The Road to Producing an Audiobook. Five Things Authors Need to Know.
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
If you see me out-and-about town, I am likely wearing headphones and stepping out into traffic or walking off with someone else’s grocery cart. Why? Because I’m lost in a story. I’ve listened to hundreds of audiobooks, and this makes me a bit of a connoisseur. I’m also currently producing my second audiobook, though my print novels are published through Seventh Street Books.
Audie, Earphone, and Audible Book-of-the-Year winning actor, Moira Quirk, agreed to narrate both books in the Anna Blanc Mystery Series, THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC, and THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK. They feature Agatha Christie meets I-Love-Lucy style adventures (says RT Book Reviews), and are set in 1900’s Los Angeles with a young socialite-turned-police matron detective.
According to the American Association of Publishers, audiobook sales are exploding—up 33 percent in 2016. If you’ve written a book, even if it’s never appeared in print—fiction or non-fiction, traditionally published or indie—I highly recommend going audio.
Here are five things that every author needs to know.
1. It’s super easy to make an audiobook
I used ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange), which was remarkably simple. ACX tells you step-by-step what to do. And there aren’t even very many steps. You pick a narrator/producer approved by ACX and they handle all the technical pieces. You have to upload a manuscript, and review the recording.
2. You can afford to produce an audiobook
There are five ways to pay your narrator when making an audiobook through ACX, four of which involve little or no cash up front:
a. Pay someone PPH (per produced hour)
This can be expensive. ACX narrators charge somewhere between $250 and $1,000 PPH. Estimate about six to seven hours of work to complete one hour of narration. This price covers studio costs. Authors who pay up front may get more auditions and thus have a bigger talent pool to choose from. Also, you get to keep all your royalties.
b. Split royalties 50/50
Some narrators work in exchange for a 50/50 royalty split, sharing the financial risk with the author. ACX pays authors 40 percent of net when they agree to give Audible, Apple, and Amazon exclusive distribution rights. Thus, twenty percent goes to you, and twenty percent goes to your narrator. Narrators with a vested interested in royalties are more likely to help promote the audiobook.
c. Split royalties 50/50 and pay something up front.
Even $500 or $1,000 up front, in addition to a royalty split, can increase the number of auditions for your project. This encourages a bigger talent pool and the narrator’s help with promotion.
d. Audible pays your narrator, and you split the royalties with your narrator.
Sometimes, Audible awards “stipends” if they believe your book can make them money and they want to attract a good narrator. In my case, they agreed to pay my narrator an hourly fee on top of my 50/50 royalty split.
You don’t apply for this. They either offer it to you or they don’t.
e. Be the narrator
You get to keep all the royalties. If you go this route, you are in charge of the technical details. You will have to come up with a studio—either rent one (at about $50 per hour), or use your own computer and some basic recording equipment. ACX will tell you how.
If you don’t like ACX’s terms, there are other good paths to making an audiobook. They all require a financial investment on the front end. These include: Infinity Publishing, Dog Ear Publishing, BookBaby/CDBaby, and eBookIt.
3. Fabulous narrators await you.
I got over thirty auditions for THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC, and many of them were excellent. But you don’t have to wait for the narrators to pick your project. Go to the ACX website and start listening to samples from audiobooks. Find the narrator you want and ask them to audition.
4. You need a new book cover
Audiobook covers are square, so you’re going to need a new one or rework the old one. Design it to be legible when small because listeners browse audiobooks on their mobile devices.
The stock art licensed for your physical book cover may not include use for an audiobook cover. Mine didn’t. I had to start from scratch with a graphic artist and my audiobook cover doesn’t quite match my physical book cover. It’s a good idea to tie all your covers together thematically (think fonts and colors) to reinforce your brand.
5. If you sign a contract with a book publisher, retain your audio rights.
All of this is moot if you sell your audio rights to a publisher who sits on them. This happens all the time to midlist authors. If you retain your audio rights, you can sell them to an audiobook company who wants to record your book or, you can produce an audiobook yourself. This assures that your audiobook gets made.
Jennifer Kincheloe is a research scientist turned writer of historical fiction. Her novels take place in 1900s Los Angeles among the police matrons of the LAPD and combine, mystery, history, humor, and romance. Her latest novel THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK is coming to bookstores and Audible on November 14th. Her debut novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC was a finalist in the Lefty Awards for Best Historical Mystery, The Colorado Author's League Award for Best Genre Fiction, the Macavity Sue Feder Award for Historical Mystery, and is the winner of the Mystery and Mayhem Award and the Colorado Gold for Best Mystery