I (Lizzie) am excited to welcome talented author and award-winning voice over artist Trista Shaye back to Lands Uncharted! Last time, Trista talked to us about childrens books and her delightful Big the Barn Cat series. Today, she's giving us an inside looks at the audiobook narration world as both a narrator and as an author.
Welcome, Trista! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into audiobook narration.
Hello! Thank you for having me.
I live with my husband and my crazy kitty, Beans. I work as a voice over artist - mostly narrating audiobooks at this time - and on the side I’m an author, crafter, song writer, and illustrator. I dream of moving somewhere warm - hopefully soon! - and having palm trees in my yard.
I got into audiobook narration after I first got married. I had been looking for a job but had had no luck. So I was working from home, trying to grow my crafting business, and thinking about getting back into writing. Out of nowhere, my first audiobook job dropped into my lap. I was chosen pretty much right after I’d auditioned, as they absolutely loved my voice for their story. I was ecstatic. I had always wanted to try voice acting, and here was my first opportunity. Since then, I’ve narrated around 93 audiobooks (5 of which are my own books), voiced a commercial for LEGO, am the voice of a superhero in a podcast, and various other exciting things.
What is your favorite genre to narrator? Any funny stories to tell?
My favorite genre is fantasy. I enjoy the characters and the worlds I get to know and visit. It’s rather fun. But it can also get complicated with all those made-up names! Pronunciation guides for fantasy novels are a must. Fantasy authors take note, provide those for your narrators, they will be eternally grateful!
I find it extremely funny when I’m meant to say one thing but, as I’m looking ahead at what’s coming next, my brain messes up the sentence and it comes out as something totally different. I usually have to stop recording so I can laugh for a minute. One of my favorite instances of this is when I was meant to say “single pre-selected” and instead I said “Pringle.” I laughed pretty hard at that one.
Does being an author and a narrator change things for you? What have you learned from being on both sides?
I think so? I couldn’t tell you for sure that it does change a lot, because I don’t know what it’s like to just be one or the other. But I like to think that it helps me as a narrator to be able to better understand where an author is coming from, since I know the labor of love they’ve gone through to get their book to this point. I want to treat their book with respect and give it the best narration it can get so both of us are well represented in the final production.
I think being a narrator has helped me be a better author. And being an author has helped me be a better narrator. I’ve learned what things sound like, and what I do and don’t like about certain writing styles when they’re read aloud. I’ve learned where to pause and where to build because I write with that in mind, and because I narrate with that in mind. It’s kind of an interwoven dance that helps me hone my craft in both areas.
What do you wish authors knew? Or narrators understood?
I wish both authors and newer narrators would understand that being a narrator is a job and therefore you should be paying them for what they do professionally. Newer narrators think they can’t charge what they should be charging, and so they offer to produce audiobooks for royalty share to “build their portfolio.” While there is a little truth to that, new narrators should be priced at the lower end of the spectrum instead of off the spectrum entirely. Royalty share is a big risk for narrators as it’s producing something for free that they could never see a return on. And it creates an unspoken understanding for authors that they can get their book produced for free, so why should they pay? However, just because you start working at the grocery store doesn’t mean you spend forty hours a week “building your portfolio” for free. You’re getting paid, less than a manager, but you’re getting paid.
As an author, I understand it can get expensive. But so can good cover art, good editing, and good marketing. Plan ahead, save up, and pay your narrator what they’re worth. It’s so important to do, for both you as an author and for your narrator.
Great point. "The laborer is worthy of his wages," for sure! Any insider advice on ACX vs FindAway Voices, Royalty share or Pay Per Finished Hour, Chirp, marketing, etc.?
I personally have more experience with ACX since I can communicate with the author instead of having auditions sent to me blindly. I choose not to perform sexual content or swearing so I always send a pre-audition message to the author (on ACX) to ask if their book contains these things and so as not to waste either of our time if it does. On Findaway, auditions are simply sent to narrators, and I think I’ve had two that have been clean. I always decline the auditions and send them feedback stating that I don’t perform that type of thing. But they don’t seem to read it I guess, because I keep getting auditions with that content.
So long as you choose expanded distribution and pay for the full production of the project on ACX, you can sell your book anywhere else - Findaway, Chirp, etc. However, ACX has tons of bugs and issues that crop up almost daily. So be prepared for anything if you choose ACX.
Paying for an audiobook: You can choose to pay a narrator (or not pay them) three different ways on ACX.
1) Royalty share - which means you pay your narrator nothing up front and they split royalties with you for the next 7 years (50-50 split, but Audible takes a percent so it’s actually a 40-40 split). If you choose this option you have to go exclusive with Audible and can’t choose the expanded distribution option. You’re also going to find you will get more beginner narrators who will audition for royalty share and very few more experienced narrators will touch it.
2) Royalty share plus - this is one of my favorite options. You pay a smaller rate up front and also split royalties. This way, you don’t break the bank, but the narrator is getting compensated something for their work. Usually the rate is half or less of what the narrator’s full PFH rate is. This option means you only get to go exclusive with ACX, though.
3) Lastly, PFH rates - this is where you pay a narrator in full for the production - you’re not paying for their time spent, you’re only paying for the final hours of the book. Most narrators who have been doing this for a long time are somewhere in the range of $200-400 per finished hour. But you can find some good ones at $150+ as well. Though expensive, this gives you massive freedom with your final audiobook and files. You get all the royalties from your book from Audible, or anywhere else you choose to sell it, and you can distribute it elsewhere.
Exclusive Vs. Non-exclusive to Audible. Pros to Exclusive: gives you a higher royalty rate, gets your book on Audible and iTunes, you get free codes to send out to people in exchange for reviews. And sometimes you get a sticker on your book cover saying Audible Exclusive. Cons: You can’t distribute your audiobook anywhere else for at least 1 year (this is only if you pay for the full production, if you’re a type of royalty share, you’re stuck in exclusive), you are subject to seeing your royalty payments disappear as people can choose to return your book and get their money back - a dumb Audible policy that we’ve been fighting for years.
Pros for non-exclusive: You can take your audiobook anywhere and thus, likely sell more copies. It gives people more options and you keep the royalties for all the sales you make. It gets your book on Audible and iTunes through ACX. Cons: You get a lower royalty rate from ACX, but only ACX. And you don’t get the free promo codes.
(I personally think a good option is to pay for production, if you’re able, and go exclusive for a year so you can get the codes to get the reviews and then go non-exclusive so you can distribute everywhere.)
I personally don’t have much experience in marketing audiobooks, so I don’t think I’d be much help in this area. Sorry.
That's a lot of great information! I really like the idea of going exclusive for one year and then going wide. I hear a lot of people pushing for authors to get audiobooks done. It feels like the “easy money” push these days. Some even say do it yourself. That might work for non-fiction, but I’m not so sure about fiction! What are your thoughts on this trend? Can you give us a realistic image of audiobook production and sales?
A lot, and I mean a lot of people (authors and narrators), think audiobooks are a get-rich-quick scheme. Let me burst your bubble, it’s not. So don’t treat it like that. Yes, I highly recommend getting your books into audio. Why? People are busy and a lot of them have time to listen but not read books now days. And there are so many scammers out there who steal books off Amazon and get the audiobook produced so they can take the royalties - we call these people code farmers. Use to be only royalty share books were scammers. Now however, I’ve seen more and more paying projects that are scams. One was even paying $200-400 for the production! I’ve also heard it’s been happening on Fiver as well.
I highly recommend at least creating a profile on ACX (it’s free) and claiming your books as yours, even if you want to wait a couple of years to produce them. Though the sooner the better, as you’re less likely to have to deal with scammers stealing your work. Save up and plan for it as you’re getting ready to launch your book.
As for production cost and sales, it can be expensive and a lot of times you won’t see the return. Paying your narrator is important, as you likely get one who’s more experienced and this is their job. Sales are rather hit or miss, to be honest. I have narrated several royalty share plus books and some that I would expect to sell don’t, and then there’s a box set I narrated a year ago and we sell one hundred or more copies a month.
Do you market the book on Amazon and/or other places? Do your readers like to listen to audiobooks? Do you have a professional reading and producing your book? Did you get the whole series turned into an audiobook or just the first one? (Do the whole series! Some listeners will pass up a book when they see the rest aren’t in audio.)
One option to help with the cost of your audiobook production, is to start a Kickstarter campaign. This helps you pay the narrator and it gives you an idea of how well the audiobook might sell.
I hope all of this information was helpful!
It's very helpful! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I personally prefer to read my fiction and listen to my non-fiction, but I have been trying to get more of my books into audio for those who prefer to "read" it in that format, and for those who can only listen. Now I know better how to proceed with future books!