I’m super excited about growth in audiobook sales in the coming year and today I discuss lots of interesting aspects with Jeffrey Kafer, award winning voice talent and narrator for one of my latest audiobooks, One Day in New York.
In the intro, I mention my tech and health gremlins, the KDP Select page count freak out, the Self-Publishing Summit and the webinar with Nick Stephenson on finding your first 10,000 readers. I also update on my writing: How to Make a Living with your Writing is out now in ebook formats, and Deviance is out on pre-order.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you for your support!
Jeffrey Kafer is a professional audiobook narrator and an award-winning voice over artist. He recently narrated my first male character audiobook, One Day in New York, and he also runs the audiobook promotion site, AudiobookBlast.
- On changes in the audiobook market and why it’s a good time for authors to do audiobooks.
- The pros and cons of ACX and options available to US & UK authors who use the service, including royalty sharing with the narrator.
- On ways that authors can get the attention of good narrators.
- Whispersync explained and how it effects royalties for narrators.
- On audiobooks in languages other than English.
- On Jeff’s audiobook promotion site, called audiobookblast.com, how it works and how it differs from BookBub.
- The frustrating lack of granular categories on Audible and whether this could change.
- The importance of quality audio clips when marketing an audiobook, ways to get these and what to avoid.
- Working collaboratively with a narrator and the resulting new piece of art.
- The future of audio, including Google Auto, CarPlay and streaming services.
Transcription of interview with Jeffrey Kafer
Joanna: Hi everyone I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I’m here with Jeffrey Kafer. Hi Jeff.
Jeffrey: How are you?
Joanna: I’m great. So just a little introduction. So Jeffrey is a professional audio book narrator and award-winning voice over artist and he narrated my male character audio book “One Day in New York”. And he also runs the audio book promotions site “Audio Book Blast”.
Jeff, tell us just a bit more about you and your background as well as how you got into audio.
Jeffrey: Well, I started in the theater back when I was just a wee lad. And I will, trust me I will not try to do a British accents on here. And I grew up in the theater and I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. Fate turns me more towards the tech side and I worked for Microsoft for 15 years and now I’m back to being an actor.
So, it’s kind of funny how these things sometimes come full circle. I live in Los Angeles with my family and my dog. And, as you said, I do audio books and other voice over work. Pretty much all day every day.
Joanna: Which is very cool. And it’s funny because I’m now listening to you and I’m hearing the audio book you just did for me and it’s quite weird. So yeah. So nice. I can hear you and I’m like, “It’s Jake!”
Jeffrey: Oh, good! I like that!
Joanna: Which is cool. But, so you first came on the show in 2009 when I had just got started with the podcast, which is crazy. And they were still selling CDs in stores.
What has changed in the audio book market in the last few years? And why is now a good time for authors to do audio books?
Jeffrey: Well, the last time I talked to you it was pre-ACX, I believe. So ACX is kind of the biggest . . . well, in terms of distribution, CDs are going downhill. In terms of sales, the numbers are going down. And the digital downloads are going up. Now that includes things like libraries as well as Audible.
There’s been huge growth in the library rental space, rental is not the right word, you know what I mean. So there’s that aspect as well as ACX now allows any author in the U.S., and I think the U.K., to create audio books. As most authors know you can go to ACX and you can pair up yourself with a narrator who’s willing to take on your project.
Right now it’s easier than ever before to actually get an audio book made. And there’s more channels for distribution than every before. So, you know, it’s another stream of income. It’s kind of like putting your book out on Kindle and then also making sure you have it out on Kobo and Nook.
It’s another platform, really. It’s a big platform. Don’t treat it just as a stream of income because you have got a narrator on the other side who, if it’s a royalty share deal may be reliant on the income. So it’s not, it shouldn’t be a passive income stream. But it is another way to make money and to ignore it . . . I wouldn’t ignore it.
Joanna: No, neither would I. And of course with people being used to using their cell phones now, their smartphones, to download audio and streaming audio, you know, speed is really been a game changer.
Jeffrey: Oh, absolutely. You know there’s sort of the misconception that these are for visually disabled people. And that’s, while that’s certainly one market, that’s not the only market.
I mean, when I was commuting to Microsoft I was listening to hundreds of books. I listened to hundreds and hundreds of audio books. As people’s commutes get longer, traffic gets worse, they need something to do while they’re driving to work. Or while they’re gardening, or while they’re doing a craft, or you know, whatever. People are . . . it’s not just for the visually disabled anymore.
Joanna: ACX is now for U.S. and U.K. authors at the moment. And obviously one of the cons with that is that it’s not for authors in any other country who are listening.
What are the real pros and cons that you see of using the ACX model?
Jeffrey: Access is the big plus. Never before have you been able to go out there as an author and post your book and let auditions come in. But that pro is also a con in that, everybody’s doing it. So if you’re only interested in a royalty share deal, you’re going to be competing with 3,000 other books that are sitting up there hoping that a narrator will audition. The accessibility is a pro and everybody else realizing the same thing is the con.
Joanna: And what about in that way also, we haven’t been able to do an easy way of doing royalty shares. So, you and I don’t have to, you know, as joint rights holders now of “One Day in New York” , we don’t have to pay each other. The money goes through ACX. So, to me, that’s amazing. Because when I work with a translator, for example, I have to get royalties and then distribute them.
So to me, to me it’s like this the actual distribution of the money to two separate artists, who may not even ever speak. We’re only speaking because we’re on the podcast. We didn’t speak in production.
That to me is a real pro in that I don’t have to manage the money as well.
Jeffrey: Correct. Yes, that is true. That’s a little less true if you’re doing a per finished hour pay for production. In other words, you pay me, Audible doesn’t pay me. But in terms of the monthly royalties, yeah, it’s really convenient that Audible just takes care of that. For everybody concerned.
Joanna: Yeah, and if authors want to have their book stand out. Say they want to do a royalty share, or yeah, mainly if they want to do a royalty share.
How do they get the attention of a narrator like yourself, the good narrators?
Jeffrey: Well, the first thing you can do is have a really, really good cover. If you have a really, really good cover, you’ll get some attention.
The other thing is to put in your description how many units you’re selling. I know that’s private information, people hold that pretty close to the vest. But, if you’re expecting somebody to invest time, which means money, into your book, you need to be upfront with your potential partner as to how many units you’re actually selling.
Now, selling, not the free downloads. You didn’t put your book up for Perma-Free “I got 100,000 downloads!” Yeah okay, that’s cool but, anybody will download something if it’s free. I understand why authors do that and that’s cool. But, the free downloads don’t necessarily translate into audio book sales. A much better number is how many people are actually paying money for your book.
Any reviews you’ve gotten, if you’ve been listed in, if you’re a New York Times best seller, that’s pretty good! What your marketing plan is. Are you going to be going BookBub ads? That sort of thing.
Narrators like to see that you are putting your money where your mouth is. And they understand that you can’t necessarily do a royalty share deal, but they want you to have some skin in the game, because if a narrator takes on your 10 hour book, that’s 40 hours of work for them. So they need to know you’re just as serious about the investment as they are and don’t look at it as just another passive income stream.
So really selling your book in the description, in terms of numbers and figures, not how great you think your book is, not how wonderful it is. But hard, cold numbers and facts in your description is the best thing you can do to attract a narrator.
When you shop or you get notified of books, I mean, do you actually, as the narrator, go into ACX and look within a genre? Or how do you look for books? Like you mentioned the cover. Do you just scan through the latest things that are there? Or . . . ?
Jeffrey: Well, I’m a little different in that I don’t do a lot of straight royalty share deals unless it’s from an author that I know. The first thing a narrator will do is look at the per finished hour ones. ‘Cause everyone wants to get paid first, okay. So there’s nothing there.
Then they’ll switch over to the stipend ones. And that’s the second choice because that’s at least a hundred bucks a finished hour.
And the straight royalty share is the last thing they look at and I think the default sorting on ACX is by posting date. So, the ones that are latest pop up to the top. And I think that’s how people generally go through ACX.
Joanna: You mentioned BookBub there, which is interesting, because I did a BoobBub recently for “Stone of Fire” and noticed that we got 115 audio book sales on the day of BookBub. And is was a Perma-Free, and I thought: “Oh, that’s great!”.
But there’s something now with the matching, isn’t there, that’s not necessarily so great? So tell us about that.
Jeffrey: The caveat to what I said before about don’t necessarily count Perma-Free as . . . if you do a BookBub and you give your book away, people will still buy the audio book. Which is an odd phenomenon, sort of, but not really when you think about it because the audio book listener is very different, is a completely different animal.
Audio books listeners, and this was true of me, when I was listening to audio book, I wanted to listen to the audio book. I don’t want the e-book. Because I don’t have time to sit and read. My commute is my reading time. “Reading time”.
So really what’s happening, what you’re seeing happening, is the book is just getting eyeballs to Amazon and then people there are saying, “Oh, this looks interesting. I’m going to grab the audio, I have a credit from Audible, I’m just going to grab the audio book version. I don’t care if the e-book is free, I’ll never read the e-book. But the audio book sounds really cool, so I’m gonna grab it”. That’s what you’re seeing. You’re just, in this case, a BookBub ad is just getting eyeballs to your Amazon listing and people are buying the audio book because that’s their preferred format.
Joanna: But I think people are watching the BookBub ads as audio book listeners anyway. Because once you own the e-book, you get the audio book as bundled for a much cheaper price.
Jeffrey: Oh, the Whispersync, yeah.
Joanna: It’s a much lower sale but . . . For example, if we get them in on book one, they might make it all the way to book seven.
Jeffrey: Right. That is true, that is true. Keep in mind the Whispersync is a great deal for you as an author. It’s not such a great deal for the narrator. Because remember, we don’t get a piece of the e-book sale. We only get a piece of the $1.99 Whispersync sale. So if it’s, we get 40% of the $1.99 that’s what? Sixty cents?
Why don’t more narrators break Whispersync on purpose?
Jeffrey: Ah, you know, authors have tried to break Whispersync and eventually they figure out ways so that you can’t break Whispersync.
Narrators don’t want to break Whispersync because it’s not our job. Our job is to actually follow the text 100%. And we know authors like Whispersync. So we’re, it’s kind of a, it’s a betting on the long-term game. If we get 100 sales or 150 sales of a Whispersync that level of volume is pretty good. So we’ll . . . it’s a numbers game. It’s a volume game when we talk about Whispersync.
Joanna: And do you want to just explain what Whispersync is? In case somebody doesn’t know.
Jeffrey: Oh, yeah. Whispersync is if you buy the e-book you can get the audio book for $1.99 or more sometimes. And cool thing about that is that they will stay in sync. Where you leave off reading in your Kindle, your audio book will pick up the next day or whenever where you left off and vice versa. So, you can basically stay in sync, hence the term “Whispersync”, between your e-book and audio book. I know a lot of people who love shopping for Whispersync deals because you get two things, for you know, three bucks. And that’s a latte.
Joanna: I know. That’s crazy. It really is. You know, and they can have you read to them for hours.
Jeffrey: Yeah, Yeah. Well, that may be punishment, I don’t know.
Joanna: No. You’ve got a great voice. I also wanted to ask about foreign language. Because I put up a couple of, I put up some German books, yeah, German and Spanish. And that just hasn’t really worked. There have some been some people interested…
…but the foreign language audio book thing on ACX doesn’t seem that big yet. Would that be your impression or do you think it’s changing?
Jeffrey: It’s certainly growing. I mean, right now there are specific German and gosh, I don’t even know what other foreign language there are that have specific Audible sites. I know there’s Germany, U.K., which isn’t a foreign language but it’s not U.S. Foreign markets are growing.
It’s not necessarily a market I would try to tap into now. I would not release a German only audio book. Just because the market is so . . . You know, it’s hard enough to do a U.S. or English book and get decent sales. I mean, that’s a struggle in itself. I would not count on a German only book as, I guess you discovered as well.
Joanna: Oh absolutely. And in the end if they sat up there, I think, for two months without anybody auditioning, they just kind of say, “Okay, no one’s interested”. And they kind of archive your project, so that’s happened to all of my translations, which is fair enough. I think it’s very early for that.
Jeffrey: And I’m not even sure how you would get in on the ground floor of something like that. Other than just do it. But, for now I would focus on English.
Joanna: The biggest problems of course, we mentioned BookBub, but you know that’s difficult to get on and for audio books it’s kind of even worse.
Right now, we’re in early days, and it’s very hard to market audio books. So you have started Audio Book Blast. So, first up, tell us about that.
Jeffrey: So, I went to BookBub and some of these other ones and I said, “Hey, I’d like to promote my audio book with you.” And they said, “No.” So I said, “Fine. I’ll do it myself.” I created audiobookblast.com and it’s a little different from BookBub in that the current BookBub model doesn’t really work with what I do.
In other words, just flat out promoting your book doesn’t work. What I do is, I allow ACX authors to give away their 25 free codes to listeners who will, who have said that they will listen and they will review the book. And that’s really important because getting reviews on Audible is the number one thing we’ve heard that you can do to get the attention of the merchandising team at Audible. That team is responsible for putting books in promotions like, “Buy one get one free” sale or “Summer reads” or even, just a Audible daily deal. The more reviews you can get, the more attention you’re going to get.
If you’re in one of those promos, your sales will just go through the roof. It happens all the time. So that’s what audiobookblast.com does is we allow you an avenue of a way to give books to prospective viewers and right now we’ve got about 1200, 1300 people on the list. Not bad after a few months of starting out.
Joanna: I think that’s great. I mean it’s a really good start and otherwise, like I just did, I just emailed my list and said, “Would anyone like to review the audio book?” But that really is kind of only one way.
Do you have any other tips for marketing audio books?
Jeffrey: Well, this goes back to what we said before about BookBub. Marketing your audio books specifically is difficult because it’s just a platform. That’s kind of like saying, “I’m going to market my Kobo version.” You don’t really do that, right?
You market your book, you market your name as an author, as a brand. Getting eyeballs to Amazon is the best way to sell you’re audio book because people who are interested in your book, if they are audio book listeners, they will choose that as their preferred format. Just like somebody would choose Kobo or Nook, as opposed to the Kindle version.
But audiobookblast is so cheap, it’s 10 bucks for a listing, and if you gift the book, as opposed to just giving away the code, as of this writing, as they say, you actually get paid for those copies you give away. So if you give away 10 copies of your book, you’re going to get paid for those 10 copies. You’ll easily make out the 10 bucks that you paid me to list it.
And if you don’t give away at least five copies, if there’s just no interest, I give you your money back. So there’s no reason not to drop a listing into audiobookblast. It essentially ends up being free. And I kind of hate to say that because Audible could change the rules at any minute and say, “No. We’re not going to pay you for your free copies.” But, for my testing, you get paid for the copies you gift away. So, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t do it.
Joanna: No, and I think it’s in all of our interests to build up ways that we can sell. And this type of aggregate platform is really good. I think so often we get so focused on just selling our own books and forget to build a bigger engine, I guess. And what you’re building is an engine that will sell lots of audio over time which is just fantastic. Yeah, so definitely, everyone should check that out.
Jeffrey: Yeah, and the listeners, the listeners. I need a lot more listeners, too. I want BookBub’s 2.5 million listeners.
Joanna: Yeah, so if people like listening to audio books they should also come and join the list as well.
Jeffrey: Yeah, absolutely.
Joanna: And then they can actually get some of those to listen to. That’s awesome and they get it for free because they get a review code, right?
Jeffrey: Yeah, it’s free for listeners, just like BookBub. And all these other ones, it’s free for the listener. You just go to the web site at audiobookblast.com and sign up as a listener. And every Tuesday you’ll get a blast with all the free audio books. We also promote Whispersync deals. If you have, if you want, if you don’t want to give any codes away but you’re giving your book away on Perma-Free for example and the audio book is $1.99. We’ll promote that aspect of it for you because, I mean, $1.99 for both, that’s crazy.
Joanna: That is crazy. Yeah, this is just amazing. What’s so funny with, well not funny, it’s brilliant, like you mentioned the income stream. The year before (2013), there was no audio book income on my income statement.
Jeffrey: Yeah, right.
Joanna: And this year, there’s like, a nice chunk of money. And you can see that next year there will be even more. And this is what I love about our business. You know, you get these new income streams just arriving, which is just, wow.
I wanted to ask you about the granularity of the Audible . . . you know Audible is pretty bad at the moment right? I mean, my books sit in Mystery and Thriller, that’s just not granular. Do you anything about them actually making that better, like Amazon?
Jeffrey: Nope, I do not.
Joanna: Have you asked?
Jeffrey: Well, Amazon owns Audible and I asked them specifically, “Hey, can I do this, can I do that?” And they say, “We’re not allowed to comment on future features.” They are like every other tech company, they can’t comment on what they are going to be doing. So, it’s kind of a bummer coming from the corporate world.
Joanna: Well, keep asking.
Jeffrey: Yep, we keep asking. And the best, I mean if you want a feature, you keep saying, “I want this feature.” You keep poking at them. When enough people do it, they’ll consider it. Because I know that ACX still has a very active development team. What they are doing behind the scenes, I don’t know but they are very interested in our feedback because ACX is still a priority for them, from what I can tell.
Joanna: Yeah, I think it’s a growing one. And pretty much in London, every bus has Audible on it, and the underground, it’s massive in London right now.
Joanna: They are really, really pushing audio books, it’s huge.
I wanted to also ask what you think of putting the audio clip? Because you’re aloud to use five minutes, aren’t you? Putting audio clip on YouTube and/or Sound Cloud in terms of reaching people that way.
Jeffrey: I think that’s great but I would not use the clip that Audible has on their website. Because it’s a very low quality sample and it’s highly compressed and squashed and it sounds really yucky.
So I’d just talk your narrator and say, “Hey, can you send me a sample? I’d like to put it up on Sound Cloud.” And they’ll send you a better sample than what Audible provides. But I think pushing the sample anywhere and everywhere you can is a fantastic idea. It’s advertising. Of course, absolutely.
Let me caution one thing that I’ve seen authors do which they do it in the best of, with the best of intentions, but it really kind of annoys people: don’t post auditions to your website.
Joanna: Oh, no.
Jeffrey: A lot of people, a lot of authors, yeah, well, we’ve seen this happen. Authors will say, “These six people audition for my book. You vote for which one you like.” No, don’t do that, that’s shitty, no.
Joanna: Yeah, that’s not very professional.
Jeffrey: It’s not professional. And I understand they are trying to build interest in their book and they don’t mean to, to insult, is not the right word, but. They don’t mean to . . .
This is not Gladiator. We audition for you, it’s not for public consumption. So, that’s a small caveat to the sample and the recordings. But, once the book is done and you’re in contract, absolutely, push that sample everywhere. But make sure you get a good quality sample from the narrator.
Joanna: Both YouTube and Sound Cloud have really easy social media sharing buttons. So I would recommend people do that and also they are much more easily embeddable on websites, the little Sound Cloud clips, so I think that’s a good idea. And just on that professional side, I have really learned, I think it’s something you don’t know until you do this, is that the audio is an adaptation. I mean, I know you read it. But you reading my words in “One Day in New York”, that’s not me anymore. It really isn’t. I listen to your voice and it’s a man, for a start, obviously. But you bring that American thing.
And to me it’s kind of a miracle to me to work with a creative professional to create a new version. You know what I mean?
Jeffrey: I absolutely do know what you mean because that’s another, the opposite of your attitude is a problem, it can be a problem working with authors. And it usually comes with authors who are not used to hearing their books in audio.
The big complaint I hear from a narrator is that they say, “I got an Excel spreadsheet with 500 lines of them directing me.” So, please, go up at the end of this word, or I need more pause here or, “That’s not how I heard the voice of the character in my head.”
Authors need to get past that at this point. It’s like going into a museum and there’s some art, everybody’s going to have a different interpretation of that art. And the artist doesn’t get to say, “No, no, no. You’re wrong. Here’s what it really means. Or that particular paint brush color, whatever, means this, you’re wrong.” You’re getting into the world of interpretation and if you’re hiring a creative professional, you’ve got to let them do their job and let them bring out their interpretation of your words. That’s kind of the beauty of art, in a way, in that you’ve created something that can be interpreted in different ways. And neither of them are wrong, they are just choices that the actor has to make.
Joanna: And also, what’s super is you get people who follow the narrator. So I’ve had emails back saying, “Oh, I’m so pleased because I loved my book. I love books by J.F. Penn and Jeffrey is my favorite narrator.”
Jeffrey: Oh, wow!
Joanna: Yeah, so then, ’cause you do a lot of action/adventure, don’t you? You do a lot of thrillers. So people will buy an audio because of you the narrator, not because just the author, I guess.
Jeffrey: I hope that’s true.
Joanna: Yeah, I think it is. I think it is true. Because like this podcast, there are people who listen to this podcast, because they like my voice.
Joanna: You know, so same thing, people like to listen to you. I think it’s amazing. I mean, I thought I did my own nonfiction and it was such hard work. Really really hard work. Kudos to what you do.
I wanted to sort of talk briefly about the future. I mean, the big thing I see coming is Google Auto and Apple CarPlay, coming in 2016 in every newly manufactured car, streaming audio, which to me is will be a game changer. Do you see anything else coming in terms of audio books or the way you see the future going or even the next year?
Jeffrey: Well, streaming is really the big thing, not necessarily streaming, but technological availability such as air play through your car. CarPlay I think is they’re calling it. The ability to do Bluetooth, from your smartphone to your car. I mean, I remember when it was amazing technology that I could plug in my phone with a cord into my car.
Joanna: With a tape that went in the tape deck.
Jeffrey: Or the little cassette . . .So, the easier it becomes to do, to listen to things, the easier it will be for people to absorb the content that we’re creating. Now, of course, you’re going to have, we have competition in things like Pandora and Spotify and the new Apple thing. And that competition for your “earballs”. Simply because you can’t listen to music and an audio book at the same time. So, with this accessibility comes more competition. So we’ve got to be creating, keep creating, really compelling, professionally produced content.
Joanna: So, where can people find you and audiobookblast and all your books online?
Jeffrey: Ah, well, they can just search my name on Audible, my website is my name, jeffreykafer.com, and audiobookblast.com is the new promotional endeavor. And that’s it. Otherwise, you Google my name and I’m there. I’m everywhere. I’m everywhere.
Joanna: You are everywhere. And I highly recommend people check out, I’ve gonna play the sample after this interview. So stick around to listen to a little clip from “One Day in New York”. So, thanks so much for your time, Jeff. That was great.
Jeffrey: Oh, of course. Thanks for having me.