Creating an Audio Book on Amazon - Andrew Crofts

So, working on the theory that the more platforms a book appears on, the better its chances of getting noticed, I decided that it was time to create an audio version of my novella, Secrets of the Italian Gardener. (It is already available as a paperback, a hardback and an e-book). As promised in an earlier posting on this site, this is my account of the audio-adventure so far.

It all starts with ACX Audible, (easy to Google up). This company is owned by Amazon – like so many good things in the new publishing world. Once on the site you tell them your requirements and put up an extract from the book which actors can use as an audition piece.

This is the first stroke of genius. The actors can audition for you without any of the embarrassment of face-to-face rejection – you know the scene; the starving thespian gives their all in an empty theatre to a bored director sitting in the darkened auditorium, only to hear the words, “thank you, we’ll be in touch … next!” I did not want to be having to say that to anyone.

Within an hour or two of me submitting the brief the auditions started to arrive in my in-box. Each time a new one was up-loaded by an actor, ACX sent me an email and I was able to listen immediately. Within two days I had received nearly thirty. A large proportion of them were from Americans who did not even attempt an English accent, despite the fact that I had requested it in the brief, so that narrowed the field and helped with the final decision.

Although they are all professional actors/voice over artists, they are also described by ACX as “producers”, meaning that they have some sort of computer/studio set up. They know how to record and edit as well as do the reading. All good news since I had no idea how to do any of that.

ACX also asks you to stipulate the sort of money that you would be willing to pay, measuring it by the number of hours the final reading will fill. Secrets of the Italian Gardener is only about 40,000 words long and would therefore come out at a bit under four hours, (a calculation which ACX does for you). I had said I would be willing to pay up to $400 an hour, so the final bill would not rise above £1,000.

I chose an English actor called Matthew Lloyd Davies, whose audition piece sounded most like the voice I had imagined my narrator to have, and who had a great deal of experience in audio books.

Matt responded with total professionalism. ACX require that the actor/producer first does a fifteen minute sample, but Matt did thirty minutes. I happily accepted the sample and he went on to do the whole book, delivering it nearly three weeks before the promised deadline.

It is not an easy book to read out loud because of the varied nationalities of the characters including a Middle Eastern dictator, an elderly Italian, an English narrator, his American wife and two other female characters, one from an unspecified Eastern European country and the other the product of an Indian father and French mother. Matt negotiated them all with aplomb. I had no hesitation in approving the reading.

The next step ACX required was a cover design and here I hit my first hiccup since it had to be square, (there were other technical requirements which were double Dutch to me), meaning that I could not upload either of the existing cover designs. Matt galloped once more to the rescue, creating a new design which the ACX system accepted.

All that remained to be done was for me to pay Matt and for Amazon to approve the book, a process which may have been completed by the time this posting appears.

A fantastic experience – thank you Amazon and thank you Matt!     


Wendy H. Jones said…
Thanks for this. I am thinking of putting my book n to audio so this is really helpful
Susan Price said…
Very interesting and useful, Andrew - thank you.
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks, Andrew. Everything one reads suggests that audiobooks are growing in populsarity. I hope that proves to be the case for you.

But I should also take this opportunity to offer another view on the process - a negative one which, happily, you've avoided. I had 2 books with a now defunct publisher. They were keen on getting all their list onto audio and some of them proved very successful. My two, however, drew the short straw. I had no say in the auditions so, by the time I got to hear samples of the readings, the artists had been booked. I only needed a few minutes in each case to know that the results were awful. I made my feelings known, the publisher made sympathetic noises, but the contracts had been signed.

Both books are supposed to be funny, so the reader's timing was critical. The two readers had none. One of them must also have had a quite restricted vocabulary. His version of 'pastoral idyll', for example, came out as 'puh-STORE-l idle'. The other decided that one of my obviously Scottish characters should have what I assume to be a Scouse accent. Unfortunately, he also couldn't do Scouse so the character's bons mots were reduced to mini-soundscapes. With both of them the delivery was monotonous, the pacing wrong and the listening experience (for me anyway) excruciating.

Since the publisher's demise, I've written to Audible to tell them all this. I actually asked them to withdraw the titles but apparently, since the deal is a profit-sharing one, that would mean I was depriving the artists of income, so I'm stuck with them. That income is pennies but I can't help feeling that anyone listening to them would very quickly decide to steer well clear of any other books by Bill Kirton.

I'll quickly add that this is a very specific and unfortunate set of circumstances and my intention isn't to criticise audiobooks. On the contrary, having done plenty of voice-over work myself, I'm thinking of making my own recordings of some of my other books. (It seems that readers actually like the idea of books being read by their authors.) My message is - take Andrew's route, listen to lots of auditions and be very careful to choose the right, professional artist for the work. As well as hearing his/her voice, the reader's hearing yours, too.
Andrew Crofts said…
Dear Bill,

Yet another example of why self-publishing has taken off. No publisher cares as much about our work as we do - unless we are earning them millions of pounds. The more control authors have of every aspect of the process the safer they are.

glitter noir said…
Thanks for this, Andrew. I too have been thinking of trying an audio version. will keep both your and Bill's words in mind if I do.
Susan Price said…
Thanks Bill - information and advice as useful as Andrew's. I am tentatively thinking of audio books, and I appreciate the guidance.
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
Interesting article - and also interesting that the happy author paid a PFH rate and the unhappy one was a RS deal. In my experience many of the more experienced, technically and artistically astute narrators with high production values will only accept projects paying a per finished hour ( PFH). On an RS deal an author is not getting access to all the best narrators.
Lydia Bennet said…
Interesting, though a thousand squids is a lot to lay out - most novels are double that length and therefore would cost £2k and while this is no doubt deserved by the actor/producer, it would need a lot of sales to recoup it and many authors couldn't afford that outlay. My one attempt at signing up for ACX was a failure, I got a total of NO offers and could find nobody to approach with a geordie accent or able to do one, for The Rotting Spot. None of the actors listed producer at that time so I was puzzled about how to sort out studio and recording facilities, doubtless this has grown as a sideline for actors who've kitted themselves out. Might be worth another look.
Unknown said…
ACX has grown since first coming to the UK and all narrators are also 'producers' so either have their own facilities to record, edit and master themselves (though the quality and skill level will vary) or will
have access to a studio. Narrators know that for a long novel particularly, the outlay is considerable and might be open to persuasion if they love a book or it has great ratings and reviews,and an author with a solid reputation and great marketing skills especially if there is,the possibility of a stipend with RS deal. Give it another try Lydia

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