OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Your book is not just a physical book or an ebook. There are plenty of other subsidiary rights that you can exploit and audiobooks are high on the list because of the rise in popularity of listening during commutes or workouts, and the increased penetration of smartphones. In today's interview, we explore how you can get into this market.
In the intro, I talk about my own audiobook deal, how I'm progressing with my latest book, Desecration (it was called Hunterian) and the problem of titles for a new series, and some of the updates in the publishing world. I also mention this post on meta-data and discoverability, the London Book Fair and the Non-Fiction Writer's Online Conference, which I am speaking at.
J. Daniel Sawyer is the author of 13 books across sci-fi and fantasy, mystery, non-fiction and a lot of short stories as well as being an award-nominated podcaster, audio producer and voice-over artist. Dan's latest non-fiction book is ‘Making Tracks: A Writer's Guide to Audiobooks and How to Produce Them‘. You can listen to the interview above or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, or you can watch the video on YouTube here.
What's so special about audio anyway?
Dan talks about listening to stories as a child and how magical it was to have a movie play in his head based on words that were read aloud. Human culture began by sitting around the campfire telling each other stories, and now it's keeping commuters entertained, or what you might listen to at the gym that's driving the growth in this market.
What's the difference between an audio podcast and an audiobook?
In terms of fiction, it's the delivery format. For an audiobook, you divide the audio into chunks and it goes into the store as a complete product for sale. As a podcast, it needs to be a standard length per episode, usually 20-30 mins (average commuter time) and people subscribe and get each episode. Podcasts are usually free, and audiobooks are paid. Podcasts are really a fan service and the conversion rate to paid fans is pretty low. But some authors have done a great job of creating a hardcore audience who become evangelists for the author. Dan is one of them, Scott Sigler would also be a great example.
Dan's book Making Tracks includes a lot of the business end of audiobooks e.g. what markets you can consider in order to actually make money at this.
What are the technical complexities of creating an audiobook?
The book includes the details of what you need to know about the technical side of audio, all the way from one-person, single-read to full production audio with multiple actors and sound effects. But you don't have to get too technical.
One good example is Nathan Lowell who uses no special studio or equipment for his podcast fiction. The audience will engage with the story as long as the production quality is consistent over all. There is a connection between the audience and the author as a reader, and this can happen even if you have a professional read the book. The audio is another interpretation of your work. Having it read aloud is different to someone reading it on a page. There's an interpretative filter, so it is an artistic choice.
What's the difference between reading and performance?
This is just as important for authors who want to read at a festival or live event, as there is nothing worse than monotonous reading. It bores the audience and puts them off your work. Dan demonstrates with a few lines of his own work how your tone, emotion and expression can change the effect of the book.
“I hate my voice”
This is a typical reaction to the suggestion of reading your own work. But the voice you hear in your head is not what other people hear. The sound YOU hear also includes the bone conduction in your head. You can modulate the way you speak and also change the type of mic you use e.g. use a dynamic mic.
You can read in different voices as a single-read (if you can), or just read it however you like, and the audience will get used to it! Dan demonstrates some techniques.
How do you find a voice artist if you don't want to read it yourself?
You can use ACX or look into the voice-over industry and there are a lot of sites out there. If you listen to audiobooks, note down the talent you like and since they are all freelancers, you can often get that person to read if you can afford them. You can also go to a local college or community theater and get a young and hungry actor. Make sure you pay for their time, but you can get a good deal that way.
What about editing?
Essentially, you will always make mistakes while reading. A single read when you're really good will take about 4: 1 editing time. So for every finished hour of audio, you need at least 3 or 4 hours of production. If you're just starting out it can be more like 10 hours production to 1 of finished audio. This is why it can be expensive to produce good quality audiobooks.
What is ACX and is it a good idea?
The Audiobook Creation Exchange is a marketplace for audiobook creation and production, where you can find voice talent and producers for your books. It does tie you into 7 years of being limited to Audible.com which distributes through Amazon and iTunes (at the moment) so you miss out on other physical markets. But it can be a cost effective way of getting your book into audio format because you can do it as a profit share based on royalties, which are on a sliding scale.
Unfortunately, it is NOT available to authors outside the US. I have emailed them about this and there are no immediate plans to expand. But there are other companies online that aggregate audiobooks for distribution so check out Dan's book for a list.
Dan warns of ACX's exclusivity. It ties you to Audible which is only online and there are a lot of other markets, including physical truck stops and gift shops/bookshops and that type of distribution that Audible doesn't cover. Dan has a lot more information about other distribution options in his book so check that out before you jump into Audible/ACX. Also, the exclusive deal with iTunes expires in the next few years so even though Audible has most of the market now, it may change in a couple of years time.
Is it worth doing?
Audiobooks are the 3rd biggest chunk of income that any writer can get. Try not to sell the rights even if you get a book deal. If you retain those rights, it can be a long tail, long-term income stream. The market is growing fast and the number of audiobooks is a lot less than the number of physical or ebooks you are competing with. The growth curve is steady and persistent for audiobooks. Some people will never ‘read' your work but they will consume through audio as the only time they have is while doing other things.
Dan and I get very excited about the possibilities for authors and exploiting rights for our lifetime AND onwards after our deaths. What used to be considered a failure in traditional publishing terms is now a pension for us in the long term.
I'm very excited about the potential for audiobooks. How about you? Please leave a comment or question below and Dan will pop in to answer.