Making indie audiobooks

Shiftless AudiobookWhen Kindle Unlimited was rolled out, I read the fine print and realized that subscribers can download audiobooks as well as ebooks for free (with the author receiving about $1.50 per borrow and possibly gaining new fans).  Since there are about 700,000 ebooks enrolled in Amazon’s lending library but only about 2,300 audiobooks, I decided I wanted to swim in that much smaller pool.  Was it possible for an unknown indie?

The answer is a resounding yes, but like most aspects of self-publishing you’ll need to spend some time and possibly money on the endeavor.  ACX is Amazon’s audio wing, where authors hook up with narrators to make independent audiobooks happen.  You can choose to pay up front for your narration (a process that will likely cost $1,000 to $5,000), or you can opt for the revenue-sharing possibility as I did.  Revenue-sharing costs the author nothing up front, but you split all future audio royalties fifty/fifty with the narrator after the audiobook is produced. Although that sounds like a lot of money to give up, your revenue-sharing narrator does have a vested interest in making your audiobook soar and might help you sell more.  On the downside, though, you will have to make your project look very enticing to potential narrators if you want to find a really top-notch voice actor in this scenario.

As you might guess, I used the royalty-share option to produce my first audiobook (which is now available on Amazon, Audible, and (soon) iTunes).  I learned a huge amount on the process, too, namely:

Be patient while you wait for auditions.  At first, narrator auditions trickled in, but after a week, Amazon chose my project to be eligible for an ACX stipend and they featured the book in their newsletter to producers.  That meant that even though I chose the revenue-sharing feature, the narrator would also be paid $100 per audio hour up front.  In other words, the stipend made my project look very enticing and attracted some higher-end narrators.  (You are most likely to get the stipend if your ebook is already selling very well.)

Stay in touch with your narrator as they work.  My narrator and I got our wires crossed and she thought the audiobook was due three weeks later than the date I’d set in the dashboard.  Don’t assume your narrator read all the fine print!  Send them a message every week or so and make sure you’re both on the same page.  And, before you start, make a list of any strangely pronounced names or words in your story as a sort of cheat-sheet for the narrator.  (I didn’t know to do this either….)  Help make their job as easy as possible!

Consider the pay-up-front option.  One of my recent time-sinks has been lurking on kboards, where indie authors share what has and hasn’t worked for them.  A few authors there note that they’ve been making as much per title with audiobooks as with ebooks lately, but their method of success involves paying up front for top-notch narration.  I’m still not sure whether I’m willing to sink such a huge sum of money into my next audiobook, but if Shiftless does well, I might go that route with book two.

Tell your fans about Audible’s free trial.  Audible gives revenue-sharing authors $25 each time someone signs up for a new membership and downloads your book as their first audio adventure.  This is a relatively easy sell since your fans probably want to listen to your story and will love the idea of getting a copy for free.  So push those free trials!

If you’ve got any questions about audiobooks, feel free to leave them in the comments below.  Although it’s taken a bit of time, I’ve vastly enjoyed the experience of turning Shiftless into an audiobook, in large part because hearing my words narrated has made them feel more real.  Go listen to the free sample and see what you think!  (And, while I’m mentioning free things, I’ve set the ebook version of the prequel short story free at the moment as well, so be sure to snag your copy!)

12 thoughts on “Making indie audiobooks

  1. Wow, Aimee! What a great post for anyone considering this option. I confess, I had never given it much though, because I don’t enjoy audio books. (I’m hard of hearing these days, and even use closed captioning on my TV). But I see now that I’ve been short-sighted, as well as having my hearing problem. I love that there’s a way to go about this that doesn’t involve up front cash, if you aren’t able to do that.

    One question. Does the author have final (or sole) approval over the auditions? I’d be very picky about who was reading, I think. I tried one series of audio books (back when I could actually hear them), and the reader sounded like a mother reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears. She tried to change her voice for every characters, even making it deep and manly for the males. It sounded ludicrous. Reading with expression is one thing, but this was awful. So I think finding the perfect narrator would be crucial to a really good audio book.

    Folks, please remember to reblog, post on Facebook, and TWEET great posts like this (along with promo posts). We need to share this kind of information with writers everywhere, and it will also help build up our author membership, here, which will make this blog more and more useful to us. THANKS!

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    • Marcia — You absolutely do have full approval over every step of the process. If you don’t like any of the people who audition, you can go out and hunt down someone else. (Or read it yourself, which might make sense for your poems, although it can be a big learning curve for those of us new to audio.)

      I agree with you about the voices. One of the narrators who auditioned did that, and although they did it well, I just hated it. If I’d love that narrator but hated the voices, I could have sent them a message asking them to try again without the voices, but I had another narrator I liked even better.

      Thanks for your word-spreading!

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  2. Aimee, you are my favorite person today! I too have been seeing a lot of people talking about their audio income on the kboards, but I’m completely new at this and was mystified as to how such a thing would even be made. It’s on my list of things to get some info on, and thanks to you, now I’ve got it with no work at all on my part. 🙂

    (I’m especially appreciative of saving time right now given how much of my writing time over the past week or so has been spent fighting with CreateSpace instead. Grumble grumble.)

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    • Jen — Glad I could help! And I’m sorry to hear that Createspace is giving me fits. The first couple of times, I fought them like mad too…and now I just copy and paste into my files that have worked previously. Which, I guess, is a long way of saying — hopefully it will get better!

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      • HI, Jen. This is really a great post, isn’t it? Please share it anywhere you can. As for CreateSpace, the only problem I had was that their templates didn’t indicate that you have to use a SECTION break anywhere you would normally use a Page Break. One I did that, I was home free. Of course, when you convert from Word to PDF, it can add extra pages that you have to remove manually, but luckily, I have a friend with the full Adobe program, and she can do that for me.

        Like Aimee, once I got the first book done, I just use that template every time, pasting each new book directly into the template, converting to PDF and uploading. Now, one question. Someone told me the other day you don’t have to convert to PDF anymore, and you can upload the Word document directly to CreateSpace. Dare I hope this is true?

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        • Thanks, ladies. Actually the interior was incredibly easy (I did nothing fancy) and looks great. My issue is that I’ve got a cover image that is intended to flow off the page and therefore extends, intentionally on purpose no seriously I MEANT TO DO THAT, into the bleed area. They keep interpreting it as a live element rather than part of the background and resizing it, which naturally kills my whole cover because you can’t just go resizing stuff willy nilly.

          The larger issue is that the whole process seems random and completely dependent on who you happen to get for a reviewer. I’ve submitted several versions of the same thing with only minor changes and gotten completely different results.

          It’ll all work out fine. Goosfraba. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fscuv4PIjws – NSFW)

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  3. I love this idea and am definitely considering the idea of an audio version of Humor at the Speed of Life, which I’d just read myself. It could be fun. When I read excerpts in public, it works well. I’m sure an audio book would too. Unless Morgan Freeman is available…

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    • You should definitely read your own! I vaguely considered it, but I’m not a public speaker, so I’d have to figure out both the reading part and the technical issues all at once, and that seemed a little too scary. But if all you have to do is fine a good mic and a quiet room, you can double your income on the audiobooks by not paying a narrator!

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