Can You Hear Me Now? Let’s Take a Look at Audio Books

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

 

It’s been awhile since I looked into the current details on creating an audio book. With self-publishing, authors have options these days and I have created my own audio book after a publisher forgot to add those subsidiary rights to the contract. It was a great learning experience and I worked through ACX, which was the first and only way to self-pub in audio back then. These services can merge service providers (voice actors/narrators/production, distributors, & authors) and provide stock contracts between the parties and a means to communicate and create an audio book.

Nowadays, there are more service providers and an author can even consider making their own recording. The first step is to confirm you have your audio subsidiary rights before you proceed with creating an audio book. But once you have done that and your rights are available, an author has options to produce and distribute their own audio book.

Here’s what I learned:

Below are a few service providers for Audio Books to get you started. These are platforms that bring authors together with the people & services you will need.

SERVICE PLATFORMS

ACX.com is a marketplace that connects rights holders (authors, publishers, agents etc) with narrators and producers to enable audio book production. It’s an Amazon company and audio books produced through the site are sold on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

FindawayVoices.com – can help match you with a narrator, or you can publish your own files separately. They have a royalty share option as well as a pay per finished hour contract. The big difference here is that you can set your own price AND set the price separately for retail and library markets. Plus you can use their Authors Direct app to sell audio direct to listeners.

KoboWritingLife – if you use Kobo to create your work, your audio book is eligible for different kinds of promotion. Kobo sells audio books to its readers, but Kobo also works with its sister company, Overdrive, for library distribution, as well as having distribution deals with Walmart and other companies. You can reach the same markets through Findaway but the additional promotion may make it worthwhile to go direct to KWL.

Do a Combo – A new author might choose to do a royalty split with a narrator/production company. It’s generally a more affordable option, but as far as opting for a wider distribution, you can choose a combo. You may choose to go through ACX but with a non-exclusive contract for Amazon/Audible distribution. You may find wider markets in Findaway Voices. NOTE: If you already have an exclusive royalty split agreement through ACX, you may decide to change that to non-exclusive at the time of renewal. You can download your audio file from ACX and transfer it to Findaway Voices when you have the rights to do it.

Whatever you opt to do, be sure you understand how your audio book will be distributed and how your royalties will apply over the long term.

AUDIO PRODUCTION

You have two choices for audio production. You can choose to record the book reading yourself OR you can hire a professional (and a service provider) to do it for you. Speaking as a former high school drama student, it’s tempting to try a recording, but I know better. Despite the benefits of an author knowing the material and hearing the dialogue in their mind, it takes a special kind of voice actor to pull off a great audio book. Merely reading the words is not enough.

For those of you willing to try it, here’s what you would need to do your own recording.

  • A quiet place to record
  • Equipment/Software
  • Time
  • Technical expertise

Depending on your budget, the equipment and software could be as little as $200, but the biggest investment will be in the time it will take you to not only produce a recording, but the effort to edit in post-production. According to Audible, an industry professional reads approximately 9400 words per hour. If your book is 90,000 words in length, it will take 9.57 hours to produce a recording, minimum. This is NOT a speed reading exercise. To be conservative, you should count on doubling that time to account for retakes, breaks between sessions, and allowing your voice time to recuperate.

I found this great link on How To Make an Audio Book: A Do It Yourself Guide. This is a detailed guide if you are serious about doing your own audio book. It goes into specifics of the equipment you should consider from your computer hardware to microphone, to recording environment, and software. The article goes into depth of one person’s experience and what they specifically used. Very cool. It even goes into suggestions on the opening and closing credits and talks about the image used for the distribution cover. There are also specifics on how to edit. Great stuff.

PROMOTION

FOR AMAZON/AUDIBLE – First off, it’s important for your audio book to appear on the book pages for your other formats. It’s not only important for readers to find all your formats, but if your audio is not linked in all formats, the Whispersync technology (a product of Amazon and Audible) won’t be synchronized between your ebook and audio. That’s a nice convenient feature for readers/listeners. PLUS, once Whispersync is available, the reader can purchase the audio book at a reduced price.

If your audio book is shown on an orphan page where it is not merged with the other formats of your book, send an email to KDP-support@amazon.com & include the links to the Amazon pages for all the formats.

SOUNDCLOUD – This is an app you can get on Google Play/Store that will feature an audio clip of your book once you become a member. It allows you to promote on social media and include a sound clip link to give readers as a sample. A sound clip can be an interesting way to attract new readers if you cross post it on social media and have it on your website book page.

Where to Market Your Audio Book on Facebook – There are a number of Facebook groups you can query to find sites to subscribe and promote your audio books. Here are a few:

Audio Book Addicts 6000+ members

Audio Books! Over 3 Million followers

Aural Fixation Over 3 Million Followers

Other AudioBook Promo Sites:

Audiobook Jukebox – submit your audio book for a review. Reviewers can request your audio book for a review, similar to Netgalley.

Audio Books Unleashed – You load your promotion codes for your freebie giveaways on the listing page, and the site gives one to each listener requesting the audio book.

AudioBookBoom – This is a site that’s the equivalent of BookBub but for audio books.

Audio Book Marketing Resource List – This is a huge list of sites where you can have your audio book reviewed or promoted. Tons of links and includes more Facebook gand Goodreads groups focused on audio books.

Paid Advertising:

BookBub has ChirpBooks, which is an audiobook promotion service for limited time price cuts. They are partnered with Findaway Voices because other distributors don;t allow you to set or change your prices for an audio book. You can sign up to be on the wait list on this page.

You can pay to advertise your audio book in AudioFile’s Indie Press Showcase.

I was amazed at all the new things online for authors who might want to retain their subsidiary rights for audio books. I listen to audio book almost every night. It’s a relaxing way to fall asleep – like someone reading you a bed time story in the dark. I also love that retailers, like Amazon, give readers a discounted price for the audio book addition to your library. I’ve gone back to my reading list to see if some of my fav authors have audio book sold at a good price. Things have definitely changed for the better for audio books.

For Discussion

This post is only the tip of an iceberg for all the resources available for audio books and an author’s options. If you have any audio book experiences or resources to share, please put them in your comments. 

Share some of your favorite voice actors/narrators.

Share some of your favorite audio books.

The Curse She Wore – Available for Pre-Order – Releases Feb 10, 2020.

Trespassing on Fate’s turf comes with a price for two broken people–a price they never see coming.

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Book Expo America 2018

MONTANA AUTHOR TAKES A SMALL BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE

The population of my Montana home town is around 25,000—about the same number of people I encountered during six days at Book Expo America (BEA) and BookCon in New York City.

BEA is the biggest annual convention of book publishers, booksellers, distributors, librarians, and authors in North America. With 840,000 square feet of exhibit space at the Javits Center and nearly 500 exhibitors, the show is so big that Publishers Weekly covers it with daily tabloid reports of 70-100 pages each.

The event is open to industry professionals, not the public. I was fortunate to be invited to check out the inner workings of the business. What a learning experience it was!

Big names draw big crowds. Celebrities launching new books stayed busy autographing advance reading copies (ARCs). Some wait lines rivaled Splash Mountain at Disney World. This year’s stars included a couple of guys named Patterson and Clinton who co-wrote a thriller, along with Nicholas Sparks, Sally Field, Barbara Kingsolver, Trevor Noah, and more.

Debbie Burke and Hank Phillippi Ryan

 

I was delighted to meet the charming Hank Phillippi Ryan at the signing of her new book Trust Me. A few weeks before, I’d watched Hank teach a great online class sponsored by International Thriller Writers (TKZ’s own James Scott Bell also taught a segment of the webinar).

One Librarian’s Bounty

 

 

Librarians from all over the country flock to BEA to pick up bagfuls of free ARCs to help them decide what to order for the coming year. Their biggest expense must be the charge for overweight checked baggage!

Important lesson to authors: librarians are your best friends. If librarians get behind your book, their efficient network can put millions of eyes on your work. See, not all librarians are there to ruin your mood! I guess we all had that one librarian who thought they owned the place, but thinking about it now, knowing that they have way more to do than just sitting behind a desk, maybe it’s time to cut them some slack. You may want to do some research into schools like USC Marshall to get a better understanding of what the essential roles are these days of a librarian.

 

 

Not surprisingly, Amazon isn’t exactly the most popular kid on the BEA playground. The headline of one daily report read: “Amazon’s Actions Remain a Problem,” a quote by the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. The article talked about the impact of “lost jobs, stores, and uncollected taxes” due to the online giant.

The Big Five (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster) had large showy booths on main aisles. In contrast, Amazon’s booth was in a distant corner, far from the entrance.

Since Amazon’s Kindle Press had published my thriller Instrument of the Devil, I trekked all the way to the rear of the exhibit hall to visit them. But when I got there…..

Black curtains surrounded all four sides of the booth. Through the gauzy fabric, I could see people moving inside. But there was no entrance.

Hmmm.

Upon further investigation, I was told Amazon specifically requests a private booth for book publicists to meet with major media to pitch upcoming titles.

Oh.

In addition to the Big Five, scores of indie publishers had booths, representing niche markets for religious, ethnic, political and social issues, health and fitness, food and cooking, short fiction collections. No matter what off-the-wall subject you imagine, chances are someone has published a book about it that shows up at BEA.

Children’s and YA book publishers were out in force, introducing thousands of new products: print books, graphic novels, puzzles, interactive 3D devices, plus tie-in merchandising like costumes, cuddly stuffed characters, sports equipment, etc. There were even quaint retro items like pens and stationary. Could writing actual letters be making a comeback?

Waiting for autographs from their favorite authors

 

BEA runs from Wednesday through Friday for industry pros. BookCon follows on the weekend and is open to the public. Thousands of readers crowded the Javits Center on Saturday and Sunday. They pored over new releases, waited in line for autographs from favorite authors…

BookCon 2018

 

…and posed for photos dressed up as popular book characters.

Older folks (like myself) often complain about young people zombie-walking through life with bent necks, mesmerized by their smartphones. Yet at BookCon, I didn’t notice a single example of that disconnection. Kids engaged with each other and were excited about new adventures in reading. Witnessing that gave me hope.

 

 

Audio book sales continue to grow by double digits, 30+% increase in the last year alone.

A major BEA sponsor for 2018 was Blackstone Publishing. In 1987, the family-owned independent audio publisher started producing cassettes in a garage in Ashland, Oregon. They tapped into the town’s renowned Shakespeare Festival for narrating talent.

Three decades later, Blackstone has expanded into a full-service publisher of print and e-books in addition to audio, employing more than 200 people. Still headquartered in Ashland, they’ve increased their presence in NYC with acquisitions editors, audio narrators, and a sound studio that’s second to none.

Blackstone also showed me firsthand what a debut author’s dream launch should look like.

Excited debut author Susan Purvis with the banner of her new book

Last April, I wrote about cadaver dogs and mentioned Susan Purvis’s upcoming memoir, Go Find, which Blackstone is publishing. At BEA, they rolled out the red carpet for Susan, including a 10-foot-tall banner at the entrance of the Javits Center.

At their booth, lighted signs showcased new releases. Book covers were displayed on video screens. During signings, representatives guided people through the waiting line, graciously giving out swag including postcards, book bags, and ARCs.

This contrasted sharply with some author signings sponsored by bigger houses where I wondered if cattle prods might be in use!

 

Blackstone’s good treatment of authors has resulted in them picking up bestsellers like Orson Scott Card, cozy queen M.C. Beaton, and mother-daughter fantasy writers P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

Despite BEA’s gargantuan scope, it offered opportunities to make personal contacts.

A couple of hours into the first morning, I sank down at a vacant table, already exhausted, eyes glazing over. A woman with a similar dazed expression sat across from me and we commiserated about feeling overwhelmed. Her name was Bee Kapitan, a designer from Vancouver. She had just received an Independent Publisher Award for her interactive e-book How To Say Cheese. I showed her the proposed cover for my new book, Stalking Midas, and she graciously made suggestions. She introduced me to the burgeoning world of interactive book design. We’ll be keeping in touch.

I’m learning from Umair Kazi (l) and Francesco Grisanzio (r)

Another valuable connection occurred with the Authors Guild. I knew of their excellent advocacy for writers but hadn’t gotten around to joining. At their booth, I talked with staff attorney Umair Kazi and digital services coordinator Francesco Grisanzio about rights reversion. Their guidance helped me make a career decision I’d been putting off. Needless to say, after their assistance, I signed up to become a member.

Another service they offer to authors is contract review. Before you sign a publishing contract, AG attorneys will review it and clarify the Byzantine maze of legalese. That alone is worth the $125 annual dues.

Authors Guild has also forged a communication channel into Amazon to register author complaints. Hopefully AG’s advocacy will temper Amazon’s review policies that, to authors, often appear capricious and arbitrary.

BEA gave me amazing insight into the publishing business. If I included all the adventures and interesting people I met in the Big Apple, this post would run into next week!

I’ll stop now and turn it over to TKZers for questions and comments.

A final post script: on the trip home I was privileged to meet a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor. That story is too long to add here but it can be found on my blog.

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Print, Audio and Ebook Experience

I thought this blog post would never eventuate after our aborted President’s Day weekend in Telluride that coincided with a huge boulder falling on a transmission line resulting in zero power to the whole town. We actually ended up driving back to Denver early after a night of picnicking in the semi darkness of our (rather chilly) hotel room. My husband and I called it our family Valentine’s Day adventure but after 12 hours of driving in 2 days it was more of an exhausting Valentine’s Day than anything…although, at least now I have no excuses and the blog post could be completed:)

On the way to Telluride and back we listened to two audio books in the car – one (which shall remain nameless) highlighted the very worst aspects of the audio book experience (wooden narration revealing a badly written novel in all its horror…) and we gave that one up after three discs; the second (thankfully) displayed all the wonderful elements associated with listening to a great book on CD. This (and I’m more than happy to identify it as The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman) was narrated by the wonderful Derek Jacobi (and a cast of other great British actors) and so was perhaps an unfair comparison – but, at least for part of our trip, the audio book experience was pleasantly memorable.

Both my twin boys love listening to books narrated well and still enjoy having me read aloud to them each night (which I still managed to do in our Telluride hotel room by flashlight!). What is interesting to me is that, although they love a great audio book, they are still ambivalent to ebooks – far preferring to read the print version. I often end up buying or getting from the library the print version of ebooks I own for them, as both boys want to read the hard copy rather than the electronic version. Since they both love spending on their computers and iPads, I have to wonder why neither of them have embraced ebooks. Is it because, like a bad audio book experience, it feels awkward and unenjoyable? Or is there something magical about turning the pages of a printed book that cannot be captured in an ebook (something that, as children, they feel strongly about perhaps?).

With recent reports of Amazon potentially opening physical bookstores, I also wonder whether we are finding an increasing resistance to ebooks (?). Now, I’m equally comfortable reading on my Kindle as I am reading the print version of a book – and yet my boys, who have grown up in the age of the iPad and Kindle, are not. They turn their noses up at any offer I may have to purchase the ebook version of a book they want. They’d much rather hold a book in their hands.

What about you? As a reader, do you have a preference for print, audio or ebooks? As a writer are you more wary of ebook only publication sites or publishers? Have you had a great book ruined by the audio version? What do you think – are we perhaps seeing generational differences that might result in a resurgence of print (if my boys are any indication)?

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