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.
Instead, I highly encourage you to volunteer to read for your state’s reading service for the blind or Learning Ally to gain and improve skills, as well as provide a needed service to the world.
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
Deb Booth says
What a great resource your blog is! I’m a complete newbie, and am thrilled when people like you are willing to share your experience with those of us who are still neophytes. Kudos to you, along with wishes for strong sales of your narrated titles!
Greetings, Deb! I appreciate your kind words. I receive and accept your warm wishes for strong sales, and I send the same good thoughts back to you!
Patt Strott-Wheatley says
This is so helpful. I have just auditioned for ACX, and had a million question!! You answered most of them. (I just haven’t thought of the other ones yet!).
Greetings, Pat! I’m glad I could answer most of your questions! As they say, your mileage may vary.
Thanks again for stopping by the blog, and best wishes for your success!
David Gilmore says
THANK YOUUUU for this great blog entry. I keep debating with myself about doing royalty-only books between paying gigs on ACX. I started out spoiled, doing 3 pfh works, then did 12 royalty only before I swore them off and took stipended work. It (royalty-only) seemed like such an enormous time commitment for such little remuneration . . . but I’d lost sight of the skills-improvement piece of the whole picture. You’ve given me good food-for-thought! 🙂
Greetings, David! Thank YOU for such a wonderful note!
Royalty share work is not for everyone, but I enjoy always having a book project to work on. Since I’m always working, I always have something to talk about with traditional audio publishers who may be interested in hiring me.
I see each royalty share project as a stepping stone on my path to top tier work. I think many people believe that they should command top PFH rates without having gained the necessary experience. No publisher is going to trust an unproven talent with the hottest best seller!
In case you missed it, I wrote some pros and cons of doing royalty share work in this article and its comments. My list of pros convinced me to do royalty share work (especially books with a stipend!), and I feel blessed and enriched for the work I have done this way. Oh, and yes, I’ve made some money, which makes it all even better!
Best wishes for your continued success!
James D. says
I’m a self-published author, and I was fortunate enough to connect with a great narrator on ACX who agreed to do all four of my books as royalty shares.
I’ve been doing everything I can think of to promote/market the audiobook (the first one just went on sale 2 weeks ago, the second one is in production). I’ve been scouring review websites to try and set up reviews (lined up 2 so far), I’ve been promoting it heavily on FB and twitter and my blog (I’ve got 10 minute samples from the finished book and the in production book as well), and also I’m praising my narrator to the skies (which she totally deserves) and linking to her website at every opportunity.
From your perspective as a narrator, am I forgetting anything? What else can I do to help my narrator and promote the audiobooks?
Greetings, James! Congrats on finding a great narrator and producing an audiobook!
Authors have so many more avenues for publicity than do narrators, but I’ll try to keep this answer short. First, here are a few basics:
Here are a few sources oozing with more specific publicity ideas:
If you implemented all of these ideas, you wouldn’t have time to write any new books! 🙂 Good luck in your publicity efforts, and best wishes for your continued success!
James D. says
Karen, thanks! Thanks especially for pointing out the broken link – I’ve fixed that!
Glad I could help! 🙂 Oh, and 1 more thing I forgot to mention — be sure your title is listed in the correct category/categories on Audible. An ACX rep told me that the book could be listed in 3 categories. Every bit of visibility helps!
Captain Marvel says
Wow, Karen. Helpful and inspiring. You are the goddess of audiobook narration info. I’ve started my own blog on the subject but am humbly referring folks here, as well. Thank you, and well done!
Greetings, Steve! Thanks for the kind words. Congratulations on winning the 2013 ACX/That’s Voiceover Audiobook Narration contest, and best wishes for your continued health, prosperity, and SUCCESS!
Daniel Dorse says
Brilliant! You leave few, if any stones unturned. I will be referring others to it frequently.
Thanks, Daniel! One of the stones I left unturned was the one marked “bring the author to ACX”. It’s always an option, but the site has many good titles already.
I also probably need to update the article to indicate that ACX now offers Direct Deposit of royalty checks. However, anyone reading the comments now knows that fact! 🙂
Thanks again for reading the article and leaving your nice comment. Best wishes for your continued success!
CC Hogan says
I know this article is a little out of date, but it still is very useful and detailed – a good read, thanks.
I am just getting into this world as a voiceover, starting with my own book. I was a voice sound engineer and director for many years in London, so have a huge experience on the other side of the mic, but now I am going to be producing me!
I am writing a series of articles, FAQs really, about reading, recording and editing, but I have nothing about this side of book production – pricing, working with authors and so on.
I am going to add a link to this article on my audiobook page, but if you ever fancy throwing a newer article in my direction for my blog, I will blow kisses in your direction.
Here is a link to my audiobook section: http://cchogan.com/audiobook-tips-a-short-guide/
Karen Commins says
Hi, C.C.! Congrats on writing a book, producing your audiobook, and developing an informative series of articles on your blog! You are a busy man!
I appreciate your linking to my article. You may also find other articles of interest in my audiobooks category. I have a couple of other resources you may want to include:
Thanks again, and best wishes for your success!
CC Hogan says
Oooh – I will go peek! Actually, the recording is going to be a bit longer – so far there are nine books to do in the Dirt series. Long ones too. But I won’t be doing them all at once. I need to lend my dulcet tones elsewhere…
Karen Commins says
You’ve written 9 books? Wow! As I like to say, “better busy than bored!” 🙂 You obviously are a creative and talented person who has decided the kind of the life you want and are well on your way to having it. Bravo!
CC Hogan says
I am going to put a resources article together for all these bits and pieces, I think. It will be easier than squeezing them on my submenu. http://cchogan.com/audiobook-tips-a-short-guide/audiobook-articles-and-resources/
For titles that offer Royalties, how do you decide which titles will sell and which ones won’t?
Karen Commins says
Hi, Eddie! You will never know beforehand which titles will sell. This article includes lots of tactics to help you decide whether an RS title has potential for better sales.
Stephen Bentley says
Great article and interesting. I am a bestselling Amazon author and my book is listed with ACX as I am looking for a narrator on a royalty share basis.
I found your blog because I am trying to find ways of finding such narrators other than through ACX. You gather from that, to date, I have had no contact from any interested narrator.
I am a tad surprised as (a) it is a bestseller and (b) it has been optioned for a film thus scope for future increased sales in all formats.
Is there any where I can reach out to potential royalty-share narrators?
Karen Commins says
Hi, Stephen! Thanks for the good question. I’ll share some info and advice that might help you attract an ideal narrator for your book.
First, you should be aware that a Royalty Share (RS) contract is a deferred payment for the costs of production. In addition to the narrator’s fee, she must pay her editing and proofing team up front, so she is incurring expenses before getting payment.
The narrator has ALL OF THE RISK for low or no sales. You would earn royalties from your other editions, but the narrator only gets paid when the audiobook sells. Therefore, most narrators will only take a straight RS contract on a title that is a good bet to earn back their narration fee and expenses.
With that point in mind, here are some steps you can take to increase your chances of attracting a great narrator on an RS contract.
1) Delete that listing and create a new one by claiming your Kindle edition.
Looking at your listing, I wouldn’t think I would earn my expenses, much less my narration fee, over the term of the contract. Narrators look at the Amazon sales rank, with the lowest numbers being the most enticing. You claimed the paperback edition of your book, which has a significantly higher sales rank than the Kindle edition. Even the sales rank of the Kindle edition would not make me enthused about taking on this project. This article explains how to claim the Kindle edition. (If you aren’t taken directly to the page, the article starts on page 46 of the magazine.)
2) Add comments about your marketing plan for the book and anything specific you’ll do to promote the audiobook edition.
The article linked above discusses this point in more detail. Nothing about your Amazon listing indicates this book is a “bestseller”. Narrators would like to see a higher number of positive reviews, so you may need to focus your efforts in promoting the book more before you consider making an audiobook.
Also, lots of books are optioned for film, but the film is never made. If you’re asking a narrator to take all of the risk about earning anything on the audiobook, it would help if you explain what you are doing to promote the book in the meantime. This page will give you lots of ideas about audiobook promotion, but you can use them to promote the other editions as well.
3) Change the accent from Liverpool to general British.
More narrators would be searching for a general British accent. You could add the comment that you’d prefer a slight Liverpool accent.
4) Invest in new cover art.
Narrators do judge a book by its cover. The text and image on your cover don’t serve your book well.
5. Use the ACX search function and listen to narrators. Contact them individually and invite them to audition for your book.
Don’t send a generic message to a 100 narrators. Instead, listen carefully to their samples and communicate personally with a handful that might be a good fit for your book.
6) Offer to pay some amount Per Finished Hour (PFH) up-front to cover the narrator’s expenses.
While it’s not an official option on the ACX site, a common practice is to do an RS contract on ACX and the author pay the narrator outside of ACX for the editing and proofing expenses. These costs generally range from $50-150 PFH. Showing that you are willing to front some of these expenses proves the narrators that you are serious about making the audiobook a success.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. Best wishes for your success!
Stephen Bentley says
Thank you, Karen, all of that was helpful. One of the annoying aspects of Amazon is most blogs/websites “grab” the US version of the book. I do think my book is more attractive when seen on Amazon UK with 45 reviews nearly all 5 or 4 stars. That’s not bad for an indie book as I can’t afford such luxuries open to the trad “big five” such as Kirkus and NetGalley.
As for the option – I know what you are saying. I turned down several offers because I was not convinced they were serious about turning it into a movie. I signed with the production team who checked all the boxes. No guarantee, I know, but it wasn’t just for the money. It was more about ‘am I convinced these people really want to and have the ability to clear all the hurdles?’
Interesting what you say about the cover. It is the first negative comment about it but I do take on board your opinion.
Don Baams also advised me to consider paying some upfront costs and I will do that.
I will follow your advice and re-list my book on ACX with all your points addressed though the new cover may take a while 🙂
Thank you so much for taking the time to help me out. It is very much appreciated.
Stephen Bentley says
Karen, as an afterthought I must defend my cover 🙂 I am looking at it now in paperback version. It depicts me (real photo) as an undercover agent at the time. It has lines of cocaine and rolled up bills for snorting cocaine and a mirror reflection of a user snorting.
The text stands out on the cover. I think my designer did a great job of blending images. I have received many plaudits about the cover design and you are the only person who has made negative comments.
Of course, it is all subjective but I strongly feel you are in a minority.
Apart from that, I agree with all else you say 🙂
Karen Commins says
Hi, Stephen! You don’t have to defend your cover to me. Since you did, I’ll give you some info that I hope will cause you to view it differently and help other authors at the same time.
ACX always has hundreds, if not thousands, of books available for Royalty Share projects. The narrator doing a search gets the results in pages of 30 titles. Just like readers looking at Amazon, we quickly skim through the listings hoping to see a cover and title that leap out at us.
I find the images on your cover confusing even when looking at the biggest rendering on the Amazon page. The nose on the face in the mirror and fingers in the hand look too similar. I have to take time to figure out, “oh, that’s a mirror of a person doing lines of coke!” I think it’s expecting too much of a reader to analyze the images on the cover. Attention spans are increasingly short, and the prospect has already moved on.
Be aware that the thumbnail on the ACX results page is only about 25% the size of the one on Amazon. When I saw your book on the ACX search results page, I couldn’t tell much about the images. The title is underwhelmingly small and the “RCOV” part is fighting with and almost obscured by the images behind it. The sub-title is not legible even on the Amazon thumbnail, so it looks like a white line on ACX.
You don’t know whether a narrator (or reader of your other editions) will look first at the title or the cover. I would bet that most people would look at the cover first because people are visual.
I hope these thoughts are helpful. Best wishes for your success!
Stephen Bentley says
Always helpful! Thank you 🙂