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Thursday, May 1, 2014

I-Spy: How to Get an Audio Book Produced

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: I-Spy How to Get an Audio Book Produced ...


Are you thinking of financing an audio book? You’re not alone. The two biggest areas of expansion for indie authors are foreign translations and audio books. Just about every author I know (who has managed to hang onto audio rights) is considering whether to invest in creating an audio catalog. Case in point, I started financing audio books from my backlist in May 2012. To date I’ve financed 22 titles through ACX (the Audio Creative Exchange) and sold over 11,000 units. I have no idea if that number is good or bad, but the productions have paid for themselves and earned a bit of profit as well -- every single one of them has been a bestseller in its genre -- so I consider the endeavor a success.

 I’ve learned a few things along the way, and I thought I’d share them you in today’s I-Spy segment.

First, so far I’ve only worked with ACX, so my experience is somewhat limited. ACX has a streamlined and simple process. There are definitely problems -- I have bitched long and loud on the topic of what I don’t like about ACX (including being unable to control pricing of a product I have paid to produce) but it’s still probably the most convenient and practical platform for getting an audio book made.

 Basically here’s what happens:

 1 - You claim the audio rights to one of your titles listed on Amazon (if you are not self-published, you need to be sure you still possess those audio rights).
2 - You decide whether you can afford to finance the production yourself (my preference) or you choose to do a royalty-share. A royalty share means you pay nothing up front, but you and the narrator split your royalties for the seven years ACX controls your audio book’s distribution.

3 - You complete the listing for your book on ACX, including uploading an audition script (more about that below).

4 - You start hunting for narrators. OR you can wait for narrators to approach you. (Because I write gay erotic romance, I let narrators read the description of my work and then determine whether they are comfortable trying out for the project.)
 5 - You listen to auditions, hire a narrator, work with the narrator to create the best possible audio book, approve the files for sale, and start collecting royalties.

Success or failure depends on choosing the right narrator. The right narrator is the key to everything. A good narrator can make or break your audio book. That said, the single most important element of a successful audio book is the book itself. A narrator has to have something to work with. While it’s tempting to believe that all genre fiction will do well in audio, the truth is, if your book doesn’t sell much in print/digital, it’s probably not going to do brilliantly in audio either. Even with a bestseller, you will sell only a fraction in audio what you do in digital and print. That’s the reality of the audio book market at this point in time. Choose your best selling title. Or your bestselling series -- and then start with Book 1.

 Your audition script should be short. No more than a couple of minutes long. A page, at most maybe a page and a half. Most of the time, you’ll know within a couple of seconds whether the voice is not a contender. But if the voice is close to what you’re looking for, you may need to ask for a second audition. Or you may need to hold off and listen to more auditions to be sure. Take your time. For the audition script you should choose a key scene from the book with a variety of characters. At the minimum it should be a scene with the two main characters. It’s helpful to give the narrator a couple of clues as to what’s going on in the scene and a general note on how people should sound. Like if the main character has a French accent, it would be useful to mention this BEFORE the narrator auditions.

 Next, you need to have a general idea of the type of voice you’re looking for. You can’t expect the narrator to define this for you. A French count does not sound like a cowboy. Are you looking for someone in their twenties? Because someone in his twenties doesn’t usually sound like someone in his forties. And an “articulate” twenty-year old doesn’t necessarily sound like an “street-smart” twenty-year old. You need to know what you’re looking for so you don’t waste anyone’s time. It’s helpful to listen to a variety of narrators -- especially of well-rated and popular books in your genre.

BE PICKY. Don’t be in a hurry to make your decision. Listen to a lot of narrators. The wrong voice is the kiss of death to an audio book.

Here’s something else to keep in mind. You’re not just hiring a voice. The narrator is responsible for producing your audio book, so you’re looking for more than an attractive voice. Ideally, you’re looking for a professional with a good track record.

 If you receive an audition you like, before you do anything else, go check out that narrator’s website, check them out on social media, and check them out on to see what else they’ve successfully produced -- or at the very least, successfully narrated. You might consider contacting the last author who worked with the narrator: ask whether she brought the project in on time, whether he made corrections in a timely manner, whether he stayed in character or his accent began to slip. You’re signing up for a seven-year commitment. Be smart. We're all aware that book publishing is filled with starry-eyed hopefuls who at this very moment are writing their first book and dreaming of fame and fortune? Well, you’ve got the very same thing going on in audio book publishing. It’s okay to give an inexperienced narrator a shot, but make sure you’re going into it with your eyes wide open.

 Communicate with the narrators who try out for your projects. I am astounded by the number of narrators who thank me for taking the time to let them know they didn’t get the gig. Apparently not responding with a yes or no is a bad habit of a lot of authors. I don’t understand this because surely we know better than anyone how demoralizing it is to submit your best effort and then never hear anything back at all. Rejection is still better than dead silence. Take the time to drop everyone who tries out for your project a polite note thanking them for their time and talent.

Once you do settle on a narrator, make sure you get them whatever they need from you in a timely manner. If they send you a list asking how to pronounce words, or they need a different format for the script…whatever they need from you, get it to them in a timely fashion. Make the narrator’s job as easy as you can.

I believe in picking good narrators and then getting out of their way. I'm not a director and, just as I shake my head at narrators who offer writing advice -- "Don't use elaborate descriptions!" -- so too does the narrator resent the author who tries to pull a Cecil B. DeMille. Narration is an art. You have to give the artist room to move, to create.

 Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. Feel free to leave your questions on the audio book process in the comment section below, and I’ll make a point of checking in regularly to answer them. Or if you’ve financed an audio book, feel free to share your experience with us.

Josh Lanyon is the author of Stranger on the Shore due out May 5th from Carina Press

Find Josh


FUTURE POSTS will cover:

Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.

We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!










Anne Marie Becker said...

Fantastic info, Josh! I'm bookmarking this for later. At the moment, I'm working on uploading my first self-pub book everywhere, but would love to eventually do an audio version. So much to learn!!

Josh Lanyon said...

Good! I hope it's useful. I started out knowing absolutely nothing about audio books, but it's turned out to be astonishingly gratifying to be able to share these with readers.

Loretta said...

I was reading a thread on audio books last night in the Goodreads MM Romance Group. There were lots of comments about the narrator ruining a book. There were lots of comments about what a good job you do in selecting the narrator. In fact, you were held up as the person to emulate. So it is very good that you wrote this post. I hope other authors will take it to heart.

Josh Lanyon said...

Thank you, Lori. That's good to hear. I care a lot about the audio books. I think they're a good way of fleshing out an author's backlist.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Excellent info, Josh. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Rita said...

I LOVE AUDIO BOOKS!!!!!!!!!!!!
I listen to 99% of my books because of vision problems. For me the narrators are EXTREMELY important. There are some narrators who I will not listen to under any circumstances. IMO they take a wonderful story and destroy it.
Listen to what Josh says here. He is right on.

Stephanie Faris said...

Great tips. I've always loved reading audiobooks...hope someday to hear one of my own being read!

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