I'm so, so grateful to Ray Greenley for taking the time to write a comprehensive primer on audio-book creation for me! It's absolutely brilliant.
Ray's a professional voice artist (he's the narrator behind, among other audio books, Philip K Dick's The Unreconstructed M and Other Stories) but he's a fab writer as well.
I love listening to audio books, but creating them? That’s quite another matter. And yet I wanted to know more, and I figured some of you would too.
And because it’s one of those aspects of self-publishing that’s just too expensive to get wrong, I felt that my writing a guide to the process simply wouldn’t do.
I wanted to offer you something that would give you in-depth, honest and usable insights. That way, if you do decide to create an audio book, you can do it right.
I hoped a professional narrator could furnish you with those insights, and Ray hasn’t disappointed.
The following article is an excerpt from the full 26-page primer. At the bottom of the post there's information on how to access Audio-book production: A primer for indie authors from an audio-book producer.
Enjoy! (And thank you, Ray!)
An introduction from the voice artist, Ray Greenley
Hello, dear author! Congratulations on your latest book!
Have you considered having an audio book of your work produced? If not, you should! More and more consumers are buying audio books for a variety of reasons, and audio-book sales are booming compared to digital print sales (see Resources: Kozlowski).
As an author, you absolutely want to be a part of that growing market. But audio books are an entirely different beast from print books. Getting into a new market is always intimidating. Where do you even start?
I’m here to help. I’m an audio-book narrator who has worked with indie authors to produce audio-book editions of their work.
In Audio-book production I give you a high-level look at what you need to know to get your book produced as an audio book. In this post, we're focusing on platforms and prices.
There’s work to be done, but it’s probably not as difficult as you might think. Read on!
‘So how can I get my book produced as an audio book?’
It wasn’t all that long ago that virtually all audio-book production was handled by a few big publishers, and getting your book produced was probably a similar feat to getting a big print publisher to publish and distribute your book.
That’s all changed. Getting your book produced as an audio book is easier now than it’s ever been.
Probably the biggest factor in that change is a site called ACX. That stands for Audiobook Creation Exchange. It’s run by Audible.com (the world’s largest distributor of audio books, and owned by Amazon.com).
It’s essentially a meeting place where rights holders (that’s you!) can list their books in order to find producers (like me!) who are interested in producing the book as an audio book.
Producers (that’s the term used by ACX; consider it synonymous with narrator for the sake of this discussion) can see the listed book and submit an audio audition for it.
The rights holder listens to the auditions and can offer a contract to the producer they think will do the best job.
Once the producer accepts the contract, they produce the book and submit it through ACX. The rights holder can then listen to the book, and if they approve it, it gets prepared for release. ACX manages the contract, the payment of royalties, and distribution to the associated platforms (Audible.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes.com).
‘That doesn’t sound so bad, but cut to the chase: How much will all this cost me?’
Cost is, of course, always a factor. With ACX, there are multiple options that allow virtually anyone to have their book made into an audio book. But as with many things in life, you often get what you pay for.
First a quick note that there is no fee from ACX for registering on their site or for listing your book. They get their money on the back end once the book goes up for sale, so they just want to encourage as many books to be produced as possible.
ACX allows rights holders to offer producers two types of contracts: Pay for Production and Royalty Share. Note that regardless of the type of contract, the rights holder always gets full ownership of the audio produced.
A Pay for Production contract means that you’re paying the producer a flat fee for their work. Once you’ve paid the fee, the audio book is published and you’ll receive royalties from sales of the audio book.
So what’s a typical fee? Well, first off, the fee is based on the length of the completed audio book. When you offer a contract, you agree to pay a certain amount Per Finished Hour (PFH) of the audio book. So if the audio book ends up being 10 hours long, you’ll pay the agreed-upon amount times 10.
What sort of PFH rate can you expect to pay? Well, it depends on the type of talent you’re looking to attract. If you want a top-rate, full-time professional narrator, you can expect to pay around $300 PFH, or even more.
‘Wait, what!? That means for my 10-hour book …’
… you’d pay around $3,000, yes. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, it is a lot, and I touch on why that number is what it is in the full ebook.
But for now, let’s get back to the discussion on cost. Because you don’t have to offer that much for a Pay for Production contract. You can offer less, and are likely to get producers willing to record your book for less.
Just keep in mind that as you go lower in what you’re offering, so the caliber of producers you attract to your project will change. I’d say that once you get below $200 PFH you’re pushing out of the zone where most quality producers feel like they can get a reasonable return on their time, but that may not always be the case.
A quick note: There absolutely can be an aspect of negotiation with regards to the contracts you offer. ACX doesn’t care what the final number is. That’s entirely something to be worked out between you and the producer.
‘I really don’t want to put up that kind of money. Is there another option?’
Yes, there is!
It’s the Royalty Share contract that I mentioned above.
In this contract, you don’t pay the producer anything up front, but instead split the royalties on sales of the book with that person.
‘Hang on – I can get my book produced as an audio book without having to actually pay anything?’
Yes, that’s pretty much it! Sounds great, right?
‘It sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?’
The catch is that the top producers are VERY selective about the Royalty Share contracts they’re willing to accept.
It takes lot of time and effort to produce an audio book, and producers who are trying to pay their bills and feed their families with money from their work won’t take a second look at your book unless it has a record of strong sales.
Even if your book isn’t breaking any sales records, you can still list it and are likely to get some auditions. Just be realistic about the kind of producers who are going to be sending those auditions. They may be low on experience, talent, or both.
That’s not to say it’s a hopeless case. We all have to start somewhere.
Once upon a time, I was that producer who was low on experience and sending out my first auditions. The author who picked me to narrate my first audio book was an indie author who had just written his first book.
While I’ve learned quite a bit since that first book, and there are definitely things I would do differently now, I’m still proud of my work on it and the critical reception has been overall quite positive.
But it’ll be entirely up to you to make that determination. Just as ACX allows rights holders to sign up and post their book for free, they also allow anyone to sign up as a producer and send in an audition for free. And I do mean ANYONE. Do NOT assume that just because someone is a Producer on ACX that they actually know what they’re doing.
In the full edition of the ebook, I offer guidance on how to assess whether the narrator/producer is doing a good job.
For now, thanks for reading!
Contact Ray Greenley
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Audio-book production: A primer for indie authors from an audio-book producer
This 26-page primer (available here) includes over 5,000 words of guidance from Ray, a professional voice artist, on the following:
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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