“In five short years, ACX has literally turned the audiobook industry on its ear by making audiobook production available to those who may never have considered it,” -- Audible’s EVP and publisher, Beth Anderson.
Producing an audiobook is daunting, but I see it as a long term investment which will add another, welcome income stream. Audiobook revenues continue to grow, so for self-published authors who have a back catalogue of titles, it seems sensible to get in the game and have a few titles produce in audio. A well-produced, polished audiobook can bring new life and new readers/listeners to an authors work, and in turn, increase sales of ebooks and paperbacks.
I am a huge fan of listening to audiobooks, and so am well-versed in what I like in a narrator/production and what I don’t like. Therefore, when I put my novel “As You Wish” on Audible’s narration site ACX.com I had very specific requirements. The book is a gay romantic comedy set in Scotland, so I wanted a British principal narrator who could do accents and deliver the funnies. I needed a narrator who could do a believable Scottish accent for my main character, as well as a range of other Scots accents for minor characters. I also needed someone who was okay with narrating sex scenes.
What is ACX?
ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) is part of the Amazon/ Audible family. It's a free service for authors and narrators, kind of like a dating site to match you with your perfect narrator. The way ACX is set up makes it easy for narrators to search for new book projects and for authors who own the audio rights for their work to share their book project and seek a narrator. The site is easy to use and allows authors to stay in control of auditions, costs, and the have the final say on the quality of the work.
Payment Choices: Per Finished Hour or Royalty Share?
When an author first looks into producing audiobooks they can easily be put off by the expense of production. As with all big business expenses, audiobooks are an investment, and it makes sense to ask questions, do the math and work out:
-- How long will the book be in audio format?
(General rule of thumb is 10k words narrated per hour)
-- What is the cost of narration?
-- What is Audible’s set price for books of this book length?
(Check the Audible website)
-- How many copies will you have to sell to break even?
There are two payment options: Per Finished Hour or Royalty Share. 'Per finished hour’ (PFH) is when authors choose to pay for production up front. Amazon takes 60% of the royalties, and the author gets 40%. The minimum PFH charge for an experienced narrator is around $200. Therefore, if your book is five hours long, this would mean you would pay $1000 when the recording has been delivered to ACX and signed off by you. Authors should be aware that this is a custom made product and to create even 1 hour of audio, your narrator has put in 6-10 hours of work. But, your narrator cannot charge you for this time, or booking a recording studio or other expenses incurred because the PFH charge is all-inclusive.
PFH audiobooks can be distributed exclusively with Audible for seven (7) years or authors have the option of choosing non-exclusive rights which allow you to upload and sell on other outlets. These two options are only available to PFH productions.
If you are seeking a superstar narrator be prepared to pay $350 + per finished hour. With a tight budget, it’s more than likely you will have to search a while to be matched with a narrator who can perform your book the way you want, within your budget. Alternatively, you could try and find a narrator who will agree on a Royalty Share contract with you.
Remember, your book will only be recorded once, so make it count! Poor narration will bring bad reviews and its unlikely this will help either the author or narrators careers.
In my opinion, the big pluses of paying PFH are that authors get 40% profit from each sale of your audiobook. This is the best royalty amount I have found for audiobooks. There are other sites that will help you produce audiobooks, but Audible dominates the audio market, offer a great royalty, and will give your book the best chance of discoverability. Also, with the $50 Bounty program ACX runs, every time someone opens a new account and chooses your book as their first listen you will be paid $50 extra.
If you cannot afford to pay up front, another way ACX arranges payment is through Royalty Share. This means that the author pays nothing up front, which, in principal is a wonderful thing. However, narrators need to pay bills too, so few well-known performers are willing to wait for the possibility of payment further down the line. With Royalty Share, Audible take their 60% profit, and the remaining 40% royalties are split between the author and the narrator. Any proceeds from the $50 Bounty program would be split too.
Narrators are generally advised that it is best practice to have a few Royalty Share projects under their belt as well as doing PFH recordings so that they have income from several sources. This makes a lot of sense to me, and yet, when I put “As You Wish” on ACX as a Royalty Share project I couldn’t find one narrator who would audition and be willing to do Royalty Share, let alone one I would want to audition for me. But when I changed the post to a PFH project I was inundated with auditions.
The audition process is vital in helping you find your perfect narrator. Again, ACX offers several ways for you to be matched with narrators. You can search for narrators on the site and listen to samples with specific ranges of accents -young, old, male, female, etc. and contact any narrator you like via the site’s messaging system. Also, narrator’s email details/websites are listed so if there is anyone you particularly like you can contact them directly off site, via email and ask if they would like to audition.
It’s important to know what the production set up is for your narrator. Are they working from a home studio or do they have to pay for recording and mastering at an independent studio? Narrators who have home studios are in a better position to work swiftly because they don’t have to book/pay for studio time to do the audition sample. Personally, I feel uneasy about expecting any creative to spend money to try and get a gig. Therefore, I am much more comfortable with narrators who use home studios, than those who have to pay for recording time, especially when they might not be suitable at all and end up out of pocket.
The ACX project posting system encourages all authors to add information about their book-- blurb, sales information, links to reviews, etc. The site also expects you to add a script sample so interested narrators can use it for recording an audio sample.
Authors have to be strict and specific when explaining their needs for their audio project. The narrator needs to know specifically what you want. If you want a narrator who can do a Russian accent or sound female, tell them. It also helps both the author and narrator if the sample script is taken from a part of the book where several accents are required, so that the narrator can display their range. Post no more than four pages. It is easy to get carried away and want to hear a chapter narrated, but you will know within the first thirty seconds if the narrator is right for you, so don’t expect audition samples to cover anything more than a page or two of your story.
When you listen to narrator samples:
-- Pay attention to the production quality – is the sound clear?
-- Can you hear any background noise when you listen with ear buds?
-- Does the narrator have good pronunciation, pacing, accents?
As I already said, initially, I put my book up seeking a Royalty Share contract and didn’t get one bite. When I changed the status to PFH, the auditions started coming in, and this, in turn, became problematic. As one would expect with the creative industries, competition is fierce and everyone is looking for their next gig. Narrators are no different. Auditions are uploaded to the site and much like the X Factor, the author can listen and decide if the sample is yes, no or maybe. Many narrators who were clearly unsuitable for my project sent me auditions without even contacting me first to say hello. Honestly, I felt bad for the ones who went to all the effort to record a sample I only listened to for a few seconds. But, I’d made it perfectly clear that I needed a narrator in his 30s/40s with theatrical training and a British accent, but what I got were primarily ’mature’ men who could not do Scots accents and frankly, the thought of any of them reading one of my sex scenes creeped me out.
I also got auditions from many talented American narrators who are well known within my book genre, several of whom I would want to work with if I had any books that were based in the States (and the money!). But sadly, I had to give them all a pass because although some of them had great BBC British, they could not get their tongues around the difficulties of the Scottish accent.
The auditions continued to flood in, and by the time I’d received my twentieth, it got to the stage where I cringed every time I checked my email and saw I had a new audition. In the end, I had to revise my post and state in capitals: PLEASE CONTACT ME BEFORE YOU AUDITION. This turned out to be the best way to move forward because narrators then emailed me with samples of past work and their CV’s. I listened to samples, and if I liked the sample I would ask them to audition.
Within a couple of days of changing my post, I found the perfect narrator for my book. He is a native Irishman who has a wonderful range of accents and affects a lovely Scots accent. I sent him a formal offer via the ACX system and we agreed on the PFH cost, contract, and completion dates. ACX expect the narrator to upload the first 15 minutes of recording within dates specified by the author. This is so that the author can check that the recording/pacing/accents are to their liking. When the author has accepted this recording the narrator’s next deadline is the finished production date.
ACX take uploads of book files by chapter, so the narrator will upload these individually and Audible creates the book with their standard intro and outro added. When the author listens to the final recording, they may hear problems and if this happens they are permitted to ask for edits. The narrator will not get paid until the author is happy with the audio and signs off on the recording.
My first audiobook "As You Wish" went on to become the first M/M Romance to win a mainstream audiobook award.
It won The Independent Audiobook Award 2018 for the Romance category.
“As You Wish” Narrated by Gary Furlong
LISTEN TO AN AUDIO SAMPLE HERE:
USA : http://adbl.co/2qnXRE4 UK: http://adbl.co/2q36TU1
Isobel Starling 2018