Hey there Everyday Authors! I’ve been looking forward to bringing this interview with Simon Whistler to you for a couple of weeks. With many people pointing to audibooks as the next big thing in the publishing world, I thought it was high time we discussed them and I found just the man for the job.
Simon Whistler is the host of the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, author of Audiobooks for Indies and also an experienced voice talent who’s narrated numerous books, including Write Publish Repeat. If you’re looking at getting into audio, you need to read his book. If you’re still just investigating, then read on!
How did you get into narration?
It was years ago when I was still a student, it was summer break and I was like working in the shops or in the bar or whatever is pretty boring and it doesn’t pay that great. I Googled “how can I make money with my voice” and that led me to recording some audition tapes with a $15 microphone and my old Dell desktop PC and sending that off to a few people and the feedback was generally pretty good. I ended up with one guy who was basically an agent for audio books on small presses, so I ended up doing a bunch of those.
Why is audio something that all indies need to be looking at?
I’d say there are a couple of reasons. When you sign a contract with a publisher if you were going that route, you consider all of the different rights and all of the different rights that can be exploited, whether that’s digital, print or whether it’s audio. The second reason, which really ties into that is just the growth of it. It’s not the 1990s anymore where an audio book is a 30 CD beast that you pick up at a gas station and it costs you like $60. It’s relatively cheap — although they are still more expensive than eBooks — but something that you download instantly to your smart phone. The technology is really there now and I think that’s led to such growth in the markets and also not to mention Amazon getting involved. When Amazon gets involved, things tend to grow. The general consensus is that now is a good time to get involved.
I think if you’ve got a successful book going on or a series of books, then it should be a top ten thing because you could be leaving money on the table. It should be 20% of what you do because there are authors who pull in a chunk of their income from audio books. Even if it’s ten hours (of narration) and you’re paying $2.5 grand, you’ve got that (audibook) for life. Investing in yourself is smart. The amount of money you’re putting out up front is fairly low for the potential return if your book is doing well.
Is there any way to tell is a particular book will do well on audio?
The general rule is if the books are doing really well on Kindle, often that will translate [unclear] and sometimes the book that doesn’t do well on Kindle might work marvelously on audio, but the general rule is the trends will follow. If your book is doing well on Kindle, regardless of genre, you’re probably looking at a winner of audio. There are certain ones that you don’t want to do, like fitness or ones with diagrams. It’s kind of obvious stuff. Would you listen to it? Probably not so don’t do it.
Give us the basic steps for creating an audiobook.
Before you do (anything), you need to decide on what sort of distribution you want. There are two types. You can go exclusive, which is basically where you produce the book with ACX and then they will distribute it through Audible and iTunes only and you cannot go over to your website and say “here’s my audio book for $10.” You’re exclusively locked in with ACX for I think it’s seven years. Definitely worth having a look at the contracts.
Non-exclusive is basically the same process except at the end of it ACX will put it on Audible and iTunes for you, but you can go and put it out wherever you want, but you lose a chunk of revenue. When it’s exclusive, you’re getting 40%. If you’re non-exclusive, you get 25%.
Then you’ve got your book, it’s up on Amazon, eBook format. You basically head over to ACX and use your Amazon account to log in and then you claim your rights. You say “this book is mine. I want to create an audio book version of it”. Then the kind of short story is you open up audition. It’s show business. They audition for the project. It’s exciting you know! Then you get all these auditions and you’re like “I like this guy. I want him to do the book or her to do the book” and then they will come on and basically they record 15 minutes. You can offer feedback on that and say “you’re not doing this guys voice right. I’d like this bit like this” and then they go away and they produce the whole book.Generally it’s a very flexible working arrangement. The process goes back and forth and basically the book is completed, then the author will give it a final listen through and be like “this bit needs fixing. That bit needs fixing. How about you do this bit like that?” At this point you can’t go through and say “I prefer the main character have a southern accent”. You need to stipulate that up front otherwise it’s going to be pretty rough on the narrator to go through and swap all that out.
Then the book is finished. ACX will go through you and proof listen it themselves. They sometimes miss things so don’t think that’s an excuse that you don’t have to. The author should definitely listen to that and maybe even pass it off to a couple of friends to have a quick listen. Once you’ve closed that project, you can do fixes I believe, but it’s not easy. The book will take a couple of weeks and then it’s up for sale on Audible and iTunes.
Can you go into detail about picking a narrator and the different ways to pay them?
If you go exclusive, you can choose to either pay your narrator up front so you say “I’m going to pay you $200 per finished hour” and a finished hour is the completed product. If the book is for sale on Audible for $10 and it’s ten hours long, that’s 10 finished hours so it’s mastered, processed, edited and ready to go. It’s not time that the narrator spent in the studio. That would be $2,000 for the ten hour book. However you can also opt to royalty share, which is basically you don’t pay anything up front, but you say “I want to split the revenues with my narrator.” You share the royalties with the narrator for seven years and then it reverts to the author. ACX takes their 60% and you’re left with 40% then it’s split equally between you and the narrator.
What is the general price range for narrators?
It can vary hugely. ACX have the prices from like $50 to I think $400 plus. I don’t know anyone who has done $50, but I mean if you found a new narrator who is starting out charging $50 per finished hour. I would guess (average is) kind of between $200-$250. Maybe on the low end, $150. On the higher end $300-$350. By the time you get to $350, you’re talking a pro who has probably done some books by some pretty well-known authors. When you get the auditions coming in for your book, they’ll tell you the rate. You’ll be able to hear how they are and you’ll get, you’re not committed to anyone at that point so you can really just shop.
How do you determine how many hours a books will take?
Basically it works out so if you’ve got 1,000 words, that would be about, sorry. Ten thousand words would be about 1.1 hours so if you’ve got an eight hour book, it’s going to be about nine hours or ten hours. Sorry, if you’ve got an 80,000 word book, it’s going to be eight or nine hours long. It’s also worth listening to other books in your genre to get an idea of kind of the speed of narration compared to your auditions. The speed of the narration can make a difference to the success of the audio work. Make sure that your narrator is reading at the speed that’s expected in your genre. Have a listen to those books. If you’re doing a thriller, go have a listen to the big thriller audio books and find a narrator who sounds like the person who is reading the good books, the best selling books that are already in the thriller audio books.
Do you have any other tips for picking a narrator?
Detach yourself from the decision process. Don’t fall in love with one person. Keep a few people on a short list. Make sure your narrator matches the expectations for the genre. Super important. Don’t go and think “I’m going to go and do something unique and special,” especially if you’ve never done it before. Stick with convention because it’s boring and safe — especially starting out.
What about tips for after you’ve picked an editor?
If you want a guy sounding a different way or a passage read differently, you can ask. Feedback to your narrator. Talk to them. It’s a partnership.
Do you see anybody else challenging ACX?
I’ll flip it around and ask you. Would you want to compete with Amazon? Seriously though, I think when Amazon moves into something they’re pretty full forced and they don’t really look at short term profits and that’s not something most companies do. Amazon owns ACX and Audible and iTunes is in a contract with them until next year. Really when the producer and the retailer are so closely tied, especially when Amazon is involved, it would have to be a pretty big disruption to take that away.
Have you seen any changes since ACX changed their royalty structure?
I think the biggest thing I’ve seen is perhaps new narrators are less willing to do a royalty share deal because that’s taking a chunk of money off the table, especially if the book does well. I think people kicked up a lot of fuss about it, but for the vast majority of people, it’s never going to be an issue or if it is, it’s a tiny issue. For each percentage point, you have to sell 500 audio books, which is a good couple thousand dollars in revenue. By the time you get to 5% points, you’re talking $10,000-$15,000 of revenue. For most people probably not something you need to worry about, but obviously the big players, that’s going to upset them, but that’s not the every day people.
Give us your thoughts on the future of audio books (5-10 years).
It will reach a saturation point because everything does. Five or ten years is a really long time down the line. I think they will become much more, they will become a much bigger deal. They will become, this witness thing where you’ve got a book on Amazon and click this button and go over to Audible and you can pick up the audible version, the audio version for $2. I think that will start to become pretty common place. There’s a lot of talk about robots and Microsoft sound being like reading the book and I’m not super convinced by this. Even for non-fiction, I think non-fiction it often does require more of a straight read, than fiction. In fiction it’s like you’re acting. In non-fiction you’re delivering. I don’t think that will really become a thing in the next ten years, but down the line computers will do everything I suppose. They’ll write our books and then they’ll narrate our books.
If this sounds interesting to you, if you want more information about it, Audiobooks for Indies is an inexpensive guide. It comes with everything you need to know. It’s not massively long, but everything is in there. All the way from DIY to hiring a studio, it covers your bases.
On the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, I interview self published authors about how they made it so you can do the same. Each week I talk to someone on who has done something cool within indie publishing or hybrid publishing and we talk about it for an hour and it’s kind of long form, old school radio style every Thursday.