Earlier this month, I approved an audiobook adaption of my debut novel. Creating an audiobook edition appealed to me for two reasons.
First, audiobooks allow authors to reach an entirely different audience.
An audiobook is the only way some people consume books. Since my husband spends a lot of time in the car, he has become an audiobook listener. Same with my sister-in-law.
Readers of traditional books and ebooks are listening more, too. The audiobook’s hands-free portability is appealing, and so is the timeless enjoyment of listening to a story.
In her newsletter, author Jody Hedlund wrote:
“No doubt about it. Audio books are growing in popularity. The Wall Street Journal calls the popularity an ‘explosion.’ An article in The Telegraph in 2015 said: “Sales of audio books have doubled in the last five years, thanks to the popularity of digital downloads.” In fact, according to the American Publishers Association, audio books saw a 19.5 percent rise in unit sales over just the past year alone (The National).”
Second, I’ll admit to a selfish satisfaction in hearing my book read aloud.
To be honest, I flitted between being thrilled and cringing, but I’ve done that when reading the paperback as well. (The neuroses of authors is a subject for another post.)
This post is an attempt to share my experience with the process. I’m no expert. I’ve done this exactly once, and I’ve yet to sell any copies since the finished product has just been made available. I also had what I think is likely a fairly smooth experience with a skilled, professional, and cooperative narrator. That said, here’s what I gleaned about the process.
I chose ACX (an Amazon platform) to turn my book into an audiobook. I started by reading these articles:
- Don’t Miss the Audiobook Boat
- Audiobooks: An Indie Author’s Experience (Part 1)
- Audiobooks: An Indie Author’s Experience (Part 2)
- From Casting a Narrator: To Happily Ever After
Here’s a good visual step-by-step guide to the process that I recently read:
(What follows pertains mostly to the ACX production process. Not all authors find that ACX is the right fit for their production. After investigating other options, you may find that another production and distribution process suits you better.)
Claiming Your Book and Seeking Auditions
The basic process for bringing your audiobook to fruition is fairly simple. First, you must claim your book on ACX and create a profile in order to attract narrators. You will also need to select the type of contract you will enter into. Will you pay the producer/narrator for his or her work (Pay for Production)? Or will you agree to split any royalties 50/50 (Royalty Share)?
ACX provides a thorough checklist for this process.
Tip: Auditioning narrators will most likely not have read your novel, so give them the basic information they’ll need to succeed in capturing your characters. “Male lead is cocky. Female lacks self-confidence and has a tendency to lie.” Give them something to go on, and then let them take it from there. A skilled narrator will bring your words to life in ways you may never have imagined.
Tip: Be upfront about the content of your novel. One potential narrator wanted clarification on the edginess in my romance. She described herself as conservative and would be uncomfortable about a project than ran contrary to her beliefs. I was able to provide her with more detail and re-assure her about the content of the book. I also had a narrator express discomfort that the book seemed “pretty religious.” We were able to discern quickly that this wasn’t a good match. Be professional but courteous and save everyone time and hassle.
Tip: Choose a passage for auditions that allows you to hear the narrator’s capabilities. It may not be the most moving or eloquent passage, but it should elicit what you want to hear. I picked a passage that included my male and female leads as well as an important minor character and a child. Maybe it’s important for you to hear dialect, a heart-pounding action sequence, or a very emotional, intimate moment. In general, I think choosing a scene with multiple character voices is a good idea.
Tip: If you can only do Royalty Share, try to get the ACX stipend, in which ACX offers bonus payments to narrators/producers for select titles. ACX uses a mysterious algorithm to determine which titles receive stipends. It involves sales, reviews, and book length, among other things.
In my case, I created my novel’s ACX profile shortly after publication. I had 12-18 reviews and not a lot of sales. My title was not eligible for the stipend. I proceeded to listen to narrators’ audio samples and scour narrator bios in order to hand select narrators I though might be a good fit. I then sent at least a dozen narrators personal messages inviting them to audition. I provided them with the Amazon link to my book and its reviews and offered to answer any questions they might have. Some responded, mostly to say they could not work with me without the stipend. While this can be discouraging, it’s certainly understandable since narrators need to live and eat as well. I ended up receiving one unsolicited audition over several months before my title was awarded the stipend.
Due to either a system glitch or lack of activity (I’m still not sure which), I had to reclaim my title. This time, I had more sales and more reviews. Within a couple of weeks of reclaiming, I received notice that my book had been awarded a stipend. Notice of unsolicited auditions began filling my inbox at a rapid pace.
Tip: Wait until you have a nice selection of auditions before selecting a narrator; don’t just select the first one to come along. Remember that the quality of your audio production may impact your reviews and subsequent sales. Choose wisely. You may find that your initial favorite isn’t your favorite anymore once you’ve listen to six or seven varied performances. Also, don’t be afraid to invite someone to re-audition if you think there is a specific area in which he/she could tweak the performance, making it one you could approve.
Tip: Don’t listen to so many auditions that choosing becomes an overwhelming, seemingly impossible task. Unfortunately, there is no way to close auditions short of making an offer. In other words, they won’t stop coming until you choose one. At some point you simply need to stop considering new auditions and make a decision.
Tip: Get another person’s opinion. In my case, I sent samples to a couple of author friends for second opinions. Listen on earphones or ear buds rather than speakers as that will be how most listeners will hear the story. Then my husband (who listens to more audiobooks than I do), my publisher, and I listened to the auditions (separately) and made a list of our top three. My husband and I shared the same top choice, who was my publisher’s second choice, and that’s whom we selected.
Tip: Do your homework. Not only did I listen to the audio, but I checked out potential narrators’ profiles, portfolios, and websites as well. It would be embarrassing and uncomfortable for both parties if there were some reason she/he was incompatible with your work or niche audience. For example, being that I write “clean” romance, I wanted to avoid someone whose specialty was erotica. This may be more an issue in nonfiction than fiction, but say you’re writing a novel about the American Civil Rights movement. You’d want to steer clear of a narrator known for his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. Extreme example, but it makes the point.
Tip: Be professional. Follow up and thank those who didn’t make the cut. We’re authors. We KNOW rejection. These artists are no different. So many responded to me with grateful appreciation that I had taken the time to send them a short message informing them of my decision, thanking them for sharing their time and talent, and praising their work even if it wasn’t a fit for this project. This is also a good way to keep in touch and maintain a positive relationship with a narrator who may be the perfect fit for your NEXT project.
Approving the First 15 Minutes
Here’s your chance to offer feedback and direction. I didn’t have any recommended changes at this point, but this would be your opportunity to steer your narrator in the right direction, if necessary.
Listening to Your Novel
As the chapters are uploaded, you’ll want to listen. Let the narrator know of any problems. For example, a line of narration is accidentally rendered as dialogue, a mispronunciation, etc.
Tip: Be specific and constructive in your comment and cite the exact time at which the errors occurs. Work promptly to keep pace with your narrator.
If your narrator/producer has done the job well, this is loads of fun. Here’s what I shared on my Facebook page after my first listen:
I got to listen to the first half of Stay With Me on audiobook last night, and I have to admit I’m a little giddy. Part of the joy of writing is creating characters. The author writes them, but the readers, THE READERS are the ones who bring them to life in their imaginations. Only, the author can’t get into the readers’ heads. So hearing someone narrate and voice those characters . . . it’s kind of like flipping the switch on Dr. Frankenstein’s creation only without the pitchfork party outside the gates. They’re alive!
Here’s the note I shared on my Facebook Author page about my listening experience.
Wrapping It Up
At the end of production, you’ll need to submit a cover image for your audiobook. ACX provides all of the specifications.
Tip: You are not required to include the narrator’s name, but I did, seeing it as an opportunity to (1) give credit where credit is due, and (2) help promote the narrator’s work.
Marketing Your Audiobook
I’ve just begun to market my audiobook, but I’m saving links and making notes as I go along. I’ll share what I learn in a future blog post.
Here is where the Stay With Me audiobook is now available:
And here’s a link to my fabulous narrator:
Have you turned a book into an audio book?
Do you have any tips to share?
How did your experience differ from mine?