Thursday, March 27, 2014

How to Create an Audio Book

By Heather Smith, @floridaHeather

Part of the Indie Authors Series

JH: Although audio book sales are growing fast, it's not always something we think to do when we self publish our novels. It can seem overwhelming and off-putting, but it's actually easier than you'd think. Please help me welcome Heather Smith to the site today to share some tips on how to create an audio book.

HD Smith has been writing as a hobby for over ten years. DARK HOPE is her first traditionally published full length novel. She has previously self-published two middle grade novellas in ebook format. She is a software developer by day, working for an awesome cruise line in Celebration, FL.

HD grew up in South Carolina, but has called the Sunshine State home since 1997. She has Computer Science degrees from Clemson University (CS) and Florida Institute of Technology (MS). Her other hobbies include painting and screen printing. She enjoys creating t- shirts inspired by the places in her books.

Take it away Heather...

Have you ever listened to an audio book?

I’ve listened to over 350 audio books since 2012 when I rediscovered the awesomeness of audio and found I’m a self-professed audio-book-aholic, and I’m not the only one!

Step 1: Know Your Rights

For many authors, audio, is an untapped resource just waiting to be explored. For Indie authors, the rights aren’t in question—you’ve got them. For small press authors, retaining audio rights may be as simple as asking for them (which is how I retained my rights). For traditionally published authors, check your contracts.If you don’t have audio rights, and no audio book has been produced, attempt to reacquire the rights.

Step 2: Selecting Options and Setting a Price is Amazon’s DIY Audiobook Creation Exchange. It’s similar to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for eBooks, or CreateSpace for print books. Your book must be on to start the process.

Option: Royalty Share vs. PFH (per-finished hour)

Royalty Share requires no money up front, but ties you and the narrator/producer together in a 50/50 royalty split—forever. PFH requires you to pay for services rendered, but allows you to retain all rights and royalties to the audio book.

Option: Exclusive Distribution vs. Non-Exclusive Distribution

Exclusive Distribution means that ACX has exclusive distribution rights to the audio book for seven years. However, exclusive means Audible, Amazon, and iTunes distribution. Non-Exclusive means you have the right to host or sell the audio book on another site while it is also sold on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Higher royalties are earned with the exclusive option.

Setting a Price 

Royalty Share may sound like a good option, however, if you are planning this approach be sure to include some type of sales forecasts—a reason you think your book will sell. This is to entice a narrator/producer to create the audio book for no money upfront, with the hope of making more than a standard production fee over time.

For PFH, there are ranges as low as $50 and as high as $400+. PFH estimates are based on 9,400 words per hour, which means a 96,000 word novel will be a little over 10 hours. At $50 an hour, that is only $500, at $400+ an hour, the price jumps to at least $4000. The final price for a PFH project will depend on the actual recorded length of the book.

Higher ranges will attract more narrators/producers and in many cases you will get what you pay for.

Step 3: Finding a Narrator/Producer

ACX makes it easy to find a narrator or producer for your book. Producers or studios often have multiple narrators available to choose from, but there are also plenty of “one man shows” where the narrator is the producer and the sound guy and the editor, or they hire someone else to do those jobs. In both scenarios you will be dealing with one person.

Upload Your Audition Script

Your audition script should be one to two pages. This is usually long enough to get a good sense of the narrator’s range and style. You can pick any scene in your book for the audition. I would recommend selecting a scene with dialog for more than one character.

After uploading your audition script, you can sit back and wait for auditions to come in, or review sample auditions and contact narrators/producers directly to request an audition. You can also elect to record the book yourself, but I don’t recommend being your own narrator, unless this is a skill you are paid for … a narrator can make or break the best novel in audio format.

Remember, you can always ask questions if you aren’t sure about something. I found that most narrators were very friendly. I also made a point to respond to everyone that auditioned, which they all appreciated.

In the end, I contacted one narrator to request an audition, and reviewed 14 other auditions from narrators that found my project through an ACX’s search.

Step 4: Making an Offer

Once you have selected your narrator, it’s time to make an offer. The narrator I selected had a fixed PFH price. I contacted her several times and asked many questions about next steps. She gave me the “first fifteen minutes” date and the “project competition” date, which was based on her availability and when she estimated the project would be completed. I made an offer that she was expecting, and she accepted it immediately. You can try to do this without contacting the narrator, by guessing dates and the price s/he might accept, but I don’t recommend this approach.

Step 5: The First Fifteen Minutes

The narrator/producer will narrate the first fifteen minutes and upload that segment for review. This is not an audition. It is a finished product, exactly as it will appear in the final book. If there are any issues with this portion, request changes or corrections before you approve the sample. Once everything sounds good, you will click the approve button, which moves the project into the final phase of production.

Step 6: Notes and Edits

At this phase the narrator is recording the remainder of the book. My narrator sent a list of questions and edits (typos) after the first fifteen minute was approved. Expect communication during the narration phase and be ready to answer questions about pronunciation or word corrections.

Step 7: Final Approval and Distribution

Once the book is completed you must review and approve. You may request up to two rounds of edits before giving final approval. After final approval, the narrator/producer is paid (unless you selected Royalty Share) and your book is available for purchase on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

My Journey Continues

I’m currently on Step 6 of the process. I’ve approved the first fifteen minutes. My completed audio book has an expected release date of April 18th 2014!

About Dark Hope

Claire, the Devil’s assistant, knows very little about the world she was dropped into five years ago, when she inherited her mother’s unpaid debt to the Demon King. She certainly didn’t expect to be a contender for the Fallen Queen’s throne, a target for the Druid King’s mafia, or a suspect in the murder of Junior, the Devil’s oldest hell spawn.

In a last ditch effort to save her life and get out of her deal with the Devil, she sets out to solve Junior’s murder only to be taken prisoner by the four most dangerous immortal hell spawn alive.

Not to be out done, the Pagan Queen Mab, claims Claire for entering her realm uninvited. She has an old debt to settle with her brother the Devil. Taking Claire from him after losing her years ago is just icing on the cake.

Will Claire win her freedom, and save herself from the Devil? Or be trapped by Mab forever?

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  1. This is the first how-to article I've seen on getting an audiobook produced. For years I thought the only way to get one was by getting my book published by a big publisher. Thanks for the info!

    HD, would you mind sharing your total costs for Dark Hope? Your cover appears to be done by a professional. Did you hire an editor? Along with the audiobook production, you must have spent quite a lot, which says something about your confidence the book will sell well...

    1. Pharosian, I selected narrator Lauren Fortgang. She has a lot of experience, and has also narrated a very popular Urban Fantasy series (Elemental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep), which may get my book noticed by fans of her narration style. I don't won't to quote an exact price, but it was on the higher end. The cover above is for the print/ebook, which unfortunately I can't use for my audio book. I designed a different cover for the audio myself (in the square format), which you can see on my website or Facebook author page.

  2. Very interesting. You are right it is untapped by indie authors. I like the way you've laid it out.

  3. I've got 5 of my books on ACX and I recapped my process in detail in my blog as I was doing it. They've cut back on their royalties, but it's still an easy way to get books into audio at zero out of pocket expenses, and since I was doing it as an experiment, not with any expectations of retiring to the Riviera on my audio royalties, I'm thrilled to see that check hit my bank every month.

  4. Yes!! Great topic. I'm going through this process right now. I've chosen my narrator and approved the first 15 minutes. I'd never considered audio until I learned about it on Elizabeth Craig's blog. It was such a rush to hear the narrator tell the story.

  5. Thank you for the step-by-step explanation for creating an audio book. I see now I might be able to afford it and hope to create one in the near future. Thank you!

  6. Thank you for this! I've been thinking about having an audio book made for one of my books, but I didn't know where to start. You laid it out beautifully.

  7. Hi Heather
    A useful post, thanks. I record my podcast, narrating short stories and have had some positive feedback so far. But the jump to a full audiobook is a big one!
    I like the idea of profit sharing, both for the collaborative nature of it and because I think it gives you another champion for your book.
    Frustratingly, ACX isn't open to people based in the UK, though there is talk of that changing this year. I live in hope :)

  8. this was a very informative post, I've never read anything like it. Thanks, Heather for sharing all this information and best wishes for your audio book debut!

  9. Good article. My brother reads for audio books when he's not on Jimmy Kimmel.... good gig.

  10. Just a follow-up for anyone interested ... the audio book is now live on (search Dark Hope). The final phase of the process took longer than I expected, but still the entire process only took 55 days (from start to my approval), then another 10 days for to perform their quality check. The 10 days after my approval felt long, but I think that was just because I didn't know what to expect. Overall I was very happy with the whole process. I will definitely be doing this again with the next book! ... BTW, if you have never been an member you can download the first book for free ... so if you like Urban Fantasy, give audio a try and download Dark Hope :)