Indie Audiobook Publishing
Since this week marks the release of Split the Party on audiobook, I thought it would be a good time to talk about audiobook publishing as an indie or hybrid author. I’ve mentioned before that for those of us who aren’t publishing with a company that has a dedicated audiobook wing, the options are essentially that we can do it ourselves (sort of) through ACX, or allow another media company to take over the process for us. Today I’m going to break down the options a bit more, so that you have an idea of what each entails and don’t have to go in completely blind like I did. We’ll kick things off with the semi-DIY option:
ACX (a.k.a. Amazon Indie Audiobooks)
For those of you who don’t know, ACX is a branch of Amazon’s independent publishing platform designed to unite writers with voice actors and facilitate the creation of audiobooks. That’s why I said this whole thing is only sort of DIY, because you’ll need to find a voice actor who wants to do your book in order to move forward on the project. Ignore that part if you also happen to be a good voice actor, since you actually can just do it all yourself. The caveat here is make sure you are good at the job, not just think you’re good at it. Poor voice work can, and has, ruined many a book before.
For the majority of you who will be hunting down a voice actor, there are two(ish) ways to compensate them for their time. The first is Royalty Share, where you both split the profits evenly for the non-Amazon cut of the royalties. I want to say Amazon takes 60% on this, leaving you with 20% apiece, but in truth I haven’t checked in a while so that might not be accurate. At any rate, this option also comes with the caveat that sometimes, if your book is selling well, Amazon will offer a stipend on top of the share for the voice actor. This is done to entice more skilled actors to take on the project, since a lot of them prefer the guaranteed pay of a Rate option (coming up next) but will often take a Royalty Share if the stipend is enticing enough.
The other way to pay your voice actor is with an Hourly Rate, which I don’t super feel like needs explanation. They’ll tell you what their time costs, and if you can agree on that, then you pay them for the amount of hours it takes to create the audiobook. Pretty straightforward, though some rates can be high for people with a lot of experience, so it’s not always a viable option for those just starting out with publishing.
Anyway, once you decide on what method you want to use to pay the actor, you create a test script, and put it out for people to audition with. It’s also a good idea to go look at actors who will work on the terms you’ve selected (you can search the database by those conditions) and listen to their samples to see if you can find a good fit. If so, politely let them know you’d like to hear their audition, if they are open to it. There’s a lot of books out there, so sometimes you need to be the one to find the best fit for yours.
Once an actor is picked, they take over and begin recording. You can stay in contact, so if they have any questions about accents or pronunciation you’ll be able to answer before they record. When the work is done, they post it for review, which means you’ll need to listen to the book and make sure everything is up to your standards. If it’s good, then you hit approve, and they hit approve, and POOF: You’ve made an audiobook.
Of the two, this is the far more involved process, as you have to captain the ship every step of the way. It’s a lot like self-pubbing, in that the burden of the work all falls to you, except that now you have another person you have to trust and count on for things you can’t handle on your own. I’ve done one book through ACX, and it was a great experience. I liked my narrator, and he did a good, professional job. Sadly, since that audiobook was Pears and Perils, it’s moved about as well as it’s print bretherin.
These aren’t exactly publishers, per se, which is why I didn’t call them that, but there are companies that specialize in turning print into audiobooks. The one I work with is called Tantor Audio and since Split the Party is my fourth audiobook through them, I clearly like the level of work they do. I can’t vouch for others, you’ll just have to do research on anyone before you do business with them. Trust me when I say there were days of googling Tantor before I ever signed a contract, scouring for horror stories that I never found. As an independent author, it’s always your responsibility to learn about a company before getting in bed with them.
Assuming you do find one you like, the process is highly different from ACX, in that you’ll barely have hands on the process at all. Depending on your individual contract, you may or may not have final say over cover art and narrator choice, though I’d recommend trying to negotiate at least the latter. It’s especially important on a project like this, that you’ll be so removed from, that you’re able to at least set it in the hands of someone you feel will do the work justice.
Once a narrator is picked… that’s pretty much it. You’re done. You may need to provide art assets for the cover, or, more likely, connect them with the artist who made it, but all in all your role with the work is done. This isn’t a publisher, where they’ll be coming to you with edits that you need to weigh in on. Their job is to take your words from one medium to another, and they’ve already got the words.
For some people, this is what turns them off from using a media company, they like to have their hands on this process as much as they do the book’s initial creation. Honestly though, the fact that I can turn the work over to someone I trust is the only reason there are as many audiobooks of my work as currently exist. If you can’t tell from the web-serials, podcasts, side-projects, and three novels a year, I work a lot. I take this job seriously, because I want to keep doing it. If I had to find the time to do the ACX process for every audiobook… well I might be able to put out one a year, assuming things went smoothly. That’s me though, and every author has their own approach to creation. Some like hands on, some are willing to find a company they trust and turn them loose.
Lastly, some of you are probably wondering about the money difference. Like with rights, this is going to vary a bit from contract to contract, but in my research I’ve found that the generally accepted standard for audiobooks is around 15%. If that seems low, remember that your Royalty Share from ACX is 20%, or spending a lot of cash up front. Both are a hard pill to swallow coming from Amazon’s 70% on indie ebooks, but the truth of the matter is that this can’t be done with just you and a computer. There are other costs, and people, to pay for, so rates are significantly lower. As with all things, if you’re Stephen King I’m sure you can get more, and if you’re just starting out you might have to fight your way up from less.
Either of these methods can produce quality audiobooks, assuming you do your homework and make sure you’re connecting with good people, be they voice actors through ACX or a media company with a reputation for quality. The ultimate truth is that you’re going to have partners in the process either way, so make sure you pick the right ones.