Thursday, April 27, 2017

Producing Your Books in Audio Part One: Should You?

By Angela Quarles, @AngelaQuarles

Part of the Indie Author Series, a subsidiary of Amazon, makes it possible for indie authors to produce their books in audio. Back in 2014, Heather Smith did a step-by-step guide for using ACX to produce audio books and it's a great overview for getting started in audio books, so if you're thinking about doing this, definitely read her article first. I will tackle the subject in more detail in a series of posts, and today's topic is: Should you get your book(s) done?

Chances are you've thought about having your books produced in audio but have wondered whether it was worth it It's definitely still a growing market and smart to do if your books are selling well already (though you'd be surprised at my definition of well, so don't be discouraged yet). For me, it's been worth it and I'm no big name.

Big-Fat Caveat

Below are some opinions which others may not share, and that's to be expected. Each indie author has their own goals and unique situations, and so please remember, these are simply my takeaways after having three of mine produced through ACX. Also, remember that my books are competing in the crowded romance market, so it's possible that you could get away with some things (like a cheaper narrator) in a less-crowded-but-high-demand genre.

This underscores why it's so important to network with authors in your genre, preferably even your subgenre, who are also at the same level of sales and readership numbers. They can advise you if it's been worth it for them in your genre. My audio books are in the time travel romance genre, if that helps you judge better its applicability to you.

Tip #1: Wait until you can pay upfront

My biggest advice for anyone contemplating doing audio is to wait until you can afford to do it yourself. It can be incredibly tempting to use ACX's Royalty Share option so that you don't have to pay anything upfront, but my personal opinion is that if you're not making enough from your ebook sales to pay upfront for your audio, then your ebook sales are not at a level to make it worthwhile. Plus, if they aren't, you'll have a hard time getting a quality narrator because they want to see a healthy sales record so that they can be assured they'll get paid for their time. And if you are making enough to entice one, then you can afford to do it yourself.

I always like to look at decisions like this in the long-term--sure it might be incredibly fun/cool/neato to get your book in audio before you can pay upfront, but then what if it does take off? Either because your ebooks took off, or because the audio version gained an audience? Then you're potentially paying royalties far into the future to that narrator that would far exceed what they would have made if paid upfront (which is great for them, but money that could have been in your pocket if you'd waited).

Tip #2: Wait until you can afford to do it right

My other big-pic opinion on audio is that it's not worth doing it unless you do it right. And that is expensive. Paying for a cheap narrator could end up costing you more if you never earn it back because the narrator tanked your book for you. Audio listeners are picky (at least they are in romance). Picking the right narrator for your story and voice is crucial.

This is potentially my most controversial opinion on the subject, but l wouldn't pay for a narrator whose PFH (Per Finished Hour) is less than $300. Mine cut me a deal for $350 because I also did the proofing. I know authors who happily pay for top narrators in the $400-$450/PFH range. You might luck out and find an up-and-coming voice for far cheaper, but with that inexperience also comes some pitfalls. They're new to the production experience too and could make the process more difficult with some rookie mistakes, etc. And since you're new to it too, it might not be a good gamble. I remember when I received my final for proofing that there were several points in the script that my narrator got right that could have potentially been done in completely the wrong tone, or some other nuance that I would never have thought to look out for and mark in the script for her (I sent her a marked up script). I was already extremely pleased with the professionalism and quality of my narrator, but at those times I was also extremely grateful that I'd placed my book in the hands of a seasoned professional. I remember feeling like it could have been a disaster otherwise.

Another thing to consider is that those higher-priced narrators are generally also popular narrators who have their own following, so I looked at the expense as also paying for that extra reach. In other words, narrators like mine have fans who will just search on their name and listen to anything they've done, and I wanted that additional reach such a narrator could bring to me. And it worked. I've seen comments in reviews that show that that was how many of my listeners found me--they were fans of Mary Jane Wells.

Tip #3: Use your ebook sales as a barometer

In a way, you'll know it's the right time when you've earned money from your sales that you need to reinvest in your writing business or you'll get taxed on it. So for me, I needed the tax write off.

Common wisdom is to calculate that you will make about 1/4 in audio what you make in ebook sales, but mine is currently averaging about half (four months after the latest audio release). It helps that I now have three out because the sell through rate is almost 100%. But for calculating how long it will take you to earn your money back, use 1/4 to be conservative. I did that and saw that it'd take me about a year to earn my roughly $3000 back for my first book and felt that was worth it. It took a little less for me (about nine months), but again, it's good to be conservative when figuring out this kind of investment. After your initial investment is paid for, your earnings are all profit. And that's an awesome ROI. About six months after my first audio was out, I had the next two produced at the same time. It's five months later now, and I've already earned half of that back.

And my earn back rate is slower than some authors who have a larger following--they're able to earn their investment back (even at the $400/PFH rate) within months. It all depends on genre, how hungry readers are for your genre, how big a name you are and how big a name your narrator is.

Tip #4: Consider the length

Another thing to consider is the length. For sure it's worth it (if the other tips above are also in play) if it's a full-length novel. Audio listeners get one credit per month for $14.95 (or if they're on the 2-books a month plan, the cost is about $11.48 per credit). Price of an audible book varies, but one of the determining factors is length, so longer books cost more if bought without a credit. Because of this, Audible listeners like to use their credits for books that are more expensive and are reluctant to use that credit if they're not getting their money's worth and that threshold can vary per listener. I did a quick poll on Facebook, and most did consider cost as the first determiner of getting the audio book with their credit, and some were reluctant to use their credit if the price was the same or just a little under or over than what they paid for a credit. However, some do occasionally use their credits for short ones they've wanted (because they've either heard buzz or love that author) when they're in danger of losing a credit (Audible only allows you to hold 6 at a time).

If it's really cheap, then listeners might just buy it instead of using their credit. Or they'll find the ebook on Amazon and add-on the Whispersynced version.

I think if your listening length is over 8 hours, it's probably a safe bet. You can get an idea of how many listening hours yours would be by calculating 9,400 words per hour, though this is rough, since it can depend on narrator and writing style.

That's not to say a shorter work won't be worth the investment, I just don't have any direct experience yet on how shorter works fare. I'm going to be figuring this out soon, though, as my new contemporary series are all novella-length. I reached out to Zoe York, who writes contemporary romance of varying lengths, and she shared this with me:
Some people do really well with shorts. A popular narrator makes a big difference, as does the author's audio following. Short audiobooks aren't a great way to break into the audio market, but if you're already there, don't let length hold you back.
Which circles back to the stress I made above on the importance of paying for a great narrator. And it also ties into the informal feedback I received when I polled Facebook readers--they made exceptions on non-optimally priced books if it's an author they really wanted.


I believe that if you fit the profile for breaking into audio I outlined above, then it'll be a great direction for you. In fact, you're potentially leaving money on the table if you don't add this revenue stream to your monthly income. However, if you base your decision on an emotional need, and you don't quite fit the profile I outlined above, the move might be riskier. You could end up outlaying money and never getting a return on your investment. The temptation to avoid here is to make your outlay lower by skimping on the narrator, but as I stated above, I think this will end up costing you in the long run. Ironically, if you met all the other aspects I mention, but skimped on the narrator, you greatly increased your risk of not making your money back.

Even if you do meet the ideal profile I've outlined above, that's not a guarantee. The audio market could tank for some reason we can't yet foresee. The ideal profile above only just reduces your risk.

In future posts in this series, I'll tackle the production and promotion side of audio, so if there's a side to that you'd like me to address, please let me know. But these posts will also hopefully guide you so that you're reducing your overall risk.

On whether breaking into audio is right for you, let me know if you have any questions or had a different experience. 

Angela Quarles is a USA Today bestselling author of time travel and steampunk romance. Her debut novel Must Love Breeches swept many unpublished romance contests, including the Grand Prize winner of Windy City's Four Seasons contest in 2012. Her steampunk, Steam Me Up, Rawley, was named Best Self-Published Romance of 2015 by Library Journal. Angela loves history, folklore, and family history. She decided to take this love of history and her active imagination and write stories of romance and adventure for others to enjoy. When not writing, she's either working at the local indie bookstore or enjoying the usual stuff like gardening, reading, hanging out, eating, drinking, chasing squirrels out of the walls, and creating the occasional knitted scarf.

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About Must Love Kilts: A Time Travel Romance 

The Jacobite Rebellion--not the best time to get drunk, hook up with a guy, and lose your sister.

A drunken bet...

When computer game designer Traci Campbell gets too close and personal with a bottle of Glenfiddich while vacationing in Scotland, she whisks her kilt-obsessed sister back to 1689 to prove hot guys in kilts are a myth. Hello, hundred bucks! But all bets are off when she meets Iain, the charming playboy in a to-die-for kilt.

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong name...

Iain MacCowan regularly falls in love at the drop of his kilt. The mysterious red-haired lass with the odd accent is no different. But when his new love is discovered to be a Campbell, the most distrusted name in the Highlands, his dalliance endangers his clan's rebellion against King William.

It’s all hijinks in the Highlands until your sister disappears...

Traci thinks men are only good for one thing--thank you, Iain!--but when she awakens once again in Ye Olde Scotland and her sister is gone, she must depend on the last person she wants to spend more time with. He wants to win a heart, she wants to keep hers, but can these two realize they're meant for each other before the Jacobite rebellion pulls them apart?


  1. Hopefully you'll mention what users outside of US/UK can use instead of ACX.

    1. Hi Mike, sorry, I can't help you there. I know I've seen some vendors on kboards (,60.0.html) where they will help you interface with ACX. It's worth searching that board for advice in that arena.