With the ongoing meteoric double-digit growth in audiobook sales, it’s no wonder authors are intrigued or excited to get in on the action. You may be getting questions from your followers: when will your book come out in audio? Naturally, with the intention of reaching as much of our potential audience as possible, including audio in the mix is essential.
This is a brief overview to serve as your guide. You may also want to check out the podcast Audiobook Connection—Behind the Scenes with the Creative Teams. There are currently over 150 episodes to choose from and topics ranging from basic overview to deep dives in producing or marketing your audiobook, as well as interviews with authors, and marketing and audiobook industry professionals. You will also find videos about these topics on the Audiobook Authors YouTube channel.
Typically when indie publishing professionals who are not also audiobook experts post on this topic, they provide some general guidance which may be helpful. But they also skim the surface (understandably, since it’s not their area of expertise) and do not alert you to many or any of the potholes in the roads they lay out before you. As we map out for you some potential paths to consider, we’ll also provide you with the red flags you’ll need to stay out of trouble.
Additionally, there are other really valuable and important aspects of the process that usually get overlooked entirely. We don’t want you to miss out on the gold, so we’ll show you where to look and how to leverage your audiobook for success. When I say success, I mean reaching the goals you set for yourself and your project. One person’s idea of success is not necessarily another person’s.
With that framework, let’s get started.
Audiobook Production Overview
When you start an audiobook, the smart way to approach it involves several steps:
Pre-Production: casting (including author-narration as an option), and manuscript preparation (including decisions that will affect marketing later)
Production: recording and post-production editing and mastering
Distribution: you need to know where to distribute and how
Marketing: because if you’re going to use the resources to create the audiobook, it only makes sense to then also leverage that huge asset
You may note that I did not include “publishing” your audiobook. That’s because there is no separate step to publish it. There is metadata that is gathered for your distribution process, but other than that, distribution essentially equals publication.
For this post we’re going to provide an overview, but with subsequent posts we’ll go deeper into some of these aspects. Stay tuned!
Audiobook Pre-Production | Casting
There are some key decisions that need to be made early on, the biggest of which is: who will narrate your book. Many authors struggle with this decision.
Author Narrated Audiobook
The main considerations for recording your own book generally include:
A desire to save money on the cost
A desire to do or dread of doing the actual recording, even if you’ve never tried it
A desire to do the recording because you have some experience recording, though not necessarily audiobook recording
The idea that because you are the author nobody else would be able to tell your story with the same energy or understanding
As a speaker wanting to leverage your audiobook to gain speaking engagements
Over the next few posts, I’ll go through each of the above in more detail. For now, just know that this decision is a really important one.
Pro Narrated Audiobook
The main thing here is knowing how to find the best voice for your audiobook. Trying to DIY this if you haven’t developed skills in casting can be problematic. Best to get some help in this arena. Audiobook producers generally have some process for casting. Going through ACX only gives a process for auditioning, but doesn’t really provide any help or guidance in casting.
Remember, the narrator can make or break your audiobook. If you’re currently trying to figure out who should read your audiobook, whether you or a pro, and you need help, reach out to us at ProAudioVoices.com.
Multiple Voices for Your Audiobook
If you’d like a full cast or multi-voiced audiobook—and multiple voices can work well in some nonfiction projects as well—then the manuscript needs to be clear for the narrators so you don’t end up paying for recording that is duplicated. With different voices, some things such as certain character attributions may be better omitted.
Audiobook Pre-Production | Manuscript Preparation
This is usually where the pot of gold is stashed. It’s also the part of the process that most authors and audiobook producers overlook. Knowing what your goals are is really helpful in pre-production. (Check out podcast Ep. 45)
There are lots of podcast episodes about these topics on Audiobook Connection that really dive deep. Here’s a short list of things you should pay attention to in manuscript prep:
Visuals (images, charts, graphs, maps, etc)
Exercises, meditations (anything your listener might want to do or that you are suggesting they do in the moment)
About the Author (include one, and make sure you have your website address in it)
Acknowledgements (read or omit? Make sure to move to the end if including)
Bonus material (do you have something to bonus to your listeners, like a sneak preview of the next book in your series?)
What format do you want the narrator to use for things like years (e.g., 2021: twenty twenty-one or two thousand twenty-one) or punctuation such as slashes (e.g. mom/dad) and the like?
Footnotes, endnotes, resources, glossaries, etc.
Music and Sound Effects
If you would like to include music and/or SFX in your audiobook, the best time to figure out the scope of those is in pre-production. Also, music licensing should be addressed early on if specific music is desired. That process can be very long and can also be costly unless using the music is already set up in platforms designed for music licensing.
Once you’re through pre-production, then recording can begin. By this time you’ll know who is recording and what will be recorded by whom.
Audiobook Production & Post-Production
If you are going to be the narrator, then you’ll need to make sure you are set up with a good home studio situation (which could be as simple as a clothes closet for your space) and microphone, headphones, pop filter, audio interface and DAW (audio software). You should work with an audio engineer to make sure your recording settings are appropriate for the project. Fixing things in post-production sometimes works, but not always. And better to get started on the right foot.
Once all files are recorded, including your Opening and Closing Credits, they will need to be edited. Any PickUps (PUPs) or corrections noted to be addressed get recorded. These can range from errors in the read to mouth sounds within a word that the editor cannot remove.
PUPs get rerecorded, inserted into the audio with any adjustments needed (volume/gain, tone, spacing, etc.) and this is typically when the author reviews the audio and makes any change requests.
Please note that many audiobook producers will ONLY honor change requests if it is an actual error, such as a real person’s name pronunciation or misread. At Pro Audio Voices we give authors a lot more say in the finished product, but that’s not typical across the industry.
Once all audio files are approved, they get mastered to make sure they are consistently meeting the technical specifications required for distribution to retailers.
Audiobook Submissions & Distribution
This is what many of our publishing colleagues focus on in their posts about audiobooks. I want to clarify some points that are not always accurately explained.
Narrow vs Broad Distribution
If you distribute through ACX, your audiobook will ONLY be distributed through Audible and iTunes. They list Amazon as if it is separate, but Audible is a division of Amazon and so they are really the same thing. Two platforms ONLY.
While I strongly recommend you do NOT use ACX, that does not mean that you should not be on Audible and iTunes.
You can get onto more platforms through another digital distributor such as AuthorsRepublic (our preference) or FindawayVoices or several other options. Sometimes you can even get onto Audible faster via AuthorsRepublic than via ACX—weird, but true.
The biggest reason to use one of these distributors is that you’ll get your audiobook into much broader distribution, including retailers, libraries and music channels.
Some have asked whether you can submit to both ACX and one of the others such as AuthorsRepublic. That has a tricky answer. It used to work, but not anymore. There is an overlap on iTunes that is problematic when the audiobook is submitted to iTunes by both ACX and AuthorsRepublic. So we recommend just having the one distributor handle all those channels.
Here’s where things get a little deceptive and tricky.
ACX claims to pay 40% for exclusive and 25% for non-exclusive distribution. They are particularly non-transparent about how they calculate those royalties. First off, they decide what the price will be, without any input from you (while all retailers make that decision, many of the others will go with your MSRP). Amazon/Audible/ACX uses a formula and factor that in reality turns their royalty rate into a pittance per sale, whether you opt for exclusive or non-exclusive. They can also give your book away free to entice new subscribers to their service, and pay you nothing even though they get paid for the subscription. They also have a brutal return policy that lets them take your royalties away from you if a customer decides to return your audiobook. So beware.
AuthorsRepublic and Findaway claim they pay you 70% royalties. Sounds great, right? But 70% of what is the question you should be asking and which they deliberately do not make immediately clear. What they mean is 70% of what they receive from sales. You can find that in the finer print.
Overall, royalties through AuthorsRepublic tends to work out to about 35% of your MSRP, which is considerably better than ACX. But still not great. It’s those retailers that take the big chunk.
Royalties are typically paid out a few weeks after the close of the prior month. Depending on your account settings, there may be a minimum threshold before any payout happens.
Shrinking the Middleman
The process of selling an audiobook directly is not generally a smooth user experience. There’s also the hesitation customers feel when purchasing an audiobook that is just a bunch of files, not organized neatly into an audiobook listening app experience. After all, an audiobook is not a single digital item like an ebook or pdf. It’s an organized playlist, cover image, and retail sample. That makes the delivery more complex.
Findaway has a program they finally made available to their clients called AuthorsDirect which takes the retailer out of the middle. There they also boldly state you get 70% royalties, and for these titles in that program it is closer to true. But read the details: it’s actually 80% of 70%, which anyone who can do math realizes plays out to only 56%.
There is also a program called Awesound that is trying to bridge this gap and provide a solution, and it sort of works. But the delivery process can be quite clunky and the listening experience can be frustrating since the bookmarking system isn’t great.
The other big challenge with all the distribution options already listed is that the author gets no information about their customers. There’s no way to reconnect, to reach out and let them know about your next book, to request a review, etc. All that valuable info is kept from the authors.
Until recently, there haven’t been any solutions to all these issues.
AMPlfiy – More Royalties, More Control
At Pro Audio Voices we’re passionate about helping our clients thrive, and that’s challenging with all the issues already described above. The good news is that we’ve done it!
AMPlify is an audiobook sales program option that gets you an ACTUAL 65% of the sales price YOU choose. You also get access to your customer email addresses, and we encourage you to stay in touch with them—we can even help with email marketing to make that happen. You can get discount codes and adjust your price whenever you want. And you get paid quickly—no long wait or threshold. You should have that kind of return and control.
While we would love to have that royalty rate be even higher, there is a significant cost to the development of the technology to make it all work. That’s a cost no one author should have to bear, and even if they did it would not be accessible to all the others who cannot afford it. So we’re doing it.
What we recommend is distribute widely through a digital distributor like AuthorsRepublic (they have great customer service) but ALSO be part of AMPlify and drive your traffic to your AMPlify page. That’s the best way to be in the places you’re audience is looking while also getting you the highest royalties from the traffic you’re driving (which is most of it) to your preferred sales point.
We have a MAJOR UPGRADE coming to AMPlify in 2023, stay tuned!
This topic is enormous, so I’m going to be brief. Do it. Market your book/audiobook or no one will find it.
If you need help figuring out what to do or how to do it, I invite you to check out the marketing options at ProAudioVoices.com. Whether you want to mostly DIY or get a higher level of support, we’ve been creating options to help our clients based on what they tell us they need.
I would happily receive whatever questions you have about Audiobook Production, Distribution, and Marketing so I can respond in the Audiobook Connection podcast and/or in our blog. Visit us at ProAudioVoices.com and Contact Us with your questions or post a comment (comments do need to be manually approved). We’re here to help.