Audiobooks have been around for a long time. I remember listening to them myself on cassette as a child. My own daughter adored (and still has) many books on CD and she used to lie in bed at night and let them talk her to sleep. She always complained that she’d heard the start of one book so many times, she knew it by heart – but she still had no idea how the story ended!
More recent developments include audiobook downloads – from Amazon, Apple and doubtless a multitude of other sites. But it’s only in the last month or so that Amazon’s own Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) programme has been opened up to anybody in the UK.
For UK-based independent authors, there was firstly the option of ebooks. Many of us then went on to produce paperbacks – either because we had a market for them at conventions and book-signings, or simply because when displayed on Amazon, they make the ebook look cheap! After all, as writers we’ve already invested the time, effort and expense or writing and editing; the end format should be an added bonus. Now we have the option of adding an audiobook to the mix too and at potentially minimal cost.
So what’s involved in producing an audiobook? I can’t comment on the technical side or on any other platforms other than Amazon. But ACX seems to be an added string to our bows – it links into the Amazon sales platform in much the same way as CreateSpace does and it appears relatively straightforward so far – at least from an author’s point of view, since we’ve already done all the hard work!
Creating an account on ACX is easy enough. Then the site is split into two: authors seeking narrators and narrators seeking books/authors. As an author, you can post the details of your book up (obviously you must own the audio rights), with Amazon links, a sample of text and anything else you think a potential narrator might want to know (your track record, social platforms – whatever it is that makes you or your book an attractive proposition). You can also specify characteristics of your preferred narrator: gender, voice, style, accent etc, and whether you are prepared to pay a narrator up front on a work-for-hire basis or whether you’d rather pay nothing and split any profits 50/50. Remember that Amazon take a chunk of sales up front, the same way as they do for ebooks and paperbacks.
Once your book is up you have a choice: sit back and see if any narrators approach you, or search for them yourself and offer your project. The narrator database contains voice, gender and style again, plus credentials, samples and anything else a narrator is using to sell him or herself. The narrator will also specify whether they are prepared to work on a 50/50 profit split or want paying up front. Many of the more experienced narrators are also trained actors, have strings of credits to their names and presumably have their pick of work offered, so would rather be paid up-front at a sometimes eye-wateringly high fee per hour!
If you find a narrator (or one finds you), he or she will read your sample and submit it as an audition. You listen to all the auditions submitted, ask for re-reads as necessary and pick the one you like best. ACX then handles the process by which each chapter is read and submitted for approval one at a time. Once complete, I presume the audiobook is loaded and ACX receives sales money and either splits the royalty 50/50, or pays it all to the author. ACX holds the distribution rights to the audiobook for seven years and will sell it on Audible, Amazon and Itunes. If you choose ACX as the sole distributor, the royalty rate is 40%, as opposed to 25% if you wish to also distribute elsewhere.(Note that if you opt for a 50/50 royalty split, you have no option - you must choose sole distribution)
My 85,000 word novel comes out (according to ACX’s system) at 9.1 hours. 9.1 hours? I was amazed. And apparently each hour of reading time requires considerably more hours of production time. ACX’s help files suggest 6.2 hours of production time for each finished hour! It really isn’t as easy as sitting down and reading into a microphone.
So I uploaded my first crime novel Hamelin's Child as a project. I selected a sample of the novel that I felt covered the best variety of text – dialogue and description. I tend to write internal thought in first-person present-tense italics too, so I wanted to include that to see how/if it translated to audio. Then I decided to sit back and wait for a few weeks before I went actively looking.
I got one audition after five or six days. Which was more than I expected. A narrator is potentially going to invest 56 hours or more – that’s around 7 working days! – in my book with no guarantee of any return for his money. They have to be very sure of what they are getting into.
I listened to a bit. And cringed. It’s unbelievably difficult to listen to somebody read out something you’ve written! And while the passage I submitted as an audition piece isn’t particularly explicit, I do write very dark and graphic material.
I looked up my potential narrator. He’s a singer who’s looking to move into book narration so has no credits or samples. Which is kind of good. He’s as new to this process as I am, but liked the look of the book as it’s the kind of thing he reads. I offered him a free ebook so he could read the entire thing and then come back and tell me if he was still interested. He is.
So what happens next? Well I've chatted with him on email and I'm comfortable we can work together. I'm now making sure we also talk via ACX's own internal message system, so we have an audit trial of what's going on. Having read a bit of the ACX small-print, once I hit that Make Offer button, I am committing myself to finishing this thing – I can’t expect the guy to work for nothing! Indeed there are kill-fees involved if the rights-owner fails to approve the final product without good reason.
Realistically, if I don't do this, will I ever do anything else with the audio rights? Probably not. But I write crime thrillers and I have no idea how comfortable I’m going to be with listening to the some of the scenes read aloud. How do you discuss the audio version of a sex scene with a complete stranger of the opposite sex? How on earth is he going to read it aloud in the first place? I couldn't do it and it's my book!
I will keep you all updated ....