The written word is an increasingly crowded marketplace. There are more books published every day alongside many thousands of articles and many millions of social media updates. At the same time, people are listening to more podcasts and audiobooks, making time for consumption in their busy lives while doing other things.
The advent of mobile and streaming internet speeds alongside cheap technology for creation and consumption have exploded the potential for audio in the last decade and it just keeps getting better. Here are some recent headlines:
- The Audio Publishers Association reports seven years of double-digit revenue growth for audiobooks in the USA [Publishing Perspectives]
- The Independent reports that audiobook sales are predicted to overtake ebook sales in the UK in 2020
- Time spent listening to online audio reached a record high in 2019, with weekly online audio listeners reporting an average of nearly 17 hours of listening in the last week, according to the Edison Infinite Dial Report
There is clearly a growing demand for audio in all kinds of formats and as creators, we are well placed to take advantage of this shift in consumer behavior. In this article, I'll explain how to self-publish an audiobook.
[This is an excerpt from Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies.]
There are a number of companies you can use to independently publish your audiobook. Your choices will depend on where you are in the world as not all services are available globally. I use ACX alongside Findaway Voices for my audiobooks so those are the companies I’ll focus on here.
ACX.com is a marketplace that connects rights holders (authors, publishers, agents etc) with narrators and producers to enable audiobook production. It's an Amazon company and audiobooks produced through the site are sold on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.
You have to legally own the rights to use ACX, for example, you're an independent author who self-publishes or a traditionally published author who has not licensed audio rights.
At the time of writing, ACX.com is only available to authors in the US, UK, Canada, and Ireland, but hopefully, it will expand to other territories over time as audiobooks continue to grow but you can also use Findaway Voices as covered below this section if you are outside of these countries.
Log into ACX with your normal Amazon login and claim your book
Search with the Amazon ASIN, the number that Amazon assigns to every book on the store, or the book title and then claim your book so it is assigned to your ACX account. This will be available as an option as soon as your book is on pre-order, so if you want to launch your audiobook at the same time as your ebook and print book, use a pre-order period that allows for the amount of time it takes to produce and publish an audiobook.
Enter the book details for the narrator
ACX will pull information from your ebook profile but you will need to add notes on sales and your author platform, which is particularly important if you want to attract an experienced narrator, or if you want to do royalty share deals.
You also need to include a sample for the audition and specify what type of voice you want. For example, an African-American adult male vs. a young adult female would suit two different narrators.
You only need to load your audiobook cover by the time you publish, but adding it early might attract more narrators to audition for the project. I have mine designed at the same time as the ebook and print book covers. They have the same design element and font but audiobook covers are square, even in digital format, presumably because of CD covers in the past.
Decide on the contract and exclusivity
At this stage, you must choose the type of deal you’d like to do with a narrator — pay outright or do a royalty split deal. The latter is a seven year contract and you will need to be exclusive with ACX.
If you self-narrate or you have hired a narrator at the finished hour rate, there is only one choice at the contract stage — whether you go exclusive or non-exclusive with ACX for distribution.
If you go exclusive, you receive a higher royalty rate but your audiobook will only be available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. This is also a seven-year contract, but if you own the rights, you can email ACX after one year and ask to be moved to a non-exclusive contract.
If you go non-exclusive, you receive a lower royalty rate but you can also publish your audiobook on other platforms and sell direct from your website. You have complete control.
If you are exclusive with ACX, your audiobook will only be available to those who listen on Audible and iTunes. You’re missing out on other global markets and companies which are expanding at an incredible rate like Storytel, Scribd, Kobo Audio and more, with new services emerging all the time.
You also miss out on library distribution if you’re exclusive on ACX, and you can’t sell direct or use a promotional service like Chirp from BookBub. These may be small income streams at first, but over time, as you develop an audiobook ecosystem and the market keeps expanding, these could overtake your ACX royalties.
FindawayVoices.com can help match you with a narrator, or you can publish your own files separately. They have a royalty share option as well as a pay per finished hour contract. You can set the price for your audiobook separately for retail and library markets and you can use their Authors Direct app to sell audio direct to listeners.
Their tagline is ‘Take back your freedom,’ because the creator has the opportunity to reach listeners on global audiobook platforms and set their own price.
Most of the features are available to authors globally but some are being rolled out to different markets over time.
Kobo Writing Life (KWL) Audio
You can publish audiobooks directly through Kobo Writing Life and this will make your audiobook eligible for different kinds of promotion. Kobo.com sells audiobooks to its readers, but Kobo also works with sister company, Overdrive, for library distribution, as well as having distribution deals with Walmart and other companies. You can reach the same markets through Findaway but the additional promotion may make it worthwhile to go direct to KWL.
Your audiobook. Your choice.
Personally, I prefer to go wide with audio as much as possible, so I choose non-exclusive for my English-language audiobooks. However, when I was just starting out as an author, with less money to invest, I did exclusive, royalty split deals, so it’s completely your choice.
I use ACX with a non-exclusive contract for Amazon and Audible distribution and then use Findaway Voices to reach wider markets. I’m pulling all my books out of ACX exclusivity when the royalty-split contracts come up for renewal.
There are other companies that can help you get your books into audio and of course, you may choose to license your rights to an audiobook production company. Whatever you choose, make sure you understand where the audiobook will be distributed and how your royalties will work for the long term.
When you publish through ACX, they set the price. It is calculated based on audiobook length and can also change based on the various pricing mechanisms and promotions used by Audible.
For example, a subscriber gets one credit a month for $9.99 and can ‘buy’ a $40 audiobook with that credit. There are also various other discounting options for audiobook listeners that mean they don’t pay full retail price for an audiobook. The royalty statement from ACX includes a breakdown of all these different variations.
When you publish through Findaway Voices, you can set your own price for both retail and library sales. You also have an opportunity to do promotional pricing.
So, if you want to control your own price, go with Findaway.
Physical sales of audiobooks
In 2018, the Audio Publishers Association survey announced that 91% of audiobook sales were digital in the USA. While the rest of the world lags behind by a few years, the global use of mobile devices means that these numbers will continue to grow. So while you can manufacture and sell your audiobooks on CD with companies like CDBaby, you have to consider whether it is worth it. Personally, I choose to distribute my audiobooks in digital format only.
Want to know more about Audio for Authors? Check out the book for more details.
More interviews and resources:
- How to record your own audiobooks and use ACX for distribution
- Writing for Audio First with Jules Horne
- Storyteller: Audiobook Narration Tips with Lorelei King
- Audiobook Narration and Performance Tips with Sean Pratt
- Going further with audiobooks: An interview with audio rights expert J Daniel Sawyer
- Audiobook narration and working with narrators with Veronica Giguere
- How audiobook narration and production works with Rosalind Ashford
- Audiobook production and marketing tips with Jeffrey Kafer
Need more help?
If you'd like some more help on your author journey, check out:
- My Books for Authors
- My Audiobooks for Authors
- My Courses for Authors, including How to Write a Novel and How to Write Non-Fiction
- The Creative Penn Podcast, interviews, inspiration and information on writing, publishing, book marketing, and creative entrepreneurship every Monday
- My videos at YouTube.com/thecreativepenn