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is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date.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
We know how to publish and sell ebooks and print-on-demand, and now audio is the next frontier (along with global markets, but I'll come back to that in another post!)
Why you should care about audio
Audio is booming. Shifts in technology mean it is easy to buy and consume in mp3 format directly through mobile devices. Publishers are doing full scale productions with famous names to lure new readers in. And after all, humans have been listening to stories for millennia. It's how we naturally take in content.
People can multitask while listening to an audiobook which enables people to read on the go. A survey from Bowker found that “47 percent of people who buy audiobooks listen while commuting in a car. About 25 percent listen while working around the house and 23 percent while exercising.”
In this demographic survey of American readers, 15-20% of readers in the higher earning wage bracket have listened to an audiobook, as well as skewing towards the more educated groups. I would propose that many of these people listen on their commutes, heading to jobs that perhaps they would like to escape from!
The survey also showed that 84% of audiobook listeners also read a print book in the past year, and 56% also read an e-book. This means that if a listener enjoys one book, and can't find the author's backlist in audio, they may go find it in print or ebook. This crossover in the market means that audio is a new method of finding potential fans, and since the market is less crowded than ebook or print, you have a better chance at standing out.
Most authors with a publishing contract will find that audio rights are included, but if you haven't signed them away, or you are self-publishing and own all the rights, then you have options!
Producing and distribution with ACX
Authors have always been able to produce and distribute audio themselves, for example, Scott Sigler still does free audio fiction for his audience, and J Daniel Sawyer continues to produce full production audio dramas.
But it has been very hard to produce professional work, and sell it to an audience, without paying a huge amount of money upfront. Self-published authors don't generally have lots of cash, so this has meant most indie books haven't been available in audio. That is, until ACX opened up, first in the US and now for UK authors. Exciting news!
To add to this, here are some of my specific thoughts:
The setup is very easy in the ACX backend, with a wizard like process guiding you through. You need your manuscript and an audition selection, plus a high quality square image during the production process. Auditioning and choosing your narrator, as well as the actual quality side of listening to and reviewing your audio files are the most time consuming parts of the process.
Amazon has Whispersync technology now, particularly high quality on the Kindle Fire, which means people can stop reading on the Kindle device and start listening at the same place, and then go back into the ebook at the new place when they stop listening. To optimize the chance of your book being accepted for Whispersync, check the guidelines here.
You have no control over pricing, which is quite strange as an indie, since we are used to making decisions about all that. Also, if you choose the exclusive option, which you have to with royalty share, you can't distribute to other audio platforms. Neither of these are a big issue for me personally, but you can of course choose the paid upfront version and go non-exclusive. Or you can do the audio project entirely separately – if you want to do that, check out ‘Making Tracks' by J Daniel Sawyer, and this podcast interview about audio options.
In terms of the money, the royalty share is still a good deal (despite reducing just before ACX opened up to the UK). You can also get a bounty payment for bringing new people into Audible, which can be a good addition. Personally, I love doing joint ventures with other creatives, as both parties are more invested in the success of the finished product.
At London Book Fair, both Bella Andre and Hugh Howey were talking about how good their audiobook royalties are, but of course, they are uber-indies! For most of us, I would expect a trickle, that may turn into a thin stream with enough books and exposure.
Personally, I see this as a longer term investment in a new type of reader, and a way to reach new potential fans. I'm also thrilled to be able to profit share with other creatives in a collaborative process, and I see no downside at all with giving ACX a go!
All that said, as with ebooks and print, you still need to let people know that the books are available. ACX has their own marketing checklist here, and I have expanded on some ideas below (plus, I would love to hear from you in the comments below if you know of any more!)
Marketing Tip #1: Use Soundcloud to create audio clips to embed and share
Your ACX contract allows you to share ~15 mins so take the first chapter, or whatever is appropriate and load it onto SoundCloud, a great audio platform with 100 mins for free before you have to upgrade to the Pro Plan for a reasonable sum.
Create a bio that relates to the author brand you have audiobooks for, in my case, I only do this for my thriller fiction as J.F.Penn. Use the same keywords as you usually would for your books and bio, and upload each excerpt. You can add one buy link to the file so make sure you've added that!
Marketing Tip #2 : Update your website with links to Audible and iTunes
Next, you need to audio-fy your website. (I'm not sure that's a word, but it should be!)
A great model is Bella Andre's audiobook page which includes all her audiobooks and information about her narrator. As Bella has so many, the page is quite busy but still manages to hold all the appropriate information.
Soundcloud has the option for including the cover as part of the Embed code, which I have chosen to do for my J.F.Penn Audio page.
Marketing #3: Get promo codes from ACX and get reviews started through your own email list
Like ebooks and print, reviews are critical to provide social proof and convince people to buy your audiobook. If you already have your book in other formats on Amazon, it will already be linked in some way to the other reviews, but for Audible and iTunes, you need separate reviews.
You can get free review codes from ACX if you email them directly. Then you can use those codes to give away for review copies. I tend to do this through my email list and also through my podcast, since those people are already favoring audio.
There are also a number of sites that review audiobooks specifically, but it's best to search for those by genre, and only pitch those who like books similar to yours. If you are an audiobook reviewer, please do leave a comment below which what kind of books you like, and you're likely to get some new books! You can also use a service like Audiobookboom which offers a paid email list option.
Marketing #4: Promote where audio is consumed e.g. podcasts
Work with your narrator to get an excerpt created, with atmospheric (royalty free) music if possible. You can then use that on your own podcast if you have one, or you can pitch related podcasts to include your trailer. For example, I have included my ARKANE audio adverts on my own podcast, and also on AuthorCast with David Wood and Alan Baxter.
There may be paid opportunities for promotion on some shows, but only pitch if your book is appropriate for the audience.
Marketing #5 : Advertise on your own blog with text links and banner ads
Remember also to mention that you have audiobooks whenever you do an interview or talk about your books.
For example, I do a lot of podcast interviews these days, and I now always say “My books are available in ebook, print and audiobook formats at the main online stores,” so people know they can get the books everywhere.
Caution: Thoughts on ‘voice' and narration
“You live or die by your narrator,” Bella Andre told me at LBF, and how true that is.
Audiobook listeners are used to a very high quality of sound, and I was discussing this new outlet for indie books with a friend who is blind and only reads on audio. He was excited about the potential influx of new, more varied reading material, and was looking forward to new indie authors.
But he also described his favorite audiobooks as being narrated by famous actors, many more well known than the books they read, for example, audiobooks and the celebrities that were born to read them.
The complication for indies are:
- We (generally) don't write books specifically for audio, or adapt them, so the story may be too heavy on narrative for some audio listeners. Check out this interview with AJ Hartley about Macbeth, written specifically for audio on the differences in writing for audio.
- An audiobook listener needs to like a) the author's ‘voice' in the book and b) the narrator's voice – so there are two dimensions by which a judgement is made
Choosing a narrator can be difficult, especially if you don't listen to audiobooks as a general rule. I listen to podcasts, but rarely audiobooks, and the ones I have listened to have been non-fiction and read by the author. Fiction is quite different, so I recommend trying a few audiobooks first. I have three narrators, Veronica Giguere for the ARKANE series with female protagonist (American voice), Jeffrey Kafer for ARKANE novella One Day in New York, and also Rosalind Ashford for Desecration and the London Psychic series (British voice). These are two very different voices, and I like both for different reasons. Listeners will also have their favorite type of voice and reading pace, with some following narrators from book to book.
Overall, I think getting your books into audio through ACX is a brilliant way to expose your work to new readers, as well as potentially generating another income stream. However, it's best done if you already have a number of books, or the ones you have are selling reasonably well, and make sure you get a fantastic narrator!
I'd love to know what you think about audiobooks in the comments below, as this is a very new part of the business for authors. What are your tips for producing audio? How do you market audiobooks? Do you review audio, and what genre do you prefer? Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.