On March 14, audiobook narrators and producers Andi Arndt, Ron Butler, Paul Heitsch, and Karen White presented an overview of the range of audiobook publishing options available to authors in the current landscape, whether independently or traditionally published in print. Moderated by Michele Cobb, publisher of AudioFile magazine, the participants will discuss audio rights, production costs and various models of payment, and tips on casting, with time for questions. The participants have years of experience producing and narrating hundreds of books.
This event was presented as part of the 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book’s Virginia Writing & Publishing series, hosted by these writing centers and organizations across Virginia: 1455 Literary Arts, James River Writers, The Muse, Randolph College MFA, Watershed Lit Center for Literary Engagement and Publishing Practice, and WriterHouse.
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Watch the video of this event and read the transcript below:
- Getting Started: Resources from Audio Publishers Association
- Findaway Voices resources for creating, narrating, selling, and more
- ACX audiobook resources
- Information about libraries and buying via the Panorama Project
- A great free resource to find narrators: https://www.audiofilemagazine.com/referenceguide
- The Audies (the Oscars of audio publishing) are free and virtual on March 22, 2021!
- Storyblocks.com has royalty-free audio loops that can be used in audiobook credits.
- Narrators Roadmap for narrators of all levels
- Independent Audiobook Awards
- To submit your audiobook for review consideration in Audiofile Magazine, email email@example.com
- Booklist and Library Journal also review audiobooks
- Chirp is the audiobook part of BookBub
- BONUS PRO TIP: To calculate audiobook production price, divide your number of words by 9,200 to get a ballpark of how many hours. Cost per finished hour ranges.
Thanks to the Randolph College MFA program for hosting this event.
CHRIS GAUMER: Welcome to Audiobook Publishing 101 for Authors, hosted by Randolph College MFA Program as part of the all-virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book, a program of the Virginia Humanities. I’m Chris Gaumer, assistant director of the Randolph College MFA. Thanks for joining us. This program is one in a series of six devoted to Virginia writing and publishing presented by writing centers and organizations across Virginia. In addition to Randolph College MFA, other hosts are 1455 Literary Arts, James River Writers, The Muse, Watershed Lit, and WriterHouse. The full series of events are available at vabook.org, where you can also explore the full festival schedule and watch past events. While you’re there, please consider making a donation to support the festival’s ongoing work at vabook.org/give. Also, this event has been closed captioned, which you can turn on and customize at any time during the event by using the closed caption tab at the bottom of your window.
Now I’m pleased to introduce the moderator for today’s event, Michele Cobb, who is a publisher of both AudioFile magazine and MMB Media. Thanks for joining us today, Michele. It’s all yours.
MICHELE COBB: Thanks, Chris. Well, I’m very excited to be here with some exciting and excellent talent. We have four narrator producers, one of whom is actually an author as well, who will talk to you about a variety of different topics. We will be taking questions throughout. So if you look, there is a Q&A box. We do ask that you put your questions in the Q&A box, not the chat, so we can follow along most efficiently.
So I thought I would kick us off today, before introducing each of our narrator producers, by talking about what’s happening in audiobooks. Well, it’s all good news. We have been for quite some time now kind of the golden child of publishing. We have seen eight years in double-digit growth in both dollar and unit sales. When I started in the industry twenty years ago, it was definitely a niche product. Today, we are an important part of making sure that you are exploiting your title—your intellectual property, as it were—across all different formats, so that people can read it the way they want at the moment that they want.
There are a number of people who are book readers who don’t actually read with their eyes but only read with their ears. So you have the opportunity to attract all of those readers with your ears, as well as all of your regular readers. We also see that people go back and forth between the formats. And with so much multitasking and even so much time at home when we’re looking for entertainment, we’re definitely looking for things to do that we don’t have to have our eyes on at that same moment. So a lot of listening, even before the pandemic left us all at home, was actually done in the house, mostly using devices that you all have, such as a smartphone.
All right. I’m going to kick us off by having Karen White, who is also an author, talk about knowing your audiobook rights. And remember, if you have a question, please put it into the Q&A box.
KAREN WHITE: Hi. Thanks, Michele. I’m so happy to be here. I am an author, but my name in the author realm is Karen Gray, just to be clear. So I find that more and more authors are actually more savvy about knowing who owns and what is the status of their audiobook rights, but it really is the place to start. So if you are not independently published—in which case you do generally have the control of your rights—the first thing you want to find out if you are not already in audiobooks is who has the rights and what’s happening with them. You or your agent can prod gently—or perhaps not so gently—your print publisher to exercise or sell those rights to a dedicated audiobook producer or publisher. Or, you can have them reverted back to you, so then you can take the journey to get them into audio.
You can sell those sub-rights directly to, again, a dedicated audiobook publisher. Some examples are Brilliance, Tantor, Blackstone, Recorded Books. And in that scenario, whether you sell them directly or your print publisher does, this is—for you—the least amount of risk. You don’t have to invest further in creating an audiobook. But it’s also the lowest percentage of royalty that you’re going to get. It can be very small.
So if you want to take on that risk, and also perhaps have 100 percent of the royalties coming from the distributors, then you want to go down the self-publishing route. And there’s three basic options there. One, you can hire a producer who will take care of everything for you, including casting. And we’ll get into this more in the casting section. But what’s helpful there is they have relationships with narrators and may be able to get you a sort of “name narrator.” Or if you’re looking for a very specific ethnicity or accent, it can be helpful to go through a producer.
Another option—the one that probably most authors already know about—is to work through a DIY platform. The biggest ones are Findaway and ACX. Findaway—the nicer thing about working through them to find your narrator is that they give you a narrowed-down selection of narrators to choose from. But they do take a percentage in order to do that. ACX, which is a subdivision of Audible, is the cheaper way to do it and can be extremely inexpensive. But you often will get either multitudes of auditions that you’ll have to sift through, or none at all, depending on how you plan to pay for or not pay for your audiobook.
And the final way is to work directly with a narrator. This takes a little bit more organizational time on your part, as well as more research, but it’s the one that I personally recommend. It’s fun, and you have to do a little bit of work, but you can really find the narrator that you feel the best about this way.
So that’s it. I do have all this in a couple of different formats in the Resources tab on my website, if you want more information. And that’s karenwhiteaudiobooks.com.
MICHELE COBB: Thanks, Karen. There was a question that was emailed in, asking about someone being published by a hybrid publisher. And, they have the opportunity to publish their audiobook as well as the e-book and were wondering if there’s a standard fee. Now we don’t get too much into fees due to antitrust laws, but anything that’s published or any advice that you can provide from anyone on the panel would be welcome. And they also are wondering if audiobook rights would be instrumental to secure a film deal in the future. Can anyone speak to either of those?
KAREN WHITE: I think Andi might be—I have no idea about the film rights. The only example I can think of is The Martian, which was produced by Podium as an audiobook before it was even in print. And it was such a huge success that then Random House bought those rights. But I think the film rights were sold even before that. So if you have a huge success, maybe. But I don’t know about the hybrid situation.
MICHELE COBB: Andi, anything to add on to the hybrid? Okay. So what I will say is, yes, I encourage you to take a look at doing that. The fees are not necessarily standard. It’s by the group that you are working with, and you should ask them directly for the fees. Each group is different based on their own particular model.
KAREN WHITE: I think what I would suggest is maybe looking at different audiobook production companies. You know, reach out to a few and ask what their fees are. And then you can compare that to what this hybrid publisher is offering. You can also go to the ACX and Findaway websites as well as the SAG-AFTRA website to find out what base rates are.
MICHELE COBB: And I put all of those things into the chat, actually. So we are on target. All right. We’re going to turn things over to Andi to talk about the various distribution options.
ANDI ARNDT: As a producer, I consider myself neutral when it comes to distribution, so I try to stay up on what the options are. But I don’t tip the scales in terms of one or the other because there are a number of reasons why the authors that I have produced for through Lyric Audiobooks would choose Audible exclusive versus going wide. And sometimes they start with ACX exclusive and then go wide after a period of time.
So first talking about going Audible ACX exclusive. If you use ACX, which I’ve heard described as Match.com for authors and narrators, it’s owned by Audible, which in turn is, as you know, owned by Amazon. And if you want the highest possible royalty, which would be 40 percent, then you choose exclusive distribution, which means that it will appear on Audible, Amazon, and usually iTunes—most of the time iTunes. And if you are doing any kind of a royalty share with the producer or narrator of your book, then that means that you would split that 40 percent. So 20 percent to each of you, as opposed to buying out the narrator, and keeping all 40 percent of the royalties. Uh, iTunes for audiobooks—is [now rebranded as] Apple Books. Thanks for reminding me, Michele.
So after ninety days—after three months—you are now free to go wide. And going wide can happen through a number of different distribution outlets, such as Findaway, which was already mentioned, Audiobooks Unleashed, Spoken Realms, Big Happy Family, Author’s Republic, Blackstone. Several of these, I have worked with. I have had good experiences across the board. It tends to be a fairly straightforward process. So what you’re going to want to know is where will my audiobook be available, and what can you tell me about the royalty split on these various outlets?
I want to talk about two distribution options in particular that I think are worth lifting up out of this discussion. One is Libro.fm, which you will find on a lot of wide options. It’s an app like Audible, which I use. And, Libro.fm started as a way to incentivize independent bookstores to recommend digital audiobooks—which obviously they’re not on the shelves, and so why would an independent bookseller necessarily be talking about digital downloads of audiobooks? So Libro.fm encourages bookshop owners to recommend audiobooks because a portion of that sale benefits that bookstore—or any bookstore that you designate. So, I designated Harriet’s Bookshop in Philadelphia. But you can choose any bookstore that you have an attachment to or a different one every month or whatever you want to do.
And the other thing I want to talk about is libraries and why you would want to be in libraries. There was just an article in The Washington Post this morning about library patrons wanting access to the same audiobooks that are being talked about in reviews, on the web. They want to be able to check those out of their library. And there’s some evidence that your sales will increase if you’re available in libraries. Why? Because either somebody checks out your audiobook—they loved it so much they want to relisten right away—relistening is a big thing with audio fans. But now they’re at the end of the line, and they want to listen to it like right now. So they go buy it. Or they get your audiobook from the library, and they love it, and they want to find more of the things that you’ve written that are in audio, but the library only has a small amount of your work in its catalog, so they go to a retail outlet, and they buy more of your work. So it’s a great way for people to discover your work, and it’s also a great way for you to invigorate awareness of a title that maybe has been out for a while. So thanks for the information about the library stuff in the chat, Michele.
And I think I’ve covered distribution fairly exhaustively.
MICHELE COBB: One question for you. If you want to sell direct from your website, which would you choose? Exclusive or nonexclusive?
ANDI ARNDT: If I wanted to sell direct from my website?
MICHELE COBB: Yep.
KAREN WHITE: I can answer that. You must choose nonexclusive to sell directly—which Findaway has an option called Author’s Direct. But also independent authors may know about Book Funnel, which has a way to sell direct in beta right now that I’m participating in. And it is awesome.
MICHELE COBB: I can also recommend programs like Gumroad, which make it easy to sell one or two titles at a very low cost and add to your website. And if your website is built in something like WordPress, there are plenty of different audio plug-ins that you can try there.
ANDI ARNDT: Yeah, and I will mention that we have had an author choose to have a novella on her website, to listen directly from her website. And that was intentionally designed not to require people to go to any app, download anything, give any credit card, or anything to remove all friction from trying the audiobooks experience. So that the listener could just see do I like—maybe they think they don’t like audiobooks, but they haven’t tried it in a while, since they were a kid. And it gives them a chance to try the audiobook format without that barrier of like, “Oh, man, I’ve got to put in my credit card? What’s going on?”
MICHELE COBB: Absolutely. And I did put a link to the Panorama Project, which is a recent survey that was done with the Panorama Project group to talk about how libraries impact buying and impact consumers’ interactions with books. We know from a longstanding point of the industry that libraries were a great place for listening. And certainly in the pandemic, we’ve seen some amazing gains in digital library listening, specifically in the children’s realm as well.
All right. Thank you very much, Andi. And remember if you have any questions, please put them in the Q&A. Next up, we’re going to turn things over to Ronnie Butler to talk about casting. Because once you’ve written the book, if you want to have an audiobook, the next thing you have to do is find the right voice.
RON BUTLER: Good morning, everyone. Hi. Thank you, Michele. Thank you, everyone. I’m going to jump right in. Karen mentioned a couple of things. She mentioned ACX, and she mentioned Findaway. And our first task, of course—we’ve got actually two tasks. Where are you going to find your narrators, and then how are you going to select the narrator once you have a list of options?
Many of you are probably familiar with ACX, which is, as I think Andi said, Match.com, where you can post a section of your book and have narrators submit samples. You can often become quickly overwhelmed. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of narrators on. And, as Karen said, you might not get any results. So then where do you go?
Services like Findaway, of course, can do that for you. Or if you’re hiring a producer to produce your book, then they will do the casting for you. But obviously, they’re also going to take a cut. A shortcut, and perhaps your best bet, might be to just simply research your comps and also-boughts and see who is narrating books in your genre or subgenre out there and reach out to those people specifically. All the narrators are on social media. They’re all easily reachable. You can find them on Facebook. You can find them on Twitter. They’re all there, and they all want to be found. So that’s not that difficult a job. And you know where your book lies, and you know who your competition is or what your market is. You can find the people that are already narrating in that genre and seek them out.
Once you have your list, wherever you get your list from, then you’re going to wonder how you select the right person. If you’ve never really listened to audiobooks before—and I know a lot of authors haven’t—I recommend that you get up to speed by doing some listening. And I would recommend going to AudioFile magazine’s website, research Earphone Award winners and Audie Award winners from past years within your genre and start listening to what are considered good narrators and good books.
You want to listen for narrators that make you forget that you’re actually listening, and you get sucked into the world. You want to listen for an experience of seeing the world in your mind’s eye, where all of a sudden you see pictures and images and feelings. People who basically are bringing your story to life. Narrators that are creating a sense of intimacy and immediacy, so you feel like you’re right there in the action of the book. That’s the experience that you want.
Michele, and Andi as well, mentioned getting books from the library. Part of this research—you don’t have to pay to get books. You can often rent these books—get them digitally from your local library. That’s why I suggested listening to books that are a year or two older. Because they’re normally already in your library, and you won’t have to wait to rent them. Just to get yourself up to speed.
Once you’re up to speed and once you sort of have an idea of what good narration is, then of course you have to select someone, right? So when you have your list of the narrators that you’re thinking about, each of them is going to give you a sample. Five to ten minutes of your book is pretty standard. And you’re going to listen to that and figure out who you want to select. You’re looking for someone who has a tone and a musicality that matches your own voice or that of your protagonist. You’re going to listen for—if your book has characters that have a variety of accents—you’re going to listen for characteristics of your characters. And make sure—that in your sample that you give for people to submit—that they have those challenges, so that you can actually discern who is best at them.
You want to avoid, when you’re listening, anybody that is flat, monotonous, that doesn’t have any texture or life. You want to avoid those.
And I’m going to advocate—because you’re going to get—if you send out things to narrators because of awards they’ve won, lists they’ve come up on, you’re going to get a variety in prices. People are going to quote different prices. And I’m going to encourage you not to necessarily pick the cheapest, but actually pick the best. There’s a reason why some people are more expensive. It’s because they may have more awards. They may get reviewed more frequently. They may have a larger fan base. In fact, all of those things. And just like readers who follow particular authors, many listeners follow specific narrators. And they will follow narrators across authors, across genres. So sometimes you’re hiring somebody who’s very skilled, not just because they’re skilled, but also because they bring their own fan base. They bring the potential for more exposure with reviews and awards.
Also, I would encourage you to be open to nontraditional casting. Audiobooks is a listening medium. It’s not a visual medium. And just because your protagonist may look a certain way doesn’t mean that your narrator has to, right? You want to hire the person that’s got the best voice to voice your book. And if you reach out to somebody and they’re not available—because many people are very busy, especially in this time when business is booming—the one thing about this industry that I find is that narrators are very generous. And if you reach out to somebody and they’re not available, ask them for a referral. They will often have two or three people that they’re used to working with in their same genre that they know who are good, and who are reliable, and they can give you some referrals.
And I think that’s it in terms of the short-and-dirty of it.
MICHELE COBB: I like to say that’s calling on the narrator mafia. You guys are all interconnected and help each other out in getting jobs.
RON BUTLER: Absolutely.
MICHELE COBB: Andi, I wonder if you can talk to us a little bit about the different options of paying for production versus royalty share and royalty share plus that we often see come into play from some of these do-it-yourself platforms?
ANDI ARNDT: Absolutely. So pay for production is also known as a buyout, which means that you are going to pay for the narration, the postproduction, the production coordination, possibly a union contribution all in one project fee that is like a package deal; and, you are paying for those MP3s or WAV files or whatever, and they are yours to upload to your choice of distributor, and you won’t owe your narrator or production company any cut of the royalties going forward. Who chooses that? Generally speaking, authors who know that their audiobook is going to do well, and they want to pay up front and keep the proceeds.
So the royalty share options—with ACX, there’s royalty share or royalty share plus. Plain royalty share means that the narrator doesn’t really get anything up front, and they also bear the costs of production—the postproduction costs—themselves. Which means that, yes, it is a royalty share, but they start out in the red until the share of the royalties makes up the cost that they’ve already had to put forward. Then, they start to make a profit from that book. So you could probably imagine this is not the most attractive option to a narrator. But there might be scenarios where it works out okay.
Because of that, royalty share plus means that you are contributing toward the upfront costs of production and it’s a royalty share. And as a union actor myself, one of the most encouraging things to happen recently is that, if that royalty share plus is at least $100 per finished hour—it could be more—but if it’s at least that, then I as a union narrator would actually get pension and health contributions made based on the royalties. And, wow, that is a game changer. Because we are all wanting to be eligible for health coverage, obviously, in this situation.
So that is royalty share, royalty share plus, and pay for production. The service Audiobooks Unleashed also has some more creative things, where you can agree that royalties go to the narrator until their production costs are recouped, and then the royalties are shared. So there is some creativity in the marketplace, for sure.
MICHELE COBB: That’s great to know. Thank you. And since we’re talking about royalties, we did have a question that came in asking if there are services that offer background music for audiobooks that already have paid for the music and performance rights. Does anyone here—in what they do—add music to their audiobooks?
ANDI ARNDT: Paul would probably know the most about music with audiobooks, being a musician himself.
PAUL HEITSCH: Thanks. There are some audiobooks—some publishers do like to have like bumpers at the beginning of a book and at the end of a book. I have never worked that way when I produce an audiobook. And the licensing services that I’ve gone through, I’m paying for the mechanical rights to the music, and that can get into the thousands of dollars. So I have never looked for a free or prepaid licensing solution for music. That’s as much as I can really comment on knowledgeably when it comes to music in audiobooks.
MICHELE COBB: Sure. I will say I certainly see a lot of publishers actually having original music produced just for this reason so that they can have the rights. And, Paul, do you produce some of that music?
PAUL HEITSCH: I can. I certainly can. I’ve never done it for an audiobook, but yeah, I’m a musician and a composer, so yes.
MICHELE COBB: Excellent.
KAREN WHITE: I’m going to offer, though, that it’s not an expectation that listeners have. Most audiobook listeners—they just want the voice. I think it’s not something that you would necessarily want to put the money toward.
MICHELE COBB: And there are a number of services that lean more toward the podcast realm, which I think that you could look up, and you can get royalty-free music there as well. So if it is something that you’re interested in, there are some ways to go. Look for royalty-free services for music or think about if you know a musician who’s willing to help you out. And Paul is stepping up to do that, of course.
So I’m going to turn things over to Paul Heitsch who, as well as being a musician, is also a narrator. And he is going to talk to us about what it means to collaborate with your narrator. Because this is a hugely important piece of the process, whether you’re going through a do-it-yourself platform, working directly, or even working through a publisher or a producer—a professional studio—there is oftentimes some interaction that is not necessarily required, but certainly helpful, in making sure that the process goes smoothly and that the finished product is as good as it can be. So take it away, Paul.
PAUL HEITSCH: Thanks, Michele. The key word is collaborating. When you work with a narrator on your book, you become partners in the creation of this new version of your book. And the other thing to keep in mind is you know your book better than anybody, but your narrator’s job is to sound like they know your book the way you know your book. So communication is really crucial. Anything you can give your narrator that will help them understand your book in a way that connects to the story, and connects the listener to the story, is going to be extraordinarily helpful.
So keep us in the loop about any information you can provide about the story arc—the characters in the story—particularly aspects of those characters that would impact how they speak. If there’s something physical about them, if they’re from a certain geographical region, that’s stuff is hugely helpful for the narrator to know when they’re preparing to record your book. We read the book before we record, but there could be nuances that we either miss or that aren’t necessarily there, but it’s how you’ve conceived your story and your characters. So if you have something like a story bible and a cast list for your characters—all of those things are extraordinarily helpful to helping your narrator connect to your version of the story. Give us all of that before we start recording. We don’t want to be surprised.
If you have a roadmap for a series—if you’re going to be working with your narrator on a series of books, knowing where that series is going is also hugely helpful from the first book on. If there’s a secondary or a tertiary character in book one who gets their own story in book three, let us know that too. Because then we can make a sensible choice on how to voice that character in book one. If there’s an innkeeper that’s described as being very gruff, you don’t want to give him a voice that’s going to be hard to sustain for an entire book. So those kinds of things are very, very helpful.
The manuscript that you give us when we start to record should be the absolute, etched-in-stone final version of the manuscript. If we are in the process of recording the book, and you decide what’s going on in chapter three doesn’t really work, I need to change that—that’s a change of scope. And if we’re going to have to go back and rerecord chapter three and maybe subsequent chapters, because the tone of the action has changed because of what you changed in chapter three, that’s extra work for us, and we charge extra for that. Because, again, it’s a change of scope. It’s not covered in the initial contract. The contract should specify that the script we get when we start recording is the final version.
Although, if you can give us a version that we can edit in terms of changing the fonts, changing the margins—that’s also very helpful. Like I don’t think a .mobi version allows you to make those kinds of changes. But a PDF or a Word doc will allow us to reformat the book so that it’s easier for us to read from visually while we’re recording. The less visual noise that I have when I’m reading from the script, the easier it is for me to stay focused on the performance.
And that’s pretty much all I have for collaborating. If anybody else wants to chime in with their ideas, please feel free.
ANDI ARNDT: I’d like to just say that some authors want to be very involved in the production of their audiobook. They enjoy it. They go in and annotate their script. They want to be involved in selecting voices. And then I have had other authors say, “Here’s my book. I’m really busy. I’m working on the next book right now. I just want there to be an audiobook. I trust you.” Both approaches are valid, and everything in between happens. But you should talk up front with your producer or narrator about expectations, to make sure that you’re absolutely clear on when and how you would like to be involved. And also be open to that person setting boundaries, especially if you’re completely new to the process, and they gently tell you that maybe you’re overstepping into backseat-directing the narrator or giving line readings or something that is not really part of the process, if that makes sense.
KAREN WHITE: One point I’d like to make related to that is that, whether you are doing a royalty share or it’s a buyout, narrators are paid for how long the book is once it’s done. It’s not for how many hours we spend in our booths—which Paul and I are in ours right now—actually recording a book. So if we get direction after we’ve already completed the work, that adds a lot more time to the project for us, and so we’re actually making less money per hour. Also, as Andi said, if you’ve never done this before, I think what you want to do is hire a producer or a narrator that you trust to get you the final project. Because many of us have done many hundreds of books, so we know what works. So, just wanted to make that point.
MICHELE COBB: Thank you, Karen. All right. We had some questions come into the Q&A box. And we welcome more to come in, so please put them in the Q&A box. The first one is from an author who’s saying that they had a middle-grade novel come out a couple years ago from a top twenty publisher, but the audiobook was never produced. And they’re obviously interested in this. Do they still have options to create one?
And absolutely the answer is yes. If you’re working with an agent, in which case this time they are, go to your agent, and ask your agent to go back and see if you can actually take the audiobook rights back, if they do not intend to produce it. I see this happen a lot where it’s just never been made in audio. You do have the option and the right to ask that publisher, if they’re never going to make it in audio, to allow you to do just that.
All right, and let’s talk a little bit about nonfiction. This can be challenging. It’s a little bit different. What do you do if you have something like charts and graphs? What kind of workarounds do we have in there? Andi, can you talk to that at all?
ANDI ARNDT: I’ve done a couple of books that have charts and graphs. And what you can do is have a PDF supplement to the audiobook. And so then on the product page, on whatever platform the listener is buying your audiobook from, it’ll say, “You’ve bought this audiobook. Download the PDF supplement here.” Then usually there’s some verbiage either at the beginning or at the end or possibly, you know, if there’s a section of charts and graphs it might prompt the listener again to remember that those are all available, just not in audio. And so that’s usually how that’s handled.
If there are footnotes or those kinds of things, I’ve seen sometimes when a footnote can be brought up in line with text as sort of an aside. And then sometimes the footnotes are really not something that the listener is going to need in order to get the most out of the book, and so those are not read. And other things, while we’re on what things are not read—acknowledgements are usually not read, tables of contents—those kinds of things. You can imagine how fascinating a table of contents would be in audio.
MICHELE COBB: Yes. We definitely want to make the listening experience strong, so that does mean occasionally changing something or cutting things out. But nonfiction is being done more and more in audio. It’s a growing piece of the market. So for years and years, it was hovering around 20 to 25 percent of the market, and in 2019 it actually got over 30 percent. And I expect that with the big 2020 political year, when we do the Audio Publishers Association Sales Survey, we’ll find that nonfiction buying was quite strong.
All right. There was one more question that came in. What advice can you offer for authors that want to narrate their own audiobooks? This is a tough one. Paul, thoughts on that?
PAUL HEITSCH: Well, first of all, are you a good enough voice actor to do justice to your story? Are you going to be able to connect listeners to your story with your voice? That’s something you need to be brutally honest with yourself about.
The other aspect is the technical side. If you’re going to record it yourself, you need to have an appropriate space to record in. You need to have good enough equipment to record with. You also have to be ready to run the marathon that is narrating an audiobook. It’s a lot more work than just speaking words into a microphone. There are a lot of unexpected details and obstacles that you may not realize you’re going to run into until you run into them.
If you’re not going to record it yourself, then you need to find a studio that has an appropriate space and an engineer who knows audiobooks, who has worked on audiobooks before. Because it’s a very different style of production than a musical recording.
So there are some resources online that you can tap into to help you decide if narrating your own book is for you. Karen Commins has the Narrators Roadmap website, which has a lot of information about people who are considering getting into audiobooks. And Sean Allen Pratt has a video, where he basically gives you an exercise to try, that will give you a feel for what narrating a book looks and feels like. I would encourage anyone thinking about this to check both of those things out and decide for yourself if this is really what you want to do with your book.
RON BUTLER: Can I chime in here too, Michele?
MICHELE COBB: Absolutely. And I put the Narrators Roadmap link in the chat for everyone.
RON BUTLER: I would also say that if you decide to go this route, you should seriously consider hiring a director, if you do not have any performance experience but really feel that you must narrate your own book. I think you would be doing yourself a huge favor and service by hiring a director, if this is the route you go.
I’ve directed several authors who have narrated their own books, and it’s challenging. As everything Paul said, it’s really challenging for someone who’s a novice. Even though you know your material and you’re passionate about your material, there are just certain skills and techniques and training that you just don’t have. It’s a physical task as well as a performance task. So any help that you can get to assist yourself, you should avail yourself to.
MICHELE COBB: In fact, the Audio Publishers Association Consumer Survey, which is done every year—and the next version will be coming out in April—it does say that consumers actually prefer a professional narrator. Although many authors can do a fine job, it’s that subtlety of performance that we find from performers and narrators who do this all the time. We cannot overemphasize how difficult it is. I could never do it.
All right. So, again, if you have any questions, put those in the Q&A box. We do have one more. And we’re going to talk about marketing next. So let’s kick off with this question. How do you get your new audiobook reviewed? This author is thrilled with the performance and would love to see it nominated for awards. So how do you get it reviewed, and where do you submit for awards? Anyone want to field that?
Well, I’ll field the easy part of the review. If you would like it to be reviewed by AudioFile magazine, I’m going to put an email in the chat box for you. That’s AudioFile magazine. You send it to firstname.lastname@example.org just with a link to the title on Audible. You don’t need to give us a credit or anything like that. Or if it’s prepublication, send it via a file service like Hightail or Dropbox so that we can potentially put it out for a review. And, always tell the editor, why this title? What makes you think that it should be reviewed?
There’s a lot of other review sources. Anyone want to jump in here? All right, I’ll just keep talking. Karen, yes?
KAREN WHITE: Ron mentioned this, that oftentimes narrators will have their own followings and be up on social media. So many of us have relationships with bloggers or Instagrammers who review specifically audiobooks and can help direct you that way. But Google is your friend here to find audiobook review sites. Just like you would hire a promotional company to do a tour for an independently released print and e-book, you can do the same for audiobooks. And there are many—depending on your genre. But there are Facebook groups that focus on—and are fan groups—that talk about audiobooks, many who will have events where you can go live maybe with your narrator to talk about the book or to have the narrator read the book live. And there are also—depending on how you distribute—you can get review codes from Audible or Findaway, or wherever you’re distributing through, that you can give away online in return for a review on Audible or on other sites—on Goodreads, on BookBub. That’s a good way to get listener reviews out there, which are important in order to sell books.
MICHELE COBB: Great. And we had one more production question come in that we’ll deal with in a second. But I also wanted to say, in terms of awards, the Audie Awards. There’s the Sovas. There’s the Independent Audiobook Awards. There is the ALA Audiobook Awards, the Odyssey. So there’s a wide range. And again, Google is your friend to search for who does audiobooks. In fact, I just recently noticed that the New York Radio Festival has an audiobook category as well. So lots of opportunities to submit your title to be potentially an award winner.
Coming up on March 22nd is the Virtual Audies. That’s kind of the Oscars of the audio publishing world. I invite you to go to theaudies.com to see who is nominated and to find out how to watch us give away those awards live virtually on the 22nd of March.
All right. So let’s talk a little bit more about marketing. Ron, any thoughts that you have that you can share with authors in how their narrators might help them market, or how they should be marketing their audiobooks?
RON BUTLER: As far as narrators go, I find that in general the narrators are very much on board with using every bit of social media they can to help promote their books. That’s really the way of the world these days, is social media. And with all the increasing platforms—I mean, between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn—I’ll speak for myself, on all these platforms, whenever I have releases, I am doing my best to push information out about these books that I’m narrating on all the social media platforms.
There’s also new developments in audio: Clubhouse. Twitter has started something: Discord. And, even Instagram is also starting an audio portion where producers, publishers, and narrators—if they think it’s helpful—will let narrators read portions—a half an hour or an hour—that they can advertise as a teaser for your book. So there’s all these ways that, at least from the narration side, that narrators are helping market and push the books that they’re narrating.
Can someone else speak to the producer side of it?
ANDI ARNDT: I can. I’m seeing a lot of authors treat the casting reveal in the same way that they treat their cover reveal. For a while, there’s a placeholder cover, and then one day the author posts everywhere, “Look at this gorgeous cover. I’m so excited.” And it’s just yet another signal that, “Hey, this book is coming out,” and starting to build that anticipation. And so, by the same token, when you reveal your casting, that’s something that the narrators and the producer can certainly boost your signal or help you with that. And if you’re planning on using that as part of your marketing cycle, be really clear with the narrators and producer that that’s going to be information that’s embargoed until a particular date, so that they don’t scoop you on your own marketing plan. That’s really, really important—to be on the same page when it comes to marketing. Ask your narrator and your producer about some creative things that they have participated in. Because nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something. And maybe they’ll have an idea that strikes you as being fun, creative and in keeping with the tone of your book.
MICHELE COBB: And, Andi, I’m going to give this follow-up question to you. Karen, I’ll come back to you in a second. Someone was asking about the price of the book. And, since you’ve talked about the royalty share. So I’m putting into the chat how to calculate your hours of audiobooks. It’s about 9200 words per hour. And then what can someone expect to pay, Andi? Obviously you’ve talked about nothing. But how high does it go?
ANDI ARNDT: Well if you’re going to look at the tiers that producers can choose in ACX, I would say that if you want to price your offer in a way that’s going to attract a certain caliber of narrator who’s working at a certain level, commanding a certain price point, the two upper tiers on ACX are—last time I checked, anyway—there’s like the $200 to $400 per finished hour tier, and then $400 on up. And I do mean on up. So those two tiers would allow a union narrator, for example, to have a project qualify for their union benefits and cover their production costs. If you go below $200 per finished hour as a project fee, then that’s not going to be something that professional union narrators are going to really be interested in doing. Frankly, because we have enough union-qualifying work that we don’t need to dip into non-union work most of the time.
MICHELE COBB: So it really, truly is a range, and both ACX and Findaway voices can give you some bands of costs. Obviously if you’re going to get a celebrity, it’s much, much higher. Karen, let’s go back to you to talk a little bit more about marketing.
KAREN WHITE: Well, one thing I wanted to suggest is that, while bigger books—books that have a lot of marketing budget behind them from major publishers—may release the audio and the print at the same time. As an independent publisher and author publishing my own work, I have discovered that that’s not necessarily the best way to go. If I am publishing my audiobook three months, say, after I release the print and e-book version, then I get a whole new set of opportunities to talk about my book. Oftentimes, readers—as Michele said—will buy both. Or they’ll read with their eyes on KU [Kindle Unlimited], perhaps, and then read with their ears on Audible or whatever other platforms you’re on.
Again, it’s another way, just like the cover reveal and your narrator reveal to get Instagrammers and bloggers to talk about your book. I’ve even had bloggers re-review the book once it comes out in audio. Or add a new section to their review and repost it regarding the narration. So that’s something to think about, to let go of that pressure.
You could even release it a year later. Maybe you want to see how the series is selling. And once you know that series is doing well, then you go back and you could do a rapid release, so that you get them coming out once every couple of months. So take that pressure off of yourself. Because I think it’s actually more useful to not simultaneously release.
ANDI ARNDT: If I can add a footnote to that, regarding the stress. So the strange thing as a producer, once we upload and everybody’s approved everything, it kind of goes around the dark side of the moon. I don’t have a secret phone number to find out exactly when something is going to go live if no preorder has been set up. And we have had situations where a preorder was supposed to happen, and the title went live—the audio went live before the print—and there was a bit of a scramble. So remember that your audiobook producer is your partner, and try to solve problems together, because there is a certain out-of-control aspect to that prerelease period, and things happen. I think in 2019, 60,303 audiobooks were produced by the industry as a whole. So even if 1 percent of those don’t go exactly the way they were planned, that’s a lot.
MICHELE COBB: I think that’s a great way to end. As with anything, communication is key to success. I hope you’ve had an opportunity to learn a lot of great things here. We have some great people in the audience who are helping us out. One thing I will let you know is we did put a lot of stuff in the chat. So if you don’t know how to save chat, I’m going to teach you. If you click on the chat box and then look in the bottom right-hand corner, there are three little dots that say, “More.” If you click on those dots, you have the opportunity to “save chat” to your local computer and to keep all of those resources. Thanks for coming today, and I’m going to hand things back over to Chris. I’m Michele Cobb from AudioFile magazine. Thank you to Ron and Karen and Andi and Paul for all of this great information.
CHRIS GAUMER: Thank you for coming, everybody.
PAUL HEITSCH: My pleasure.
KAREN WHITE: Thank you for having us.
RON BUTLER: Thank you very much.
ANDI ARNDT: Love this festival. Been involved since the first year, and it’s so great to see it flourish even in this crazy year.
RON BUTLER: So you all are veterans. That’s awesome.
PAUL HEITSCH: Somebody said this was the best panel of the festival so far.
MICHELE COBB: Woohoo. Good job.
RON BUTLER: Are we the first panel of the festival?
PAUL HEITSCH: It’s been going on all weekend.
KAREN WHITE: Can I just say I’ll be back in about ten days, I think, as Karen Gray on a contemporary romance panel. So I hope you guys will come back for that. I think it’s noon on Thursday the 25th or something like that.
MICHELE COBB: Fantastic. Well, put a link to that in the chat so we know where to find you. And we do hope to see lots of people attending the Audies next Monday. It’s going to be very exciting. We had to learn a whole new thing, but I think people will have a lot of fun.
CHRIS GAUMER: Thank you, everyone. The video will be posted on the Virginia Festival of the Book’s website. So if you want to revisit any resources or anything like that, you can grab them then.
RON BUTLER: Thanks for posting that, Karen.
KAREN WHITE: And now I know how to save it. That’s very exciting. Thanks, Michele.
RON BUTLER: Yeah. Thanks, Michele. I never knew that.
MICHELE COBB: You’re welcome. See, I spend all day every day on Zoom, and this is what I know now.
CHRIS GAUMER: Okay. We can shut down the panel now, I guess, huh?
MICHELE COBB: Take care.
PAUL HEITSCH: Okay, bye.
RON BUTLER: Have a good day.