Audiobook | Research, Part I

As I promised, I’m going to be documenting this audiobook process from the ground up with nauseating detail and a lot of transparency and I finally feel like I have something to say. (If you’d like to read why I’m doing this, click here.)

I spent about a week asking people in the industry for opinions and insights about audiobooks. Basically asking, “What do you recommend I do and why?” The thing is, I have this grant but I’m also going to be investing my money too, and I feel like I really want to make sure I make the right decisions, not just with money, but with my writing career. So, I could do it the easy way, or I could figure explore my options. Maybe there’s a way that’s not so easy but might actually end up working better for me in the long run. I won’t know unless I do research.

So I asked questions and got a whole lot of answers. A lot. A ton. Too many. The odd thing is, most indie authors were telling me to just do the whole thing through ACX, but when I talked to authors who were more hybrid or trad, and especially when I spoke to narrators, I started getting a whole other story.

Yesterday, I had a long phone call with Bradley P. Beaulieu, and then I emailed back and forth with Travis Baldree, and I have ongoing conversations with three other narrators happening right now. I feel like between all of this, I finally have a bit more understanding of how this works, and the things I need to research.

I guess this post is going to be less “here’s all this information” and more an update about where I am, and what I know now that I didn’t before. It’s not a whole lot… yet… but like I said, I finally feel like I have a direction and things to research and I think I’m closer to making some decisions. So, here we go. Here’s the rundown of how I currently understand things.

Basically, there are three main ways to get this done:

  1. Do the entire thing through either Findaway Voice or ACX, from audition on.
  2. Hire a studio.
  3. Hire the narrator directly.

The ACX Situation

I need to do more research with ACX and Findaway Voices (Especially Findaway Voices, though I really haven’t looked into either of these enough to make any decisions about them either way.) However, ACX had some instant red flags. Audiblegate is a thing, and so a lot of my time this past week has been quietly asking authors who have gone through ACX if they have any issues with that particular company, things that should warn me off, or if it should even factor into my calculation.

Audiblegate is a situation I’m still researching, but basically it has to do with royalties not being paid out, and returns and etc. You can read more about it on the website I just linked. However, my issue is, if authors aren’t being treated right, then I’m not sure I’m comfortable with going that particular direction. So that is going to factor heavily into whatever I decide.

That being said, I asked around a bit, and I got a lot of “Ehh… I haven’t noticed anything but I know authors who have” stories from ACX authors. I also had a lot of authors say something like, “It used to be a problem but I don’t really notice it as much anymore. I think they’re working on fixing things.” When I googled this, I didn’t see many stories about it dated this year, so I am genuinely wondering if the largest part of Audiblegate has been cleaned up, or if it’s sorting itself out or something. Again, something to research further and consider.

The main consideration with Findaway Voices and ACX, that I can see, is the same question you have when you publish your books: Do I go Amazon exclusive, or do I go wide? Findaway Voices is the “wide” option, while ACX is the “Audible exclusive” option. There are pros and cons in both camps, and again, I’m going to have to research more about financial stuff before I come close to making a decision either way.

From what I see, both companies are basically ways for you to distribute your audiobook. Through Findaway Voices, you can distribute it anywhere audiobooks are sold. Through ACX, you only distribute to Audible.

Part of the issue, as I see it, is if you do not go Audible exclusive, the author payout gets decreased to some really, really low rate (more here). The question then becomes, does going wide earn me enough money to make up for the lower rate I’d earn through Audible? IE: Would I make enough sales elsewhere to make going wide worthwhile?

I really do need to research this, but my gut instinct, from having done a very similar debate with Amazon/going wide when my books published, is that no, I would not make enough sales by going wide to make the decreased payout from Audible worthwhile. However, I need to do research and I love being proved wrong so we shall see where I eventually fall on that.

The other thing that was mentioned to me yesterday which I really need to consider, is that ACX apparently gives authors exactly 0% control over price points, and that has to be really annoying. I know with indie books, sales are often when you get most traction, more readers, etc. Is not having control over my price point going to make it harder for me to get readers, or will that not really be that big of a factor? Again, I have to research.

I need to also look into ACX contracts. I’ve heard you get locked in for 6 or 7 years, and I’m not sure if that means your book can only be Audible exclusive for 6 or 7 years, or if I have to use the same narrator across all books for 6 or 7 years, or what. I don’t quite know what this part of the contract entails and before I decide anything, I need to understand it.

So, some information and a lot of questions on this front.

I will say, every single narrator I’ve talked to has told me basically the exact same thing: “ACX is really your best bet, at present. It’s free to publish a book there, you’re paid monthly, and if you go exclusive (which you want to do – that means just Audible/iTunes, but a 40% instead of 25% royalty, and quite frankly, Audible is all that really matters) it’s the best financial return you’re likely to get on your audio.”

Hiring a studio

The issue here is a few fold, and Brad Beaulieu walked me through the rates and etc. yesterday, explained to me where fees come in and all that. Basically, when you hire a studio you end up paying more. Now, that kind of sucks, but also you have to think with a studio you’re paying overhead and employees and rent and etc. That right there is going to increase your fee a bit. The benefit, however, is that they do it all in house, from the narration to the editing. Therefore, you also have to worry a bit less about getting stuff done on your own, I think. It’s a bit of a trade and here, I have to ask myself how much time I actually have to devote to this. If it’s not much, the idea of a “one stop shop” really appeals to me.

However, I’ve heard that you really have to be careful about the studio you hire because some of them will promise you the moon and you’ll end up getting a book read by a high school student using her iPhone and lunch, so if I went this route, I’d need recommendations, referrals, and to listen to a few books the studio put out so I can be assured of their quality.

But I mean, I’d have to do that with any narrator anyway, so that’s not really that big of a deal.

What concerns me here, is the added cost. Then, I spoke to a narrator a bit late last night, and he told me flat out, that he records all his stuff in his house and he hasn’t gone into a studio in years, so he really, really recommends not paying extra for a studio. Most narrators don’t use them anyway because they record at home, so you end up paying more for… anyway, you get it.

That’s something to consider.

I will say, most everyone I’ve spoken to has said not to go the “studio” route. It just costs more, and from what I gather, you can get a product of equal or better value just hiring the narrator independently.

Hiring the narrator directly

This seems to be the way to go. Across the board, most people are saying that with this option might work better for all parties involved. I feel like not worrying about the extra studio fees is nice, and it seems like only using ACX/Findaway Voices for distribution is highly recommended by just about everyone I’ve talked to across the board.

What appeals to me with this option is maybe the lack of the middleman.

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about hiring the narrator directly yet because I’ve just started looking into it. It is, initially, appealing to me the most. My concerns here are a few fold:

  1. What is the best way to find a narrator? Just listen to books? Or is there like… a list somewhere or is a recommendation system best? It seems a bit overwhelming, honestly.
  2. Do narrators audition if you approach them? I expect to give authors a sample edit. Is there an equivalent of that with narrators?
  3. I’d also need to hire an audiobook editor who would be able to edit the final product because I don’t know how and I don’t have time to learn. I’m not sure how much this would cost. If hiring a narrator plus hiring an audiobook editor would cost as much as hiring a (good) studio, then why not just find a studio that’s good and have it all done there?
  4. I’m sure there’s stuff I’m not considering. In fact, I know there is. I don’t know nearly enough about this option to really even talk about it.

So, there’s that.

I have a lot of income/expense questions to ask. A lot of things to research that may or may not ultimately impact me, and a lot of people to talk to still before I make any decisions about any of this. I really, really want to understand more about both ACX and Findaway Voices. As you can see, I’m just chipping off the iceberg here.

Now, the last thing I’m pondering is actually about what book I want to do this with, and it’s something I spoke to a few people about yesterday. I’m very much leaning one direction, but since I’m being transparent, I’ll put the whole inner monologue up here for you to see.

My initial idea was to get the audiobook done for Of Honey and Wildfires, but even as I said that’s what I would do, I had some concerns, and my concerns have only solidified as I’ve done my research.

The issue with Of Honey and Wildfires, is that it is a few years old, so it’s lost that “new book” glow and that particular glow is a selling point for a lot of books. Furthermore, it’s the first book in a trilogy. The worry is, if I do the audiobook on the first book, I’ll feel kind of obligated to get the other two done, and what if the first book doesn’t sell well? Then I’m investing all this time and money into three books when book one hasn’t done well enough to earn it.

The other possibility is doing the audiobook for my upcoming release, The Necessity of Rain. It’s a fantasy, standalone, and it’ll have that “new book” glow. It’s recognizably mine but it’s different from my other stuff. And having a standalone might be a better way for me to dip my toe into this particular publishing pool, rather than obligating myself to getting a series recorded right off the bat.

As you can see, I’m leaning more toward doing The Necessity of Rain than Of Honey and Wildfires, but again, I have to do more research. I’m not sure if standalones tend to sell well (or at all) in audiobook format. I also don’t know if anyone cares enough to read it. I do know Of Honey and Wildfires has a market. It might be a few years old, but for whatever reason, it’s also been gaining a bit more traction recently. So yeah, it’s older, and it’s the start of a trilogy, but I know it has an audience and that’s important. Then again, I’m pretty sure The Necessity of Rain will too. How big of one? Therein lies the gamble.

Anyway, that’s it. That’s where I’m at right now. I have more information, and a lot of things I need to research still.

A few things I did think were extremely interesting were these two points:

One, I’ve been told a lot that name recognition is super important for a narrator, but when I asked the narrators this, they all sort of shrugged and said that name recognition is basically more important in ensuring you know the quality of the product you’ll get, but it doesn’t really tend to generate more readers. The success of the audiobook is largely based off the success of the ebook.

Two, the narrators all told me that working through Podium or Tantor isn’t that wonderful because those companies function more as middlemen and you can get the same quality product if you work with a narrator independently, without giving up a cut of the earnings to said middle man. They also only pay you quarterly or twice a year, whereas ACX will pay you monthly.

Okay, well that’s where it’s sitting now. There’s my first installment of my research. I have absolutely nothing decided, but I have a lot of research I need to do. My next post will be a lot about the details, contracts, earnings, etc.