Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of publishing and although many authors choose Amazon's own ACX.com and Audible as primary channels, indie authors now have other options for self-publishing their audiobooks.
In this article, Julia How from The Witcherley Book Company explains how she used Findaway Voices to produce audiobooks.
Step 1. Decide how to produce audiobooks
We started by trying to record an audiobook ourselves, but despite setting up sound-proofing, using a good quality microphone, pop-guard and recording software, the result was terrible.
Our second step was to look at professional narrators. We listened to hundreds of samples on Amazon’s ACX platform only to find that our chosen narrator was no longer available.
A couple of years later, as we published the latest book in a four book series, we decided to look at audiobooks again. Luckily, just as we had a commercial offer for the audio rights, we discovered Findaway Voices. We then had a tricky decision, since it would have been foolish to turn down the offer without being sure we could produce audiobooks ourselves.
Findaway Voices were starting a collaboration with Draft2Digital. Although new to audiobook production, they were part of Findaway.com who had a good reputation in the audiobook world, and produce AudioEngine and PlayAway, the preloaded audio players.
They were offering wide distribution, including to Amazon/Audible (and now to Kobo and GooglePlay) and have a managed audiobook production process.
After various calculations and checks, we decided to produce the books ourselves and contacted Findaway Voices to propose a project for four audiobooks.
Step 2. Calculate how much audiobook production costs
Hiring a professional narrator or studio is the simplest way to a quality audiobook, but it requires significant investment. Production costs are normally calculated upon a rate per finished hour (PFH) basis and we used Findaway Voices’ calculator for this.
We estimated our costs for producing all four audiobooks in one go by dividing the total word count per book by 9,000 to get a rough number of hours for each audiobook, and then applied various PFH rates to get a range of costs.
Step 3. Calculate how much each audiobook is worth
We calculated estimates of profit per sale using Audible pricing. Audible initially sets the audiobook retail price according to the audiobook’s play length (until told of a lower price). Books loaded to Audible through Findaway Voices are non-exclusive, so receive 25% of the retail sale price, minus 20% commission for Findaway Voices.
Findaway Voices also distribute to channels with different models (Audible (25%), subscription (30%-40%) and ‘a la carte’ (40%-50%)) so rates are not standard for all sales. However, this calculation gave us some rough figures to work with.
Step 4. Calculate how many sales are needed to cover the production cost
We wanted to calculate the number of sales to break even and cover production costs, and how long this would take.
Number of sales to breakeven = production cost / estimate of royalty per sale
Estimating how long it would take to make that many sales was difficult without any figures to go on. We decided to use the number of ebook sales per month and to assume a percentage of these could be audiobook sales.
Recent reports from the USA suggest 1 in 5 adults now read audiobooks, so this gives a good figure to use.
1. Estimate number of audiobook sales per month = average monthly ebook sales / 5
2. Estimate number of months to breakeven = Number of sales to breakeven / Estimate number of audiobook sales per month
By checking these with a range of production costs (different PFHs), monthly ebook sales, and proportions of audiobook sales, we came up with a range of costs, payback periods and potential income. Having balanced this against our offer, we decided to go ahead.
Step 5. Get a recommended narrator
Audiobooks come in several forms, including:
- multi-voice dramatizations,
- multi-voice narration,
- single-voice narration,
- single-voice characterisations,
- author’s readings and more.
We asked Findaway Voices for a single voice narration and had to decide what type of voice we wanted so we could tell them and they could recommend a shortlist of narrators.
Our brief was for a male narrator to match the narrators’ voice in the books. We described the main voice as relaxed BBC Received Pronunciation (RP) and also described the voices of four other characters in the books as we hoped to receive recommendations for narrators who did characterizations.
They quickly recommended several excellent narrators at different rates. Having a curated list was fantastic and far easier than spending weeks listening to hundreds of samples as we’d done previously.
We also checked some of the narrators’ earlier audiobooks to see what categories they were in, and what sort of following they had.
After providing sample scripts from the books and hearing the results, we decided on the talented and award-winning Tim Campbell, an American actor, opera singer, and narrator of over 260 books who does many great accents.
We could have asked for auditions from other narrators, or for a different set of recommendations but were sure we’d found our man, provided he was interested. Luckily he was and a recording of the start of the first book was made so we could agree the approach.
Findaway Voices then sent the contracts, which included delivery times. Since we had four books and wanted Tim to narrate them all we agreed a schedule that worked for everyone. And we were off.
Step 6. Quality check the books
After we gave the go-ahead Tim produced the audiobooks very quickly. As with every other format of the book, we did a proofread (or proof-listen) using high-quality noise cancellation headphones to check the recordings (since the majority of audiobook listeners would be listening on headphones).
We listened more than once, both with and without the book text. If we spotted anything, we noted what and where (including the timestamp so we could find it again), and evaluated them:
- Was there background noise/hiss/click etc? If we listened again did it still occur? If not then we didn’t ask for a change.
- If there was a minor change to the text, did it matter? If it made no difference to the sense, we didn’t ask for a change.
- Were the names said correctly? (If you have unusual names or particular pronunciations provide details beforehand.)
- Were there any odd pronunciations? Were they right for the accent and did they cause a problem?
- Was any text missed? Did it matter?
- If the narrator was using voice characterization, was it the right character’s voice for that speech? If not and it mattered we asked for a change.
- As a final check, we opened and listened to all the audio files in turn to check the volume level was consistent.
We were lucky in having top quality recordings with only a few minor adjustments to each book. These were listed in the portal with a timestamp in the notes section for each audio file. Our narrator picked them up and loaded updated audio files within hours. We then listened again and approved each book. We were invoiced a book at a time shortly afterwards.
When reviewing the audio against the text there has to be a close match for inclusion in the WhisperSync programme on Amazon. (WhisperSync is an Amazon/Audible link between the ebook and audio and is only available if they are very closely aligned as it allows them to be synchronized and swapped between.) All of our books on Amazon/Audible were approved for WhisperSync. This also means anyone with the Amazon ebook can get the audiobook at a reduced price.
Before they were distributed, Findaway Voices experts also checked the quality of the audio files to ensure they complied with the channels’ standards.
Step 6. Set up the book metadata, payment details and distribution options
While they were being recorded, we set up the books’ metadata. There are different ISBNs for library and retail editions (which Findaway Voices will help with if you don’t have your own).
Other data includes:
- book description
- grade level
- BISAC categories
- source copyright notice
- audiobook copyright notice, and
- other formats’ ISBNS (ebook / print for retail and library).
We also provided a cover at 2400x2400px as a png file. The metadata and cover were entered on the online portal and could be amended later (though Findaway Voices recommend telling your representative if you make changes after the books are distributed).
This included filling in an online tax questionnaire (allowing the equivalent of a W8-BEN USA tax form to be completed, which, if eligible, prevents 30% withholding tax being taken from all royalty payments).
Before the books are distributed, there is a one-off set-up fee of $49. Though if you load through Draft2Digital this does not apply.
We then agreed the distribution channels we wanted, and set our recommended price for library and retail, and agreed a timetable for distribution. Some channels can take a few weeks to list the books, so we took this into account.
We already had a programme of promotions in place for the ebooks and tried to match the audiobook releases with this. We were fortunate in having two BookBub promotions during this time.
We got some codes for free download copies for the books distributed to Amazon/Audible about 2-3 weeks after they went live and used these for giveaways, for bloggers and for promotions to help raise some reviews.
We offered some codes to Tim after learning that narrators rarely get offered any. We also provided followers with details of where the books could be downloaded for free if chosen as their first book by new subscriber.
Step 7. Receive the money
The different distribution channels have different turn-around times for paying royalties and pay at different rates. We receive two different reports from Findaway Voices: one is total number of sales, the other is a revenue report.
How did it go?
Findaway Voices found us a fantastic narrator and we can’t recommend Tim highly enough. His readings have been described as “awesome” with some listeners telling us they have fallen in love with his narration. This is easy to understand as we don’t think we can hear the books in any other voice now.
We are also delighted that our first book – Inspector Hobbes and the Blood by Wilkie Martin (the only book released in the qualifying period) – is shortlisted for the ABR Audiobook Listener Awards for 2018.
Working with Joanna and Kelly at Findaway Voices was a real pleasure. And we couldn’t be more pleased with the process or be happier that they found us a real star. We thoroughly recommend working with them and can’t wait to get started on our next project together as soon as the next book is ready.
Are you considering having your books created in audiobook format? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Julia How runs The Witcherley Book Company and publishes her partner Wilkie Martin’s unhuman series of humorous cosy mystery fantasy books. She has no plans to write any of her own fiction. As well as Wilkie’s books she publishes some non-fiction – a range of puzzle books compiled by Rex Witcherley that were initially designed for her mum and now include large print, extra-large print and pocket/travel editions.
You can find Findaway Voices at www.FindawayVoices.com, or through your Draft2Digital portal if you distribute through them.