“Going Audio: How to Make an Audiobook for Indie Authors”
by Gary Corbin
Have you “gone audio” yet?
Audiobooks are perhaps the fastest-growing segment of the book publishing industry right now. It’s analogous to the early days of eBooks, with an established but undersupplied market, ripe with opportunity and growth.
My own book sales since “going audio” bear out audio’s fast growth numbers. So far in 2019, audio accounts for almost half of all of my unit sales – even though only three of my six titles are out on audio (with two more dropping any day now). Now that I have used both major audiobook publishing platforms (ACX and Findaway), I have a firm grasp on the pros and cons of both, so I decided it was time I helped other indie authors make their decision.
So how can you jump on the bandwagon and make an audiobook?
This blog post addresses the key questions for an author to consider when facing the question of whether to produce an audio version of their already-published or soon-to-be-published book—and how to do it. It is broken up into the following sections for an easier reading experience:
- Why you should consider producing an audiobook
- How and where to publish your audiobook
- Pros and cons of DIY production and hiring out (with pricing information)
- Selecting a narrator
Without further ado, here’s “Going Audio: How to Make an Audiobook for Indie Authors.”
Why you should make an audiobook
People want to enjoy books, but they’re strapped for time. Audio formats allow busy people to read while walking, working, driving, cleaning their house, etc. Many people are seeking alternative forms of entertainment like podcasts and audiobooks, and who better to provide them that option than you?
Technology is getting better daily and chances are your readers already have it in some form. Smartphones, tablets, computers, even TVs come equipped with all the apps and connectivity they need to enjoy an audiobook.
The cost of audiobooks has also gone way down. It’s not uncommon to find audiobooks priced as low as paperbacks and less than hardcovers. Subscription services have driven prices even lower, and readers can even “borrow” them from the local library for free!
So how do you get started?
Ask yourself these questions before you make an audiobook:
- Is my book a good candidate for audio?
- How and where do I publish?
- Should I self-narrate and produce, or hire it out?
1) Is my book a good candidate for audio?
The best candidates for audio are those with a strong narrative and those that appeal to a wide audience.
By “strong narrative,” I mean fiction or nonfiction with a compelling storyline. Ideal genres include romance, horror, humor, mystery, or fantasy. Literary fiction and poetry work, too, but it is even more important to get a strong reader in these categories. In the nonfiction world, memoirs, biographies, and business books do well.
A wide appeal is key. While you likely think your book will be great for all audiences, you should ask yourself if your specific target market would be classified as niche. You might be excited to hear your book on audio, but don’t forget that it is hard work and occasionally a bit pricey to make an audiobook. So is it worth it for you? How-to books, quotation books, and highly technical books like informational nonfiction may not be good candidates for the audiobook format.
Speaking of compelling storylines! Check out our recent blog post for writers called “31 Specific Strategies for Improving Your Novel.”
2) How and where do I publish?
Realistically, you have two good options for audiobook production: Amazon’s ACX platform and Findaway Voices. The choice between these two parallels your choices for producing print and eBooks: should you go deep (with Amazon) or go wide (with Findaway)?
The short answer to that question is: it depends. As one writer friend put it: “Do you want to keep feeding the Amazon beast, or do you want to keep fighting City Hall?” It’s up to you.
I’ve done both, because my needs for each project have varied. When I self-narrate, Findaway Voices works best for me. When hiring it out, ACX wins hands-down. I’ll explain why.
What ACX and Findaway both offer:
- Options. Both platforms offer the option of producing your own audiobook or hiring it out.
- They both offer a stable of skilled, capable narrators who can produce the book for you. You can list your project for narrators to bid on and for them to submit audition samples.
- Intuitive sales reporting and reasonably quick royalty payment (30-60 days after close of the monthly sales reporting period).
- Bounties. Amazon pays you a $50 cash bounty for any new subscriber that chooses your book first when they subscribe to Audible. Findaway passes on those same bounties from ACX as long as you enable the ACX channel when you publish.
- Share programs. “Share” programs make it possible for you to hire a narrator and produce an audiobook for little to no upfront cost. You’ll be splitting royalties with the narrator, and their programs differ in important ways, but regardless, both platforms do offer these “share programs.”
The benefits of publishing with ACX:
- The Empire. ACX, even more than Kindle Direct Publishing, ties you to the Amazon empire. They only distribute to their own channels, but you do harness the immense Amazon distribution monster for your book. ACX is the biggest game in town, and readers often look to Amazon first.
- Larger narrator pool. ACX has a great pool of narrators to choose from. It provides more extensive narrator profiles, and, through their “Audible Approved” program, ACX sets a higher standard for narrators. You can review narrator profiles and production history, and you can listen to multiple samples before starting a project. Findaway doesn’t offer this option (yet).
- ACX’s Royalty Share program lets you produce an audiobook with no upfront cost, but you sacrifice 50% of your royalties for seven years.
The benefits of publishing with Findaway Voices
- Wide distribution. Findaway distributes to 32 audio channels and retailers – basically everyone, including Audible/ACX. This is important: the vast majority of my sales have come from non-Amazon channels like Bibliotheca and hibooks.
- Indie-friendly. Findaway’s entire process simplifies things for the indie producer, in ways far too numerous and nuanced to contain in this blog post. Here’s a key way, though: if you publish your eBooks through Direct2Digital or Smashwords, setup for your audiobook is simplified.
- Voices Share. Findaway Voices’ Share program asks you to pay 50% of the narrator’s hourly rate in exchange for 50% of the royalties for 10 years. It’s the one way Findaway is less indie-friendly than ACX.
3) Should I self-narrate and produce, or hire it out?
Narrators don’t just read your book – they perform it. A good one will bring your prose and characters to life. Thus, selecting a narrator is a key step in your production process – whether it’s you or someone else.
The best candidates for audio are those with a strong narrative and those that appeal to a wide audience.
Should you narrate your own book?
Readers enjoy hearing authors tell their own stories. It also saves you a lot of money (or earns more, depending on how you look at it). But it’s not for the faint of heart. Ask yourself a few tough questions before you decide to do it on your own:
- Do you have a strong, clear speaking voice?
- Do people like hearing you read?
- Do you read with good diction? If people don’t always understand what you say, narrating may not be for you.
- Are you comfortable speaking into a mic?
Producing an audiobook isn’t just about narrating, though. You also have to create, edit, and produce the actual audio files. It requires some technical savvy. So ask yourself:
- Are you patient and detail-oriented? Listeners expect very clean audio, which requires meticulous editing to remove stray sounds and redubbing to remove errors.
- Do you have the time? A 70,000-word novel turns into about 9 hours of finished audio. But that 9 hours of audio might take you 45-60 hours to produce—once you get good at it. On my first audiobook, I probably spent closer to 100 hours, learning from my many, many mistakes.
- Do you have dedicated quiet space for your recording? It doesn’t have to be large, but it MUST be quiet. The more background noise on the original, the longer it takes to edit.
- Do you have the hardware and software (or can you afford to buy it)? You can probably expect to spend about $300-400 on this.
- Alternatively, you can rent a studio with the equipment, but it’s likely to cost several times more. But for some, it’s the only option.
If you answer “yes” to all of those questions, you’re a great candidate for doing it yourself. If not, you might want to hire a narrator.
I self-narrated and produced Lying in Judgment in my own recording studio in 2018. You can check out the final product (and listen to a sample) here.
Should you hire a narrator?
If you choose to hire a narrator, your job gets much easier. But you have an important up-front question to answer: what’s your budget?
- Do you have around $2,500 available to invest in your audiobook? If so, you can hire it out in the traditional way and reduce your own workload and stress.
- Do you have around $1,000–$1,500 to invest? If so, you’re a candidate for ACX’s Royalty Share Plus or Findaway’s Voices Share program.
- Do you have close to no cash available? ACX’s Royalty Share is for you.
Once you have your payment plan figured out, it’s time to get started on finding your narrator.
4 Steps for Hiring an Audiobook Narrator:
1) Create a publisher account
This is an easy one! Just make sure you create a publisher account (not a narrator account!) on your preferred production site: ACX or Findaway.
If you’re on ACX, preview some narrators by heading into the “Find a studio professional page.” Then, use the filtering options on the left side of the screen and check out narrator profiles and production history. Get a feel for it all.
2) Create your project
Each platform has different steps here. Just make sure you answer their questions honestly and completely. This will help them recruit potential narrators for you. This is particularly important when it comes to voice (male/female, accents, etc.), genre, and whether you prefer a Share or traditional agreement.
3) Begin auditions
You’ll need to write and upload an audition script. Typically, an audition script is 1-2 pages (250-500 words) from your book that will give you and the narrator a strong sense of how the book will sound when read aloud. You’ll want some narrative and some dialogue, with multiple characters if possible.
Set a reasonable deadline for receiving responses. Keep in mind, audition tapes can take several days to produce, and the longer the period, the more bids you’ll likely receive. I like to give a week for auditions. (On Findaway, the 1-week period is automatic.)
Within a few days, the system will provide links to interested narrators. Listen to the auditions (as well as any other samples on their profiles), check out their production history, and select the narrator that best fits your project. You’ll then sign an agreement online to hire the narrator, make the up-front payment, and establish deadlines for interim milestones and the final project.
4) Review and approve your narrator
You’ll get a chance to review audio files and provide feedback before you give final approval. This can be tedious, but giving good feedback is critical. Don’t nit-pick or tell the narrator how to do their job, but be firm about fixing errors that would change your intended meaning or spoil the experience for readers.
How to update your book cover for audio
Whether you do it yourself or hire it out, you’ll need to restretch your cover to fit the square specs (2400×2400 px) required for audiobooks, and add a credit for your narrator. For my self-narrated books, I simply add, “Narrated by the author,” under the author credit or book title.
You’ll also need to ensure that none of the text (title or credits) lies in the lower right corner, as ACX may cover that area with their own splash logo. This may also require moving your book title or credits around.
Production sites and partners:
What are you waiting for?
Audiobook production requires a commitment of time, money, and faith, but it also provides significant opportunities for expanding book sales and your pool of faithful readers. We’re at that sweet spot where markets are maturing, technology is cheap and available, and help is plentiful. Whether you self-produce or hire it out, it’s not too late to catch the wave – even get ahead of most other writers.
So what are you waiting for? Go make an audiobook. You’ll be glad you did.
About the Author
Gary Corbin is the author of six novels, five of which have been produced as audiobooks. In his latest release, A Woman of Valor, rookie policewoman Valorie Dawes pursues serial child molester Richard Harkins, but Valorie’s past includes childhood abuse trauma of her own, and her battle with this cunning, vicious criminal awakens #metoo memories and emotions she’d rather forget. The audio version will be released on Audible/ACX any day now, joining his four other audiobooks – Lying in Judgment, Lying in Vengeance, The Mountain Man’s Dog, and The Mountain Man’s Bride, released via Findaway Voices on all audio retail channels. Gary also narrates audiobooks and provides a full range of editing services for indie writers. For more information, visit garycorbinwriting.com.
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