Saturday, 29 June 2013

Calling all authors: have you thought about turning your novel into an audiobook? Why you should and how to do it...

Gypsie Rosalee's fortune telling tent?  No - it's Jasper de Montfort (really?) in his DIY sound booth!

After my recent post on Venture Galleries “Hooks, Hopes, and Dialogue. Would you rather read or be read to?” I had a couple of comments asking for more information about the costs of creating an audiobook version of a novel and whether it was worth the investment? The following post is based on my response back to these queries.
So, how much does it cost to get your book into audio format?  The costs depend on how far you want to push the boat out – use an actor (prices vary depending on experience/fame levels etc) or record it and edit it yourself?
Some actors will take a royalty share but most want a fee as there is significant work involved producing an audiobook.  Typically they charge a fee that includes the editing – so you get  a price per finished hour of audio – which can vary from $200-$400. So for a 90,000 word book, this would come out at around 10 hours of finished audio – costing between $2000 and $4000.
"The Gentleman and the Rogue" by Emma Calin is now an audiobook.
The Gentleman and The Rogue is now a finished audiobook which I produced on behalf of Summer Devon and Bonnie Dee (the authors) via ACX.  For this I received a $900 up-front bonus stipend and will get  half the royalties on any sales.  

The narrator then usually records a 30 minute sample – the first 3500 words – for approval.  This is the last chance for the author to request any change of style or accent etc and is the basis for the way that the rest of the book will be recorded. The next time the author is contacted will be with the whole book for final approval.This may sound steep – but  a 10 hour finished book will have at least 75 hours of solid work behind it – recording, editing and final quality check (it takes 10 hours just to listen to it!). If you divide it out, this is paying the actor about $27 per hour on the lower rate – which is not not excessive for a professional running a business.   However, it is money that would be paid before any sales – if you can get the actor to agree to a split-royalty deal (usually they will want 50%) then it makes it easier to achieve.  Audible have many such actors on ACX.com.  
For those of you who haven’t visited ACX – you should – it is a brilliant uploading service for independent producers and authors.  They allow authors to advertise for the type of narrator they would like (accent, age, style etc) and provide an audition text for any interested party to use to record a sound test.  The auditions come in, the author selects the one they like best and then the narrator goes off to do the work.   It is a really simple utility to use and it marries authors and producers up and handles contracts, payments, sign offs etc and then gets the finished job up onto Amazon, Audible and iTunes.  They offer all sorts of payment options for producers – including royalty splits and they then handle the payments to you when the book sales start flooding in….  With this option your outlay is minimal – you are just sacrificing half your future royalties.  If you are lucky to have a book that sells well on Amazon, ACX may earmark your book by adding their own stipend bonus payment to encourage producers to audition for your book (this is usually $100 per thousand words and is paid for by ACX - not the author!!).

The other option to creating your audiobook is the DIY method. However – do not underestimate this task.  It may sound like a way of saving a couple of thousand dollars or keeping all the royalties for yourself – I have narrated some of my own books and believe me,  it’s harder than you would imagine.  To be frank, some folk just cannot read a story out loud – even if they wrote it. Whilst it’s great to be able to advertise the  ‘authentic voice of the author’ – you need to be honest about this and maybe get a friend to tell you if your reading voice sucks.  Don’t be offended by the truth – it is a skill that actors train for years to achieve.  I know that my voice is not ideal – I have too much ‘S’ sound (teccie term – sibilance) but some of this can be filtered out post-recording. I am also prone to drone and have to re-record many times before I get the level of animation that I think is needed.
Try a  no-cost test : download Audacity (free) and record yourself reading  a couple of pages from one of your  books using the mic on your computer. Play it back  – close your eyes and listen – are you able to sound animated? Do you tell the  story or is it just a flat reading? Can you differentiate between the characters if there is dialogue? Would you be happy to pay $20 to listen to your style of delivery for 10 hours? My impression is that many of the most successful narrators are outgoing Thespians rather than those tormented taciturn screenopath scribes.
As an alternative to doing a whole book, you could try having a practice on a poem or other inspirational text. When I was considering the audio option I recorded one of my own poems and put it up on you tube. I made a video and dubbed in the soundtrack. I found this a valuable experience and you may just end up with a work of art. In any event it will paste your name on just a little more of the wall of life.  You do not need to make a video – a morphing still shot sequence works well (I use One True Media which is easy peasy to use and free but there are many other packages out there e.g Windows Movie Maker). My poem has now had about 1100 views – so that means my “brand” has just a little more exposure.  Also – I find that doing this kind of stuff makes me feel a bit more like an “ARTIST”. Writing Romance means you have to let go and really dig out those juicy feelings that might embarrass your neighbour.  Actor types have that  unembarrassed confidence to express feelings and some of that has fed back into my writing even though I am no actress.
In terms of the 75 hours work to get a book done – this is quite a lot of time to find in a busy author’s day.  It will stop you from writing/living for around two weeks solid – or longer if you have other commitments – e.g. food/sleep/conversation with spouse.   Bear in mind that in reality it’s difficult to do more than about 20 mins recording at a time – your voice gets tired and it’s difficult to be “in character” and maintain an accent or voice for much longer. This is when you  start to make lots of mistakes – and that means retakes. So the recording may take much longer than you expect!  At least if it’s at home you can have rests and do other jobs in between, or run off and refresh with a “cuppa’”and some contact with the outside world!.
The good news is – It’s relatively cheap to set up a home-studio as there is excellent free software available (e.g. Audacity) and a reasonable quality podcast microphone, stand, ‘pop screen’ and headphones can be acquired for less than $200.  I got mine from Amazon.
Once you have recorded the whole book – then comes the production phase – editing (removing errors and chopping into suitable file sizes) and “mastering” (smoothing out the ‘S’ for my voice, making sure the chapters have consistent sound levels, preparing them for upload to Audible via ACX etc).
Editing an audiobook  is a painstaking job – removing the errors from the recording and maybe adding in pauses for effect or cutting long gaps to smooth out dialogue.  In addition you have to be listening out for and then remove, all the  strange wheezes and pops, coughs and clunks and stomach gurgles that somehow get onto the track.  Add to this the removal of odd external street noises (police sirens, dogs barking etc) which are inevitable if you do not record in a sound-proofed room or have a directional mic.  There is some art involved in this – deciding to leave a noisy breath in the middle of a sentence or removing one from the beginning of a phrase will depend on the flow and context of the passage.  Many authors have not planned in advance for a paragraph to be read aloud and this makes the job of the recording artist quite a challenge.  Frequently there are gaspings as the poor actor struggles to get in enough air after a long sentence with many sub-clauses or commas!
Some work could only ever be read by the author. One of my favourite possessions is a CD of Bukowski reading his own poems. The quality is appalling. He sounds drunk and slurred, there are all manner of clunks, gasps, groans, snorts and cigarette sucking sounds. It is entirely unprofessional with a  “stuff you if you don’t like it” tone. However, this is its quality and value. My guess is that it would not get past the ACX technical checking department.
When the whole book is finished, it needs to be divided into suitably-sized chapters – I tend to keep mine to around 20 minutes wherever possible as I find this is a popular length for the listener.   I then upload each chapter onto ACX – this is a very smooth process, the ACX site is so well organised and easy to use.  The author is expected to listen to the whole thing and approve it – or request any (hopefully minor!) changes.  If you are doing your own book yourself, you will have the satisfaction of signing yourself off!   It’s then a case of waiting for ACX to check the quality of your recording and then load it up onto Amazon, Audible and iTunes.  This is a nail-biting time and can last as long as four weeks.
Then joy – your audiobook appears on sale to the public..  I was quite shocked at the premium prices that are paid for audiobooks – especially if bought as a one-off impulse buy – we are talking around $20 for a 10 hour book compared to a typical Kindle price of $5 for this length of book (90000 words).  The deal on ACX is great – they take half the money and split the other half between the author and the producer (who then has to pay the narrator).  So the author gets $5 per sale – which is far better return than on the Kindle version.  However, most people into audiobooks have subscriptions to Audible, iTunes etc and use their monthly credit allowance, so the income for the purchase is reduced. So far, sales of the book I have on sale on ACX have been 50/50 between full price and monthly credits – so averaging about  $3.50 per sale to me as the producer.

So for authors thinking about audiobooks -  using an ACX narrator on the split-royalty deal will give you an audiobook for no up-front outlay, that brings in at least the same yield as your Kindle version and the added bonus of an additional medium in which to expose your work.
If you were happy to do the recording and editing yourself, as author and producer – you would  would get twice this – $7 which is much higher than the Kindle royalties but you will have had to invest the 75 hours of your time to create the audiobook. There is only one question.  Are you an introspective focused writer or an outgoing thespian – some lucky souls  are both.  If you are not, ask this question: would you hire an amateur nuclear power station designer?  Personally, I think both options give you a cost-effective means of getting your stories in front of a wider audience.
Those of you in the USA have the wonderful resource of ACX at your disposal. On their site you will find all manner of help and advice. Youtube carries tutorials on voice coaching and accent development. In the great knowledgewurst-of-infinite-everything sausage, every possible resource is there on the net.
Sadly, at present ACX is closed to non US citizens even though there are hordes of writers looking for British-English narrators and equally, scores of  British authors desperate to get their books out into the audio arena. This ban has now been applied to me and I can no longer put books out on ACX. We live in hope. We keep our narrators revved up, we are recording all our books ready for that moment and we know that we produce the goods that sell. If you have to good fortune to live in the USA, then ACX is the platform.
Based on my post for The VG Authors Collection (click the badge to find more)


2 comments:

  1. I had a shot at doing this myself with my YA fantasy. It is VERY hard work! It took a huge amount of time and effort, fiddling about with microphones and Audacity, getting my voice right etc etc. I recorded three chapters (available via iTunes) and concluded it just wasn't worth the effort. I hadn't considered ACX so I'll take a look. Thanks.

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    1. Hi Scott. Yes - that is the thing - it is so time consuming and difficult. My experience is that one's speed and skill do increase very rapidly. Other than the fact that I am banned from using ACX, I cannot speak highly enough of them.

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Thanks so much for stopping by. Always so happy to get your feedback. Emma x