Services for Authors: Audiobook Narrators

Money talks in the form of many large bills and a headsetWelcome to our last post in the Services for Authors series.

Sure, ebooks rock. But what about those of us who simply have no time to curl up with an e-reader? (Or even an e-reader app on our smartphones?) Today, Simon Whistler tells us all about the exciting new world of audiobooks for indies – and most importantly, how to find that perfect voice to bring your book to life.

Welcome to Indie Plot Twist, Simon. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

I’m a podcaster, author, and audiobook narrator (although I see myself as something of a “mediapreneur”!).

I first got involved in the indie publishing scene by doing narration for self-published authors. I’d also been an avid podcast listener for sometime, and when I decided to produce my own podcast I decided to make one that focused on interviews with self-published authors — Rocking Self-Publishing. I felt, and still do feel, that indie authors are on the cutting edge of one of the biggest industries in the world, which is going through one of the biggest transitions in it’s history — I think that makes for exciting interviews :).

Last year, I put out my first book, a guide for indie authors who wanted to create an audio version of their books. It outlines all the options available, and makes the whole process easier to go through. It’s called Audiobooks for Indies.

The indie publishing revolution IS exciting. And having been all up and down your backlist, I’m pretty sure there are no boring episodes in there. I’m curious – how did you become an audiobook narrator for indies?

I started narrating for a small company here in the UK. I wanted to branch out into different types of books, and I was sort of aware that self-publishing was becoming a thing. It was the days before ACX (acx.com), so I was looking through Amazon for books that I thought I would be good at narrating, recording a 5 minute sample, and sending it off to the authors. If they liked it, and wanted to work together, we would go from there.

Brilliant idea, Simon! I love your entrepreneurial spirit. Also, you just mentioned the first topic I wanted to talk about. For those authors who are just becoming aware that they can make their books into audiobooks, can you give us a brief explanation of ACX?

Happy to. ACX is the Audiobook Creation Exchange (acx.com). It’s an Amazon company that facilitates the production of audiobooks, connecting authors with narrators so that authors can create an audiobook version of their work. The short of it is that an author lists their book on the platform and narrators will audition for the book, the author selects a narrator from the auditions, and they will go away and create the book. It then goes for sale on Audible and iTunes. There are other decisions to be made about exclusivity, royalty share etc, but that’s ACX in a nutshell!

I see on the ACX website that they distribute to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Sort of like the Smashwords for audiobooks. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of narrators and all the wonderful things they can do for authors, I feel like the world of audiobooks is still so new to most indies that we ought to discuss whether or not they should be taking this option seriously.

2015-03-16 Phonograph (2)Absolutely. Anything to do with money and rights is always a serious business, so it is essential that you consider your position before getting into audiobooks.

If you are paying for the production of a book up front, that can get really expensive. For an 80,000 word book you are looking at about 9 “finished hours” (that’s the length of the audiobook). With narrators charging around $200 per finished hour, this is far from a small expense. Before you lay out the money, it’s important to make sure that you are going to get a return. For the vast majority of authors, ebooks outsell audiobooks by some way, so if you are not selling that many ebooks, you need to be careful about laying out so much money on audiobook production.

On the other hand, you can go for royalty share. This is where the narrator will take half of the share, for seven years. That’s also a decision not to be taken lightly. However, the up front risk to the author is lower, as in exchange for the shared royalties the narrator will do the work at no upfront cost.

Why should authors consider turning their books into audiobooks?

The great thing about being a self-publisher is that you control your rights, and you get to exploit them. Audio is one of those rights, and ACX makes it very easy to go about tapping into a brand new revenue stream. If you’ve got a successful ebook on your hands, it really can be a minimum amount of effort to get set up, and suddenly you’ve got a whole new source of income!

Is the market for audiobooks strong enough that self-publishers shouldn’t ignore it?

That depends. I think it is a strong, growth market. However, it’s a time (and possibly a financial) investment. If you don’t have the time or money, you can come to it later. I don’t want to be the person to add “get my books into audio” to everyone’s to-do list (mine overflows), so I’d say that if you have the time and inclination, audio can be a great thing to do, but your rights aren’t going anywhere.

Good point! There’s plenty of time to wait for the right moment to turn your book into an audiobook. No doubt a good number of indies are wondering right now if they can narrate their books themselves. Care to talk about narrating your own book versus hiring out? 

Sure. I think there are times when narrating your own book is a great idea. If you have a browse around Audible, especially the non-fiction section, you’ll see that there are many books that are narrated by the author. This is something that is popular among listeners, especially if those listeners are familiar with the voice of the author. However, it is important to be aware that this can be a time consuming process. Narrating is a different process to simply reading out loud, and you should be prepared that a great deal of time is going to be sunk into the project.

For fiction, my general advice would be to stay away from it unless you are a professional narrator. Fiction is many times more complex than non-fiction. However, if you are up for a challenge, and perhaps have some experience with acting, speaking, or similar, it can be fun.

On the technical side of things, ACX has some pretty stringent technical requirements, so you will need to be able to meet these. You can either invest in your own gear, or hire a studio. If you have a good environment at home (few background sounds, no echo etc) you could get good enough sound with a sub-$100 USB microphone. If you are doing the editing and mastering yourself, you will need to learn quite a bit about audio, but nothing that can’t be learned online.

Narrating a book is a hard and long process. Unless you have a passion for reading the book yourself, and plenty of time to do so, I’d recommend hiring out.

Lots of good advice there, Simon. Let’s say an author is interested in hiring a narrator. What should they look for while they listen to those auditions? On the business side, what should an author look for in collaborating with a narrator? 

2015-03-16 Microphone (2)I’d certainly recommend that the author listens to audiobooks in their genre that are doing well. Audiobooks produced by studios (usually traditionally published books) are important to look at, those studios take care looking for the right sort of narrator for a book, so check those out. Listen for the speed of the narration, the type of voice, the accents etc. All important factors. Interestingly, if you do discover a narrator who you love, you might just find they are in the ACX system, so maybe invite them to audition for you book.

Take care in putting together the audition script, you want to make sure that the narrator can handle all the elements of your book. Feel free to grab different parts of the book and splice them together for the audition script. Some slow scenes, some fast, and make sure you get all the characters in there who might have complicated accents (and annotate the script so the narrator knows this).

Excellent advice. Besides ACX, are there any other avenues available to connect with narrators? Or is ACX currently the only service? 

ACX is certainly the main place. There are studios that will produce audiobooks, and selling your audio rights is something to consider if you want a hands off experience. You’ll (probably) not get anything close to the royalty rate you’ll get with ACX, but it does make things very easy for the author.

It’s also possible to produce an audiobook independently, and narrators can be hired, much like you would find another contractor online. My go-to site is Odesk.com, which I have had many good experiences with–they make the hiring process incredibly simple, and there are lots of protections in place for employers. Another freelancer site which will have voice talent looking for jobs would be Elance. There are some voice specific sites, Voices.com and Voice123.com come to mind, but I haven’t used there personally.

ACX are the big player right now, it’s a huge advantage to have the production process and retail process in one place. That’s hard to beat.

Agreed! Simon, we’ve covered a lot of information here, and I think it’ll be really useful to indie authors looking for more ways to make their work available. Before I let you go, is there anything I may have forgotten to ask about that you’d like to share? 

I’d only add that ACX have fantastic documentation on their website, and their support team are incredibly helpful, so if you had any questions about them check out ACX.com. Of course, I have a book that deals with audiobooks in general, so that might also be worth a read for people who want to find out more.

Thank you so much for chatting with us, Simon! 

Other Posts in This Series:

About Our Guest

Simon WhistlerSimon Whistler is a podcaster, author, and audiobook narrator. He podcasts long-form interviews every Thursday at RockingSelfPublishing.com.

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About His Book

Audio Books for IndiesThe audiobook market is experiencing double-digit growth year on year. Amazon has put its weight behind it and many indie authors are reaping the financial rewards of this huge shift. Are you? Audiobooks might seem like a complicated business from the outside. But I’ll tell you something that most people don’t know: creating an audiobook is incredibly easy and fun! In fact, it’s even easier than getting an ebook on Amazon. Audiobooks for Indies shows you how.

Find it on Amazon

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