my husband, I was nervous about investing money into a brand new business. But he was supportive right away.

So I purchased about $300 of equipment and, in just a few weeks, we set up my first home studio in the hallway closet.

I landed my first few book jobs through ACX, a platform that connects narrators with authors, agents and publishers. I started working with independently published authors, then started traveling to industry events to get my name and voice out there.

In 2020, with the cancellation of all in-person events in the wake of the pandemic, I put my energy into building my Tiktok and Instagram accounts, giving audiobook fans glimpses into my life as a narrator.

I had this vision of showing people how sexy and silly this job can be — and they loved it. As my content went viral, my audience grew. Book gigs from publishers started pouring in like never before.

I used to have to send quarterly emails to producers looking for work. Now producers I didn’t even know were emailing me, mentioning that their friends had sent them my videos. Creating an online presence has been among the greatest things I’ve done for my career.

. . . .

Today, I work about 40 hours a week, divided between recording, office work, and pre-reading and researching upcoming books. But that isn’t all at once, or necessarily in a 9-to-5 schedule. I will often record and answer emails during the day, then prep-read a book in bed at night. 

The flexibility is helpful, because the physical rigors of recording an audiobook can be intense. Usually, for five hours a day or more, I’m sitting sitting completely still in a tiny room, dividing my attention between reading accurately, performing passionately and listening for noises, from outside or inside the booth.

Luckily, my classical singing background trained me to use my voice for long stretches without strain, while still delivering emotion and nuance.

Being in the performing arts taught me how to network, and it also gave me a thick skin, which helped me move on quickly from auditions that didn’t go well, and rejection in general, especially at the beginning.

Link to the rest at CNBC

6 thoughts on “How this 34-year-old mom makes 6 figures as a book narrator: ‘I get to work my dream job from home’”

  1. Hello Natalie, meet Google’s new auto-narrated audiobook service. It sounds fairly human on its beta-launch version. It’s currently free for authors. Which version of it do you think will sadly make you unemployed?

    • The narration feature in the latest MS WORD sounds really natural, too. The only issue I notice is it takes too long a pause after commas. The Kindle TTS is also pretty good.
      Good human readers are still better but the day is coming…

  2. It makes no sense to me to listen to an almost human sounding voice read to me. I want a performance in an audio book (fiction). I think there will be paper books for quite some time and the same for good narrators.

  3. I looked into the google autonarrated audiobook *service*. And it ain’t.
    Not a standalone service even in Google’s betaware universe, but rather it is a *perk* of Google Play ebooks.

    “Get started with auto-narrated audiobooks
    Create an audiobook from an English or Spanish ebook with the auto-narrated audiobook tool.

    You can create auto-narration if:

    You own the audio rights to the title.
    The ebook is written in the English or Spanish language.
    The ebook is in a .epub file format.
    Your account also offers the ebook on Google Play.
    Auto-narrated audiobooks use a digital voice to read ebooks. Auto-narration works best on nonfiction titles. ”

    Auto-narrated audiobooks are available to publishers in these countries and regions:
    New Zealand
    United Kingdom
    United States
    Auto-narrated audiobooks can be sold wherever you have rights to sell the book.”A

    I can’t test the quality, for obvious reasons, but the caveat about “best for non fiction” tells me it is no substitute for the OP lady and likely no better than existing TTS-to-mp3 software that has been around for a decade or more.


    • Speaking of TTS-to-MP3 services and software, here is just one random pick you can test for free:

      Usual Google ME2 effort.

      And no, I’m not a Google fan.
      Not of the company nor its products and only use them when forced to.
      I don’t like their ethics (or lack there-of), their hypocritical politics and support of the CCP or, more relevantly, tbeir lack of stick-to-it-iveness for their own products outside of the ad business. The latter in particular means that committing to any of their betaware that doesn’t instantly result in overnight success will be backburnered in six months and get cancelled in a year or three.a

      If there is any “tech” giant that can be killed by a serious anti-trust effort, it is ALPHABET. Failing that, a next gen “AI” search engine will do the trick. Either way, the time is long past for this ad company in techie drag to be cut down to size, more so than FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

  4. Okay, I tested the link for a passage of fantasy fiction. Nope! Not impressed! Inflection and tone are beyond it, even accounting for the odd way it pronounces some Greek and Spanish (a character is surnamed Saavedra, and a class of magic user is designated by a Greek term). The British version correctly pronounced a Scottish girl’s name (duh), but the American version got it wrong. I was amused at how inconsistently a Latin name is pronounced by “Sally_Female,” but Sally_Female did make an attempt at uptalk in interrogative sentences. She used the uptalk correctly half the time in those instances, but other times it just made me think of a kid learning to read.

    Both versions of the whole passage hurt my ears, but for different reasons.

    You could lose income by employing such a device, simply because the computer cannot match how an interested human talks about anything. However, it does sound natural in the sense of a human-who-is-plodding through the story. If the human is a child and has not yet mastered the art of reading. Plus, as pointed out above, a human narrator would bother to pronounce, say, “bonjour” or “mamacita” with the proper accent even when the rest of the sentence is in English. Whereas the computer doesn’t, at least when you ask it to speak American or British English.

    Sure, the day may come when computers can understand how humans talk, and grasp sarcasm and whispers and subtlety, and convey those in speech. But it is not this day. This day, they are trash 🙂

    Natalie doesn’t need to worry yet. I would still learn about investing and suchlike if I were her, but I would decline to lose sleep over this.

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