author life,  ramble

Let’s talk audio

When amazon released the kindle in 2007, it changed the face of the publishing industry forever. Within just a few years, it not only established the KDP planform for ebook Indie publishing, but made it a powerhouse for thousands of new authors. Readers rejoiced, as not only could they now read yet undiscovered talent, but also buy a book for less money than a coffee! Having the kindle app on your phone made taking books everywhere easier still. But having time to sit down with a book is still a luxury not everyone has, every day — and this is where audiobooks came in and turned the book world upside down once again.

Audiobooks aren’t a new invention, not by a long shot, but the ease to just download or stream the file that contains the entire book and take it everywhere with you wasn’t possible until the advent of the smartphone. Who can easily carry a box of 20+ CDs or tapes with them? You could, of course, sit down at home and listen, but you could have just as easily read that book directly yourself. Another aspect of the audiobook revolution is that now that they are compressed media files, audiobooks can be made available much cheaper. You just need a server farm and the internet for distribution; warehouses and logistics are a thing of the past. No more possible damage to the goods, less people handling the actual product, and delivery times of seconds rather than days make it easy to cut overhead costs. It only made sense that amazon did for audiobooks what it before did for ebooks (although this time around, they bought the company that did all the foundation building: Audible), and kicked open the doors for us Indies. Again, for the readers that means more content by fresh voices that couldn’t have been heard before.

Now, how does one go about getting their book turned into an audiobook? We have marketplaces for editors and cover artists that we can turn to, and a lot of them work as freelancers with their own websites. But how the everloving f*ck would you find someone qualified to narrate your book, and who also does the sound editing etc? Well, trust amazon to have a platform available for all that as well. It’s called ACX (the Audiobook Creation Exchange), and it works surprisingly well. All you need to do is select your book from the amazon listing, fill out a questionnaire with what you are looking for in a narrator, and wait for auditions. Or you can contact any of the hundreds of narrators who are already working with ACX and Audible, and see whether they will take on your project. Once all the details are hashed out, they record the book, you get to listen to it to proof it if you want, and then it heads into Audible’s quality control. Two weeks or so later, it’s available from amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Just wait for your money to come pouring in!

Well, not quite. There are a few hick-ups along the lines.

  • Quality isn’t cheap. Some narrators are supportive of the Indie cause and give us reduced rates, but having real talent work for hours on your book comes with a price tag. Production is paid for in finished hours of the book, and usually, $200 per finished hour is where rates of tested and tried narrators who know what they are doing start. A 100.000 words long book that has 400 paperback pages will be around 9-10 hours long, so you can imagine that it might be a bit of a struggle to finance that when you’ve just started publishing books. For non-fiction in particular you can get away with narrating your books yourself if you are a good public speaker, with the added benefit of people getting your book told by you, but fiction authors do a lot better with professional narrators. A lot of them do voice acting as well, or are regular theatre actors in stage productions.
  • Sound editing is part of quality, so either you know how to do it, pay a sound editor to do it, or luck out as I did and your narrator already works with a sound editor as a team. Audible won’t accept an audiobook that’s not of stellar recording quality and has been edited.
  • ACX offers two options: pay for production (like I do), or do a royalty split with your narrator. That spreads the risk of the book not earning out quickly, and theoretically invests your narrator in doing some promotions for the book as well, but that also means that for 7 years, 50% of the royalties go to your narrator, but you have no upfront costs. Sounds good at a glance, but if you’re selling enough ebooks to be able to pay for audiobook production, you could expect to earn back your investment from audiobook royalties in about 2-3 years, so you’ll likely make more money if you pay up front. I also feel that’s fairer for both parties: the author, as the licenser of their intellectual property, should be the one earning royalties of their products, while the narrator, a freelancer hired for a job, deserves to get the entire money that was agreed on at once to they don’t have to play the long game. Also, the less people involved, the less issues if you need to make changes or contract clauses become interesting.
  • You also need a cover specifically for the audiobook. Audiobooks are much harder to promote than ebooks as they cost more, and there’s not a lot of promotional activities available. Also, Audible sets the price so I can’t dump the price of the first in series or give it away for free as incentive for people to buy the other books if they loved the first. We do get some promotional codes, but that’s nowhere comparable to running a free promo for 5 days on ebooks on amazon.
  • You have a lot less control about everything else as well, not just pricing. Doing audiobooks hammered down that I wouldn’t be happy as a trad. published author. I love being Indie. A big publisher would have to pay me a LOT to sign a contract to make up for being free to do with my products as I please.
  • The audiobook market has exploded over the past years, and coming in now means having missed out on some pretty sweet deals back in the day. Now, voracious listeners demand audiobooks, and best at the same time as the ebook is released. No can do, folks, sorry! My narrator gets her text the day I upload the ebook, so even with tight scheduling, the audiobook will always be 2 months late — unless I hold the ebook back, and I have no impulse control, so nope. I know that’s disappointing, but I can’t change that at the moment. I’m trying to keep it to no more than 2 months, promise.
  • Amazon pays 70% royalties on ebooks. I get 40% royalties for my audiobooks. Ebooks cost less than $1000 to produce. I’ve paid over $3000 for the audiobook of longest in my series. My narrator deserves every cent, and I get that Audible’s platform has a lot more to handle than amazon’s KDP ebook platform (like 500x the data size) but those are not numbers that make anyone happy. After almost 2 years in the game and 10,000 audiobooks sold, audiobooks are an alternate income stream for me now and I’m close to the last two audiobooks earning out (the other five already have), but I couldn’t live as a full-time writer from what I make from audio sales.

So you see, if you happen to find a new gem in the author pool, now you might get a better idea why they don’t have their books available in audio format yet. It’s always a good idea to let them know if you’d want them, though, so that they know they would have their first audio fans waiting once they made the jump. Going the audio route was, so far, the scariest decision in my author life. I hired my narrator / producer as the third book in my series came out, and ended up paying for five audiobooks within half a year. If sales had tapered off after the release of the 4th book, or worse yet, stopped, I would have been broke, with not much chance to recoup my losses any time soon. Thankfully, I have the best fans in the world who are voracious readers and listeners so I’m not in the comfortable position where my audiobooks pay for themselves and their sequels, which is amazing both from a financial point but also one of my biggest emotional successes. 10k audiobooks in under 2 years. Just, wow. I know that’s peanuts for some of the big shot authors, but I’m not one of those. Yet. Let’s change that, shall we? πŸ˜‰

One Comment

  • Miranda Martin

    As you know I am one of your voracious listeners so I found this most interesting. Your narrator is one of the best I have ever listened to she really brings a book to life, some believe me are dire and the book goes back. Although you can sample a book it’s not until you really get into it you realise it is not working with that narrator. I am more than happy to wait for your narrator to do the books and pay more because they are just SO GOOD.
    This has given me a new understanding of what you have to go through just to get a book out there never mind the writing so thanks and yes, please keep β€˜em coming.

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