Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Audiobook Basics—Getting one produced is not as hard as you’d think

There’s been a good bit of buzz the last few years about audiobooks and how the market is growing and how indie authors should get audiobooks made. But before you throw your hands up and say there’s no way you can afford it or do it on your own, read on. It can actually be quite affordable—as in no upfront capital to get a professional narrator to do your audiobook. And depending on your distribution and production payment  choices, your royalty rate can be up to 40% of the retail price (20% if doing royalty share). And since many audiobooks are $15.00 or up, that’s a nice way to increase your income and provide great stories to people who prefer or rely on that format.

I’ve been thinking about getting an audiobook done for my first novel, The Rose and the Wand, for some time, so a few weeks ago I started the process, and I hope to have a completed audiobook soon. The process has been a blast so far, and I’m already planning to get my second novel made into an audiobook as well.

A lot of audiobook narrators are also theater and film actors, and since theaters are closed because of Covid-19 right now, now is a good time to get an audiobook done. The narrators have more time and could probably use the extra cash.

Here’s a brief run down of audiobook production basics and my own experience. (I know I said brief and this post is anything but brief, but I wanted to give enough information for a good background—you can visit the websites and other blogs for more in-depth information.)
Audiobook cover The Rose and the Wand
I created this temporary audiobook cover to use
until my designer reformats the book's cover for me.

Audiobook 101: An outline of the process

1) Upload book information to ACX or Findaway Voices
2) Decide on method of payment and whether you want to go exclusive or non-exclusive with the distribution
3) Upload audition script
4) Listen to narrator auditions and choose a narrator. Then work with the narrator to set a timeline for completion and decide on rates, if paying upfront
5) Sign the contract, send the manuscript, and wait
6) Review the first 15 minutes of audio. Once you accept it (or reject, if needed), then additional chapters can be uploaded
7) Be patient as narrator produces and uploads each chapter, one chapter at a time.
8) Upload an audiobook cover
9) Accept the finished product, pay and/or sign final papers
10) Market

Audiobook 101: In a little more detail

1) Decided who to partner with for your audiobook production and distribution

Right now, I know of ACX (acx.com) and Findaway Voices (https://findawayvoices.com/). These two companies act as a go-between for authors and narrators and as distribution companies.

Working with ACX

ACX (connected to Audible and Amazon) offers several options to help connect authors and narrators and get audiobooks produced. Narrators can create profiles on ACX, and authors can search this database for a narrator of their choice and then approach the narrator via ACX message system. Or the author can upload an audition script with information about the book and production payment choices, and narrators can audition for the book.

If you use ACX, you have two distribution options: Exclusive (Audible, Amazon, and iTunes; 40% royalty) and Non-exclusive (can sell anywhere; 25% royalty). If you plan to go wide with your audiobook and can afford at least half of the upfront cost, you should consider Findaway Voices as well.

ACX offers three options for paying for the audiobook: 

Pay for Production 
Author pays the narrator (who is also the producer) upfront. Narrators charge a set price for each finished hour of the audiobook. This is call the Per Finished Hour (PFH) rate. A narrator’s PFH rate depends on their experience. Consequently, the rate can vary greatly. Some newer narrators may only charge $50-100 PFR while the more experienced narrators charge several hundred per hour. If you choose Pay for Production, you can choose Exclusive (Audible, amazon, iTunes; 40% royalties)  or Non-exclusive distribution (you can set up wide; 25% royalties).

How do you know how long your audiobook will be to help you calculate the cost? ACX will give you an estimate of how long your audiobook will be once you tell them your book’s word count. My ~90,000 word novel has an estimated length of 9.3 hrs. So if I did Pay Per Production for this book with a less experienced narrator (say one new to audiobooks but with theater and film experience and so still a great narrator) at the $100 PFH rate, that would be about $930. Findaway Voices has a very nice tool that gives you an estimate of the final cost based on your word count; however, their tool’s lowest PFH rate is $150. (https://findawayvoices.com/pricing/)

Royalty Share and Royalty Share Plus
In this option, the author doesn’t pay anything upfront. They must choose the exclusive distribution option. This is the 40% royalty. This royalty is split between the author and narrator, 20% to each. Check out ACX’s webpage and other blogs for more information on how you might buy out of this eventually, if desired.

In Royalty Share Plus, the author pays some of the production cost upfront and splits royalties.

As you’ve probably guessed, the more experienced narrators generally prefer Pay for Production, as it’s less of a gamble for them getting paid, but you can still get good narrators in the Royalty Share option. Of course, if you choose the latter, it’s especially important to work hard marketing to make sure your narrator gets paid back for their hard work.

Also, when exclusive with ACX, retailers set the price of your audiobook (and I think your royalty is from that retail price). ACX has a general estimate for retail prices here (https://audible-acx.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/6656)

Working with Findaway Voices 

Findaway Voices offers Pay for Production and also Voices Share, where you pay half up-front and then split royalties. If using Findaway, you can distribute through 40 audiobook retailers and library platforms (so you can go wide), set your own price, and keep an 80% royalty. But note that this 80% is after the retailer’s ~50% cut, so it works out to about 40% of the list price (the same as ACX’s exclusive rate). So say you set a $10 list cost for retailers, e.g. for iTunes or Audible. The retailer (in this case iTunes) keeps 50% ($5) and sends the remaining 50% ($5) to Findaway; Findaway keeps 20% of that $5 ($1) for handling distribution and sends you the remaining 40% ($4). In Voices Share, it’s 60% to the author and 20% to the narrator; this requires some exclusivity (so Findaway can handle splitting the royalties, but it is still wide) and comes with a buy-out option. https://blog.findawayvoices.com/voices-share/

2) Choose a narrator

Audiobooks are basically theatrical productions for the ear alone, which means your narrator needs to be able to do a lot of voices and emotions. To gauge whether a narrator is right for your project, you upload an audition script for narrators to perform. You only have 2-3 pages for your audition script (so about 5 minutes of audio), so choose your script carefully. Don’t just take the first few pages of your book. Choose two to three scenes that include your main characters and any other characters who are particularly important. Choose scenes with a range of emotions portrayed. You need to get a feel for how well the narrator “acts.”

When you set up your project, ACX will ask you about your narrator preferences.
a) Do you want a male or female narrator? Or both?

b) What kind of accent? General American? Scottish? Cockney? Southern US? There are a whole host of accents to choose from, and this can be intimidating. If you need help, you can open another browser tab, go to ACX’s narrators page and do a narrator search using the different options (different accent or voice style, for example). Narrator voice samples will come up, and you can listen to those to get an idea of what that accent type sounds like. You might also find a narrator you really like.  https://www.acx.com/ss

c) Voice style and age? What kind of voice do you want? A refined voice? A rough voice? Flirty? Cynical? Very young? Old?

Once you’ve made those decisions and posted your audition script (for ACX, Findaway will suggest narrators), wait while narrator create and upload auditions. Listen to those and contact the narrator you want to work with. Finalize details, including the Per Finished Hour rate, then sign the contract. I started out on ACX Royalty Share, but decided to ask the narrator I wanted to work with what her PFH rate was. While she was very talented, she was new to audiobooks and so had a lower rate. I offered to pay her upfront, and she agreed, and the book was switched to Per for Production. So you can switch methods from what you originally said, if your narrator agrees.

3) Set a timeline and be patient and wait for uploads

You will need to set a date for the narrator to upload the first 15 minutes for your approval. Talk with them about how long it takes. Don’t rush them, since you want a quality product. Once you’re approved the first 15 minutes, the narrator will start working on the rest and upload it chapter by chapter.

4) Be flexible and considerate of  your narrator’s time and effort

Have you ever written out a speech word for word and practiced and practiced it, and when you delivered it, you ended up speaking freely and changing up the words a bit? Well, some audiobook narrators will do that too. As I’ve listened to my chapters while reading along in my book, I’ve noticed some of those little words editors tend to cut but that we use in speech tend to get put back in. The meaning hasn’t changed, but it isn’t exactly word-for-word. Sometimes, narrators may accidently switch a word or two to something else, especially if they are working quickly for a fast turn-around time. Before you get upset, ask if it’s worth mentioning. Does it change the meaning substantially? If not, then it might be best to ignore.

Some narrators may be able to go in and change a word or two without re-recording, others might not without it sounding unnatural. Forcing them to re-record a twenty-five chapter over one word or two may not be worth it in the long run. Be gracious, but also be firm on what is really important. Look up the policies for what you can expect in the way of redos if you have significant issues. But do make sure you listen to all the chapters and make that the chapters uploaded in order.

5) Upload an audiobook cover 

This is not the same as your ebook or print cover. These are square covers about 2400 by 2400 pixels. Check the cover requirements and talk to your cover designer about getting your ebook/print book cover formatted for audiobook. If you can’t get that done, you might consider using a place like fiverr to get a cheap cover done. It won’t match, but not all do. ACX doesn’t like you to just put your vertically designed ebook cover on top of a square background either.

6) Finalize 

When you have all the chapters and the cover, accept the finished product, and pay and/or sign final papers.

7) Market

ACX and Findaway have advice on how to market. Check those out and get to work (especially if you used a Royalty Share option).

Do you like listening to audiobooks? I’ve only listened to a few, mostly non-fiction, but I am loving my narrator’s production of The Rose and the Wand. So I might have to start listening to more fiction audiobooks. Do you think you’ll get one done? If you have an audiobook? How was your experience? Any tips?


  1. This is so informative, Lizzie! Thanks for sharing. I don't often listen to audiobooks personally, but I have many friends who love them, and I think it makes sense for authors to offer them if at all possible.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience and insights. Helpful and informative!


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