Last updated 1/11/23
One of my mentors, who is a prolific and award-winning audiobook narrator, advised me that it’s better to be working on spec than to be idle. Working on spec enables you to build your portfolio and hone your craft as a narrator.
As a result, I now use royalty share audiobooks from ACX to fill holes in my schedule. You may find that certain audio publishers also want to pay in a royalty share agreement. All of my experience with royalty share work is through ACX, so all of my comments below pertain to that system.
If you have no experience in doing audiobooks, you might want to first volunteer your time. When I restarted my audiobook career, I first recorded a book for LibriVox. I outlined the many reasons and advantages of this project in my post Reasons to Create Your Own Stuff. Note that one big advantage in volunteering is that you will be able to figure out your most efficient workflow — i.e., learning how to punch-in — under no time pressure while simultaneously adding to world literacy.
The one big downside with doing a LibriVox book is that anyone can use your work — including those who harvest your recordings to train AI speech — without compensating you because you donate the completed audiobook to the public domain. Juan Carlos Bagnell wrote an excellent article on his blog about this practice. My LibriVox audiobook A Woman Who Went to Alaska is routinely offered for sale on eBay. I no longer recommend that people volunteer to record for LibriVox.
Also, even if you are a trained actor, you’ll want to watch this video for more info about ACX and a free performance coaching session from Pat Fraley, Scott Brick, and Hillary Huber.
First, you should know that creating an audiobook requires a significant investment of time. As a conservative rule of thumb, an experienced narrator/team will need 6 hours in real time to produce 1 finished hour of audio, from pre-read to file upload. The amount of time needed will vary by a number of factors, including the type of text (some require more pronunciation research than others), the narrator’s experience level, whether the narrator is outsourcing editing and proofing, etc.
Therefore, be sure to pick a book you love as you will be spending a lot of time with it. Audition for any title that interests you and for which your voice and skills are a good fit, but choose carefully!
I used to hold off on doing auditions, thinking that several offers might come at once. More often than not, though, the rights holders can be very slow to make a selection and do not communicate with narrators/producers at all during the process. Now I audition routinely as each audition allows me to continue developing my storytelling skills by reading different authors and genres.
Still, I try to stack the odds of snagging a great book more in my favor by doing additional research before submitting an audition.
You can ask the rights holder how many copies are sold each month in other formats. One of my narrator colleagues won’t consider voicing a royalty share book unless the print sales are equal to at least 1,000 copies a month. However, the print sales aren’t always a good predictor of the sales for an audiobook. Just like the stock market, past performance of a book is no indicator of future sales.
Whether doing a book in a royalty share deal or pay per finished hour, I’ve found it very helpful to read the reviews of the book even before doing the audition. Many times the reviewers will point to a TV show or movie. These hooks into popular culture give you valuable insight as you develop your characterizations and performance. Reviewers also point out things like incorrect word usage or bad grammar.
I also evaluate the book by using the Amazon Look Inside feature. I choose to narrate books that have few if any curse words (and when used, they should be appropriate to the situation or dialogue and not gratuitous), no explicit sex or graphic violence, and no vampires/werewolves/zombies. I can search the book for these things and also get a better sense of the author’s writing style by reading all of the available excerpts. Sometimes the Kindle edition is offered for free, so I go ahead and download it.
I look at the author’s web site and blog. This step would be even more important if you’re considering a self-published title. I want to know that an author is as serious about writing as I am about narrating. I want to see that they will work to promote their work even more than I do.
I like to pick books in a series, as I outlined on my Facebook fan page.
If you are chosen to narrate multiple books, you don’t have to start all of them immediately! You can communicate with the rights holder and suggest your dates before accepting the contract. You may even build up a queue of work to perform in this manner.
Royalty share work should not come ahead of paying work. I always have 2-4 months on any royalty share contract so that I have the time to take on audiobooks and my regular voice-over work that pays up front. My view is: The rights holder can have it Fast. Good. Cheap. Pick any two.
I use Evernote during the book prep as I described in this Facebook comment.
I outsource my editing and quality review when I have a stipend. If I don’t have a stipend, I often edit the book myself.
The publisher or author doesn’t always market the audiobook. Many of the titles on ACX are backlist and don’t have a marketing budget with them. Even if the rights holder did market the book, I still do my own marketing. I use social media extensively to get the word out. In fact, I love marketing so much that I wrote 2 articles for the ACX blog on topic that are loaded with tips and tactics specific to marketing audiobooks. This article on my blog links to both of them.
I may also use Google+, a press release, and/or a video to promote my work. In fact, I created a book trailer for In The Shadow of Billy the Kid: Susan McSween and The Lincoln County War. I posted the video here on the blog and across social media.
In addition. I’ll create a Google alert for the topic and/or do specialized searches and comment on blogs, in forums, and any other place where people discuss it. For instance, I’ve already mentioned my upcoming audiobook on the Facebook page for the movie Young Guns, which is about Billy The Kid. Someone commented about the birthday of the actress who played Susan McSween, so it was a great lead-in for my comment about the real woman! 🙂
I don’t do all of these things in one day or even in a week. Audiobook marketing is an on-going task.
It bears repeating that royalty share audiobooks are a lot like the stock market: you can have some with amazing returns and some that are under-performers.
Generally, you won’t make a lot of money on just one book. It takes many royalty share books to generate sales for a sizable royalty check each month. Also, realize that your proceeds for each book will build up over time. The royalty agreement with Audible lasts for 7 years.
My sales numbers range from 14 copies (yes, only 14 units sold) on one book to another book with 1000s of copies sold, with an average payment of $2.70-3.00 per unit sold. While you think you will receive 25% of the proceeds, your net percentage is actually less since many of Audible’s members buy the books using their credits. Audible’s very nice Bounty Program pays $25.00 for each applicable sale and has made up for the lower royalty rates in my case.
If I had narrated only that one book with 14 units sold, I probably would still be waiting for a royalty check since you must have $10 in royalties before Audible issues payment. Direct deposit payments usually come around the 17th-20th of the next month, and checks arrive at the end of the next month.
Regardless of the type of payment you choose, you will receive a royalty statement each month for sales the previous month. You can monitor units sold in the ACX Dashboard, but you won’t know how much you earned for each title until you receive the printout. Statements usually arrive the last week of the next month or first week of the 2nd month following the sales period.
If Audible is paying a stipend on your book, note that the rights holder must APPROVE the finished product within 60 days of the date you signed the contract. Once you have the approval, you must send the invoice to Audible in order to be paid. You can find the invoice template in the Stipend Terms and Conditions link on this page. The Time to Decimal Conversion is very handy when determining your finished time for the invoice.
Whispersync, the new technology that lets a reader switch between reading the Kindle e-book and listening to the Audible audiobook, could affect your royalties in two ways. On the one hand, the audiobook price is lower when the purchaser already has the Kindle edition. The royalties earned on the sale therefore would be lower as well. On the other hand, before Whispersync, people either bought the e-book or the audiobook — not both.
In my experience, Whispersync does actually encourage additional sales, which brings royalties that I would not otherwise have. These sales usually earn less than $1 per unit sold. However, it’s one case where you truly can “make up the difference in volume” because you don’t have on-going costs. Whispersync sales may be a case of whether you view the glass as half full or half empty.
My best sales periods have been December/January, where people are buying presents or later using gift cards, and April-June, when people seem to stock up for their poolside and vacation entertainment.
Audible sales are the gift that keeps on giving! Not only do you rack up more units sold in a shorter period, but those sales can get your book on the old royalty escalator for a higher royalty rate if you signed your contract before 12 March 2014.
I also set up an affiliate account with Audible. I use my affiliate link each time I publicize my titles. You can find my explanation of it in this Facebook post. More helpful tips are included in this post. So far, I’ve had a lot of clicks but no affiliate sales. Given time, though, I’m sure that some of those clicks will be converted to sales. I just created an affiliate account with iTunes.
Some of the posts above were in the Facebook Audiobook Crowd group, which consists of professional narrators and industry insiders, and the Facebook ACX Narrators and Producers group. Both groups are closed and have active members. I highly encourage you to join both of these groups if you are an audiobook narrator.
My experience with ACX has always been wonderful. I was one of the original beta testers on the site and have been very excited by its growth. The support staff is nothing short of remarkable! They have been incredibly responsive to my emails. I continue to see improvements both in the site operations and the quality of titles posted for audition.
ACX also has an informative, interesting, and helpful blog. Lately, they have been educating the rights holders more about the process, and their efforts are paying off. I’ve had more communication from rights holders in the past week than in the last 6 months!
Thinking again of the advice from my mentor, let me leave you with this quote from author Neil Gaiman (you can substitute the word “narrate” where he says “write”):
I decided that I would do my best in the future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work.
Original notebook image: iStockPhoto/Aania