Estimating the cost of your next audiobook

Something that many authors struggle with is figuring out if they should be focusing on audiobooks or not. If you have the cash to do it, you can pay for an audiobook without regards to whether it make financial sense or not, but for most of us, we need to know if the potential for a high ROI is there before we pour thousands into an audiobook.

Luckily, it's a fairly straightforward process to figure out if this is something you should be worried about, or if it can go into your "Future Parking Lot" to hang out a while longer. Below is the recommended rule of thumb for making this decision; however, with everything else in life, this doesn't mean it's a guarantee. (Ie, don't yell at me if your audiobook doesn't earn out!)

Let's get going!

Step 1:

First thing you need to figure out is How much will it cost to make an audiobook? There's a formula for this; I'll put it here, but even easier than that is simply scrolling down and using the calculator you find below. No need to do the maths. 😉 But in case you want it for your own needs, here goes:

[word count for book, excluding front and back matter] / 9300 = [How long the audiobook will be] * [per-finished-hour cost for the narrator]

How much should you put into the per-finished-hour (PFH) section? Let's get into that below the calculator...

Audiobook Calculator

Some thoughts to keep in mind for the calculator above:

  • I can't see what you're typing in, so you've got total anonymity (in case you were worried)
  • The word count for your book should only include what's actually going to be spoken aloud by the narrator, so no need to include the preview for the next book or your copyright page or a list of other books written by you.
  • Narrators charge per finished hour (PFH), rather than how long it actually takes them to narrate the book. So even if it takes a narrator 30 hours to narrate your book, you only pay for however long the audiobook itself ends up being. So if you have a 60,ooo-word novel, your novel will end up being roughly 6.5 hours and thus, you will pay your narrator for 6.5 PFH.
  • If you haven't priced narrators before, you may not know what to expect the PFH rate to be. Here's a general price range:
    • $150 for a beginner, newbie, no-experience-whatosever narrator
    • $250 is the bare minimum a member of the SAG-AFTRA union can charge
    • $375 for an accomplished narrator
    • $500+ for a minor celebrity narrator who has their own devoted following of listeners

As you can see, the PFH rate can vary pretty wildly. If you haven't found your perfect narrator yet and are just trying to figure out if audiobooks are even vaguely a good idea for you and your career before you pursue them further, I'd put in maybe $300 or $350 just to see what number that gives you.

Step 2:

The audiobook calculator above tells you how much an audiobook will cost, but not if it's a good idea for you to be pursuing right now. After all, the more established you are as an author, the more likely you are (statistically) to make back the cost of your audiobooks. If your career hasn't grown enough yet, you'd be better off spending that money on something with a faster and higher ROI, like a BookBub or Freebooksy or a PA to help you upload to storefronts or a rebranding of your covers. Authors have pushed super hard to get their audiobooks done before they should have, and spent $2000+ so they could make $10 a month extra. 😬 Don't be that author.

Here's how to figure out if you're at the point in your career where it makes sense for you to be thinking about audiobooks:

  • Look at your income for your latest ebook release
  • Add together the first 30 days of that income from across all storefronts (Amazon, Kobo, etc)
  • This DOES include your preorders, since those drop on day 1 of a new release
  • Pretend for a moment that you have no other bills (isn't that nice?!) Could you gather together that ebook income from the first 30 days and hand it over to a narrator, and pay outright for the narration of that ebook?


Using the calculator above, you can see that a 60,000-word novel with a narrator that costs $350 PFH ≈ $2250.

Looking at the first 30 days of income for your latest release, you see that you made $2100 across all storefronts combined together. You're a little shy of $2250, but honestly, you're probably close enough to start looking seriously at doing audiobooks.

Remember, this is an estimate, not a hard-and-fast rule. What we're trying to avoid is having an author make $900 in release month but still think they should be paying for a $2250 audiobook.

There are much better places to be putting $2250 in this case, I promise.