Is This Client Nuts? Watch That Word Count!

manywordsOk, you’re signed up with or and a new audition is posted with a budget of $1000.00.  Looks good to me… until you open the project description.  This is someone’s autobiography and it’s 110, 000 words.  Yikes!  That’s less than a penny per word.  Oh, and the author wants edited, mastered, finished tracks.  All of a sudden that 250 word narration for $500.00 looks a whole lot better.  The moral of this story?  Always watch the word count.


ACX.COM Gives us some benchmark numbers.

If you’re interested in audiobook work, then you want to check out  This is the self-publishing wing of  And is the audiobook company of  The nice thing about is that they are very honest and straight forward about the actual time and work required for audiobooks.

How to calculate your reading speed.

With you can reverse their process to obtain the reading speed of a project in “words per minute”.  For example, a typical title on ACX  has a word count of 75,000 words.  ACX estimates the length of the book to be 8 hours.  OK, here goes the arithmetic:

If you divide 75,000 words by 8 hours you get 9375 words per hour.  Then divide that by 60 minutes (in an hour) and voila! You get 156 words per minute.

So if I bid $1000 I can make $1000 in 8 hours?

Hold on a second.  Two problems.  First, you won’t be able to read the book flawlessly straight through.  So it will take more time to read.  Second. you will need to edit the tracks, re-listen to the entire book to make sure it’s ok, and then master the files.

ACX estimates that it takes 6.2 hours of work for each finished hour of an audiobook.  So that’s 8 x 6.2 = 50 hours of solid work.

Here’s the ACX breakdown:

  • It takes about two hours to narrate what will become one finished hour.
  • After the narration is recorded, it then takes an editor about three hours to edit each finished hour of recording.
  • And then run a quality control (QC) pass over the finished project. This means spending time re-listening and suggesting words, sentences, or sections to re-record. And that takes about 1.2 hours for every finished hour.

In my experience this actually takes much longer.  So when you earn your $1000 you actually making $20 an hour.  Which sucks in the VO business.  And even worse… you are making 1.3 cents (yeah, cents as in pennies) per word!

This is why I avoid audiobooks unless I can make at least $400 per finished hour.  Which is rare on ACX.

So look for projects with small word counts and big money

voices job details word count

Here’s a job with a word count of 397 and a budget range of $250-500. I would bid $350–about $1 per word – graphic from job posting.

I like projects where the word count is less than the dollar amount.  Like “230 words for $500”.  A good rule of thumb is to make at least one dollar per word.  Of course you can relax this a bit… 450 words for $300 is ok.  To quote Phil Hartman’s Frankenstein: Dollar per word … GOOD.  Penny per word BAD.

How to figure the word count

What if they don’t tell you the word count?  You can estimate it with these methods.

  • PAGES-book: There are about 300 words on a typical book page.
    So 120 pages x 300 = 36,000 words.
  • PAGES-Microsoft doc file:  There are about 350 words on a 12 point helvetica Word doc.  So 10 pages x 350 = 3,500 words.
  • TIME-radio commercial 0:60: 120-220 words depending on the speed of the read.  Probably 175 typical.
  • TIME-TV commercial 0:30: 60-110 words depending on the speed of the read. There is often more “white space” in higher end TV. Probably 85 typical.
  • TIME-video 5 minute: 500-900.  Once again, there may be silent space.

And don’t forget the overhead!

Remember, even for a 50 word project you still have to open a file, record many takes until you nail it, edit and clean the final take, master it, export it as a wav or mp3, upload the file and bill the client.  So a 50 word job can take as long to complete as a 300 word job… an hour or more.

So watch the word count when you quote and watch those dollars grow.

I’d rather do three jobs with 250 words at $350 than one job with 2,500 words for $1000.  But use your best judgement.  As you do different jobs you begin to get a feel for the ease of the project versus the amount you can earn.  Work towards short easy jobs that pay big bucks.

You’re worth it!

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