The Ingenium Books Podcast: Author. Publisher. Changemaker.

Narrating Your Own Audio Book with John Wagner-Stafford

August 25, 2021 Ingenium Books Season 1 Episode 32
Narrating Your Own Audio Book with John Wagner-Stafford
The Ingenium Books Podcast: Author. Publisher. Changemaker.
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The Ingenium Books Podcast: Author. Publisher. Changemaker.
Narrating Your Own Audio Book with John Wagner-Stafford
Aug 25, 2021 Season 1 Episode 32
Ingenium Books

Audiobooks have been gaining steadily in popularity, which means every author should be asking themselves: is producing an audiobook right for me? And if the answer is yes, how? Do I narrate myself? Do I set up a home studio? All the considerations are explored in this episode. I have the pleasure now of introducing the better half of Ingenium Books: my co-founder, John Wagner-Stafford. John’s entire professional career has been working with and in audio: first as a professional musician; then as sound engineer and audio producer for music, film, television, and video games; and now he leads all of our work on audiobooks at Ingenium Books. 

Support the Show.

Thanks for listening! Find us wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (@ingeniumbooks) or visit our website at


Show Notes Transcript

Audiobooks have been gaining steadily in popularity, which means every author should be asking themselves: is producing an audiobook right for me? And if the answer is yes, how? Do I narrate myself? Do I set up a home studio? All the considerations are explored in this episode. I have the pleasure now of introducing the better half of Ingenium Books: my co-founder, John Wagner-Stafford. John’s entire professional career has been working with and in audio: first as a professional musician; then as sound engineer and audio producer for music, film, television, and video games; and now he leads all of our work on audiobooks at Ingenium Books. 

Support the Show.

Thanks for listening! Find us wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (@ingeniumbooks) or visit our website at


Introduction (various voices)  0:03  

Welcome to the Empowered Author podcast.

Discussion, tips, insights and advice from those who’ve been there, done that, helping you write, publish and market your nonfiction book.

Being an author is something that you’ve got to take seriously. 

I’m proud I’ve written a book.

What does the reader need, first? What does the reader need, second?

What happens if you start writing your book before you identify your “why”? What’s the

problem with that?

You’re an indie author, you take the risk; you reap the rewards; you are in charge of the decisions. You’re the head of that business. 

Every emotion you’re feeling when you’re writing is felt by every other writer.

The Empowered Author podcast. Your podcast hosts are Boni and John Wagner-Stafford of Ingenium Books.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  0:53  

Hello, today we are talking about audiobooks. Audiobooks have been gaining steadily in popularity, which means every author should be asking themselves: is producing an audiobook right for me? And if the answer is yes, how? Do I narrate myself? Do I set up a home studio? All the considerations are explored in this episode. I have the pleasure now of introducing the better half of Ingenium Books: my co-founder, John Wagner-Stafford. John’s entire professional career has been working with and in audio: first as a professional musician; then as sound engineer and audio producer for music, film, television and video games; and now he leads all of our work on audiobooks at Ingenium Books. Welcome, John. 


John Wagner-Stafford  1:45

Thank you very much. Happy to be here. 


Boni Wagner-Stafford  1:48

Yeah. So the first question is, how do I know if an audiobook is right for me and my book?


John Wagner-Stafford  1:59

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I don’t think many authors – or all authors – when they’re writing a book, think about an audiobook to begin with and might not consider that it’s either right or wrong for them. I think there’s two sides or two, two things to be considered. One is, who are you? Are you the type of person who likes to get involved with the technical aspects and the recording and the management of all this? Or are you the type of person who prefers to just have someone do things for you? Because that will affect your efficiency, your effectiveness and the pleasure that you have working with an audiobook. And all this is to say that, because audiobooks, which we’ll talk about in a second, are so big in the industry and the industry is growing so quickly that I would ask the question, why would you not do an audiobook regardless? Because there are many ways to do the audiobook.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  2:54  

Yeah. And that’s where I was going with the question is, should I do an audiobook? Not how to do an audiobook but should I? Meaning, is there a market? Is – are people consuming my kind of book? That’s really where I was going.


John Wagner-Stafford  3:08  

Is that – is your book ready for the marketplace? People are listening to audio content all over the world. If your book is a poetry book, are people listening to poetry? Is it a nonfiction book, people are certainly listening to help self-help and nonfiction books. And fiction: people are listening to fiction all over the place. So I think, you know, an audiobook – almost regardless of the type of book you’re writing – is a good thing to do.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  3:36  

Yeah, I think it’s related to the fact that it’s the on-the-go consumption of multimedia content, really, is what’s driving and fuelling the growth in the consumption of audiobooks. It’s the lifestyles that we have in advanced economies – like Canada, US, you know, Europe: those countries – where, whether we’re commuting, whether we’re travelling, we’re on the go, we’ve got headphones in, we are consuming digital content, including audiobooks. So I think the answer is, should you do an audiobook? Yes. If you have – if you’re an author and you’ve published a book, you should probably do an audiobook. So to get at how big the market is: I know that you’ve got some numbers. Like how big are we talking for the global audiobook market?


John Wagner-Stafford  4:37  

For the global audiobook market, in doing a little bit of research before this podcast, I was reading and discovered that the global audiobook market this year, right now is worth, in dollars, 4.8 billion US dollars. There’s that much product being bought and sold in – around the world today. And that number – the global number – is set to grow in the next eight or nine years, from 4.8 to 19.8 billion: that’s like quadruple the amount of dollars being spent and traded in audiobooks. So there’s no scarcity of interest from the world to be listening to audio content and, in particular, audiobooks.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  5:29  

Very, very interesting. Now, I know that there are in many – in many ways, there’s more granular statistics available specifically in the US market. So if we talk about America and Americans, how many Americans are listening to audiobooks?


John Wagner-Stafford  5:49  

There are about 193 million Americans over the age of 12 – because those are the people who have been surveyed and studied, if you will – who are listening to audio content. And a large number of those – 131 million Americans – are listening to audiobook content, which is just phenomenal when you think about it.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  6:13  

Yeah, that’s a huge swath. Okay. So the market is there; our lifestyles are driving us to want to consume audiobooks. Okay: I’m an author; I have a book; let me – I want now, I want to get my book into an audiobook. What are my options? So how – what are the ways that I can get my audiobook produced?


John Wagner-Stafford  6:33  

And that’s another great question. And this, you know, this comes to is an audiobook right for you? Well, here’s part of the answer is, you know, how do you get it produced? There are three main ways that you can do your audiobook. The first one is do it yourself, which we talk a lot about, in Episode 18, yeah, of our podcast. So you can go and listen to Episode 18 to learn a lot more about the do-it-yourself. Then another way to do it is to hire a narrator-slash-producer: someone who has the experience with voicing and voices and reading and will prepare the audiobook – read the audiobook, prepare the files for you, and send those files back to you. And the third one …


Boni Wagner-Stafford  7:18  

Can I just pause you there for a second? 


John Wagner-Stafford  7:20



Boni Wagner-Stafford  7:21

And this is to, to cut there. So then I want to make sure that I’m understanding the differences here that – so DIY is narrate and manage yourself. Number two, hire a narrator and manage the process yourself. 


John Wagner-Stafford  7:39

Yes, because …


Boni Wagner-Stafford  7:40

And number three is a partner. So number two, hire a narrator, they’re not going to – they’re not – it’s just somebody to narrate. You still have to manage the process yourself, right?


John Wagner-Stafford  7:50  

Yeah. And – but the narrator will do a lot of what needs to be done in terms of editing, pacing, preparing the audio files to be sent to the distributor. Once you get the files in hand – which I’ll talk about in a second – once you get the files in hand, then…


Boni Wagner-Stafford  8:10

Then you start to manage all that.


John Wagner-Stafford  7:11

Then you still need to manage that yourself. 


Boni Wagner-Stafford  8:14

Okay, I understand now. 


John Wagner-Stafford  8:15

Yeah. And then the third way is to work with a partner. And that partner might be a publisher; it might be another audio producer. And they would guide you through everything that needs to be done. Working with a partner, you could also narrate yourself or you could hire a narrator. That that’s still an open option. You might not have the right voice; you might be too shy; you might not have – you might not be the right person to narrate your own book. But the partner will help you to organize that, find the right voice, make sure that the costs are well determined and laid out and you know where you’re going, and you have confidence that it will be done professionally. And thoroughly.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  9:03  

So one of the differences in my understanding is – and I’ve got this noisy guy driving by if you can pick up that external sound but – when, if you’re not using a publishing partner for your audiobook – so you’re sitting in the driver’s seat in terms of choosing your narrator – there are things that you’re going to want to articulate and ask about. And if you’re hiring, you know – and there’s places you can go to hire a narrator who’s going to record and give you almost publish-ready files but they’re not all created equal – what are some of the things that authors can both listen for and watch for so they know what to ask for when they are hiring someone to narrate their book?


John Wagner-Stafford  9:57  

Yeah, so there’s got to be a fit, I think, first of all. The narrator needs to understand the story: needs to be connected with the story, I think, in some way, shape or form. And understand, you know, what you’re trying to say to your audience. And then they will, while they’re speaking, adopt that character, if you will. So you need to be clear with them about what the character is who’s telling the story: it might just be, you know, a third-person narrator; it might be – in the case of one of our authors, we had a character which would be somebody speaking in the voice of her father. So there was a bit of a characterization that needed to be done. So you need to ask and be aware of the narrator being able to do that and understand your story: that would be one really important first stepping stone. Then another would be professional narrators are – will be – conscious of the pacing and the, what we call the DB: how quickly, how slowly things get read. You need to make sure that they’re aware that you’re aware that that needs to be taken care of. And when you listen back to either the samples that the narrator gives you – because you will ask for samples before you hire anyone – you listen for how quickly they’re reading, if their inflections are positive or negative in the right places, if the level of excitement is in the right place, et cetera, because that really helps to tell the story. Another thing also would be just knowing that the narrator has the experience to prepare the audio files as they go along. There are a couple of ways to do this: the narrator could read through the whole book and then come back and edit afterward, which is not the recommended way when you’re a solo person doing this. So that you want to make sure that you understand their process: and a better process for a narrator to adopt – in most cases; not in all cases – would be as they’re reading, they’re editing, they’re taking care of the pacing, so that when they’re finished with the chapter, it’s done, it’s clean and it sounds great. So being aware of that need coming from a third party or narrator is important. So you’d be asking questions like that. 


Boni Wagner-Stafford  12:29

What about accents? 


John Wagner-Stafford  12:32

Accents are really important: accents and pronunciation of words. I mean, we deal with that all the time: British pronunciation versus American pronunciation. So …


Boni Wagner-Stafford  12:41

Canadian pronunciation, yeah. 


John Wagner-Stafford  12:44

Yeah. So if the story requires. I don’t think in nonfiction, in particular, you don’t necessarily need to get into too many characterizations: you don’t want to be throwing, you know, a young female and then an older dad in and a mom and – you don’t need to get into that kind of thing. But you do need to pay attention to consistency: the pronunciation of the words that are delivered to the reader, the market who’s going to be listening to this. So if you’re – if your story is directed toward an American market, let’s say, you’re not going to be using Canadian or UK pronunciations for some words.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  13:28  

And I guess that depends too on – you know, I’m thinking of a scenario where let’s say it’s a UK author writing nonfiction but they are targeting – for whatever reason and so hypothetical – they’re targeting an American audience. So it’s, you know, is there really a right or wrong answer? Is it choosing a narrator that has the UK accent and the UK pronunciation or because the book is written for the American audience? You don’t necessarily need to have a narrator who emulates the native accent of the author; you want a narrator who is going to read the way the American consumer wants it. I guess that’s always the decision. 


John Wagner-Stafford  14:12

Yeah. And I guess, you know, there might be two sides to this but often, you know, to us North Americans, a British accent is a little romantic, just like a French accent might be a little bit romantic. So you might want that aspect. But if your audiobook is taking place in a certain time period, located in a town in, you know, the central US, the British accent might not play the right role at that point. So these are all considerations that you need to ask yourself and maybe ask your narrator or the partner you may be working with.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  14:50  

Yeah. And it does speak to your point: it does speak to the importance of making sure that you’re listening back. And we narrated an audiobook recently. We – I narrated it and you produced it for one of our authors, C.A. Gibbs. She’s American; she lives in the Pacific Northwest. I thought I was pretty comfortable with how the Americans in the Pacific Northwest pronounce words but she was like, “No, you said ‘mum’; we say mom,” and you know, little things like that. So it’s really important to listen back carefully so that you can do the pickups.


John Wagner-Stafford  15:24  

Yeah. And you know, that’s an aspect of quality control which needs to exist, whether you’re doing it yourself, whether you’re hiring your narrator or working with a partner. There needs to be this, these checks and balances and certainly a listen-through because there are going to be mistakes that are not evident to somebody in the heat of the moment, necessarily, but when you have a little bit of distance – a day or two or a week – things become clearer. And you’ll hear that that pacing wasn’t right or the S wasn’t long enough or the word wasn’t pronounced correctly. So that quality control and a listen-back to create a list of edits – or pickups, as we call them – is a pretty important step to make a high quality audiobook.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  16:13  

Yeah. So and just to remind our listeners that we’re talking, there’s three ways to produce an audiobook: you narrate it the DIY route, which is you narrate and produce yourself; and then hire a narrator; and then the third one is to use a partner. We’re not talking very much about that DIY route because we have a whole podcast, Episode Number 18, that talks about how to narrate your own audiobook. So we go into all that detail: if you’re interested in learning more and hearing more about that aspect of it, check out Episode 18. But so we’ve talked now about hiring a narrator and managing production. What about using a partner? What are the advantages to using a partner – an audiobook publishing partner – that would manage the entire process?


John Wagner-Stafford  17:07  

Yeah, I think there’s some obvious advantages: one, number one being, you can put the confidence in that person or entity to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of because they’re experts at it. So you have a lot less of the day-to-day little things that need to get done. First of all, you probably don’t know all that needs to be done in the first place. So you would probably be learning as you go and then maybe missing some things. Well, a partner – the right partner – will not be missing those things: they’ve done this before; they know what they’re doing. They know that you need to have the end set at the book; you need to have the author’s name and the narrator’s name at the beginning of the book. They know what the book – the audiobook – cover needs to be. They know all these details. So that goes very quickly in terms of getting all that stuff done and specked out. And then working with a partner, you get their buy-in to the projects. So a little bit of a difference: a narrator, most of the time, is work-for-hire. Some of them work for royalties but that’s not the norm. The work-for-hire, they’ll just do what they’re told and they’ll get it done. Whereas a partner usually has a vested interest in the, in the sale and the profitability of the audiobook. So they’re going to be making sure – because they’ve got this vested interest – that it’s being done well and being done right. And they’ll be questioning everything that needs to be questioned to make sure that they’ve got a quality product out there that’s going to be well received by the target audience.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  18:53  

Yeah. And I think they’re – you know, there are, there are a number of narrators and a number of authors who are choosing to do that royalty split. And so there is an aspect of partnership there. I think the key difference, when I think about it – and you know, that helps to bring the out-of-pocket cost down for the author and delays the remuneration for the narrator and makes them reliant on the sale. So in that aspect, they are – they do have a shared interest in the outcome. But I think it’s the difference: it’s the project management difference, really, and how much hands on do you want to be and how much do you want to be responsible for all those other little details.


John Wagner-Stafford  19:41  

Yeah, I mean, we just went through an experience where the author wanted to narrate the book herself, which was appropriate. And, you know, as we speak about in the DIY episode, there’s lots of things that you need to do and get set up to narrate your own book. And if you don’t want to do that or go there, then you need to hire a studio to do that. Now that – your partner might be residing in the United States or in Canada or Europe or Mexico or whatever. So you know, they’re not going to know necessarily the local studio that’s beside you. But there will be a local studio and they’ll help you to identify that this local studio knows what they’re doing, speaking the right language and help you, help to articulate to the studio your needs for precision and quality. Like, you know, we need to know that that studio and the people in that studio can give you good voice-over direction or voice direction. We need to know that they will recognize that you didn’t pronounce that word correctly or that you sounded tired during the last sentence. There’s a really important aspect of voice direction that a studio or an engineer will bring to it. And your partner will help you to identify that and make sure that the studio that you might end up working in, has those qualities.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  21:17

Because they’re not all created equal. 


John Wagner-Stafford  21:19

They are not all created equal – as we’ve recently learned and we know that. And a narrator – a good, professional narrator – has that experience in hand already. So they require a lot less direction because they’re used to, in many cases, self directing. But even then, they need to be, you know, checked as well. So …


Boni Wagner-Stafford  21:41  

Yeah. And I just was realizing that’s another aspect: if you have a partner – a publishing partner – that’s producing your narrator – excuse me, producing your audiobook on your behalf, they also manage the whole audition process: going out and you know, doing the pre-listening to the voices that might be a match. You know, I’ve seen you listen to dozens of samples before you even request an audition. So if the author is trying to manage that themselves and choose their narrator, that is – all that’s on them. And you produce a shortlist, if you will – we have these voices that we think are appropriate, you know – have a listen, and that sort of thing. So I’m just being conscious of the time here. One of the things that contributes to the decision as to whether or not you and your book are right for an audiobook, revolves around cost. This is not a cost free initiative. And, you know, the DIY is often the least cash out-of-pocket but even that is not cash out-of-pocket. But let’s talk about the cost of producing an audiobook for the moment. We have industry standard. If it’s hiring a narrator, we have a range, I think. Is that per hour?


John Wagner-Stafford  23:02  

Yeah. And there are two factors that you need to consider and be aware of: the one factor is, how long is your audiobook? And that’s generally determined with a number of, let’s say, 9,300 words per hour. So somebody who reads a book or who is narrating will read 9,300 words in an hour. You’re reading a book; you’re reading out loud; the average sale of an audiobook, et cetera, et cetera, as you’re reading with the proper pacing, it’s about that. So depending on the amount of words you have in your book, if you’ve got 35,000 words and 9,300 are read every hour, your book is going to have a duration – the finished product will have a duration – of about 3.7 hours. Narrators, when you hire a professional narrator, will generally charge you per finished recorded hour. So – and that range could be for anywhere from 250 US dollars, to 600 US dollars.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  24:08

Or even more.


John Wagner-Stafford  24:09

Or even more. It really depends on the reputation of the narrator, the experience and you might need a special character and a special name narrator that you want. You know, if you want a celebrity to narrate your book, it’s going to cost more. I remember with one of our authors, we were looking out for a celebrity name and it was going to cost us, I think it was like 1,200 dollars an hour.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  24:38

I think it was 2,500 an hour.


John Wagner-Stafford  24:39

2,500 dollars an hour, so – and that’s okay if that’s what you need and want for your audiobook. That’s just fine. So those costs are the two major considerations. And for a narrator. I’m just reading a few things here. Yeah.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  25:02

So … 


John Wagner-Stafford  25:03

And then …


Boni Wagner-Stafford  25:04

Yeah, those – I’m just filling in the blanks there for you, is the – so the cost of producing could involve the narrator; it could include your own time; it could include purchase of equipment, if you’re doing any kind of self-narration – again, we go into that in that other episode – and there could be partner management fees if you’re working with the publishing partner. But I think the main thing is that it’s not cost free. And that it’s similar to considerations when you publish a book: you want it to be professional. You know, people are not going to have a good listening experience if it is not professionally narrated and properly edited and produced. So you really want to think about that. Once those things are taken care of, though, there is a potential ROI because the market is big.


John Wagner-Stafford  25:55  

Yeah, the market’s huge and you know, the sale of the audiobook is important, just like it is with your book. And after spending the years that I have working with you, as a publisher, Bonne, we know very well that to sell a book – whether you are, you know, writing and publishing, self-publishing; whether you’re working with a hybrid publisher or with a traditional publisher – you need to be fully engaged in the marketing and the sale of your book. If you’re not, then you’re not going to have the success that your book and your story deserve. 


Boni Wagner-Stafford  26:36



John Wagner-Stafford  26:37

That carries over into your audiobook as well. Because it is it is a continuation of your book. It is the same similar marketing effort. It is your story.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  26:48  

Yeah, in a sense, the question really, it’s like, “Well, do you have a paperback?” “Yes.” “Do you have an ebook?” “Yes.” “Do you have an audiobook?” “Yes.” It’s like it’s producing your book in another format so that your reader – your, that ideal reader that we talk about – can consume your intellectual property in the way that suits them the best and so then, yeah, it’s about your engagement with marketing. What – we’re just got our last couple of minutes here – but what do audiobooks typically sell for? How do you go about pricing?


John Wagner-Stafford  27:24  

Yeah, so there’s quite a range of prices but an average audiobook on Amazon, for people who are subscribers to Amazon, let’s say – which is the largest distributor in the world of books and audiobooks – is about $14.95. So 14.95, that’s kind of the average price of a book, an audiobook. Amazon will pay out from that 14.95, depending on the deal you have with them, either 40% of that sale or 25% of that sale. So talking about return on your investment and the money that’s coming back to you, so you would be getting 40% of the $15, let’s call it.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  28:08



John Wagner-Stafford  28:09

If you have an exclusive deal with Amazon.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  28:11

And you mean ACX?


John Wagner-Stafford  28:13

Yes, audible. Yeah. Audible, which is run by Amazon. And ACX is also Amazon. So yeah, it’s all the same thing. Yeah. And so that’s kind of the return that you get. And this is just kind of baselining it all. Because one of the strategies that we adopted at Ingenium Books is distributing wide, so you’d be selling your audiobook with Amazon or through Amazon using ACX or Audible – their audiobook arm – but you’d also send it off to Findaway Voices and Author’s Republic so that you’re reaching the broadest amount of potential readers and listeners.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  28:54  

Yeah, those are those are just avenues to places where the end consumer can find – so whether it’s the library or the, you know, the bookstore or – because everybody’s kind of getting in the business of selling these audio products to the end user. So it’s about distributing it to wherever people are buying audiobooks: making sure that those people have access to them. Well, this is really interesting. And we know that they’re fun projects. And we didn’t even get into how fun it is to go through a narration of your book because you see all kinds of different things that you didn’t see when you were doing your edits and your proofread. Reading it out loud is a really good way to catch other little things that you don’t see. But that’s another – we’ll probably talk about that in Episode 18. And our thanks for the patience of our listeners in us continually talking about what we’re not talking about in this episode, as we do talk about how to narrate your own audiobook in Episode 18. But I promise we do talk about it over there in Episode 18. So John, wanted to thank you for taking time out of your day and talking about all things audiobooks. And I know that we have another episode planned with you in the near future where we’re going to talk about royalties.


John Wagner-Stafford  30:17  

Yeah, absolutely. My pleasure. And royalties are a lot of fun, too.


Boni Wagner-Stafford  30:21  

Yeah. And any questions that anybody has about audiobooks, we’d be happy to entertain any questions: you can put comments; you can send an email to And we hope you’re going to have fun going out thinking about doing your own audiobook. 


John Wagner-Stafford  30:42

Great. Bye bye, everyone. 


Boni Wagner-Stafford  30:43

Thanks. Bye bye. 

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