Posted On June 16, 2017 by Print This Post

Audiobooks: What You Should Know – by Veronica Scott

RU Contributor Veronica Scott discusses factors you should consider if you’re thinking about creating audiobooks.

Since June is Audiobook Month, I thought I should devote my post to that topic. First, some relevant statistics from a December 8, 2016 post on the Goodereader.com website: “Over the course of the past three years the highest growing segment of publishing are audiobooks. The global audiobook industry is currently evaluated at $3.5 billion dollars and the United States is currently the largest singular market with $1.8 billion dollars in audio sales in 2016 and this was a 31% increase from 2015. The Audio Publishers of America has stated that every year for the past three years 36,000 audiobooks were issued.”

As an author, you can certainly see why such a huge market would be of interest to me (and hopefully to you!) as another paying audience for your books. When I first started self-publishing in 2012, I was determined to also have audiobook versions of my novels available. To date, I have five that I commissioned and Carina Press had audiobooks made of my two books with them. I wasn’t involved in their process.

I was totally involved in my process and worked through Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), which is part of Audible.com, an Amazon subsidiary. I can only speak to my experience there, which has been extremely positive. ACX has a huge database of narrators and producers (and many narrators are also producers), and they’ve streamlined the process to make everything easy. The contracts are quite straightforward. There are other options nowadays besides ACX for having an audiobook made so I encourage any author considering the idea to do some basic research online and ask questions in their author groups.

The narrator is the absolute key to the success or failure of the audiobook so spend as much time as you must to find the right one. I can’t get into detail here due to space limitations but the ACX site explains the how-to mechanics. Basically you put up a short sample of the work in question and narrators will submit auditions reading your selection for you to listen to. Generally the actors would prefer to be paid a flat per-finished-hour (PFH) rate for their work, versus doing a royalty split arrangement. The PFH can range from $200-$400 depending on your narrator’s experience and whether they are also the producer. They walk away after the audiobook is finished.

With a royalty split arrangement instead, they take no payment up front but own half the audio rights to your book for a period of seven years and my understanding is then you have to buy them out or let the arrangement go on. I know many authors who are reluctant to sign away any rights and royalties to a book that could turn out to be a huge hit and make millions. Personally, especially with my first audiobook, I was a very small fish, didn’t have the money to pay the PFH and was thrilled to find a narrator willing to do the split. He wanted to break into audiobook narration although he was a trained actor and had done other voiceover work, and video games.

At the time ACX also offered a stipend, an upfront payment to the narrator taking the split, to incentivize them to take the risk on your book. I’m not aware whether they still do that.

Michael Riffle was perfect for my book. When I heard his audition, I knew within the first few words that he “was” my space going Special Forces hero. He’s done five audiobooks for me now, including several where we also had an actress narrating the heroine’s role, and the collaboration is wonderful. Listening to him bring my characters to life has given me new insights. He knows my characters, my Sectors universe and my books inside out and sometimes he beta reads other novels for me. We forged an excellent team. Most of the books we did on the PFH arrangement. My readers love his voice – one has told us she likes to fall asleep listening to him narrate my books and then she has good dreams.

All good then?

Well, no so much. Things change constantly in the ebook and audiobook market, as various retailers change their practices. It costs several thousand dollars to make an audiobook and currently it’s very challenging to recoup those costs, much less break into a profit position. On Amazon, for example, there’s the Whispersync feature, where a reader who owns the ebook can buy the audiobook for about $7.49 (raised recently from $1.99). Authors currently have no say in whether Whispersync gets applied to their books. For my books, that’s less than half the retail price for the audiobook on Audible.com. I’m fairly philosophical – the big retailers are going to do what they’re going to do and no one consults me. And I do have many readers who love to own the audiobook version too, so yay! I’m not doing any more audiobooks right now though, due to the cost. Rather than belabor this point, let me just say again how important it is to do your research into all your options and all aspects of the market before taking the plunge into audio.

Marketing is a challenge (just as doing promo for books is in general), especially finding reviewers. There are a number of Facebook groups devoted to audiobooks. There are Goodreads lists of audiobooks, broken down in all sorts of ways, by genre, etc. There are some review sites such as Audiobook Reviewer, AudioGals, Books For Ears and Audiobook Jukebox to mention a few. ACX is generous with promo codes for authors to give to reviewers. Of course it used to be that the person you gave the code to was able to use your code to download any book on Audible, which wasn’t so hot, but I believe steps have been taken recently to plug that loophole. I also have a newsletter list devoted exclusively to audiobooks, which I’ve grown both organically and through targeted promo listbuilders. I’ve seen authors like Grace Draven be extremely creative, talking on Facebook about the process of making their audiobooks, sharing ‘behind the scenes’ videos from their narrator to boost interest, etc.

Don’t plan to narrate your own book unless you’re a trained actor. Yes, some famous authors do narrate their own books but unless you’re in that stratosphere, I wouldn’t attempt it. It’s not like reading a bedtime story and doing a few lines in a special voice. Audiobook audiences are very sophisticated and demanding, and they expect a high quality listening experience for the entire 7-9 hours. For one book (not mine), my narrator had to do twelve different voices in one scene together, for example. And those characters continued through the book so he had to remember how he was voicing each one and stay consistent. Even a trained actor can only do a few hours of narration at any one session. And don’t forget you’d have to find someone willing to produce the audiobook for you and direct the performance (or at least give input). It can be done – I’m just not recommending it as a cheap alternative.

Here was my experience narrating exactly seven words in the “City On The Edge of Forever” Star Trek audiobook, as I reported it for USA Today Happy Ever After in 2016:

The scene I’m in doesn’t appear in the TV episode. My character is Crew Woman (sounds like a super hero, doesn’t it?) and I’m proud to say the gender was changed to fit me. Going by the full original script as written by Mr. Ellison, my character was probably a Security red shirt who transported to the surface of the planet as part of a landing party with Kirk, Spock and a few others. I’m imagining myself in one of the short red uniforms like Uhura’s! After the crew member we’re chasing goes back in time and somehow changes the future, my character beams up to the Enterprise along with the rest of our party. To our great surprise we find that since history has been altered, our ship is now a marauder vessel named the Condor, crewed by a lot of less than savory renegades. Long story short, we take control of the transporter chamber, with one of our crew members getting killed. Kirk and Spock strategize what to do next.

While they debate, my character utters these words: “Cap’n. I feel heat. They’re blasting.” The marauders are trying to break in and take us all prisoner. 

That’s it, my sole spoken contribution. But I said this to Kirk! With Spock standing there! I said Harlan Ellison dialog! 

Crew Woman is left aboard the Condor with the others, under the command of Yeoman Rand, fighting off the bad guys, while the Captain and Spock return to the planet to fix time and restore history. Their actions are the core of the story of course. 

I’ve had several of my own novels done as audiobooks so I’m familiar with the process. I knew I wasn’t going to be recording with the other cast members. Their work is all completed and my line will get edited into the recording as part of the final product. It was still very exciting to meet award winning director and writer Gabrielle de Cuir, Senior Producer on this project, who patiently coached me through various takes of my line. I kept hanging up on saying “cap’n” instead of “captain.” It’s amazing how many ways a person can say the same six or seven words. 

Ms. De Cuir worked with me for nearly an HOUR. We tried the reading in many, many different ways so she would have various options for the finished product. I was exhausted by the end. I’m certainly not going to tackle any scenes requiring me to voice twelve characters!

What’s your feeling about audiobooks? Are you a fan? Have you ever had one made for any of your books?

***

Here are the details of my newest audiobook, Star Cruise: Outbreak, which I did not attempt to narrate:

She saved countless soldiers in the wars … but does she have the weapons to fight an outbreak? 

Dr. Emily Shane, veteran of the Sector Wars, is known as “The Angel of Fantalar” for her bravery under fire as a medic. However, the doctor has her own war wounds–severe PTSD and guilt over those she failed to save. 

Persuaded to fill a seemingly frivolous berth as ship’s doctor on the huge and luxurious interstellar cruise liner Nebula Zephyr, she finds the job brings unexpected perks–a luxe beach deck with water imported from Tahumaroa II, and Security Officer Jake Dilon, a fellow veteran who heats her up like a tropical sun. 

However, Emily soon learns she and Jake didn’t leave all peril behind in the war. A mysterious ailment aboard the Zephyr begins to claim victim after victim … and they must race against time and space to find the cause and a cure! Trapped on a ship no spaceport will allow to dock, their efforts are complicated by a temperamental princess and a terrorist–one who won’t hesitate to take down any being in the way of his target. If anyone’s left when the disease is through with them…

Buy Links:  Apple iBooks   Amazon   Kobo   Barnes & Noble   

Bio: Best Selling Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.

Connect with Veronica via her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

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Discussion

5 Responses to “Audiobooks: What You Should Know – by Veronica Scott”

  1. Hi Veronica,

    I would love to try this at least once.

    As another venue for getting our names out there I’d be nervous spending the money and not getting a good product, but it’s definitely something to consider.

    Thanks,
    Jennifer

    Posted by Jennifer Perkins | June 16, 2017, 6:58 am
  2. As a teen, I used to write and produce audio dramas with kids from my website as actors. I would spend weeks and editing everything together, eight hours a day. I look at audiobooks and shudder, remembering the amount of work involved. Someday, someday …

    Posted by Kessie | June 16, 2017, 7:37 am
  3. One of my publishers has already converted a novel to audiobook, but I was completely shut out of the process. It’s nice to know how it all works. Another publisher of mine is in the process of converting some of my works, and I’ve been promised more involvement. Now I’ll know what to look for. Thanks.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | June 16, 2017, 8:04 am
  4. Thanks for the comments! I wish I could have done more than a high level flyover of the topic but there are so many aspects to consider and things change constantly on the business end. Just today I saw two pieces of audiobook marketing news in one author group!I love having audiobooks available and working with ‘my’ actor has been a real creative boost, so I’m keeping an eye on the market to see where it goes next. I do believe audiobooks are a huge and growing segment of readership but as an indie author, I have to be able to at least recoup my costs. MANY good articles and posts online about the details of creating audiobooks these days so if you have an interest I encourage you to delve further.

    Posted by Veronica Scott | June 16, 2017, 8:18 am
  5. I am currently having my first novel turned into an audiobook on ACX. I was lucky to find a reader who can create the different voices for my characters and is as much of a perfectionist as I am. lol! Still, it’s taking significantly longer than I expected. That helps me appreciate why the contract is set up as it is. That being said, I missed the whole 7-year commitment part of the contract. I’m glad you shared that with us. 🙂

    Posted by Yvette M Calleiro | July 10, 2017, 2:52 pm

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