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Publishing industry reports continue to show the rise of audiobook sales, and there are lots of opportunities for indie authors to get their books out there in audio. In today's show, J. Daniel Sawyer explains some of the options.
In the intro, I mention the Digital Book World report on what's fueling the audiobook boom, plus why Amazon opening up in Australia is a good thing for customers but will cause a massive disruption to the retail environment.
Plus, how Facebook futurist technologies could enable you to type 100 words a minute with your brain, not your fingers, and why I recommend technothriller Change Agent by Daniel Suarez if you want to get a glimpse of the future.
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.
J Daniel Sawyer is a science-fiction, fantasy and mystery author as well as a podcaster, media producer, filmmaker and philosopher/polymath. He's also one of the smartest people I know in terms of intellectual property rights, specifically for audio.
He has just updated his book, Making Tracks: A Writer's Guide to Audiobooks.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- How and why audio has opened up opportunities for authors
- Why audio rights are not one right and why authors shouldn't sign them away as such
- On the changes in the audiobook market in the past 4 years
- The future of audio and the death of the smartphone?
- The type of author that can embrace DIY audio
- The best ways to market audiobooks and thoughts on the subscription model for audio
You can find J. Daniel Sawyer at jdsawyer.net and on Twitter @dsawyer.
Transcript of Interview with J. Daniel Sawyer
Joanna: Hi everyone. I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com, and today I'm back with J. Daniel Sawyer. Hi, Dan.
Joanna: Dan's been on the show a couple of times, but just a little introduction.
Dan is a science fiction, fantasy, and mystery author, as well as a podcaster, media producer, filmmaker, and philosopher, strict polymath. So, he does a lot of things.
Dan: And I also write non-fiction.
Joanna: I was going to say, he also writes non-fiction, and today we're talking about his updated book, “Making Tracks: A Writer's Guide to Audiobooks and How to Produce Them.” Dan also has a book on business for authors, and he's got lots of help for authors out there. I'm really excited about today because I met…well, it was the first time we met in person wasn't it?
Dan: Yeah, last November, it was.
Joanna: Yeah, in Oregon. Although I feel like I've known you for years because you were one of the first people on the show.
Dan: I was? I didn't realize that.
Joanna: Well, I think it was. Back when I lived in New Zealand…well, was I even in New Zealand? I was living in Australia, I think.
Dan: Yeah, you were in Australia.
Joanna: And you and T. Morris and Pip Valentine were doing…
Dan: Yeah, and Pip Valentine came on for that thing.
Joanna: That was a long time ago now. I remember being very in awe of you and the podcast community, feeling like I was a complete nobody. And you were kind enough to come on my latent show.
Dan: Oh, wow. From the other end your presentation, even back then was so slick and so good that T and Pip and I were all like, “She's going to let us on. Oh my god.”
Joanna: Well, that's exciting. And I hope everyone listening appreciates that because the perception that we all have of each other because of the internet is often completely wrong.
Dan: It's true.
Joanna: But anyway, today we are talking about audio. Give us a bit of an overview.
Why do you love audio so much and what are the types of projects that you work on?
Dan: I remember the exact moment I fell in love with audio. I was about three, four years old and I was playing hide and seek in the living room on a Sunday morning, and the Star Wars radio dramas came on NPR, which was playing on the stereo. And, I didn't know audio could do that.
It was like I was watching the movie but it was better than when I saw it on the screen, and I was absolutely enraptured. And, ever since then audio has been my favorite form. I know I go back and forth between audio and novels, but I've always, always, loved it.
When I started writing fiction seriously, I also did audio dramas and whatnot just for fun. My first publicly released audio dramas thankfully disappeared from the internet. It was Beavis and Butthead vs Darth Vader.
Joanna: Oh, that sounds awesome.
Dan: I still put it on every once in a while to listen to it because it's so tasteless.
Joanna: What are the projects that you've worked on, which gives us a bit of an idea on the type of audio?
Dan: Back before the internet I did single reads of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, except for the last volume because I couldn't find it anywhere. I did a lot of like reading for sick people projects in my church and then, when I moved onto the internet and started to get a little more professional I did Beavis and Butthead vs Darth Vader.
I acted in a bunch of other people's full cast audiobooks and radio dramas. I've done four of my own books as either single read or full cast podcasts.
I've had six podcasts of my own currently. I've got a daily podcast for writers, and I'm trying to revive my fiction podcast and it just keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the heap, but hopefully, that'll change.
I've soundtracked four feature-length films and seven short films. Everything from recording engineer to mixing to performing the whole bit. And then I did one novel and four short stories full cast, directed and acted in for Gail Carriger.
Joanna: Which is amazing. And actually, Gail Carriger has recently been on Lindsay Bruoker's Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast. She's moved into hybrid. The hybrid model which I saw, which is really interesting.
I think what's also interesting is the podcasting movement, or the podcast audio or fiction audio movement from a few years back.
Before it became trendy to podcast, audio's been quite indie, hasn't it really?
Dan: Yes, it really has all the way since the beginning and the audiobook market was always really buttoned down. And it's because of the expensive distribution and labor. It's really labor intensive to produce an audiobook.
A good professional producer with several hundred hours of finished audio under his belt, like me, still takes between four and six hours to produce one hour of finished work. So, you're talking a 90,000-word book will wind up being about ten or eleven hours long. Multiply that figure by six to get the amount of time it actually takes to produce the book. So, it's very labor intensive and labor is the most prohibitive cost in any supply chain.
And then, in the old world, in addition to labor, you had marginal distribution costs. So, it's not cheap to print 15,000 CDs and ship them across the country and take returns and that sort of thing. It's much more expensive than doing it with paper. You can't just pulp the stuff and recycle it when it comes back. You have to actually get it out there and it has to move. And disposal fees are not nearly as cheap and it's heavier stuff.
So between those two things, it was a very closed world. It wasn't closed culturally. It was closed economically. So, anyone could get in and play, and a lot of people did, but not many people could make the business work. Whereas book publishing tended to be more closed culturally.
When the internet came along, suddenly, distribution wasn't a problem anymore. So, everyone who always wanted to get into audiobooks and radio dramas did. And, starting in about, well, when I did Beavis and Butthead in 1999, starting about then you started to see not just independent short films popping up online.
But before that, you saw independent radio dramas and everything like the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, Jim French's Imagination Theater out of Seattle. All sorts of stuff doing weekly or monthly or special event radio dramas and readings. And BBC got in on the action by streaming all of their books at bedtime, and those series from BBC4.
So, once the internet came along, it became an indie movement right away because the thing that indies bring to the table is the ability to pretend that labor is free. Which you can't do if you're a large publishing company, so there was a lot less friction for us than there was for the large publishers once distribution opened up.
Joanna: That is the best explanation I think I've heard of indie. “Pretend that labor is free.” That is the business model for most people. They're like, “Oh it only cost me this much.” And that was the book cover or whatever. And actually, they haven't taken it.
There are so many things I want to follow up on. I want to just take it back to the beginning here. You mentioned a number of things there: single read, full cast, radio drama, podcast, soundtrack. I mean, most authors only know audio rights as one thing. You've explained to me before, but for everybody listening again:
Explain why audio rights are not one right and why authors shouldn't sign them away as such.
Dan: It's because of the way copyright works. Your copyright on any work, and any work meaning finished form, applies to the finished form and everything contained in it, including derivative rights, transcription rights, everything else.
When you make a story, whether it's a fiction story or a non-fiction news story or whatever, when you make a story you own every possible for commercially exploiting, or non-commercially exploiting, that story aside from a few very limited that fall under fair use like commentary, review, academic, and parody. That's basically what copyright is.
There's a lot of stuff that's been ferreted out by case law, but it all reinforces that principle. Things like audio rights are not a single right, they're a basket of rights that can be as multiferous as how you define that and what the market will bear. Currently, there's about 36 different kinds of audio rights that have proven market viability.
And you get those by adding on one axis the number of readers, on another axis the style of production, and on a third axis the level of abridgment, and on a fourth, the level of adaptation. Each of those has a couple of viable options in the current marketplace and you multiply them together, you get 36 potential forms of audiobook.
From the single read, dry, no music, no sound effects, to fully adapted radio dramas with full production sound like Dirk Mags does at Above the Title productions. Every stop at that line in between, whether you're talking single read with full production sound and original soundtracks, or two-person read with no incidental music whatsoever, all of those things you can define down specifically in your rights sale. And if you just sell audio rights, you're selling the whole basket and the person who buys them could do all of those things, or sublicense out the right to do all of those things.
Joanna: Even if you say that I'm thinking, “Well, it also expands that matrix.” It expands on language, and territory or country sold.
And we were even talking in Oregon about off-world audio.
Dan: Yes, and that's a thing now. And it's going to get more so because the first space tourists are going up next year.
Joanna: And that, I think that's brilliant because my first thought then after you told me that was like, “Wow that's amazing.” But off-world rights should not be one right. It should be, on the shuttle, it should be on right. Or, you know, on the moon, or on Mars or whatever.
Again, depending on how long you sign your contract for, things could have really changed in the next ten to twenty years in terms of space travel.
Dan: It could. I'm trying to remember the wording in my contract when I hire readers out for like, I've hired Dave Robinson to do one of my audiobooks series. And I licensed for him because readers own the performance rights to their performance, so you have to have a license from them.
Because they're not your employees, it's a licensing agreement, not a work for hire agreement. So, there's a clause in there about off-world rights that says I'm buying the right to use this recording in all territories inhabited by humans whether on earth or on orbiting space stations or outwards in the solar system either now in existence or to be developed in the future.
Joanna: Oh, that's awesome. See I love that, you know, as a futurist. That makes me laugh in a good way. Like, that's not actually a joke, it's actually something that is important.
Dan: I know.
Joanna: Coming back to it then, most people listening who, I'm assuming are indies or traditionally published, those who have not finished a book yet. But those who have potentially signed a contract for audio, if they've signed with a traditional publisher, they are likely to have had probably one line in their contract, right, that just would have said “audio rights” to maybe World English Audiobook rights. And for ACX it's also story rights, isn't it?
What should people look out for there?
Dan: If you go exclusive as opposed to non-exclusive with ACX, they claim exclusive audiobook rights to the story. So, that cuts out everything except for dramatic adaptations where audio is concerned.
And a lot of publishers, when they grab audiobook rights, they will grab audio rights, not just audio book rights.
Joanna: Oh, even worse.
Dan: So, that's everything. It's one of the reasons that, despite the higher royalties for going to ACX, I do not go exclusive with anybody on anything if they're making that extensive of a claim, because you never know. It's almost as bad as Hollywood culling but it happens more frequently. You never know when the BBC, or the CBC or the ABC is going to call you on the phone and say “I really, really loved your book and I want to produce a version of it for my radio station.” There's money in that.
Joanna: Absolutely. And in fact, since we've talked in Oregon in October, I've done more books on ACX but they're all non-exclusive, so you definitely changed my mind on that one. Which is awesome. And sometimes it just takes someone explaining this stuff.
I hope the penny's dropping for some listeners around this. It's worth taking a lower cut now for a longer potential cut in the future because we don't know what's coming, do we? And that's probably my next question.
Making Tracks. You were on the show in March 2013, talking about the first iteration.
Dan: God, has it been out that long?
Joanna: Yeah. So, this is four years later.
What has changed in the audiobook market since March 2013?
Dan: Everything. Everything. The only thing that hasn't changed is Audible is still the biggest player. Everything else has changed. For one thing, there are now other players that are easy to get to through distribution channels like Authors' Republic. Which does require exclusivity, but only on the production.
So, you can take one production through Authors' Republic and another version of the production, add sound effects or music or something and take it as an enhanced audiobook somewhere else. I talked extensively to them, and they said the reason they need that is because they don't want to be competing against the same title listed through another distributor in one of the stores they distribute to. And I figure that's fair.
But, Author's Republic takes you out to a bunch of places including the Amazon ecosystem if you want them to. I'm still under embargo on two other things, but there's two other big changes coming later this year that I know about, and I'm not allowed to talk about.
Joanna: We can come back to that, but what's changed in terms of the size of the market since 2013?
Dan: It was the second fastest growing market segment. It's now the fastest growing market segment basically because ebooks stopped growing. But, it's also gotten much, much bigger.
I don't remember the numbers off the top of my head, but it's something like 25% year over year growth since March of 2013. And, that's just incredible growth. And it's going on longer than anyone really expected it to. And, the reason is, I think, everybody in the world's got a smartphone. And, what are the things that people use smartphones for? Invading their own privacy, communicating with their friends, and listening to stuff when they're bored.
Joanna: Or doing chores. Or something.
Dan: Yeah. When their ears aren't occupied. They watch a lot of streaming video on it too, but you can't watch streaming video while you're working or while you're doing chores. And with audio, you can multitask in a way that doesn't take anything away from either task. And that's a rare thing. And it's a great way for people to get their fiction or their education in while they're doing other things that they have to do in order to maintain the lifeness of life.
Joanna: You mentioned that ebook growth has stopped. It stopped in America, but not the rest of the world. And I think that's the other thing that's changed.
Audible did a massive push in Britain last year, 2016. They were on the side of buses, they were in the underground. I mean, they still are, but they did a huge push last year in the UK in terms of owning the audiobook market in the UK. So, I guess that's the other thing.
As the growth of smartphones has gone global, have you seen that growth of audio also start to move out?
Dan: I'm seeing it particularly in podcast numbers. Less so in commercial sales numbers. But some in commercial sales numbers. The international podcast market is phenomenal. Both because the English speaking world is large and because there are a lot of people who aren't in the English-speaking world who want to be.
And one of the best ways to learn a language is to immerse yourself in listening to people speak that language in colloquial terms. So, podcasts like yours, like mine, podcast fiction…and especially podcast fiction with a lot of profanity in it. You have no idea the number of emails I've gotten from people in Myanmar and China and North Africa saying, “I couldn't find anyone anywhere that would teach me all the dirty words, and then I found your books.”
Joanna: Oh, that's awesome. It's funny because when we were learning high school French, the swear words were always the first words that you wanted to learn.
Dan: I know, right?
Joanna: Well, that's interesting because of course podcasting, you could say, has been the precursor to audiobooks. In terms of streaming.
Dan: Yeah, in terms of streaming.
Joanna: Maybe that's why maybe the audiobook market globally will catch up to podcasting numbers in a couple of years.
Joanna: Yeah, it might do. There's a non-trivial number of audiobooks that get sold via podcasting as well. I say non-trivial…in terms of market share it's a thin little slice, but there's a serious audience for it still.
Audiobooks, which used to be the big hub of distribution for these just merged with…I can't remember the name of the company…just merged with another company to offer pay-what-you-want audiobooks through the iTunes store as podcasts because iTunes' agreement with Audible does not govern podcasts. So you can have premium podcasts.
That's the way to get into the iTunes store with your commercial audiobook if you don't want to go through Audible. And that opens it up to everybody with an iPhone to get podcast fiction that way.
The market is so chaotic at the moment that it's almost impossible to describe. But, where three years ago when I wrote the first edition of the book there was no good way to monetize a podcast without a lot of legwork, now more advertising money has moved into the audio space, and Patreon exists. And those two things together make monetizing podcasts trivially easy. And you taught me a bit about how the ad revenue thing works, and I've been learning Patreon on my own. And, it's fantastic. It's fantastic.
Joanna: I just looked it up and it's scrible.com, Podiobooks is there as well. And of course, if people go back to my archives when we first were talking back in 2009, people were putting their books up on Podiobooks and that was kind of the precursor.
Dan: Podiobooks launched Pip Valentine, T.Mooris, Scott Sigler, Nathan Lowell, to a lesser extent, me. I was part of the community, but I never wound up getting a book up on the platform.
Joanna: Although your voice was on a lot of the audio.
Dan: Although my voice was on a lot. And, Abby Hilton and all of them are doing different degrees of very, very well with their fiction and their audiobooks.
Joanna: It's interesting how the market's changed. We're still here. And I think the other thing is to remind people, what we're saying is the changes have happened since 2013.
If you sign a seven-year exclusive contract, seven years is a long time on the internet. Who knows what's going to happen?
Dan: And it's a long time in the middle of a market disruption. And it's a really long time at this point in world history. Throughout world history, about every 80 years everything flips. Business world, political world, geopolitics, the whole thing goes through a massive turnover and reorganization. And we're in the middle of that right now. So seven years from now is going to be a very different world than now is.
Joanna: Okay, well then I'll challenge you on this because I've read some of your blog posts on future stuff and what are your thoughts… And just for the listeners, Dan is a very smart philosopher strict polymath and has a very eclectic reading. And I guess you suck in a lot from the world, don't you?
Dan: Yes, I'm voraciously curious.
Joanna: I don't want to talk so much about the rest of the world or politics, or anything, but I do want to ask is about audio. So one of the things that some people have said is obviously robots are taking our jobs. And people are like you can't have a robot voice read audio because it will be crap.
But with the rise of better voice synthesis, with voice recognition, with the universal translator-type technology, will human narrators be used in, let's say 10 years, or will they be like vinyl?
Dan: No. What I think is going to happen is that you've got, just like you can do a bunch of different forms of audiobook, you've got audience segments that prefer different styles of audiobook.
Some people like just to have the words. They don't want any interpretation done. It bothers them that you can't get something that's completely flat because they want to do all the work in their own head and they don't want anyone else's vision impinging upon their relationship with the story.
Then further up you've got people who like the relatively flat but still a little expressive single read style readers. Then you've got the people who like really interpretive reading. Like you might get if Robin Williams read your audiobook.
Further up you get people who like male voices to be done by men and female voices to be done by women. Further up than that you get people who like the full cast and then there's music.
And then there's people who just like radio dramas. Each one of those slices, most people can go anywhere, but each one of those slices has their dedicated audience that won't listen to anything else.
And as the voice synthesis gets better, I think you're going to start seeing the lower end slices of the audience peel off. There are going to be people who prefer the machine because it can't or won't interpret.
And then there will also be people, how large that audience will wind up I've got no idea, but there will always be people who want a human or at least an extremely convincing illusion of a human doing an interpretive read that's designed to connect emotionally.
But I think whatever segment of the audiobook market it peels off, whether its 5% or 90%, the pattern of attrition is going to be very gradual.
Joanna: I think that's a great way of putting it. The cost of production will fall dramatically, as it already has. If you get a machine to read it the voice technology for whatever the ebook is will be amazing. There will be people happy with that. Or people that will read Hamlet as an ebook.
And then people who will pay hundred of pounds to go to the theater. Or fifteen pounds to go to the cinema and watch that. So, I see what you mean and that's a good way of putting it. So there'll always be room for the really high-level expressive human stuff.
Going back to the book. Because as you said you've done a lot of this, and the book has some quite technical chapters on if people actually want to do this themselves in terms of audio production. You know a lot of audio-type people, who are the type of people who are going to be interested in kind of doing the more technical things?
Who do you recommend get into this? Or are there people who just shouldn't go anywhere near the technical stuff?
Dan: I wrote it the way I did so that you can pick it up at one end knowing nothing about audiobooks and you can put it down at the other end equipped to do it yourself. And if you don't want to do it yourself, equipped to hire out with full knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes. Because anytime you're hiring an independent producer the more you know about their craft the better, the more clearly you can communicate and the better you can know what to expect from the final product and know what it is you're paying for.
I suppose I never thought of the technical end of it being all that much of a hurdle. I suppose it would be for people…you have to have a lot of patience to sit around and play with wave forms.
Joanna: I actually wondered about your ear because I have a guy who now, another Dan, who does my podcast audio, and he will hear things that I can't even hear.
Is that something you think you were born with that or you've trained your ear?
Dan: It's some of each. I've got near perfect tuning pitch and I've had that since I was born. So I can tell you if that A is three cycles flat or not. I can tell you if your piano is out of tune even if it's in tune with itself. So, some of it is genetic and some of it is trained.
There's was a point in the training where I started to be able to hear everything. And I stopped actually finishing anything for a while because I couldn't get it clean enough, until another friend of mine who one of the guys who trained me said, “Why are you obsessing over this? You've got a noise floor at negative 90.” And I'm like, “I can hear it down there.” And he's like, “No one else can.”
Joanna: That's really good to know because I don't have that. In fact, I rarely even listen to music. I have noise canceling headphones. I just cancel out the whole world.
I don't know if I told you this, I had my numerology done years ago and the guy told me I was deaf in a previous life. And I was just like, do you know I don't even believe in previous lives, but that's really weird because sound isn't an important part of my life.
I think with your skill and the skill of people who love audio, I do think there's something there.
Let's assume that people are going to hire this out. And people have got this audiobook now in whatever form they decide. How about marketing audiobooks? Because again, we're at this point now where already you can't just chuck up an audiobook onto Audible and expect it to sell.
What are some of the best ways to market audiobooks?
Dan: Have the ebook and the paper book also available. That helps. Then whatever you're doing to market the story markets the format. It's one of the things that I've been coming around to slowly.
I finally came all the way around last year. But there's been a growing movement in the romance writer's world to market the story and not the format because it used to be people would release the ebook and then a few weeks later release the paperback, and then a few weeks later or a few months later still release the audiobook. And they would do a promotional push for each one.
The audience doesn't really care. The audience is interested in the story. They want it in the format that they prefer. So since I've been convinced of that, I'm moving the operation here towards releasing three formats as close together as possible. And then not doing major marketing pushes until I've got everything available so people can have whatever format they want.
So, for the most part, the marketing is the same as you would do with any story.
However, there are audiophile blogs, the most obvious of which is SSFaudio, which reviews science fiction and fantasy audiobooks and radio dramas. And, there are audiophile podcasts and those are the places you can go to promote the audiobook by itself.
And there's of course, like anything, there's industry association awards you can run for. And if you win one of those you get a nice little sticker or a star, badge you can put on your cover and that enhances credibility and that sort of thing.
But, beyond those extra marginal things, mostly I would say you market the story and you have it available in audio for people who want it there. Unless the audio is a special production…like comes out of Above the Title. They just did a new, I can't remember the name of it, a new alien radio drama. And they're doing a major marketing push on it as if it was a movie.
But the kind of grassroots marketing campaign you use to get on movies, they're doing for this as if it's an event. It's going to be around forever, but as if it's an event. It's not available in any other format. It's just the radio drama, and it's not available for broadcast anywhere. It's just the radio drama and available in audiobook stores.
They're doing a spectacular job with that so if you want a good model to look at for how to promote something just down an audio channel, look at Dirk Mags's Above the Title productions, and what they've done on their last several big productions. Because they do audio movies and they promote the audio dramas as if they are a standalone thing because they are.
Joanna: That's awesome. I haven't started them yet but I've been hearing that Facebook ads directed at people who like audiobooks are potentially a good thing. I do have a couple of more rapid fire questions because you and I could talk forever.
Audiobook box sets, good thing or bad thing? What do you reckon?
Dan: Probably good thing…at least as long as Audible is around. Audible and their business model.
Joanna: Yes. Comment on the subscription model and why box sets are a good thing in that model.
Dan: All right. In any rational marketplace, the prices wind up indirectly being set by the consumer. People will pay what they're willing to pay and if the price rises above that point they won't pay it. And so by adjusting up and down the retailer figures out where the price is.
In Audible's ecosystem, that doesn't work that way. What Audible does is they price by length, and then they give people the subscription credits. You pay a certain amount a month and you get subscription credits that are good for audiobooks up to a certain length. You get one a month for free.
What that means is that the entire middle swath of the market gets cut out. So anything that's longer than about a half an hour or an hour, and shorter than about ten hours is going to fall down a black hole, because no one is willing to spend a subscription credit on it, and it's too expensive to just go cash when they could use a subscription credit and get a longer book for free, or for what feels like free.
So, the subscription credits wind up going to the longer books and the cash purchases bias heavily towards the really short ones. You know, half an hour to an hour. The short stories or the one or two episode radio dramas, that sort of thing. And your middle slice gets lost down the memory hole unless it's something really high profile like the BBC radio drama versions of “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.”
Joanna: All my book are between six and seven hours really. And they fall directly in that. And when we did a box set for the London Psychic Series, it ends up being like 18 hours and the sales are more than triple the individual books together. So, that's crazy.
I agree with you. I think that's why there's a problem. It's that kind of model. Now, what breaks that model, though, I think, is fiction vs non-fiction.
I'm an Audible subscriber for this reason. I wanted to check it out and now, I've started to get them. And what I've noticed is I will get three or four-hour or five-hour non-fiction books, but not fiction.
Do you see that split between fiction and non-fiction?
Dan: Yes. I think the reason is people gravitate toward fiction when they're looking for entertainment, and people gravitate toward non-fiction when they're looking for education. And whether the non-fiction is educational or not, it falls into those mental categories that developed in us very young. And we're willing to pay for education exorbitant amounts, and we're not willing to do that for fiction.
That's been the case in the western world going back since Ancient Greece. It's just part of the way that we do business in our culture and our heads. People will spend their Audible credits or their cash on non-fiction books that they perceive to be of value to what they want to learn about. Where they won't do that for fiction because fiction is entertainment and entertainment isn't worth as much.
Joanna: I also think it's because I listen to the non-fiction multiple times. If I've run out of my podcasts for the week I will go back and listen to Stephen King. I haven't listened to any fiction by Stephen King but I listen to “On Writing” over and over and over again.
Dan: That's interesting. I haven't thought about that because I'm one of those weird people who will listen to fiction over and over and over again. And it hadn't occurred to me that that's part of the calculus. But you're right, for most people fiction is a one and done type of thing.
Joanna: You finish the story. Whereas non-fiction, and personally, as someone who has fiction and non-fiction audiobooks, I'm making far more money per book for non-fiction.
Dan: I'm about to release my first non-fiction audiobook later this month, so that's very encouraging.
Joanna: Which one is that so everybody knows?
Dan: It'll be “Business 101”.
Joanna: Which is a business book for authors.
Dan: I've got this daily podcast called the “Everyday Novelist,” everydaynovelist.com, and more or less every day I answer a question from an audience member about a point of craft or business or anything about, you know, motivation, head games, anything about writing, or research.
Then occasionally I'll do series of special episodes where I've been noticing a theme in the questions and so I tackle a topic en masse. And out of these series, I'm developing a series of books.
The first one in that series is “Business 101” from the Everyday Novelist series. And it's a short book. It's about 15,000 words. And it's all about negotiating the transition from being an employee to being a business owner in intellectual property business. Which is a whole different thing than a service business.
Because this is one of the big shores that new writers get wrecked on and destroys careers, is you can't make the transition in the way you think about money, strategy and time from the way things work when you are an employee to the way things work when you are managing property. Which is what an intellectual property business is. So, that's what the book is about.
Joanna: That's fantastic. And for everyone listening, I have bought Dan's book and I highly recommend his show and the book. I do learn something from you everytime we speak, which is why you keep coming back on the show.
Dan: Well, that's fantastic because it's one of my favorite shows to come on. You're always fun to talk to.
Joanna: You're sweet. One more question on, like, rapid fire. You did answer a question recently on the Everyday Novelist about series vs standalone. And I feel like there's almost a pros and cons both ways, but for audio especially. For ebooks, yes a series is absolutely the way you should go.
Because audio takes an investment and if you have to invest everything into the whole series, is a standalone better way to test out the audio market?
Dan: Well, it is but, the problem is that the same underlying dynamics that push people towards series in ebook world will push them towards series in audiobook world.
It's the 80/20 rule, right? People like stories that are 80% familiar and 20% novel. And it's very easy to do that with an ongoing series when you've got the same set of characters carrying through. You've got that instant familiarity and that provides them an emotional safety net to explore all the new areas that the story pushes into. That said if you've got a standalone novel that might do well.
Joanna: Either way.
Dan: Yeah, either way. The question on the show was about how you should write and whether you develop better as a writer writing different standalone novels or in a series and so I laid out the pros and cons.
Basically, if you're hopping between genres, you're going to be developing faster as a writer, but your career will develop slower in a sales sense because there will be less of that thru-line familiarity for readers to latch onto.
In terms of audiobook vs ebook marketing strategy, the reality is it's probably about the same. You're going to derive less carry forward marginal utility from doing a bunch of standalones than you will from doing a series, but as your listenership and audience grows, the people that love you will move between genres for you and they'll move between series for you.
Whichever way you want to start out at depends on what you're writing, I suppose, at the time you start out and whether you want to go whole hog on the series or whether you want to learn the craft and the business first and you're willing to take a longer tail entry in.
Joanna: Yeah, again, there's never any specific answer. It's more of an opinion.
One last question about the future. I've been very bullish on the Amazon Alexa for audiobooks in that in home audio and voice technology where kids are chatting to Alexa and instinctively asking for things and listening to audio through Alexa. And also moving into about 700 things now I think through CES like it's going to be everywhere.
What do you think about Alexa and that and Google Home and all that with audiobooks? Is it gonna boom?
Dan: It might. I hadn't actually thought about it. I looked at Alexa and Google Home and I turned off from them personally because they're security nightmares. I used to hang out with a lot of really bad people, so I'm keenly aware of that stuff.
But, now that you've got me thinking along those lines I'm just spitballing. It could have a really opening effect. I suppose the extent of the effect will be determined but how much it, and how quickly it supplants smartphones and tablets. It's going to. I don't know how quickly it's going to.
I read an industry white paper a couple of weeks ago about the smartphone being dead probably in 15 years because of the proliferation of Alexa, and the internet of things, and the ability to have contact lenses or eyeglasses that keep your face in them.
Joanna: Yeah, wearables.
Dan: The technology for that is finally there, and so now it's a cultural thing for people to move across. And so the smartphone industry insiders are anticipating a 15-year down curve because that's a generational changeover thing.
So, all other things aside, I'd say probably over the next 15 years you'll see a lot of audiobook usage move to Alexa-like devices, or move to interneted things. Things where the audiobook will just follow you around your house.
Joanna: Yeah, well, that's what it does on Alexa. They're pretty cheap so you can have one in every room. We have a very small flat too, we only have one device. It is how it is. Really interesting how someone who is not massively into sound in a big sense, I've really adopted it and love it. So I think that's interesting. And I also have heard a lot of people.
In Britain, it became the number one over Christmas 2016. It's huge. A lot of parents have bought it for their kids because so many kids are like, “Mom, play this song on your phone,” or, you know, “Dad, turn my book on.”
You're childfree as well right, and I'm childfree. But, when I heard my friends say, “Oh my goodness, I'm getting that right now,” and the way it spread through the parents because now they don't have to be the ones to do the audio for their kids. The kids can just ask Alexa for it. That made me go, oh wow, that's a big deal. And now the kids know how to interact with this AI, and they just do it naturally. And like we saw with the two-year-olds with the tablets.
Dan: Yep. It will be that kind of thing, and hence the 15-year curve.
Joanna: Oh yeah, totally. So I'm pretty excited about that. Right, I've taken so much of your time and, you know, we could carry on, but tell people again, where can they find you and your books and your audio and all your podcasts and things online?
Dan: You can find my podcasts for writers at everydaynovelist.com and you can find all of my stuff at jdsawyer.net including free fiction every month and an ongoing blog series where I'm writing about my experience tackling like a 750, 800,000-word story.
Joanna: That's mad. You're not ambitious at all with your writing, are you?
Dan: No, not at all.
Joanna: And when will the new edition of “Making Tracks” be out? Or is it out already?
Dan: The new edition of “Making Tracts” will be out by Tax Day, as well as the next book in the Everyday Novelist series which is called “In Thirty Days” which is a 30-day walk through doing an Anna Ramos style thing. But rather than doing it to check off your bucket list, doing it in a way that will create the groundwork that will allow you to repeat that on a regular basis.
Joanna: Just remind everyone who's not American what Tax Day is.
Dan: Oh, sorry, April 15th.
Joanna: Fantastic. Okay, Dan. Thanks so much for your time. That was great.
Dan: Thank you for having me on.
Benjamin Douglas says
Another great episode! I love the turn toward futurism in the dialogue on the show. Also, I sent Dan a question regarding my own podcast after I heard your interview, and he responded quickly with generous, thoughtful advice. Such a kind man!
I love the unexpected in these podcasts – certainly didn’t expect to hear about non-Earth or in space book rights or past lives for that matter.
Joanna Penn says
Glad you liked our eclectic chat 🙂 I rarely share that little snippet about the past life!
Uche Ikpa says
Can you convert a book into audio book? I have a new book and I want to convert it into audio book.
Joanna Penn says
It’s not a conversion – you have to have it recorded. More here: