I just found out earlier today, before publishing this post that Nine Lies People Believe About Speaking in Tongues (my published book) is available on Audible.com, and Amazon thanks to the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX.com). As some of my podcast listeners have heard me say several times, I’d been working on it off and on throughout the last year once we got back to Peru after having been in Canada for the previous Christmas where I got a new microphone and mixer.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, and even though I needed to take a break for like six months from it (I had recorded the audiobook a total of three times, the first two times had different issues) when I got back to it I was glad I was working on it now instead of a year ago as it’s a better quality book. I’m still imperfect at recording, narrating well, etc. but it’s in better shape than it would have been had I published it earlier.
I’ve gotten SO much better at narrating and reading out loud. My biggest mistake from a few years ago was that I would try “preaching” the book instead of just reading it, and now I HATE the results and plan on re-doing all my indie audiobooks. That’s also why you can’t find them in my store anymore, in case you were wondering or went looking.
I also learned a lot of the technical stuff that I didn’t pick up from years of podcasting. Just the other day when I was compiling the files so I can get them ready for sale on my site, and I noticed something in one of the chapters I had recorded months ago and thought “yikes! I wish I had known then what I know now, and I could fix _______” even though it’s an issue only really anal sound technicians are going to notice, and even then they might not care other than to think “well that guy must be new to this.“
I mention all this — yes I actually have a point in my long post today! — because I know other self-published authors and Christian bloggers who follow me and I get asked all the time about blogging, podcasting, publishing and sometimes all at the same time, so this post will be relevant to a few of you who are going to go the audiobook route with your books.
For as long as I’ve published Kindle books I’ve heard over and over that the audiobook market is exploding and in a similar phase that Kindle books were five and six years ago.
Would a Narrator WANT to Produce Your Book The Way It’s Presented on Amazon Now?
Please understand this: it’s a LOT of work for your narrator to make your book. It’s probably taken me 6-8 hours to edit & master each hour of recorded work, and each recorded hour easily took me at least 1.5 times the amount of time to record as the resulting hour. It’s a completely different beast than podcasting where I don’t worry about loud breathing or the exact quality of my recording meeting ACX requirements, etc.
So an hour-long chapter probably takes me about an hour and a half or an hour and 45 minutes just to record it (let’s say 2 hours to round up), taking into account pauses, drinking water, re-recording things, taking potty breaks, etc. Then after that, it’s exponentially longer to edit and master it. This part is similar in podcasting, but you’re being more meticulous with an audiobook.
When I log in to ACX as a narrator looking for books I could audition for, I see maybe 80-90% of the books whose authors are looking for a narrator to be looking to do a royalty-sharing agreement. That means the author of the written book and the narrator of the audio project are going to split the royalties for the next seven years — the standard contract you agree to if you’re selling your work on ACX.
Now if you’re a bootstrapping author, and you feel you can’t afford to hire a narrator, but you see that in your ACX dashboard, it’s easy to think “great, I’ll get an audiobook up and running, and I’ll just pay for the book over the next seven years.” But the catch 22 is that it’s actually cheaper to hire a narrator up front, pay their “per finished hour” (PFH) rate, own all the rights to the recording, and then collect all the royalties for years to come without owing half of them to anybody.
How do I figure this?
First, know this; ACX distributes to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. If you sign an exclusive contract with them, that means your book will only be available in their distribution channels, and you can’t sell it on your own site or anything like that. In this model, you get paid 40% royalty of your book’s sales, and Audible keeps the other 60%. They also set the price of your book based on its length. Under this pricing, if you do royalty share with a narrator, you’ll be splitting THAT 40% with each other, and in the end only getting 20% while the narrator gets 20%.
For the next seven years.
Now, if you decide you want non-exclusive distribution (selling it elsewhere besides the ACX channels), then you can’t do royalty-share with a narrator as ACX won’t allow it on non-exclusive works.
Digital Book World explains reasons why going PFH is cheaper in the long run than royalty-share:
Audible pays monthly royalties based on the amount it received for each unit sold, not the title’s purchase price. Audible member credits are worth about $10 each and account for the most sales. Other factors such as special sales and currency exchange rates affect the proceeds.
Generally, for a 10-hour book, Audible pays about $4 in royalties per unit sold. The author keeps the entire royalty amount on a PFH contract. On an RS contract, the author can expect to earn only half of the available royalties, or around $2 per audiobook sold.
In our earlier example of the $200 PFH contract, the author pays $2,000 for production costs of a 10-hour audiobook. After selling only an estimated 500 units of the audiobook, the author would break even from the royalty payments. From that point forward, all remaining audiobook sales would generate pure profit of around $4 in royalties paid per unit sold.
Many authors get quite excited when they realize that it may not take long to break even on a PFH contract and then earn double the profit they would have had in an RS contract!
If you’re Stephen King or someone living off the sales of your books, you could easily do a royalty-share with a narrator, and they would be getting reimbursed multiple times over for having narrated that book for you. And as a narrator myself, such books have a LOT of competition from other narrators, and I’ve talked with someone at my book’s publishing house who told me a very profitable book is not one that the publisher will really want to do a royalty-share [on the audiobook property] even if they had to pay a reasonably high cost for the PFH up front. In the long run, the publisher feels it’s more profitable to them to retain all the royalties.
As an aside, it’s important to me that I’m the best at this I can be so I can win gigs like that when I audition, since this field is very competitive, and that’s why I’m building my repertoire and portfolio now.
But if you’re an independent author, and you’ve submitted your book to ACX looking for a narrator to do a royalty share with?
I’ll be honest, I keep checking in a few times a month, and upon seeing books with poor covers, or normal rectangle covers that have been stretched into a square, or that have no reviews and have been on Amazon since 2013, or the description is bland and that their book’s Amazon ranking is really poor, then I skip over them and don’t think of auditioning for them because I know that means they aren’t selling very many of their Kindle or print versions.
And that means I’m not going to make money over the next seven years for the work I put into it.
So, it wouldn’t be worth my time or effort. Not by a long shot unless I’m feeling generous.
I’ve seen similar comments like the following on message boards and in groups I’m in for narrators as this comment from Derrick McClain’s article on royalty sharing vs PFH,
If an author offers a book for royalty share, the general presumption is that the author doesn’t expect the book to sell well enough to cover the costs of per-finished-hour production. This means the author anticipates it will sell less than half of what the narrator needs for it to earn out.
Conversely, if an author expects the book to sell particularly well, then offering it for royalty share would be a major mistake, as they’ll lose money in the long run.
It’s that simple.
Even best-selling audiobooks only currently make up for anywhere as low as 5% and as high as 20% of an author’s sales, and this figure is growing. In another group I follow on LinkedIn there are authors who say it’s possibly as high as 35%. Meaning, you will sell about 5-35% as many units in audio format as you do your Kindle book sales, for the time being. Maybe this will grow as the industry does and is.
So if you’re looking for a narrator for your book with whom you can pay through royalty share, you NEED to take these things into consideration in HOW you are already marketing the versions of your book on Amazon that you do have. When a narrator agrees to do a royalty-share, they’re taking a risk that they’ll be compensated accordingly for their time.
You may be able to “get what you pay for” and find a newer narrator willing to narrate your book, but it will probably be low-hanging fruit if your book already doesn’t sell well or put your best foot forward if it’s a new title, I’m sorry to say.
Experienced narrators charge more.
Excellence is important, and you don’t need to pay thousands of dollars, but I hate to say it, I judge potential projects (books) by their cover, description, how many reviews they’ve gotten, the ranking, etc., and I resist the ones that don’t look like they want to sell many copies of their print and digital books. And as a listener, I do try the retail sample of every potential audiobook I may purchase or spend my Audible credits on.
So in a sense, you could say people judge an audiobook by its narrator’s voice and reading.
Just some thoughts worth considering when you decide to take the plunge and get your book made into an audiobook.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you find this post helpful in your decision-making about your audiobooks!