The audiobook market is growing, and while audiobook production takes additional effort, time, and money, there are good reasons to consider creating an audiobook for your self-published title.
Audiobook publishing is a great business these days. Currently the fastest growing piece of the publishing industry, audiobooks are on everyone’s minds and in everyone’s ears. To monitor that trend, the Audio Publishers Association (APA) conducts an annual sales survey that provides important information about unit and dollar sales along with the number of titles published.
Some incredible leaps in production are tracked via this survey. In 2011, APA members reported 7,237 audiobooks produced. In 2012, that number had more than doubled to 16,309, and by 2016, that number had more than tripled to 50,937 new audiobooks. Sales revenue in 2016 was up 18.2% over 2015. In comparison, during the same period, hardcover sales were up only 3.7% and eBook sales were down 13.9%, according to the Association of American Publishers.
The 2017 APA Consumer Survey shows corresponding data that audiobook adoption is on the rise with more than 67 million people in the US listening to audiobooks each year (a 22% increase over the number of people listening just two years prior).
Production technology improvements have certainly helped this growth: digital editing, email distribution of manuscripts, use of tablets instead of hard-copy scripts (no need to edit out page-turn noises), and proliferation of home studios for narrators have all shortened the time needed to create audiobook products and reduced the cost of production.
The digital sales format has also been a big influence. Audiobooks are now easier to purchase and store than in the days of cassettes. Portability and the ability to listen wherever you are is one of the top three reasons cited in the APA 2017 Consumer Survey for why people enjoy the format. As digital devices such as smartphones are now ubiquitous, audiobook access is simple and convenient.
How can you become a part of this high-growth format?
First, know the status of your audio rights. If you’re traditionally published, ask your publisher, agent, or editor about the options to get your book in audio by an audio publisher who is already out there making lots of titles. This route is easiest for you since you don’t have to do the work, you just have to cash the royalty checks.
If your audio rights aren’t already committed, you can be your own audio publisher by:
- using a do-it-yourself platform
- working with a production studio
- partnering with a narrator/producer
For any of these options, you’ll need to prepare the following:
You’ll be asked to supply the final edited version of your script as a PDF. Word count is very helpful (this allows you to estimate the final run time – approximately 9,000 words per finished hour), but the actual run time will depend on the pace of the narrator’s reading and the style of the work, so it can vary quite a bit.
Make sure your script is final and ready to record. Changes to the text after production begins can slow down the process (and increase the expense). You may find that your narrator (whether it is you or someone else) is also a proofer of sorts. Reading text aloud often reveals small errors in the manuscript that you will want to address, so use that information to ensure all your products are at their best.
Provide a pronunciation list for the studio/narrator — especially for those difficult character names — even if you don’t think they’re difficult.
Establish a budget
Know your budget up front and be realistic. A lot of hard work goes into recording and editing a high-quality production. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” is true in audio publishing.
Address your visual content
If there are graphs, charts, or anything visual, consider which you would want re-written for the audio version and which can be skipped. You can also include instructions in your audiobook script that tells your listeners to go to your website to download or view related materials.
Create casting notes
Know how you want to structure your recording — should it be read by one narrator or multiple narrators? Male or female? What age are the characters? Does the narrator need proficiency with specific accents? Narrators are skilled at playing a wide variety of characters of all ages and genders. If your book is third-person perspective, you should expect that one talented narrator can, in fact, do it all!
Prep your artwork
Audiobook artwork is a different size than eBook art, so be prepared to create a square option (3000×3000 jpg) as a cover. Some authors “letter-box” existing eBook art by putting it into a colored square to achieve the correct size, but it is preferable to create a brand new square version of the art.
Be aware of the timeline
It generally takes four to six weeks for production and another two weeks to get the title live on the sites used by the distribution network you have chosen. Prepare for the process to take 8-12 weeks.
Got all these elements ready? Let’s look at the ways you can make an audiobook.
Use a do-it-yourself (DIY) platform
DIY audiobook platforms bring together producers, narrators, rights holders, and digital audiobook distributors, so you can drive the creation of your audiobook and get it out there for the public to consume. The two major DIY platforms, where you can both produce and distribute your audiobook, are ACX and Findaway Voices.
These two options differ in process and distribution networks, so you’ll want to research each carefully and determine which best matches your project. Get your script and budget ready, connect with the platform that is right for you, and dive in to creating an audiobook.
These platforms connect you to audiobook professionals. You can get auditions for your titles to help you decide who the best narrator might be and get help delivering the product in the proper audiobook format. Remember, narrators are freelance professionals. An audition is not a guarantee they will get the work, so be respectful of their time. Audition selections should be short. To receive the best audition, choose text that showcases the book and includes dialogue, a scene with multiple characters interacting, or other complex elements so you get the right feel for the narrator’s voice with your text.
With a DIY platform, you are taking the lead on decision-making about your project, which includes making sure the work gets done on your timeline, creating the metadata, and approving the performance. As with any project, communication is key. Remember: you’re collaborating with other creative professionals to publish your audiobook. Set your narrator(s) up for success by discussing production dates and creative choices at the outset and make yourself available to answer questions and review the audio they produce in a timely fashion.
One advantage to using those platforms is the built-in protections for both parties at each stage of the process. You have a formal way to request changes to the production, and the narrator has to certify that payment has been received before the title can go up for sale.
Work with a production studio
A production studio can help handle the details of the audio recording and production, offer a variety of recording/narration talent, and even provide an author who wants to record his/her own audio the means to do it. Although there are often more up-front expenses involved, production studios typically offer additional services, such as a quality-control proof, to ensure your audiobook is free from mistakes.
If you are having your audiobook narrated for you, the production is in the hands of the studio. If you are narrating the book yourself, have an idea of the schedule on which you would like to record. Keep in mind that this is an acting job and if you don’t have experience or training, you may find this more challenging than you imagined. Consider hiring a performance coach for an hour-long online session to help you get familiar with the style of audiobook narration. If you aren’t a professional narrator, it will likely take longer than you think, so pace yourself.
Partner with a narrator/producer
It’s possible to connect directly with a professional narrator who also functions as your producer. You can find a narrator/producer by searching the talent guide on AudioFile Magazine’s website or looking within ACX. You can also research published titles in a genre like yours, take note of the voices that particularly appeal to you, and do a little online searching to see if any of those narrators offer “production coordination” services on their websites.
Narrator/producers generally have a home studio for the recording and either handle the editing and proofing or are responsible for subcontracting that service as part of the overall cost of production. This can be a lower-cost option in some cases, and you may feel more involved in the production process, which some authors enjoy. In fact, you may find that the collaborative process of creating an audiobook pays dividends beyond the royalties themselves, expanding your audience and enriching your own process as a writer.
Be sure to build into your timeline a final quality control (QC) listen when the finished files are delivered to you. This is a crucial step in the process to get one final set of ears on the project before it goes to market. The QC listener could be you or a trusted reader who is very familiar with audiobook aesthetics.
If you are working with a production studio or partnering with a narrator or producer, you’ll need to source out a means of distributing your work. There are a number of independent distribution options now for authors who are just getting started and don’t have the time or the know-how to deliver their audiobook to all the different vendors. In addition to the DIY platforms, places including Authors Republic and Big Happy Family Audio offer an opportunity to distribute your audiobook to a variety of vendors. It’s important to research these options and find out which one gets you into the markets and locations that best suit your title(s). Knowing this information before you start recording your book will help your studio know the required delivery specs (which differ by format and distributor) and help keep the process smooth.
A word about marketing
Once your title is complete, you will be responsible for marketing it. Send it out to bloggers and publications to get it reviewed, talk about it on social media, advertise it in audiobook-focused publications like AudioFile Magazine or Bookriot, and make the purchase options available on your website. Leverage audio samples and create “audio trailers” to share. Mention your audiobook wherever and whenever you talk about the title. Audio is just another way for your title to reach consumers, schools, and libraries: make sure everyone knows your book is available in the audiobook format.
When your first audiobook is a success, and you’re ready to do more, keep in mind that audiobook listeners are passionate fans — if you found a great narrator for the first book in a series, make an effort to stick with that narrator for future titles.
Offering an audio version of your title is a way to increase your audience, and there are lots of choices out there for making it happen. Whether you do it yourself or sell the rights to an audio publisher who will manage the process, it might be time to jump into this expanding market.
Andi Arndt contributed to this post. Andi is an audiobook narrator and Executive Producer of Lyric Audiobooks, an independent audiobook production company serving primarily indie romance authors. Narrator of nearly 300 titles across multiple genres, Andi was recently inducted into the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame.
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