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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‘.
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.
You can find ‘Making Tracks' on Amazon and other online stores right now.
You can find Dan's books, audio productions and more at JDSawyer.net and on twitter @dsawyer
ellen brazer says
I have just filled out the forms at ACX. I have two bestselling books of Jewish Historical Fiction. I am asked so many times to have the books available in audio. What excites me is that this seems to really be a new wave. As a self-published author, I have my own publishing company, I really do not have the money to hire a reader for $100 an hour. You have suggested that we do not sell our audio rights. So what is your suggestion to this problem?
J. Daniel Sawyer says
There are any number of options. One is to license the production rights to a producer/production company on a temporary basis (for the space of a few years). Another is to kickstart the project. Another is to read and produce it yourself. Any of these can see you in quite good shape. There are a number of other options as well. In the end, the rights are yours to do with what you see fit, I just hate to see anyone sign anything away without knowing what they’re giving up. The right deal for you is the right deal for you, and if you’ve found that, bravo! 🙂
Jeff Porter says
great article. I started my buiness a couple of years ago supporting independent authors by narrating and producing audiobooks. When produced properly, I find spoken-word content more compelling than reading and of course it has the benefit of being consumed while you are doing something else.
I focus mainly on business related non-fiction which can be a challenge to make interesting in audio format, but I love to work with independent authors that have a compelling story or message.
We are a translation agency based in South Africa and have been approached to produce audio books for our local South African authors in English and also our vernacular languages. I have spent hours googling and have come to the conclusion that there are very few of our local books in audio format and those that do exist are produced overseas.
Where do I start with this project and do you think it will be more affordable to outsource the VO and production overseas especially as we don’t have a studio, expertise, experience, etc., although there are VO studio’s here in South Africa.
Thank you for any comments or guidance.
Brian Adams says
Hi Sharon – I read my book for Tape Aids for the Blind and the spin off was that they gave me a beautifully produced final audio version which I’m busy having professionally branded and produced. Feel free to contact me on email@example.com
Karen Myers says
I’m about to buy your book but meanwhile, two questions:
1) Who does ACX distribute to? Does it include Overdrive or any of the other Library vendors?
2) If not, how do you approach the library vendors (and which ones)?
J. Daniel Sawyer says
1) Audible only (which distributes to iTunes and Amazon)
2) Overdrive is a good way. Other good ways include going through a distribution aggregator, which I discuss in the book 🙂
Hope that helps!
Mary Ellen says
Daniel has a good suggestion if you are interested in truckers purchasing your audio book. I had ACX do my first book and did not get anywhere near the distribution or payback I expected. My audience is truck drivers, of whom I am a former trucker and yes that is a huge audience. And yes, a good many truckers do download books, I’m sure. But, when your book is one of thousands, it can easily get lost in the shuffle. Unfortunately ACX isn’t interested in promoting their product and my book to truck stops. I have approached them several times about this lack to no avail. That said, I’ll be looking into producing the physical version of my next book that can be put on the rack at a truck stop. I’ll see how that goes. M.E.
Rachel Roberts says
ACX is only open to US residents.
Caroline Mitchell says
I believe ACX is now open to UK residents. It’s something I’m considering for my own book.
My book, Diggers Story, was published in the usual traditional way and I thought I would like to have it as an audio book. When I checked with my agent lo and behold I still own all the Audio rights! I didn’t expect to have these right but now my agent is looking for any Audio producer that might beinterested. Or perhaps I will do it on my own!
Sandra Flagstad says
Pls recommend a place where I can sell my children’s audio books, other than my website (harvestaudiobooks.com).
My books are not in print, as yet.
Also, do you have a recommendation to also publish thru Kindle books and how to do this.
Thanks kindly, Sandra Flagstad, New Holstein WI
John ("Jack") Socha says
I have been publishing how-to material via audio for more than 20 years, starting with such titles as, “What is Windows?” and “What’s a Modem?” These were on cassette with a simple, effective reference card.
I am recording my newest (printed) book, “How To Use The Digital Camera You Just Bought” and am wondering about including a free download of the image content as a nice PDF. Think folks will go for that?
Jeff Karr says
I just completed my first audiobook. I’m working with the author to get it on Amazon (The paperback version is already there) I have it in a wave format now. What is my next step to getting it available to the public? I’m curious about file types and loss of sound quality. Thanks
Joanna Penn says
Hi Jeff – check out Dan’s book as linked in the notes above for all the details on publishing.
ROBIN STEWART says
I AM LOOKING AT TURNING MY BOOK “A LIFE IN THE WILD,” INTO AN AUDIO BOOK.
ANY ADVISE GRATEFULLY RECEIVED
SORRY ABOUT SHOUTING MY LITTLE FINGER KEEPS RESTING ON THE CAPS KEY.
Jack Socha says
First question: who is going to record it and where will it be recorded and edited?
How many pages is it?
Cindy Charles Ouellette says
Help please, please. My dtaem has come true. My beautifully illustrated book is now in audio, too. Now where and how do I sell it! It is an ebook thru Westbow at present in several formats. Now music, animation and narration have been added. Thanks for any guidance as to where to go with this.
Timothy Phillips says
I have been producing audio books through ACX for the past three years, it is a great way for voice actors/producers like myself as well as authors to get their work out to the public.
Karen Mack says
Wow great voice Timothy!
Does Dan’s book cover the difference in equipment needs between podcasting and audio books? In researching, it seems it can be quite the trick to get home recording up to ACX standards so I have been looking at podcasts through Libsyn instead. But I am still not sure on the equipment. Whether to just go with the usb plug in mic for now or try to have the mixer/pre amp etc. It gets confusing. I can spend about $300.
Joanna Penn says
Try this – http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/12/13/audiobooks-simon-whistler/ and also more here: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/audiobooks/
Elwin Barry Niccolls says
Hi, I am basically a retired guy of 77, Canadian and living in the Philippines. Over the years I have been a writer of copious quantities of copywritten material with lyrics , poetry, short stories, advertising, jingles, commercial film scripts, radio spots, as writer, director, producer. I also voiced over many productions. I have just completed one of the great joys of my life. NO , don’t ask me why i didn’t start years earlier. I wrote my first ever novel, an 82,000 word book for kids and teens from 8 to 15. in the genre of Fastasy/ Adventure/Survival. It has not been submitted to any publisher as yet. I want to Produce an Audio Book. From what I’ve read, Audio Book Distributors would like it if I walked in with multiple titles. I have one, with a sequel well underway. What to do next?
From my past experience in recording, creative design etc, I am confident that I can produce a good product and accompanying graphics. Any advise on which road to go down, quicksand locations, and hiccups to avoid. Thanks very much, Barry NIccolls
Sue Tong says
This may be a silly question, but I have not found the answer yet. The Narrator is reading a book with various character voices. Is the book recorded, one voice at a time or continuous as the character appears in the book? Is blending of voices an editing task? I am thinking of a long book with many characters. How does the Narrator keep them straight and consistent unless they are edited later?
Joanna Penn says
There are different types of audio books – some are one voice – all of mine are, so like telling a story. Some are full production with multiple voices, but obviously that is a lot more expensive to produce.
Norm Millett says
Read through all the comments, good to see people going after a dream. I think audio books are cool, in fact I wrote a 200 page plus novel, and I shelved it because I wrote it on a bet. I have since brought it back to life. I’m basically a musician and retired and since I have my own recording studio, I did a full music score as background. I like the challenge of going one step beyond…..it is fun