I received this comment on my article Public Domain Narration Headquarters. Since the question involves a book still under copyright, I decided to create a new article, redacting some of the identifiable aspects of the message.
I would love to record a memoir by a great [person]. Once recorded, I think there would be a market for it. The book was published in 2002, therefore is not public domain. It’s sold by Amazon but there is no audiobook of it.
I know I’ll have to contact the publisher but I don’t know where to go from there. I don’t know how to set up a contract for the job (I’d be willing to do royalty share). I don’t know how to get the audiobook onto Amazon and Audible so people can buy it.
I’ve recorded more than X books, mostly for Learning Ally. I have a good home studio. I got two jobs from [a Big 5 publisher] but have not been having much luck with auditions of late. My work of late has focused on [certain]-themed books. I haven’t figured out Findaway or Spoken Realms. I’m getting my business education from you and APA but there’s a lot I need to learn. Any advice you can give will be appreciated.
Thanks for the note.
First, this article may seem more of a general answer than you’d hoped. It needs to benefit the most people. Obviously, each discussion and negotiation about audio rights and audiobook production will be unique. I can’t anticipate or explain every possible scenario, and the scope of the topic is beyond what I can cover in an article. I can only give you a basic game plan and some resources.
Second, I need to state a few general facts about copyright so we’re all on the same page:
- The audio rights holder (RH) could be the author, literary agent, or publisher.
- Every book published in the US after 1963 remains copyrighted. Only the audio rights holder has the legal right to make an audiobook of these titles.
- Titles published in the US before 1928 are in the public domain. Anyone can make an audiobook of these books without obtaining any permission or paying any licensing or royalties. A new year of books enters the public domain every 1 January, meaning that books published in 1928 will be public domain on 1/1/24.
- Books published in the US between 1928 and 1964 may be public domain or could still retain copyright.
You must research the publication and copyright renewal dates to determine a book’s copyright status, and, if it is still copyrighted, the rights holder. If it’s public domain, head over to my Public Domain Narration Headquarters for more info and resources.
This article concerns only those books still in copyright.
Decide Desired Outcome
Before I continue, let me state that anyone who plans to approach a rights holder about narrating their book needs to already be experienced in recording audio files and having them proofed and mastered.
Your chances of success are further helped if you have completed projects for RHs through a distributor platform (ACX, Findaway, Spoken Realms, Author’s Republic, etc.) or directly with publishers or production companies. You also will want to be knowledgeable about audiobook distribution and have a distribution plan ready for books you wish to license.
You can narrate a copyrighted book in 1 of these 2 ways:
- License the audio rights
- usually requires an advance payment against projected royalties — the amount is a negotiation point
- licensee is responsible for cover art, distribution choices, and marketing
- Persuade the rights holder to retain their audio rights and hire you to narrate/produce the audiobook
- This option intuitively seems easier to pursue with authors if you are willing to be paid by royalty share or possibly a royalty share hybrid where you receive an amount less than your PFH rate up front to cover your production costs.
It’s important to know how you plan and expect to create the audiobook BEFORE you contact someone about audiobook production for several reasons:.
- A publisher may not license titles to an individual. You might need to partner with a production company.
- If you want to license the title, the rights holder needs to know you have experience producing audiobooks and have created a distribution plan.
- An author may not be interested in managing the process and only wants to license the rights.
- Authors who want to produce the audiobook may need guidance from you about the whole process, particularly distribution options.
I’m not trying to sell you anything, but I hosted a webinar about licensing audio rights with Jessica Kaye. Jessica is an IP attorney and Grammy-winning audiobook director and distributor. If you’re interested, the replay with transcript and sample contract are available on my Shop page.
Also, this is a good place to point out that members of my NarratorsRoadmap.com site have access to my exclusive Audiobook Distributors Comparison Chart in which I list over 20 attributes for 6 distributors and share my distributor recommendations.
Discover Rights Holder
In either case, you’d start by determining who owns the audio rights so you can send them a query.
I like to begin my quest with the author or literary agent as I usually receive a faster response.
In this case, the author has passed away. I therefore suggest starting the query with the publisher rather than researching the author’s estate.
I look up the book on Amazon and find the publisher’s name listed in the Product Details section of the page. You might also find it by using the Look Inside feature if that’s available for the book. Be sure to look at the hardback and paperback versions; the Kindle edition may have been published by an entity that isn’t the original book publisher.
If the book isn’t listed on Amazon, you can Google the title
I then Google the publisher’s name to see if they have a web site.
You usually want to connect with someone in the Subsidiary Rights department. You can look through the publisher’s site to find that department.
I don’t like writing messages to general email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org. I use a Google site search on LinkedIn to see if I can find an employee in Subsidiary Rights.
site:LinkedIn.com PublisherName.com subsidiary rights
If a name pops up, I’ll review their LinkedIn profile to ensure that they currently work with the publisher in the sub-rights department. Many times, a past job matches my search, and I don’t want to waste time writing to the wrong person.
With the particular book mentioned in the message, I couldn’t find anyone on LinkedIn for the publisher’s sub-rights. However, this publisher has an easily-discoverable site with a menu option for Staff. None of the descriptions included the word “rights”, so I’d write to either the Production Manager or the Executive Editor.
Find Contact Info
Once you have a name, you’ll need their email address.
Here are 4 tactics that may help you to discover the email address for a person:
- Google one or more of these search terms:
- [name] + email address
- [name] + contact
- site:[DomainName.com] + [name] + contact, where DomainName.com is the website URL
- Enter the website domain name at Hunter.io. It will return a list of verified email addresses at that domain. You can search the results for the person you want to contact. If that person’s name isn’t listed in the results, you can use the “best guess” for the format of the email address.
- Look on social media for their account and simply ask them for their email address.
- Facebook users also may list their email address in the About section of their profile.
Send Initial Query
If you’re writing to the author, I suggest you do some additional research before contacting them:
- Read the book, or at least read the Kindle sample.
- Do your homework and look at the author’s site and social media. Follow authors on social media and comment between releases. If they talk about a new project, you might contact them about it.
- Your research will uncover specifics that will appeal to the author and help you make this initial query more personal and effective.
In addition, if the author already has some books in audio:
- You wouldn’t need to include comments in your query about the booming audiobook business. They already know!
- Check the narrators of the audiobooks. If the author only uses 1 narrator, don’t be a poacher! Find another book and author to contact.
NarratorsRoadmap.com members have additional resources available regarding author prospecting in the Create Your Own Path video course.
You might want to review my points of email marketing advice before firing off a message.
Your query should be brief — 50-125 words seems to be the sweet spot. You might compose the message on your phone to ensure it stays on a single screen. You can use the following elements:
- Confirm that the person you’ve contacted does indeed control the audio rights for the book.
- Ask whether they already have plans to create an audiobook.
- Explain your interest in/connection to the book.
- Succinctly mention the tremendous and continuous growth in the audiobook market.
- State your background to give the RH confidence in your ability to produce the audiobook.
- Request a reply.
Don’t Send a Sample
Many people send a sample from the book with the initial query to authors, and it’s a winning tactic for some.
For me, sending the book sample with the query is putting the cart before the horse. I’d wait to see if the person expresses interest before I spend time creating a sample.
You’re trying to start a relationship. A sample can feel pushy to the author — like you meet someone on a date and tell them you know all about them, want to build a house with them, and have already picked out the wallpaper!
When you include a sample, send it as a link rather than an attachment to the message.
Respond As Appropriate
If you don’t get a response within 2-3 weeks, I’d send another message. Be prepared to follow-up many times before you have a decision, especially if you’re communicating with someone at a large corporation.
You may need to negotiate the licensing terms.
If you want the RH to hire you, you may need to answer their (possibly many) questions about audiobook production, including things like how they can post the book on ACX and choose you as the narrator.
Produce and Distribute the Audiobook
Once you get a YES, you would sign appropriate contracts.
If you need a contract template in a work-for-hire situation, you can download one from ACX on this page. You can modify the Narration Services contract template to suit your circumstances, starting with removing “ACX” from its pages. Licensing the audio rights requires a different contract for which I suggest you consult with an attorney.
With a contract in place, you would record and produce the audiobook as you’ve done for other clients.
The steps to make the audiobook appear on Audible and other sites depends on which distributor(s) are chosen. If the author hired you, they select the distributor(s). If you’re the audio licensee, you would follow the distribution plan you devised earlier.
Basically, each distributor has its own method of intake for audio files and cover art. With many sites, you simply create an account, supply tax info, login, and upload the files. Note that on ACX and Findaway Voices, you as an audio licensee would use a different email address than your narrator address to create a rights holder account. (Your 2 accounts can use the same tax ID.) Other distributors may require a different means to establish an account and transfer files.
Those who license the rights are responsible for marketing the audiobook. My Audiobook Marketing Cheat Sheet has a wide range of ideas and tactics to help you promote your audiobook.
I hope this overview helps. If you have questions about this article or next steps, please leave a comment below. Good luck in obtaining this book, and please keep me posted so I can cheer you on!