by Gini Graham Scott
Author of 150+ Plus Books
Including Self-Publishing Secrets: How to Write, Publish, and Market a Best-Seller or Use Your Book to Build Your Business
Until a year ago, I used to think of an audio book as a kind of add-on to creating a paperback and e-book, and possibly creating a hardback book. It seemed like one additional platform to include to make my books as widely available as possible. But then, without my doing any promotion, I found my audio books were selling even more copies than my books on other platforms — about 800 copies in 8 months, an average of 3 or 4 a day, while one of my books sold nearly 200 copies, and I wondered why.
Now this isn’t very much when some authors are doing extensive promotions and selling thousands of books a day. But when the average print or e-book is selling about 150 to 200 copies a year, audio books have become a growing market than can outperform other formats.
Why Are Audio Books Growing So Rapidly
A key reason that audio books are doing so well now is because people are tending to read less and get their information in other ways, including on video and audio channels. Many people now listen to audio in their cars or if they are computing by train or bus, and that can include listening to audio books, along with radio, audio files, CDs, and DVs. So for an on-the-go audience, especially for millennials, now age 18 to 34 and about 75 million strong in the U.S., audio has become especially popular.
Another reason is that audio books are typically cheaper, about $3.95 for a short book of under about 50 pages up to about $6.95 for a longer book of about 400 to 500 pages.
Creating an Audio Book
Thus, creating an audio book is increasingly the way to go. While you can create an audio book as a stand-alone, so you publish an audio book only, a good approach is to start with a print book or ebook, and then turn that text into the narration for an audiobook.
Certainly, you can create your own audiobook by just reading it yourself into a mike or your computer audio. But unless you know what you are doing to create high-quality audio, you may find that some distributors of audiobooks will reject your book for not being professional enough.
Thus, either learn how to do it yourself, which involves getting some high quality audio recording equipment, including a professional mike, such as sold by Yeti, and having a quiet setting, where you don’t have extraneous sounds — or you have the equipment to filter out such background noise.
Hiring a Narrator
Alternatively, hire a skilled narrator. You can find freelance narrators if you go to Audible.com http://www.audible.com/int/Featured_Narrators, which sells audiobooks, or do a search for audiobook or audio narrators on Google. Or you can create an account and post your book on ACX (http://www.acx.com) and invite a narrator to narrate your book, either by hiring a narrator or proposing a royalty split and an exclusive arrangement with ACX.
If you hire a narrator, you can figure on spending about $100 to $500 per finished hour, depending on the experience of the narrator, with most averaging around $200 per finished hour. My own preference has been to find a volunteer narrator and split the royalty, and I have found narrators this way for all but 2 of my 65 books that have so far had audio narrations. I have heard from professionals in the field that the most skilled, professional narrators won’t take a shared royalty gig, because the earnings typically aren’t that much, but I have found some great narrators willing to take a chance with me.
Generally, figure on the narrator taking about 2-3 weeks for a short book; about 4-6 weeks if it is much longer book. On average, the narrator will speak about 8500-9300 words a minute, so if you have a 50 page book with about 10,000 words, that’ll be about an hour long. However, it commonly takes the narrator about 2-3 hours for each finished hour, because they have to take care of various technical details, which include editing, adjusting sound levels, filtering out background noise, and the like.
Getting a Narrator through the ACX Platform
The ACX platform makes it very easy to find a narrator, since they have hundreds of narrators in the system, and you can either post a query about the availability of your book for narrators to offer to narrate your book or you can query particular narrators if you know them by name.
The service as a formal system which I have found works very well. To start with you set up your account by putting in some basic information about yourself, your contact information, your bank and tax account, and you can arrange for notifications about activity in your account to be sent to your email or access it through your account.
Then, to use the platform, you first have to have a book already published on Amazon, either as a print book or ebook. You add your book by finding it on Amazon, indicate that “this is my book,” and then you create an offer for the narrator. If you want to hire a narrator, you will have a non-exclusive arrangement with ACX, get a 25% royalty, and you will own the book. Alternatively, if you want a shared royalty arrangement, you agree to an exclusive with ACX, get a 40% royalty which you share with the narrator. You still have a copyright in the original book and audiobook, but you can’t find another narrator and market the audiobook somewhere else.
You then have to include some information about your book, including a short description, indication of the length of the book, and the type of narrator you are looking for — such as if you want a male or female narrator or both, want a narrator with a general American accent or other type of accent, or want an adult or younger narrator. You also indicate if you want to hire a narrator, want a shared royalty arrangement, or are open to either arrangement.
You additionally create an audition text — typically a file with about 500-1500 word and upload that. Then, the prospective narrator creates and posts an audio file, so you can listen to the narrator. After that, you can select the narrator you prefer and send an offer, usually giving the narrator 48 hours to respond, though you can make it 24 hours or offer a longer time frame.
Generally, I have gotten one to four narrators interested in reading my book, and on average, two to choose from. Probably you will get more if you offer to hire a narrator, since there are many narrators, including some of the most experience ones, who won’t narrate a book on a shared royalty basis.
When you send this offer, you also indicate when you expect the narrator to complete the first 15 minutes, and the whole project, clicking on a calendar to indicate this. After that, your offer remains open until a narrator accepts your offer.
From a Narrator Accepting Your Offer to a Completed Audiobook
Once a narrator accepts your offer, you then have to send the whole manuscript in a PDF or .doc(x) file. If there are photos or illustrations, you generally provide these in a separate PDF which the ACX staff can arrange to provide a link for the customer to download this and they will post instructions as well, although commonly, the narrator will mention in the beginning of the narration that this PDF is available. Or if there are only a few unimportant photos, you don’t have to include them in the audiobook, and the narrator will just read the next as if the photos aren’t there.
After that, you get the first 15 minutes, after which you can approve it or ask for changes. For example, you might suggest the narrator reads it with more passion and enthusiasm or tone down an overly emotional reading, which I have done in a couple of cases. Or if a narrator isn’t pronouncing something correctly or reading the text too fast or slow, you can recommend what the narrator should do, again something I have done. Then, the narrator will correct this and send you another 15 minutes to review.
In the meantime, you can post the final cover art, which has to be a square format of at least 2400×2400 pixels. Since your front cover is normally in a 6×9, 7×10, 8×10 or other book size format, you can’t use it as is. However, in some cases, if you have a white or black background, you can increase the canvas size to create a square. Or it may be possible to crop the cover and move your name as the author, and possibly the title around, on the original cover design. Otherwise, you need to rework the cover to fit this square format. You need to have this finished by the time you provide your final approval for the book.
When you finally approve the first 15 minutes, the narrator will complete the whole book, and can post up files as he or she goes along for you to review, or once they are all up, you will get an announcement that the full manuscript is ready for your review. And again you can make suggestions for changes or approve the whole thing.
You can make a careful review of the whole narration if you want, although my approach has been to spot check the beginnings of a sampling of files, and if all sounds okay, I’ll approve it, and let the ACX staff of reviewers listen to everything closely, since they are skilled at noticing any errors, and especially any audio problems that the narrator has to fix. For instance, in one case, a narrator had a lot of background noise and didn’t know how to correct this, but I put her in touch with someone who had the necessary filter equipment, and that saved the book. Otherwise, I would have had to start again by finding another narrator.
In most cases, I have found that narrators do make the agreed upon deadlines, though some will ask for a few extra weeks because something unexpected has happened in their life, and I normally agree. ACX is also fairly lax about holding narrators to strict standards, as long as the author is onboard. However, if the delay is much too long or the narrator indicates that he or she can’t complete the project, you can explain this to the ACX staff, and if the narrator acknowledges and agrees to this, ACX will dissolve the contract and you can look for another narrator. So far, that just happened to me once, and I quickly found a new narrator.
In general, I have found that narrators are more likely to quickly volunteer to be part of a royalty arrangement with a short book, because they can complete more quickly — in just a few hours. In fact, the two books where I wasn’t able to find a narrator were much longer book — one a nonfiction book about ethics that clocked in at about 400 pages; the other a suspense thriller novel that was about 350 pages long. Also, most of the delays have occurred with the longer books. By contrast, some of the narrators have finished the much shorter books — say 3000-5000 words, in just a few days.
Commonly, the entire arrangement can go back and forth on the ACX platform without any direct communication with the narrator, although I have usually responded to the narrator accepting my offer with my phone number, if the narrator wants to call with any questions. You can also send the narrator your direct email, and I sometimes have done so for more extended communication. But otherwise, using the ACX platform to communicate with the narrator works fine.
Once you do send your final approval, you should also send any PDF with photos or illustrations directly to the support staff at ACX, along with a note that this is to accompany a particular manuscript. Plus your cover art should be completed and uploaded.
Then, it typically takes about 10 days to get a final approval, after which the audiobook is available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. In the event there is a problem — usually some audio glitch that has to be fixed, ACX will let you know, and also advise the narrator, who normally has to make the requested fix. Some typical complaints are that there is background noise, that there isn’t the necessary 30 seconds or so of space before the narration starts, or that there are mike clicks on the narration. Once the narrator makes any requested fixes, the ACX staff will review the project again. Or, as noted, if the narrator can’t fix the audio, ACX will dissolve your contract with the narrator, and you can start again.
But assuming that the audiobook is completed successfully, you’ll get a note that it has been approved, and then you will find it on sale on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes in about a week to 10 days. Plus you may also get 20 or so coupons you can use to give out free promotional listens to your book — or at least I did when I first started creating audio books.
So now your audiobook is done. You will find it priced based on its length from $3.95 to about $6.95. And then ACX will give you a royalty statement of your earnings each month. Plus if you want to chart your progress more regularly, you will find the number of sales updated every day or two in a bright orange number and below it, you’ll see a link to your sales dashboard where you can see how each audiobook you have created is doing. After that, about the 20th of each month, you’ll get a royalty statement and about a week later, you’ll see the money magically appear in your bank account.
So now you know all you need to know about creating your audiobook. So good luck, and then you can combine any promotion for your print or e-book with an audiobook promotion, giving potential buyers even more choice on what they want to buy.
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GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., J.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, specializing in social trends, popular business, and self-help books. She has published over 50 books with major publishers, and has published over 100 books through her company Changemakers Publishing on multiple platforms, including print, e-books, audiobooks, and online courses. She has worked with dozens of clients on writing and publishing memoirs, self-help, business books, and film scripts, and she has helped clients self-publish on both CreateSpace and IngramSpark. Her websites include www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com and www.ginigrahamscott.com