This month I’m embarking on a grand new adventure – putting my books out on audio.
There are a few ways to do this, but there’s really only one game in town if you want wide distribution. That’s ACX, which sells audio books under the audible.com website, as well as under another name that you might be more familiar with: Amazon.
Side note: my iPhone’s speech-to-text translator really doesn’t know what to do when I say “ACX-com.” My favorite transcription? Ineedsex.com. *side-eyes iPhone*
Amazon owns the market for audiobooks distributed online. There are a couple other companies that can help you make them, but none of them has Amazons reach.
The process is pretty straightforward. You create an account on ACX.com, and then you search for your book. The book has to already be on Amazon for it to come up this way, but if it is, it makes the set-up process very easy.
Once you’ve found and selected your book, you’re asked a few questions about the kind of narrator you’re looking for. Do you have a specific gender in mind? A type of voice?
Then you come to the most important part. How the production of your audiobook will be paid for.
Amazon used to offer two options. The first was paid in full, up front, with a pay rate set by SAG-AFTRA – an experienced Narrator will run oyu $150-250 per finished hour.
Just to give you an idea, for my 86,000 word book Skythane, that works out to about 9.2 finished hours. That seems ridiculous, right? I mean, they’re just literally reading your book outloud.
But you have to remember that each finished hour may represent ten hours of work – preparation, recording, rerecording, and mastering your book so it sounds amazing and professional, not to mention all the equipment and the sound room any half-decent narrator needs. These folks are sound wizards.
Unfortunately, the price tag puts audiobook production out of the reach of many independent authors.
Thankfully there’s another option. You can find a narrator who will work with you on what’s called a royalty share – basically doing the book for free, and then splitting any royalties from the book 50-50.
The advantage of the first option is a higher royalty for you – 45% of the total book sales price. The second option gets you just 20% (with 20% going to the narrator), but with no upfront cost.
The downside of the second option is that many more established narrators won’t give your project a second look. As I mentioned above, audiobook production is a laborious thing, and spending tens of hours on your book if it’s only going to sell 20 copies just doesn’t pencil out.
Some narrators are willing to negotiate a hybrid option, where you pay them a share of your royalties and a flat fee to help defray production costs. This fee is often based on a per finished hour rate that’s often much lower than you would pay up front.
Amazon has now formalized this option as “Royalty Share +.” The advantage here is that you have access to more willing narrators than you would with just the royalty share option, at a much lower cost than you would pay if you were going for freight. But it’s still going to cost you more than flat royalty share.
A couple years ago I put the River City Chronicles up on ACX as simple royalty share, and didn’t get a single bite, in part because the book’s sales wouldn’t support it, and in part because it was 100,000 words long – a lot of work for someone to take a chance on.
The site also asks for an audition script – generally 1-2 pages of the book that the narrator can read to give you an idea how they will handle your various characters and what they sound like. Be sure to pick a section or sections that showcase the various character voices, and provide some short notes about what you are looking for accent wise, etc.
I currently have two ACX projects going. One is for the novella Cailleadhama that I’m doing at full cost – sort of my dip my toes in the water project. That one is almost done, and should release soon.
The other one is The Stark Divide, book one in the Liminal Sky: Ariadne Cycle trilogy.
Once you put your work up on the site, you can either approach individual narrators you’re interested in and ask them to audition, or they can find your work themselves and send in addition.
Side note: if you have a particular narrator you want to work with, you can always approach them outside of ACX, and if they say yes, you can then use the ACX system to request them specifically when you are entering the book info, bypassing the audition process.
I put the Stark Divide one up as Royalty Share+ on ACX, and within 48 hours I had a dozen auditions. Some were from very experienced narrators, while others were from folks newer to the field who were willin to offer a lower pfh price in exchange for getting to narrate the book.
This is where it gets fun. Voices are very subjective. I had an idea what I wanted… something not too deep, with a bit (but not too much) personality. As I listened to the voices, some of them were too deep and serious for what I was looking for – I call them Moviephone voices. Some didn’t sound seasoned enough yet. Of the dozen or so I received, four sounded like they would work for what I wanted.
You can download the audition files, so I did so and ran them by a few friends – authors and readers – and eventually narrowed it down to two. The one I finally chose has a great voice, and is also bring a sound design background – think ambient noice – to the project that I really like. And the rate worked out for both of us.
We’re going into production now, and the sample he sent me (the audition plus sound effects) has me over the moon.
I’ll probably end up using different narrators for different things. I also really like the guy who is doing the novella for me, and I have something in mind for my other top choice from this round, if he’s interested.
So what happens when your book is done?
That, my friends, is a topic for a future column.
To my writing friends – do you do audios for your books? If so, did I get anything wrong? Any tips or other info to add?