Since I recently released my first audio book, I thought I’d provide a summary of my experience publishing an audiobook via Amazon’s ACX to help anyone headed down the same path. The book has gotten strong reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but I wanted to make it available so people could hear it as well as read it on their Kindle Fire.
None of us want to fail as writers or have to admit to our families and friends that after all our hours in seclusion banging out our manuscripts they failed to sell even 10 copies. That is the height of embarrassment that none of us want to experience. As an indie publisher, it is critical that we understand what we are getting ourselves into and how to be successful before we start.
About two years ago, as I was working on a Sci Fi novel that I wanted to self-publish, I came to realize I was clueless about what I was doing. So I pulled out an old novella I’ve always liked, rewrote it and sent it through an online workshop I’ve mentioned before: CritiqueCircle.com. After that, I found an accomplished editor and paid her about $300 to edit it. I then published it via Amazon and CreateSpace.
Though I love to write and care deeply about improving my craft, by day I’m in sales, marketing, and product management. As such, I’m attentive to and aggressive about learning how to market and promote my book (and those to come).
One of the things I learned long ago is that if you are going to take the time to create something, you had better market it through every possible sales channel. However, for various reasons, I did not undertake offering my book as an audiobook until about 16 months after I first published the novella.
I started by asking for guidance from another author at Critique Circle who had experience with ACX. She gave me a few tips, so I dove in, got set up on ACX, and solicited auditions.
There are a ton of “producers” on ACX, and their prices vary dramatically. You can solicit individuals or just post your work and wait for them to come to you. I did both and settled on an accomplished producer who seemed to be a good fit for how I wanted the book to sound.
Unfortunately, though he was not explicit (and I was not nosy), several significant events befell his family while he was working on my novella. The short of it was that it turned into a 5-month project. Though I was reasonably patient and considerate, I had not planned for this to be such a long exercise. Nonetheless, when we did get it done, I was very happy with the result. He did great work and was responsive to the changes I asked him to make.
So what did I learn?
I have tangled with agents and editors and publishers before and decided to self-publish from now on because I don’t want to give up control of my products. But, unless you have the voice, equipment and know how to do it yourself when you do an audiobook, you are entering a partnership with someone whom you know nothing about and over whom you have zero control. It can be a very uncomfortable and dissatisfying experience. It can even be a disaster.
Paying your Producer
You have a choice. You can either pay an upfront fee based on an hourly rate from $100 to $500 an hour (as measured by the length of the final recording). Or you can share your profits, which ACX will manage for you. Most all of us will think about this from our perceptive first: We don’t have much money, and for a full novel this could easily be $1,000. So profit sharing seems to make sense. But think about it from the perspective of the producer: Realistically, how many audiobooks is a new writer going to sell? A big percentage of not much is not much money. I feared (and had heard a few horror stories) of producers moving slowly, being unresponsive, etc. I assume that some of this was due to them knowing they are not going to get much money. So, I opted to pay up front.
Picking your producer
Through ACX’s process, you’ll be able to post your work and solicit producers. You can also scroll through their catalog of producers to find one you think will do well, and engage them directly. I eventually sorted through six candidates. You must listen to their work, and do it carefully with headphones on, the volume loud and no distractions. You might consider having a trusted 3rd party (beta reader, for instance) also listen to the samples if you want another opinion. Not only are you checking for sound quality, but also check their list of credits. Make sure they have a record of getting work done. And listen to the samples on Amazon of their other work. Though you want to keep your costs down, be careful not to pick a producer based mostly on their fees. You could regret it, and it could greatly delay getting your audiobook done.
Do It Yourself (“DIY”) Audio Books?
If you have the voice, the equipment, and the understanding of how to record, edit and upload your work to the ACX site, you can save (potentially a lot of) money by doing it yourself. I would strongly encourage you, though, to carefully understand all the nuances before you embark on this. Get in touch with ACX and be sure you understand how to achieve what they consider acceptable sound quality, etc. You do not want to spend $500 on equipment and then put in a lot of time recording your work only to be told the qualify is not acceptable. Some things I can do myself and do well. Other things…no. I never considered not outsourcing the production of my audiobook.
This was a grind. And this was for just a 17K word novella. I can’t imagine how much time and effort this is going to take for my 116K word WIP. Every time your producer finishes a segment, you have to proof it and either accept it or ask for changes. This is a time-consuming and tedious process. But take it seriously. You only get to do it twice. After that…you are going to live with whatever you missed or that you decided was “good enough”.
When is your Audiobook “Good Enough”?
No producer is going to be perfect. So you have to be realistic about how much you are going to ask them to re-do. I was very rigorous, but there were a few instances where the inflection was not exactly what I wanted, or a pause was too long, or the dialog was spoken too quickly. In some cases I accepted it. I had him fix many such instances, but there is a point at which trying for perfection can annoy everyone.
Editing and Rewriting
Hearing a professional narrator read your work is going to inspire you to rewrite portions of your novel. You will hear things in ways that are different than how you imagined them. As I proofed my producer’s work, I did so with a red pen for things I needed him to correct, and a black pen for things I was going to rewrite. Whether or not I actually do go back and make these changes…I dunno. On one hand, they sure do need to be made. However, the truth is that cleaning up five or six clunky sentences and adding a few paragraph breaks and getting rid of a few phrases I use too often is not going to impact my sales or Amazon “star” rating. And on the other hand, I need to let it go and get on with my WIP.
Cover Art and Art Work
When I produced my ebook, I did my own cover art because, me being me, I wanted to figure out how to do a cover myself. After a lot of time in Adobe, Krita, and PowerPoint, I got to what I liked. Then I went to work publishing via CreateSpace and was confronted with what at the time seemed to be a limited number of formats from which to choose. When I published my audiobook, I had to make yet another cover, and this time I used Canva. The result is that though all three are unified by a common image, title, subtitle, and similar colors, all three are aesthetically different. It annoys me, but not enough to redo them all. Next time, though, I will plan out all three from the start.
Metadata and Keywords
As far as I can tell, there is no way to add any metadata or keywords to your audiobook offering. So, you can’t increase your book’s discoverability, and traffic to your work just because you now offer an audiobook with its own set of metadata (keywords). However, once in the audiobook store at Audible, it is clear that their search engine can see both my title and subtitle. I have written about the importance of keywords in titles and subtitles before (it’s crazy important), and how many different search engines are in play when it comes to Amazon, and how they “see” and cannot see different portions of your kindle, book, and audiobook listing. Given the way the Audible search engine works, if you are going to release an audiobook on their site, everything I’ve written about titles and subtitles is doubly important here. I assume the same is true for the iTunes site.
Return on Investment (“ROI”)
Lastly, Return On Investment. Besides my time, my audiobook cost me $200. I think it unlikely that I’ll recover that from audiobook sales in the first year it is out. I published it ten days ago, and so far I’ve sold 2 copies (they did give me some audible promo codes for freebies and giveaways to help generate reviews, but I have not distributed them yet). However, my ebook and book sales have seen a slight uptick over the same period. Of course, this is a very small sample size over a short period of time, so it is hard to draw any definitive conclusions. It is consistent, though, with one of my objectives, which I highlighted earlier: I already have a product, and I wanted to increase exposure to it in all its forms. My belief is that adding one more sales channel will have a positive impact on all my sales channels. My “book” is now on iTunes, for example. So even if someone does not want such a story as an audiobook, it might inspire them to go to Amazon and buy it as an ebook. And (also as I have written before) this helps keep my overall sales rank high, which in turn increase my book’s visibility, which helps drive more sales, which increases my book’s visibility, which… So calculating my ROI for my $200 spend will include any increase in sales of all forms of my book.
In summary, I hope this information helps you if you decide to publish an audiobook. It is really very exciting, but be thoughtful about it. Feel free to post any questions you have in the comments section, or if you have additional experiences that can help other writers.