As I’ve talked with authors about producing audiobooks of their work, I’ve noticed that many are new to the format and ask similar questions. I’ll answer the 10 most common questions I’ve heard about audiobook production in this post.
1. When should I produce an audiobook?
I encourage authors to plan for the audiobook as part of the overall book release. In fact, planning for your audiobook will make you a better writer.
In addition, just as you have costs for an editor and cover designer, you also will incur expenses in producing the audiobook. Budgeting for the audiobook at the same time as your print and ebook editions makes it part of the expense of the book rather than a separate, standalone cost.
That said, I wouldn’t recommend a simultaneous release of your first book. Most authors need to develop a fan following in order to sell enough audiobook copies to recoup your production expenses.
2. How much does an audiobook cost?
The expense of audiobook production is usually computed Per Finished Hour (PFH). A PFH contract means that the narrator would be paid the contracted hourly rate multiplied by the run time of the audiobook.
The industry rule of thumb is that it takes 6.2 hours in real time to record, edit, proof, and master 1 finished hour. Therefore, a 10-hour audiobook could require 60 or more hours to produce. If we charged for each studio hour, only the largest publishing companies would ever be able to afford to produce an audiobook.
The most experienced narrators charge $200-400 PFH for their narration fee. Editors and proof-listeners each charge an additional PFH rate which must be paid immediately upon completion of the audiobook. If you create your audiobook using ACX.com, you can work with a narrator/producer who will hire the team necessary to create your retail-ready audiobook.
You can estimate the finished time of your audiobook by dividing the number of words in your book by 9300, which is the industry average number of words that can be spoken in an hour.
For example, let’s say your book has 82,500 words. If we divide 82,500 by 9300, we get 8.87, meaning the approximate finished time of the audiobook would be almost 9 hours long. (To be precise, this decimal to time calculator shows us that 8.87 hours equates to 8 hours, 52 minutes, 12 seconds.) The completed audiobook may be shorter or longer depending on the narrator’s actual rate of speech, which can vary due to the complexity of the material. For easy math, let’s say the finished time is exactly 9 hours. If you agreed to pay $200 PFH for this book, your cost of production would be $200PFH times 9 hours equals $1,800.
This article and its comments will give you a more detailed explanation and much better approach regarding the cost.
3. What are the differences between Royalty Share, Per Finished Hour, and Hybrid contracts?
On ACX, you also have the option of using a Royalty Share (RS) contract with your narrator/producer. While many authors think of this type of contract as “free” narration, it really is a method of deferring the cost of production so that these expenses are paid out of the royalties earned from the audiobook.
Although it’s not an option shown in the ACX system, many authors and narrators create Hybrid contracts. In a Hybrid deal, you would pay the narrator a negotiated PFH rate up-front and outside of ACX in addition to signing a RS contract on the ACX system. This sort of arrangement helps an author attract a more skillful narrator while enabling the narrator to receive part of her payment up-front so she can pay her production team and some living expenses.
4. What are the downsides to having a Royalty Share contract?
- You earn only half of the royalties available to you. ACX pays out 40% of royalties it receive; you could receive that entire 40% only if you pay up-front for production with a PFH deal.. On an RS contract, you would get 20%, and your narrator would get 20% of those payments for the life of the contract.
- You MUST agree to exclusive distribution on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes for 7 years. In other words, you couldn’t sell the audiobook on CD or your website, or use other distributors which could get your audiobook into libraries and other outlets.
- If you later decide you want a non-exclusive contract or hope to bundle a series into a boxed set, you would need to negotiate a buy-out price with the narrator.
- Note that if you want to bundle a series of books for which you used RS contracts, you must use the same narrator for all of the books in the series. This page in the ACX help section has more details.
- Experienced narrators are unlikely to audition to narrate your book. While you earn royalties from all of your editions, the narrator only earns from sales of the audiobooks. She is incurring up-front costs before getting payment and has ALL of the risk for low or no sales of the audiobook.
- It may take longer to get your title produced. Seasoned narrators usually look for books that pay PFH rates up front and do RS titles to fill gaps in their recording schedule. I will put 2-4 months on a RS contract so that I have availability take work that pays up front.
5. Why aren’t I receiving any auditions for my royalty share title?
One reason for lack of interest may be that your book is competing with 100s or even 1000s of other titles. Aside from that point, experienced narrators view RS titles as red flags. We think that the author doesn’t have confidence in her work that the audiobook will earn back the production costs.
Even for solid books with lots of reviews and ratings, narrators look at numerous factors when deciding whether to audition, including cover, genre, and Amazon sales rank. Narrator Jeffrey Kafer explains many issues and fixes for them in this article. I offer some additional advice in this comment on another article here on my blog.
I’ll let you in on one of my secrets: I search the language in every book before I audition. This video shows my test for romance books, but I use the same technique for determining 4-letter words.
6. Can I hire 2 narrators for the same book on Royalty Share contracts?
It’s extremely unlikely that you will find 2 good narrators who are willing to split their 20% of the royalties. Each person would only earn 10% of the royalties.
If you actually do find narrators for this kind of project, you would need to work out a means of paying both people since ACX will only make payments to the Rights Holder (RH) and a single narrator.
You might be able to buy out one narrator with a PFH agreement and have a hybrid or straight RS deal with the other one.
7. Why did a narrator decline my RS offer when their ACX profile shows they do RS projects?
One author accused me of false advertising because my ACX profile shows I will accept RS contracts.
Just because I will accept certain RS contracts doesn’t mean I will accept EVERY royalty share contract offered me. I have turned down books for a number of reasons:
- I didn’t like the subject.
- I don’t narrate books with graphic sex or violence.
- I don’t narrate books that contain an overabundance and/or gratuitous use of profanity.
- The book was poorly written and was littered with grammatical and punctuation errors.
- The author had a poor track history with other books and/or no track history on the book in question.
- The author had no promotion or marketing plans for the book, much less for the audio edition.
I also might have a scheduling conflict. I continue to be shocked at the number of people who send me a contract with arbitrary dates of their choosing without ever consulting with me about my interest and availability in narrating their book!
Finally, it’s not apparent to authors, but narrators see search results for available titles accepting auditions based on the compensation rates entered in our profiles. I set my profile for “Royalty Share or Unspecified” in order to see the full range of books available. Of course, I prefer PFH or Hybrid contracts.
8. What are the author’s responsibilities during production?
The author should provide a manuscript that is ready to record at the time you contract with your narrator. If you have some particular pronunciations or a story bible of characters in a series, give those to the narrator at the outset. The narrator may or may not ask you any additional questions before recording the book.
Audiobook narration is a performance art that is based on the narrator’s interpretation of the author’s words. My interpretation will probably never entirely match yours. In fact, many authors are surprised when the narrator brings new meaning to the work that the author hadn’t considered.
Just as a scriptwriter is usually not present on a film set, the author would not be involved in the recording sessions.
Once you receive the final audiobook, you can proof listen to it and report to the narrator any corrections. Some authors think they should be allowed to give detailed instructions and line reads, like telling the narrator to pause a certain length of time or say something with a different inflection. However, you should not expect or ask to change the performer’s creative choices. Corrections are limited to technical issues like mis-reads or mispronunciations along with the location in the book (chapter and time) that they occurred.
9. How much money can I make?
If I knew the answer to that question, I’d be sitting on a mountainside somewhere and speaking to the pilgrims that journey to me for my wisdom! Seriously, so many variables factor into the amount of money you can make, including your reputation, your genre, your royalty rate, and your marketing plan. Look at it this way — if you don’t make an audiobook, you are leaving money on the table.
10. Which companies can I use for audiobook production, and what are the differences between them?
This question is a topic for one or more new articles!
We’ve just scratched the surface of the production process. If you have other questions, please leave a comment below or contact me for a private consultation.