Friday, April 12, 2013

Audio Books for Self-Published Authors--ACX

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
As I mentioned in Wednesday's post, I recently decided to spend time exploring audio options for my self-published books.  The only audio rights I hold, actually, are for self-published books.  Neil Gaiman wrote an interesting post on this problem: "Audiobooks--A Cautionary Tale." As he put it:
I think what I want to say mostly is, if you are an author, Get Involved in Your Audiobooks Early. Get your agent involved and interested. Talk about them at contract stage. Find out if you're selling the rights, and if you are selling them then find out what control you have or whether you are going to be consulted or not about who the narrator is and how the audiobook is done.

 Let's say that you do have rights to some titles--whether they're self-published or traditionally-published.  How do you start the ball rolling for getting your books into audio?

Right now, the buzz is all about ACX.  This is because ACX is becoming a huge player and is really the self-pub option for audio.  You need a cover (presumably you have one, since you already have either an ebook or a printed book), your text, the rights to your property, and a plan on how you want to pay the narrator.  ACX distributes your audiobook to,, and iTunes.  The top retailers for audio, obviously.

You can decide if you want an exclusive arrangement with ACX or not.  I did. More on exclusive vs. non-exclusive:
Royalties start higher if you choose distribution exclusively through ACX, which today gets your audiobook listed on,, and iTunes—the three main retailers of audiobooks in the world. If you choose non-exclusive distribution, you can sell your audiobook wherever else you’d like, and you will be paid the base escalator royalty rate, which starts at 25 percent and grows to 90 percent as you sell more units. At least fifty dollars in royalties must be accrued before Audible cuts a check.  
 If you want a royalty-share arrangement with a narrator, you must have an exclusive arrangement with ACX. 

Royalty share is one option.  It's a 50/50 split plan for the seven year ACX contract.  So ACX takes half the earnings, then you and the narrator would both take 25%.  Or, you can opt to pay narrators upfront, keeping all the royalties as your own (after, obviously, ACX takes its cut.)  More on your options here: (via ACX's site).

The reason royalty share may be appealing is because of the cost of narration, otherwise.  I believe that $1200 would be a fair estimate for many projects (at $200 a production hour for a six-hour audio project).  However, if you post that you're looking for a royalty-share agreement, you may be limiting the field of narrators--they're having to take a big leap of faith that their substantial investment of time will be worth it in the end.  If, obviously, you've already got a successful ebook or two on Amazon, that's going to help your project look more appealing.

The narrators are all screened by ACX for quality.  The narrators have their own studios and produce the recording--recording, editing, producing (in most cases), and even uploading the finished file to the platform.

Listing your book is easy.  Here's how (I'm using Pretty is as Pretty Dies here as an example since my self-pubbed titles are already uploaded...but I don't hold the audio rights, so it's for illustration only.) :)

You tell it which books are yours.  They automatically pulled most of mine up (the magic of "the internets" I guess), but they missed one of my titles.  I filled an ISBN in the slot and it came right up.

You decide how you want to handle the process.  Do you want to record your own books?  Or hire a narrator?  I did not want to record my own books.  And if you aware of the time investment.  I hear it's huge.

Here's your contract.

Basic stuff here.  Your book description (I lifted mine off of Amazon), copyright info...the information you have already at your fingertips.

Now here's where you need to put your thinking cap on.  Not so much for the general book type info, but for the narrator's voice...that's huge.  I ran into this part and my brain exploded.  The gender and age isn't so hard (mine was a natural for elderly and female), but the style...just prepare yourself.  Here's a sampling of the style options, since I couldn't get a screenshot of the drop-down menu:
announcer, articulate, brooding, deadpan, engaging, enthusiastic, female narrating a male part, feminine, flirtatious, frightened, girlish, hip, host-interviewer, husky, hysterical, informed, ingenue, inspirational, intimidating, male narrating a female part, masculine, mature, nasal, perky, raspy, refined, snarky, sheepish, soothing, storyteller, sultry, upper-class...well, you get the idea.  I'm not putting them all in here, but spend some time thinking about this before you get to this point in the process.
Here you need to know a couple of things.  For the additional's really a pitch.  We're trying to pitch the project, tell a little about our platform and how we plan to get the word out about the audio version (important...especially with royalty share), and perhaps give some extra insight into what we're looking for in a narration.

Audition're putting in a bit from the book for the narrators to read.  ACX advises an action scene.  I ignored their advice and put in the first couple of pages of chapter one.  The form will cut you off after a certain number of words.

After this, you hold tight and wait.  You receive notification via email from ACX that you have auditions to listen to.  I've learned that the appropriate etiquette is to keep the narrators apprised as to your process....especially if it's taking a while.  They're waiting for our response, after all.  I think it's akin to our submitting a manuscript to critique partners and then waiting for feedback...they'd like to know where we are in the process.

If your ebook has a lot of reviews/strong sales, then ask ACX (I emailed) if they'll attach a stipend for the narrators for reading your book.  Apparently, ACX considers it in their best interest, financially, for them to get successful ebooks into audio as soon as possible...and aren't above creating an incentive for that to happen.  I had two of mine get stipends attached.  The other is newish and they passed.{Update--that book is now suddenly listed with a stipend. Hmm.} Here's what you need to know about stipends.  And I have no idea why the site asked for producers to log in....I logged in as a "rights holder" and emailed and they responded right back.

How do we make our book more appealing for narrators?  For that, I researched narrator sites.  This is what I came up with:

"My 10 Reasons For Accepting Royalty Share on ACX" by Robin Jester Anter.  A tip from Robin: " I want to see that the author takes their career seriously by establishing a brand and actively marketing themselves."

"7 Reasons Why Your Book is not Getting Auditions on ACX" by Jeffrey Kafer.  Tips from Jeffrey include: making sure you have a good cover (basically, that you have a salable product), having a shorter book (or at least not a saga), and making sure you appear easy to work with.

A few things that struck me as very different from the regular-ebook-self-pub process: 

1. We don't produce or upload to the platform.  The narrators are (usually) the producers.  They edit the audio and upload it for review to ACX.  

2. We don't set the price for our audiobooks.  That's set by the retailer.  Here's what ACX has to say about that:
Each retailer of your audiobook independently prices your product and determines such price in their sole discretion. While not always the case, the regular price on for the product is generally priced based on its length, as follows:
  • Under 3 hours: under $10
  • 3 – 5 hours: $10 - $20
  • 5–10 hours: $15 - $25
  • 10–20 hours: $20 - $30
  • Over 20 hours: $25 - $35
To be clear, although the above represents general guidelines as retailer of audiobooks sold on, Audible retains the sole discretion to set the price of the audiobooks it sells.

3. Really, after we pick the narrator, our part is mostly over.  And a note about picking the narrator out of a collection of auditions: this means we have to make some rejections.  The only reason I bring this up is because I know this is tough on the writer's artistic soul.  :)  Unfortunately, the nature of this project is that someone has to be chosen and others won't.  This may be uncomfortable for you.  It's uncomfortable for me because I'm a writer--I'm not an agent, I'm not an editor, I'm not a publisher.  I'm not used to being in the position of rejecting others.  But this is just part of the process.  I'm trying to put my discomfort aside and handle this task as professionally as I can.

 How long will the process of narrating and producing take?  I'm expecting it to take several months.  The narrators may need to take on some projects that pay at the front-end and I completely understand that.  They're taking a leap of faith that they'll end up profiting on my projects with the royalty-share arrangement.  

I'm new to this, so I'm hoping I'm relating all of this information clearly.  Let me know if you have any additions, questions, corrections, or thoughts here.