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Why Indie Authors Should Publish Audiobooks – And How To Do It

Why Indie Authors Should Publish Audiobooks – and How To Do It

photo of Amy with cat and dog

Amy Shojai, an early adopter of audiobooks, shares her experience and advice

Don’t yet have your books on audio? Wondering whether it’s worth the investment of time and money? ALLi Professional member Amy Shojai,who writes fiction and non-fiction on animal themes,  makes a persuasive case for taking the plunge into audio and suggests different options.

 

According to the most recent (2017) Audio Publishers Association annual survey, a six-year trend of double-digit growth in sales continues. A companion survey of consumers revealed 54% of listeners were under the age of 45, and the most popular genres were mystery/thriller/suspense, science fiction, and romance. The next survey results will be released in April 2019.

For independent authors, it makes sense to expand our audience with audiobooks in this growing platform. You connect with listeners and enhance your brand. For nonfiction authors, an audiobook may be your invitation to additional speaker opportunities. And because there’s less competition, lesser known authors more easily get traction. Here’s one example:

  • Type “cat books” into the Amazon search bar = 100,000+ results
  • Type “cat books” into the Audible search bar = 461 results

That’s one reason my nonfiction pet books sell surprisingly well. My two thrillers and four nonfiction audiobook titles sell an average of 30 copies a month. With more choices now available, I’ve made changes in distribution and plans for future titles.

So, what’s changed? Just about everything—and it’s great news for independent authors.

DIY Audiobook Details

image of cat at microphoneIn the “old days,” audiobooks typically released only after a successful traditional book publication. Then the ACX.com platform opened the doors to independent authors, making it easy to audition voiceover (VO) professionals, and distribute audiobooks. Thank you, ACX!

My first two audiobooks released in 2012, two more in 2013, and another two in 2016. I chose the ACX exclusive contract to gain the higher royalties and because at the time there were no other options for indies. Today, FindawayVoices.com and AuthorsRepublic.com also offer audiobook opportunities for indie authors. Below are comparative details of these three services.

ACX.com

  • Free
  • Serves residents of the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Ireland
  • Must have a book “live” on Amazon
  • Offers VO help (you negotiate terms) or you can DIY
  • Distributes to Amazon, Audible, and Apple platforms
  • Excusive 7-year ACX contract earns 40% royalty
  • Nonexclusive contract offers a 25% royalty
  • ACX controls distribution & pricing
  • Pays via direct deposit

FindawayVoices.com

  • $49 Administration fee (waived if partnered with Draft2Digital.com)
  • Serves residents around the world
  • Offers VO help ($250/finished hour) or you can DIY
  • Distributes to Audible, Apple, Kobo, etc into 170 countries & dozen libraries
  • Offers 80% royalty (keeps 20% of your sales—royalty/platform varies)
  • You control distribution & pricing
  • Pays via direct deposit

AuthorsRepublic.com

  • Free
  • Serves residents around the world
  • Suggested list of recording professionals
  • Distributes to 30 platforms including Audible & Apple
  • Offers 70% royalty (keeps 30% of your sales—royalty/platform varies)
  • You control distribution & may suggest pricing
  • Pays via PayPal (must have 10 titles to qualify for direct deposit/US only)

Audiobook Challenges

Cost

covers of Lost and Found by Amy Shojai for different formats

Ebook/print & audio covers of one of Amy’s novels

Professionals charge from $100-$250 per finished hour, which includes recording, editing, and mastering the production. Expect to pay $1350-$1650 for about 50,000 word manuscript when working with FindawayVoices and AuthorsRepublic.

The ACX platform allows authors royalty-share options to potential VO artists. That can bring the cost down. There also may be subsidized programs for authors to help pay for the production costs.

As an actor and VO artist myself, I chose to record my own fiction and nonfiction books in my home studio. It’s a challenge for non-actors to perform fiction with different characters and pacing, but listeners often prefer to hear the nonfiction author-expert read the audiobook. Note: There are economical options for software and recording equipment available, so don’t discount this option!

Time

A book that takes 10 hours to read (about average for a thriller) requires at least triple that amount of time to edit and master.

VO professionals typically read 9400 words/hour, but voicing different fiction characters can slow the process. A voice needs rest, too, and my not perform as well in marathon stretches.

For me, the time issue has been the greatest barrier. I’ve also been frustrated by promotion challenges. How do listeners find my audiobooks?

Discoverability

The Amazon search function offers amazing specificity, but not so the Audible search.

Listeners have to know the author name or book title to easily find it. Also, there is no easy way to advertise audiobooks or offer promotions—until recently. ACX does offer codes for free Audible downloads to share with listeners for possible review, but they expire and listeners may use them for any book (not only your new title).

ACX controls the price of its audiobooks, limiting the ability of authors to run effective promotions or to leverage price reductions if/when they happen.

There are collaborative author promotions that can boost visibility of full-priced audiobooks in a similar way that the multi-author list building promotions work.

For the most part, though, audiobooks must piggyback on the marketing tail of the corresponding ebook or print title being promoted. For instance, each time I’ve had a BookBub feature deal, my audiobook sales also increased. That’s a major reason I’ve made changes to my audiobook distribution.

Chirp Audio Books – the Newest Audiobook Service

BookBub.com, the giant ebook promotions venue, announced last week it’s entered the world of audiobooks with ChirpBooks.com. The dedicated site curates audiobooks and shares limited-time discounted titles with subscribers. The program currently is in beta, but authors can sign up to the waiting list here. (I did!)

ChirpBooks partners with FindawayVoices, which in turn partners with the ebook aggregation platform Draft2Digital.com. Yes, I know, circles within circles! Since I already work with Draft2Digital to distribute my ebooks, a simple “click this button” transferred my book descriptions and other metadata to FindawayVoices, and created an account.

The seven-year term on my two earliest audiobooks expires December 2019, so I needed to opt out of the automatic renewal. In doing so, I discovered something liberating. The contract may be changed, under certain circumstances.

Check Your Contracts

Once an exclusive audiobook has finished one year of its seven-year term, the rights holder may request the contract be changed to non-exclusive.

Cover of Competability Audiobook

Another audiobook cover from Amy Shojai’s growing catalog

I emailed my request to ACX support, and they confirmed my titles all have met/exceeded the year-anniversary benchmark. My request was forwarded for review, which I’m told will take 14-20 days before I can expect an update. Stay tuned!

For authors with a royalty-share contract, changing the agreement theoretically is possible but more difficult to accomplish. The voiceover artist would also need to agree, in writing, to the change. For most authors, that’s not worth the headache.

I’m grateful to ACX, and my existing and future audiobooks will be distributed to Audible and on Amazon. Since my ebooks and print titles are published “wide,” it’s important that corresponding audiobook versions also be available in all arenas.

Today, independent authors have many more options to reach our audience. New audiobook production and promotion options expand the independent author’s audience, augment our brand, and potentially increase our profits.

It’s a great time to be an author!

OVER TO YOU Do you have any other advice about self-publishing audio books to add to Amy’s? Feel free to share it via a comment!

#Indieauthors - are you #selfpublishing #audiobooks? If not, you should certainly consider it! @AmyShojai explains why and how to go about it, drawing on her own success story. Click To Tweet

OTHER INSPIRING POSTS ABOUT SELF-PUBLISHING AUDIOBOOKS
From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

Amy Shojai

Amy Shojai is a certified animal behaviour consultant, and the award-winning author of 27 best-selling pet books that cover furry babies to old-fogies, first aid to natural healing, and behavior/training to Chicken Soup-icity. She also writes “dog viewpoint” Thrillers With Bite. Amy has been featured as an expert in hundreds of print venues including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle, as well as national radio and television networks such as CNN, Animal Planet’s DOGS 101 and CATS 101.

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This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Thank you so much for this, Amy. I’ve been doing a lot of research for my audiobook – and was about to go the ACX route, but he 7 year contract scared me. I’m heavily leaning towards Find A Way – will most likely go in that direction tonight. But now I see Chirp is in the game and need to research them. I already have the audiobook recorded. Book is finished. It’s been quite a journey. Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart!

  2. Hi Amy – thanks for the article. I’m wondering if you have experience/knowledge of ListenUp? I have a local studio willing to do initial recording and production at a very reasonable rate, after which point I’d be uploading the Master to ListenUp for them to reproduce and distribute to a range of platforms. They’re offering an 80:20 royalties split. I’d just like some feedback from you (and the ALLI Universe) before I commit, please. Cheers!

  3. This all sounds great, but as I just published my first book and am struggling to get it seen (and purchased), I have trouble seeing that the ROI is worth the money I’d spend. I’ve even found a producer who is willing to do the book for about a third of what’s talked about here, but even at that, I’d need to sell 130-150 copies (as a guess) to just make back my costs.

    If I thought I could sell 60 copies a month I’d jump on it. But my guess of 1-2 copies a month means that it simply isn’t worth my costs.

    Am I missing something, or am I on track for costs vs. ROI?

    1. Hi Sean, and congratulations on your first book! That’s exciting, and a huge accomplishment. You certainly need to number-crunch for your individual situation. This is not something that sees immediate ROI, either, but more of a long-tail investment. In my experience, books sell other books — so adding to your library might be a better investment of your time. With fiction especially, more books offers the greatest benefit so that when a reader falls in love with your work, they look for MORE from you. *s* Right now, if they love your book, they must wait for the next title, right?

      That said, with the ACX program, the BOUNTY incentive is where many authors earn a nice amount. That’s $50 a pop, when each new reader subscribes to Audible via YOUR book.

      Best wishes on continued success! And…if you’ve found a producer at that discount, I’m jealous! It could be a nice long-term investment but don’t expect it to pay off immediately.

  4. By the way, as a clarification, Findaway currently distributes to 33 vendors with more added all the time. The $49 “administration fee” cited for Findaway is actually a casting fee that only applies if using their casting services. This is waived for customers of D2D and Smashwords. There’s no upfront cost if you simply upload to the service. The price per finished hour varies — starts at $150-$300 and can go up from there. That’s between you and the talent.

  5. Thanks for weighing in. I’ve not used AuthorsRepublic so I can’t speak to that, but am sorry you’ve not had a better experience. My contracts with Audible just switched over, and I just hit publish on them at Findaway so I may discover you are right.

    Until then, it’s worth the investment to me because 1) less competition 2) higher royalties (Audiobooks are priced much higher than Ebooks), and in the case of Audible 3) $50 bonus for each new Audible subscriber my books introduce. *s* Some folks earn more from bonuses than book sales.

    I’m not sure why self-narrating cost you $2000 (unless that was for outside editing/mastering…wow, that’s pricey!). But for those interested, there is free software and economical options for the hardware (mic/etc) for under $500. So . . .

    Each business person must make his/her own decisions, of course! If you’ve decided this isn’t for you, that’s fine.

    That said, I’m not sure it’s fair to paint audiobooks as Emporer-naked based on your individual experience. *shrug* Sounds kind of similar to the arguments I heard about Ebooks back in the day. *shrug* I got into Ebooks late in the game, and don’t plan to make the same mistake with audiobooks, when I have the means and opportunity.

    Again, thanks for reading! Now… I have to get back to “voicing” my next thriller. *s*

  6. OK, I’ve got to say it. For some of us, I’m sorry, but this Emperor ain’t wearing no clothes.

    This article is a fine summary and, yes, I’ve dangled my own toe in the audiobook market, but…

    1) The general “audiobooks are the fastest growing segment…” message we’ve been hearing for several years is true, but so what? That market is still a very small portion of the digital/print market. It could double in size a few times before it ever came close.

    2) Hurray for the distribution options (I’m with AuthorsRepublic), but I earn pennies for my audiobook sales (an average of $3.30) and have recouped 5% of the initial cost (after several years).

    3) Many of my sales are on sites I can’t access directly without subscriptions, so it’s not easy to monitor them.

    4) It’s not like adding, say, a hardcover edition, which takes little investment cost and little attention. It’s an expensive format, an attention-absorbing project to create, and time-consuming to focus on specific marketing.

    As a business person, I look at this and think… “gee, should I invest another $2K (self-narrated) or $5K (other) in (each of) my dozen candidate long novels right now, or should I instead spend the time and money on FB ad investment or something else that has the potential to lift all my boats, not just one book?”

    Each of us has to make our own judgment call on that. I have no doubt at all that many of us are able to make a successful channel out of audiobook creation and marketing (and congratulations to you) but it requires focus and it’s not something to just undertake as a natural extension without understanding the risks and opportunity costs involved.

    I’m happy I’ve done the experiment, and if my scale grows well enough to support the investment, I’ll probably do an entire series at some point, but not this year and not at my current level of business — mastering advertising better has to trump almost everything else for me (except writing), and producing a much bigger bang for my buck across the whole inventory.

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