On Producing My Own Audiobook

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We all know audiobooks are booming. As reported by Forbes:

The publishing industry’s 2018 year-end results are here, and audiobooks did astoundingly well. According to the Association of American Publishers, which collects and reports on data shared by many publishers across the country, estimated publisher revenue for downloaded audio increased 28.7% over 2017. Downloaded audio was worth an estimate of 13.7% of publishers’ online sales.

Downloaded audio has long seen increases of this magnitude; the 2018 report reiterates this, estimating that publisher’s revenues in the category grew 181.8% from 2014 to 2018.

This growth, too, is continuing into 2019, which has already seen massive increases: in the first three months of this year, downloaded audio revenues increased 35.3% over the same period last year.

While the industry as a whole is seeing much more modest increases (or, in some categories, small decreases), audiobooks have a ways to grow, providing publishers with an exciting market for many months to come.

And an exciting extra income stream for authors. As many of you know, Amazon offers indie authors an audio platform called ACX. It’s like Kindle Direct Publishing for spoken-word books. ACX was developed by Audible, which was purchased by Amazon in 2008.

Thus: audiobooks created on ACX are sold on Amazon.com, Audible.com, and iTunes (which will soon undergo a transition).

ACX is extremely easy to navigate. For the overwhelming majority of indie authors it is a way to hook up with voice talent for audiobook narration. Here’s an overview of the process. There are two types of deals you can make with the narrator/producer: 1) royalty sharing; 2) cost per-finished-hour.

With the former, you share the royalty with the narrator. ACX pays out a 40% royalty (of the retail price), which you then split with the narrator. [NOTE: This 40% is if you are exclusive with ACX and not distributing elsewhere; if you go non-exclusive, the royalty drops to 25%]. You audition narrators via the ACX dashboard and there’s plenty of talent out there. Like a fellow by the name of Basil Sands who drops by TKZ on occasion.

With option #2, you pay the narrator/producer per finished hour (PFH) for their time and effort. In return, you keep all the royalties. This of course involves a hefty up-front cost. Let’s say you have a 10 hour book and the narrator charges $400 PFH. That’s four grand out of your pocket before you start selling. Just remember to think in terms of sales over years, not just months. You can certainly find excellent voice talent out there. One way to do this is to listen to audio samples on Amazon or Audible of books in your genre. When you find a voice you like go to the narrator’s website and make contact.

I opted for a third way—producing and narrating my own books. Why? Because I’m cheap. Also because I spent a good part of my early years developing my voice for stage and television commercials. Why let the pipes that once proclaimed, “What from the cape can you discern at sea?” in an Off-Broadway production of Othello go to waste?

My big hangup was the technical aspect. I didn’t have a recording studio or sound equipment. I could rent a studio and engineer, but once again…cheap!

So I did some research and found I could put together a workable mini-studio right on my desk. The two main pieces of equipment I needed were a good microphone and sound panels—that soft, foamy material that usually covers entire walls. I found a small, adjustable “sound shield” for under a hundred bucks and got a Blue Snowball microphone and a foam mic cover to go with it.

Next I needed recording software. I’m a Mac guy and thus already have GarageBand. But how to set it up with the right parameters for ACX was going to be a challenge. I was not at all sure I understood what the heck that entailed.

Fortunately, a gentleman named Rob Dircks has generously made available, for free download, his pre-set GarageBand settings for an ACX book. Thanks, Rob!

Finally, I started narrating Write Your Novel From the Middle and uploading the finished chapters to ACX. I created a cover image (the parameters are square, like a CD cover), and filled out all the metadata. When I was all done I hit publish and waited two weeks for the quality review. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe some technical issue I wasn’t aware of would require a re-work of the whole thing. Ack!

But I passed the inspection. And now Write Your Novel From the Middle is an honest-to-goodness audiobook.

As I mentioned earlier, I am exclusive with ACX because it hits the largest slice of the audio distribution pie and pays a generous royalty. I know there are indies who have gone “wide” via other companies, but that is beyond the scope of my current experience. (Anyone who has info along these lines, please feel free to share it in the comments.)

Is narrating your own books an option for you? Many “experts” warn that authors who are not voice trained shouldn’t make the attempt. I say, “Bosh.” (I don’t say “bosh” often, but when I do, I mean it.) ACX has a helpful video and other info for authors as narrators. It does get easier after you’ve done it once. I’m now prepping How to Write Dazzling Dialogue and it’s like an assembly line of audio chapters. I plan to press on and produce all my books in audio.

In traditional publishing contracts, the audio rights are always defaulted to the publisher, with a clause like: Publisher, at its sole discretion, shall have the right to publish a recorded audio version of the Work, for which the author receives 10-15% of net. I’m no math whiz, but 40% of retail sounds a tad more favorable. If you are going to sign with a publisher, you ought to try to reserve the audio rights and create the audiobook yourself. Especially since hard copies (CDs) of audio are rapidly becoming obsolete. In other words, you don’t need Barnes & Noble shelf space to get the most out of your audio rights.

Of course, retaining these rights is going to be tougher going forward because all publishers know audio is the growth area. Discuss this with your agent. Go for the rights; in the alternative, negotiate a higher royalty.

Just don’t put your head in the sand, because audio is a major part of the future.

So what’s been your experience with audio versions of your books? Have you ever thought about doing it yourself? Have you ever said “Bosh” in mixed company?

7+

2016 Publishing Trends

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

stack-of-books

I recently received an email from a reader fan who complained about not having access to my Amazon Kindle Worlds (KW) digital books in Australia. I’ve heard this complaint before regarding the difficulty of obtaining US books in other countries. You’d think that in this digital world, it would be easier to satisfy markets all over the globe (especially with digital books), but not so. In the case of Kindle Worlds, the division is separate from Amazon and has to build upon its infrastructure and distribution resources. KW will be in Australia eventually—things are changing—but online retailers restrict certain markets because of their selling platform limitations. Yet the world is becoming borderless and more universal, so it got me thinking about trends in the publishing industry that have changed how books are created, marketed, and distributed.

1.) Publishers Optimizing Licensing Prospects – Publishers over the globe are recognizing the value of licensing and holding tightly to the rights they have under contract. Licensing, traditionally a subsidiary rights value, could become a larger contributor to a publisher’s cash flow if the house can expand its reach into the global marketplace. International borders would become less important (not an obstacle) and publishers could expand their reach in creative ways by enhancing the book experience for the reader. Plus, larger houses could continue to acquire struggling mid-sized houses to acquire these rights that they could exploit across the globe.

How can indie authors exploit their sub-rights (ie foreign language translations, audio, film rights, serial rights, and merchandising)? They can either sell those rights themselves, or have an agent do it for them, or exploit these rights on their own, such as audio rights for independent artists and authors through ACX, Spoken Word Inc, and Open Book Audio. If the author controls the artwork for their covers or develops a series logo as a brand, they can control merchandising through service providers like Café Press, Zazzle, and DeviantArt. For foreign language rights, some independent authors have worked directly with translators, offering them nothing up front but with 20% of proceeds on the back end. If you’re not daring enough to go directly to the translators, there are ways for author right holders to be matched with publishers willing to acquire such rights through a site called PubMatch. (Pubmatch is free to join but when I input my profile, they asked for money to be paid annually since I was submitting books for consideration. I paid a nominal fee of 19.99 for a year and will see how things go.) The author would create a profile and either wait to be contacted on their offerings or be more proactive by searching the profiles of publishers listed on the site, similar to the way ACX (for audio) is set up.

2.) The Importance of Local POD Providers – There have been some out-of-the-box thinkers who see the value in “local” print on demand (POD) options as a means to get around the international obstacles of limited selling platforms. My reader in Australia could wait for Amazon KW to expand its reach into the country, or some entrepreneurial company (like a more nimble micro-publisher) could simply place an order at any local POD service providers in various countries to create a bigger marketplace. Could this lead to niche POD companies springing up to support a strengthening print sales demand across the world? Only time will tell.

3.) Print Book Resurgence – It wasn’t long ago that people were predicting the death of the print book, but quite the opposite has happened with stronger print sales being reported in 2015. Perhaps this is because publishers now have more control over pricing after the reintroduction of agency pricing through online retailers like Amazon. And with demand strong and the boutique model dominating digitals, larger publishers are optimizing their marketing strategies by attempting to manipulate their print prices up.

How? By offering fewer books for predominantly well-known authors with large readerships—books that are in demand—publishing houses can control how books are launched, pricing-wise. With ebooks priced nearly on parallel with print sales, publishers can create a value-related decision point for readers to evaluate whether they would rather own a print book versus a digital copy. At certain prices, readers will make the choice to own a print copy, even if they are paying slightly more. Would you pay an extra $2.00 to own a hard copy print book?

But it’s not all rosy for large houses, even with the glimmer of print sales being up. Overall, traditional publishers are offering fewer books to the reading public—focusing on big name authors—so they must squeeze profitability out where they can. They won the right to control their pricing through online retail giant Amazon, but Amazon is quietly expanding their reach as a service provider and/or a publisher, working with indie authors and micro-publishers with revenue from all sources. We live in interesting times.

4.) The Rise of Alternatives to Traditional PublishersAuthorEarnings.Com reports that in 2015, nearly half of all ebooks sold on Amazon (the most influential digital retailer) are either self-published, published by micro-publishers, or are generated through an Amazon Imprint. Here’s their ebook breakdown by publisher type:

Big Five Published 33%
• Indie Published 34%
• Micro-Publishers 19%
• Amazon Imprint 10%
• Misc 4%

So this is what I mean about Amazon making money off the competition of traditional houses. As a service provider, and an imprint, Amazon doesn’t have to be in direct competition with traditional houses as their only source of revenue.

5.) The Retail Gorilla – According to AuthorEarnings.Com – the overall market share of US ebook unit sales is dominated by Amazon at 74% with the balance held by other online retailers: GooglePlay, Kobo, Nook, Apple, and miscellaneous others. So if you’re an indie author with a limited budget, where would you spend your ad dollars?

For Discussion:

1.) Have you noticed any interesting trends in the publishing industry that has affected how you do business as an author?

2.) Whether you’re a traditionally published author, independent author, or a hybrid author with feet in both camps, have you been rethinking the value of sub-rights?

2+