Audio is a great way to reach readers who prefer listening over reading, or those who spend a lot of time on cars, in trains, or otherwise on the go. But there is a barrier to entry that keeps most indie authors out of this arena: not knowing what to do. If someone had shown me how easy it can be, I’d have started with audiobooks a lot sooner than I did.
So here’s the basics of what it will take to turn your book into an audiobook.
(Note, this will focus on ACX, since that’s been my experience in producing audiobooks. Other methods are fair game, but not covered here)
Seems silly, but until your book is done and you’ve published your ebook (and/or paperback), don’t start thinking about audio. Even once your ebook is on sale, give it a little time. One of the wonders about ebooks as a format is that if there’s anything you need to change, or if your readers catch some mistake, you can go in and fix it.
Once you put out your audiobook though, it isn’t changing. You can’t just pop in and fix a small but glaring continuity error or trim out that paragraph everyone says is redundant. Should you have caught all this stuff before publishing in the first place? Probably. But mistakes happen, and every ebook venue makes it easy enough to correct that it isn’t world-ending if you have to make corrections. Just remember that you can’t edit your audiobooks so easily.
Choosing a narrator is the single most important decision you’ll make for your audiobook. This will be the voice of your story (or voices, if you go with multiple narrators, but we’ll skip the complex cases here). You want someone who fits the style and tone of your work, someone who you can see yourself working with, and preferably someone with a track record.
What do you need to consider in a narrator?
Doing it yourself
Did you design your own book cover? Were you the only one who edited your book?
Unless you are a professional voice actor, seriously question whether you should be recording your own audiobook. Even if you are well-practiced at reading bedtime stories and have a nice microphone, there is a lot that goes into audiobook production beyond just a reading voice. Unlike with a book cover, a bit of unprofessional work doesn’t disappear from the reader’s view once an audiobook starts.
While non-fiction is often read by the author, for fiction, I recommend hiring a pro.
Genre, setting, and tone can all play into the selection of a narrator. If you’re writing Victorian Romance, a British narrator is advisable. If your book is satirical, find a narrator whose delivery matches the humor of the material. For an Old West gun-slinging story, seriously consider someone with a low drawl who can sell the slang of the time period.
It’s also common to match the gender of the narrator to the protagonist, though it’s not a hard and fast rule.
Availability and Schedule
The best narrator in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t work with them. Discuss production schedules before coming to an agreement on a project. If you have a launch planned for September, don’t pick a narrator who’s booked through November. If you have projects coming fast and furious, and want quick turnarounds, don’t partner with a narrator who measures projects in months.
This is the third rail of all things indie. Can you do audio cheap? Sure. There’s even an option in ACX to do a royalty split and offer no up-front money. However, the people who will take on a royalty split for a book without a major following are unlikely to be the cream of the crop. Narrators are professionals. This is their livelihood. Odds are, if your audiobook shows signs of being a big seller, the narrators will ask you for the royalty split, not the other way around.
So that gets us to up-front payments. The upside: you get all the royalties. The downside: you pay money out before you get it back in via sales.
To figure out how much producing an audiobook will cost, there are two factors:
- * How long is your book?
- * How much you offer per finished hour?
ACX estimates 9300 words per hour in the average audiobook. Take your word count and divide by 9300 to estimate how long it will be (in hours). Then pick an amount to offer per finished hour. This throws people off a little because it’s paid for the product, not the narrator’s time directly. One finished hour of audio might involve three, five, maybe even ten hours of production to create. This offer is not an hourly wage.
You can offer any amount you like, but bear in mind the narrators you will receive auditions from will reflect that amount. If you’re just starting out, you may be tempted to lowball, and maybe you’ll get lucky and find someone wonderful to work with. Vocal qualities are very much a matter of personal taste, but there are other factors in play. Higher offers will tend to attract better known narrators with solid track records. Offer enough, and you may get interest from narrators with their own following.
Strategically, I’d budget an amount for narration and figure out how much you can afford to pay per hour based on the length of your story. This is one instance, though, where scrimping a little isn’t likely to improve your return on investment.
Where to find them
My experience is with ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange. They’re an Amazon company, and integration with your Amazon ebook is easy. They make the narrator search simple and straightforward. You create a project from your ebook (it links from your Amazon book page) and it asks you all the relevant questions about the book, the project, and the type of narrator you’re looking for. Then you listen to auditions from a sample passage you supply and pick one you want to make an offer.
You wrote a book, not a script. The key difference here is that it doesn’t come with a pronunciation guide (in most cases), and you probably don’t describe every character’s accents and vocal quirks. This is your opportunity to tell your narrator the behind-the-scenes stuff they’ll need to produce the audiobook you’re looking for. You can specify up front that you want a straight reading (i.e. no character voices, effects, or acting), but if you want a performance reading, some direction and help is expected from you. Don’t worry about leaving certain details to the narrator’s discretion; this is an advantage of hiring a professional. But if in Chapter 30 you finally mention that Character X has a thick Russian accent, throw the narrator a bone and mention it the first time that character speaks.
You’ll get a snippet of the first 15 minute of the production as a quick check to make sure the narrator is on track. You don’t want 12 hours of the main character’s name being mispronounced. Take the time to nip these systemic hiccups in the bud before they become a bigger problem. You essentially take on the role of editor.
When the full version is complete, listen through the whole thing with your script in front of you. Take notes. Mark locations (time stamps) where you find things that need fixing. You can go through it as many time as you feel necessary, but once through the whole thing is a bare minimum. Feed this information back to your narrator and they’ll upload new files when everything is fixed. Repeat until you’re satisfied with the finished product.
Didn’t think you’d need artwork, huh? So your ebook had a cover… that’s nice. The audiobook needs a slightly different one. Due to a legacy of audiobooks coming on CD, they want square covers. You’ll want to have a square-friendly version of your book cover made. Mentioning your narrator on there is a nice touch, but not mandatory. If possible, mention the need for an audiobook version to whoever you have doing your covers. It’s probably easiest if that same person does both versions, even if you have to have them go back and add in the narrator’s name after the fact, since you won’t know it when you put out the ebook.
Pay your narrator
Around this time you’re going to have to settle your affairs with your narrator. Send them a check, money order, briefcase of $100’s, PayPal, or a pre-agreed number of goats–whatever you worked out ahead of time. ACX will hold up waiting for confirmation from your narrator that you’ve held up your end of the bargain.
ACX Quality Check
ACX has their own quality assurance process. It takes about two weeks. Near as I can tell, there’s no way to speed this up, though admittedly I haven’t looked into bribery. I work with an excellent narrator, so I haven’t had any projects kicked back for quality problems. I’d advise on following whatever ACX tells you to do that needs fixing if you do.
(not knowing the answer to this questions is one of the benefits of finding a solid, reliable narrator)