As an indie author, I love audiobooks. I didn’t expect to love them so much, but I do. A little background first. Many of my traditionally published books were turned into audio, but I had very little say in the process and because the rights were controlled by my publisher, both series were left unfinished due to insufficient sales. Or whatever. To me, that feels like a broken promise and it’s uncool. But I digress. The two series I’m currently writing – Nocturne Falls and the Jayne Frost Mysteries – are both being put into audio with incredibly talented narrators, BJ Harrison and Hollis McCarthy. And I will definitely make sure the last book in each of those series is completed.
One of the things I love about audiobooks is how they’ve allowed me to reach a whole new audience. Yes, there is some crossover but there is also a group of readers (listeners?) who have only discovered me through audio and I find that very cool.
The other things I love about audio is how I get to hear my awesome narrators bring the books to life, and how audio has provided me with some additional income. Yes, audiobooks are very expensive to produce, but they’ve been so worth it for me for the reasons mentioned above.
With all that said, I thought I’d do some posts about the ins and outs of the audio process as I get asked about this subject more and more every day. This isn’t going to be an exhaustive guide, just some highlights. And I’m going to start with narrators because that seems to be the first thing people want to know about.
  1. Choose your narrator wisely. – One thing you must understand about this process is that an audiobook isn’t just someone reading your book out loud. The narrator is performing the book. I can’t stress that enough. Your narrator must be able to give each character’s voice enough nuance that the listener can differentiate who’s speaking and understand that without always having a dialogue tag attached. They have to be able to put emotion into their voice and bring scenes to life. It’s not easy. In fact, I went through 56 auditions for the first Nocturne Falls book! But it had to be done. It’s not a process you should rush, no matter how eager you are to get your audiobook done.
  2. ┬áDon’t narrate your book yourself. – Please don’t. This is kind of like how you should never design your own book cover unless you’ve had some training for that sort of thing. Audiobook narration is the same. Because it’s such a particular skill, it’s also one that’s particularly easy to fail at. Not only do you need to be able to perform the book, but you also need to be able to speak clearly, enunciate properly and in many cases, do accents. Additionally, an audiobook isn’t just recorded and then it’s done. It has to be edited for sound and cleaned up so that the listener doesn’t hear your kid crying in the background or some weird hum or your cat purring. An audiobook shouldn’t have an additional background noises in it that could distract the listener from the experience. You can’t just read the book into a mic, you need a studio set up. And those are pricey. Honestly, let a professional do the narration or you’re just setting yourself up to fail.
  3. You get what you pay for. – I’ve already mentioned that audiobooks are expensive to produce. That’s because of what’s known as the PFH rate (Per Finished Hour) that most narrators charge. In my opinion, quality narration starts in the $200 – $400 area, which is a specific range defined by ACX (Amazon’s indie publishing audiobook company). That probably seems like a lot per hour, but when you consider that it takes a narrator 4 – 6 real hours to produce one finished hour, it makes a lot more sense. And in that range, what you get is an end product that is free from background noise, well-edited and gorgeously produced.
  4. And speaking of paying, what’s up with royalty share vs full payment? – I fall firmly in the camp of never doing royalty share. There are a couple reasons I feel that way. For one, it means you no longer have complete say over the book in the sense that the narrator you do the share with now has some control over the book. An example of this is if you want to take the book down for some reason. With royalty share, you have to have the narrator’s agreement and very typically, they’ll want some sort of remuneration for the lost income. Which means you’ll have to outlay a potentially large sum. For another reason, if your book takes off (and let’s hope it does!), you’ll then be sharing your profits with the narrator for the term of contract. The reverse of that is also true – if your book doesn’t perform as hoped, your narrator has to share in that loss as well, despite the work they put into the project. Because of this, it seems that the more in demand a narrator is, the less likely they are to do royalty share.
I hope some of this is helpful as you go forward into the audiobook process. Not sure what I’ll tackle next, or when, but this feels like a good start. Questions or suggestions? Leave ’em in the comments!
  1. As the wife of someone who is a trained voice actor – Thank you. It’s not an easy craft and is very time consuming. Sad part is, most people don’t want to pay for the voice actor’s time.

  2. Excellent points. There’s been a major shift since ACX changed it royalty payouts, and now I agree, it’s almost impossible to find a “good” one willing to work for just royalty share the way it was when I put my first books into audio. And audio book listeners choose their books by narrator as much as by author, so your book is now being judged in an entirely different light. A positive point about royalty share is that your narrator now has a vested interest in sales and might do some promotion for the book.

  3. I have done stagework and people have remarked about how did they find a real Irish woman to play that part? Well I am from NC via Illinois it is called many hours of training study and rehearsal. Audio books rely on the skill and training of the actor reading and acting the words of the book it is not easy. I have heard wonderful audio books and I have heard very bad audio books, so thankyou for acknowledging the skill and art of the voice actor! It is not something just anyone can do!

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