06 Feb 2017
The explosion of audiobook publishing in the past few years, fueled by smartphone sales, presents a significant revenue opportunity for indie writers.There are two major decisions in the process of making an audiobook. The first is to decide who will narrate it, and the second is who will produce it. Let’s focus on each in their turn.
First, you must decide whether you want to narrate the audiobook or hire somebody else to do it for you. The advantage of narrating your own audiobook is, first, you know the material best. You can devote plenty of sweat equity in the product with hopes of earning most of the royalties. After all, the process of making and audiobook is really very simple. All you need is a computer, a microphone, and audio software such as Audacity. Chances are you already have the first two, and Audacity is available for free. What could be easier than narrating your own audiobook?
But once you start the process, you’ll discover why. First, you must have a good microphone capable of picking up the voice in a wide dynamic range. The microphone must also have a sponge on the end or a pop filter, so that it does not pick up the harsh clicks from words containing us a C or a K that can sound harsh on the ear.
Second, you must have a place to record that’s free from background noises and can record your voice without making it sound like you’re in the middle of an empty auditorium. Some authors have found that the best place for them to record in their house was in a closet with the door closed.
Another challenge is finding a space that does not have any background noises such as passing cars, telephones, crying children, inquisitive spouses, and animals.
Assuming that you’ve solved those problems, you’re left with the biggest challenge of them all: your performance as a narrator. A good audiobook narrator has a consistent tone, an ability to convey emotion with the voice, lungs of leather, and a throat that can handle the rigors of spending 40 hours or more recording a 10-hour audiobook.
Experienced audiobook narrators have to spend at least 4 to 5 hours in order to record a single hour of usable audio. Considering that audiobook novels can run easily 10 hours or more, this represents a substantial investment of time and energy.
This recording time does not take into account the number of hours and audiobook narrator puts into annotating the manuscript. Experienced audiobook narrators go through the manuscript several times. They learn how to pronounce the character names, locations, foreign phrases and other difficult words (this can be a real challenge with fantasy novels). They mark up the manuscript to emphasize where to speak faster or slower and the emotions to convey in each scene. Then they spend hours upon hours before a microphone armed with lozenges and honeyed water or tea to keep the vocal cords moist and not rasping.
And then, after you’ve recorded 40, 50, even 60 hours of material, you have to learn how to edit it down. I’ve used Audacity on various audio projects. It’s excellent. But there is a learning curve, particularly if you want to use the advanced features such as stereo tracking, applying filters, and editing the tracks. It’s not difficult, and there’s plenty of instructions online to consult. But it is another job to learn on top of everything else you are already doing.
And then you have to consider how well your voice comes across as a storyteller. Some authors do it very well such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. If you’re in this category, congratulations. But if you’re not, you may have to consider the alternative: hiring somebody else to do it for you.
If you still want to give it a try, I’d suggest recording one of your short stories or novellas, and see how you like the job. You may decide it best to turn it over to the pros, and hire a narrator.
Hiring A Narrator
There are a couple of options when it comes to hiring an outside narrator. You could hire someone locally and hope they’ll do the job well at the price you’re offering. Considering that you’re asking them to commit at least an entire work week on your book, that’s a big order. It’s not impossible, just difficult.
Another alternative would be to hire a narrator through Amazon’s ACX (for Audiobook Creation Exchange) program. This program works the same way as the company’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and CreateSpace with one important addition. Unlike paperbacks and ebooks, audiobooks are created with Amazon acting as the marketplace, matching narrators with authors. In return, it will offer the audiobook for sale on its website, in return for a higher slice of the revenue than it does for ebooks and CreateSpace books. In this way, it acts as a producer as well as a retailer.
The procedure is simple:
1. Create a profile for your book on ACX. Describe the type of narrator you’re looking for and post a 1-2 page sample from the book.
2. Search the site for potential narrators and alert them of your project. Meanwhile, narrators looking for work will submit a sample of their work.
3. Listen to the candidates and make your choice.
4. Submit a contract proposal to the narrator. You can offer a flat fee for the job — typically between $100 and $1,000 per finished hour; many books run between 8-10 hours — or a 50/50 split of the royalties.
5. If they accept, they’ll record a 15-minute checkpoint for you to provide feedback. This is intended to ensure that you and the narrator are on the same page regarding the direction of the project.
6. When you receive the finished audiobook, you and the narrator can go through two rounds of corrections to improve the product. When you give final approval, you pay the narrator (unless you’re sharing royalties).
7. Amazon distributes the audiobook through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. You can give the company an exclusive right, where it will pay you 40% of the retail price (which Amazon sets), or a non-exclusive deal that lets you sell the product elsewhere, but you get only 25% from Amazon.
* Control over the final product. It’s all on you. You pick the narrator and guide them through the process. You stand a greater chance of getting an audiobook you’d be proud to promote.
* A wide-open marketplace means you’ll find narrators at all skill levels and price points. There may be actors just breaking into audiobooks who would take on your project for a royalty now, but a year later (when they’re more popular) will want a flat fee.
* Control over the final product. It’s all on you. If you’re not sure what you want and scared of making a decision, you may not want the pressure.
* You may end up with a narrator who delivers a substandard job, causing much hassle and stress.
* Audible sets the retail price, unlike ebooks and CreateSpace trade paperbacks, where you set the price. Don’t like it? Tough.
* Difficulty in making a deal. Economists and business owners will have a better grasp of this, but the art of the deal involves giving a narrator what they want in order to get what you want. You may not get the narrator you want at the price they want. The royalty share looks like a good idea on paper, but unless you or your book looks like a best-seller, a really good narrator may prefer a flat fee that you can’t afford.
Another option would be to sell your audiobook through a publisher such as Tantor Media, Podium Publishing, and Audible. This is akin to having a New York publisher approach you wanting the print rights to your book.
The process is about the same, too: You’ll negotiate and sign a contract giving them the right to record, produce, and release an audio version of your book for a stated advance and royalty rate. They do the rest.
The advantage of this approach is that once you sign the contract, your job is pretty much done. They pay the narrator and oversee the production. They handle the publishing side. Depending on the company, they may ask for your feedback on narrators and a sample of the finish product. If you want more authority, you’ll have to negotiate it with them.
The risks — substandard product, a delay in release, low royalty rates (generally 10-35% of what they make, not the sale price) — are pretty much what you’d expect when you work with any company.
Finally, the biggest obstacle is, you don’t approach them; they approach you. They accept submissions from agents, but not indie authors.
There are also a few smaller indie audiobook publishers around, such as DarkFire Productions. As with any small publisher, approach carefully, read the contract, check out their other products, and ask around online to find out their reputation.
Finally, there is Author’s Republic, a distribution company that hopes to compete with Amazon by offering wide distribution, a better royalty rate (70% of earnings) and the ability to set your price.