For Authors: All About Audiobooks
(Amy’s attempt at a comprehensive explanation of audiobook production, as it relates to rights’ holders)
Over the past few years, I’ve received a number of emails from Australian authors wanting to know how to get their work into audio. Where does one start in a country where ACX is not open to you? Until you understand the jargon and how the different pieces fit together, it can be overwhelmingly confusing.
I started this website partly to explain the jargon and myriad of options, so authors could start to make sense of audiobook production. The site also provides a way for authors to find and contact narrators, and/or post their own auditions.
This page contains a lot of information. I’ve tried to place it in a logical order, but much of the pieces may only start to come together on the second or third reading.
DISCLAIMER: The information below is true to the best of my knowledge. It is what I’ve been told or I’ve read or experienced myself. A proportion of it is opinion and hearsay, and you should do your own research before taking any of it as the total truth. It is meant as a tool to help you on your way. As always, it’s only when you gather information from numerous sources that you can sort out which is correct, and which is right for you, so I encourage you to seek as much information as you can from as many sources as you can. If anything on this page (or this website) is incorrect or incomplete, I welcome your input. Let me know via the Contact page, so I can update this information as necessary. And finally, nothing on this page is meant to hurt or damage anyone. Please let me know if you feel anything should be changed or removed.
If you’re an author published with a trade/traditional publisher, or your ebook is selling well enough that it catches the eye of an established audiobook production company (Tantor, Podium, Brilliance, etc) they will likely make you an offer, and the process of producing an audiobook will be taken care of for you.
For most of us though, that isn’t the case. For those who have to arrange it themselves, where do you start?
In order to sell an audiobook, you will need three things:
- the finished audio files (clean, crisp sound produced to technical specifications and a quality standard that is acceptable to audiobook retailers).
- the cover artwork. This is something the author or publisher will usually arrange (although some production companies can arrange it for you).
- to upload your finished files to an aggregator. (The aggregator is the entity who will distribute your audiobook to multiple retailers; receive sales royalties and sales data from those retailers on your behalf; amalgamate those payments and reports and then pass them on to you (or to you and the relevant narrator/s if the work is done under a royalty share basis) (after deducting their commission).
The decisions you will need to make in order to produce an audiobook include
(1) who you will partner with to produce your audiobook,
(2) on what basis you will pay your narrator or producer,
(3) will you sell wide or exclusive, and
(4) which aggregator you will choose to take your product to retailers.
These are four separate questions, but a choice you make in one of them, may affect the options you have available in one or more of the other three. (For example, if the deal you have with your narrator involves a royalty share component, that may reduce the number of aggregators you can choose from, as not every aggregator can accommodate royalty share.)
Just like ebook publishing, getting your audiobook to market involves uploading a retail-ready product to an aggregator, who then distributes it to retailers.
An Aggregator is the entity who sends your audiobook to all the retail outlets where it will be for sale (or for rent, in the case of libraries). The aggregator slots between the rights holder and the retail outlets, managing the uploading of your audiobook to multiple retail channels, (plus libraries), CDs and any other avenues that present themselves. They also receive royalty payments and sales data from each retailer on your behalf. They collate these payments and data; deduct their commission, and pass the remaining royalties on to you (or to you and your narrator, if your audiobook was produced under a royalty share arrangement).
To put it in author terms, KDP is an aggregator for all Amazon’s international storefronts, and Draft2Digital and Smashwords are aggregators for a heap of different retailers. The beauty of using an aggregator (particularly if you’re selling ‘wide’), is that you upload your work once, and the aggregator sends it to multiple retail outlets, including making any formatting or file-name modifications necessary for each platform. They take care of receiving payments and reports from multiple distributors, and combining them into one regular reporting and payment process for you. They also take care of filtering through to all retailers any updated files or changes to your audiobook. Some will also filter through temporary discounts or sales promotions for your audiobook.
A list of aggregators and what they each offer is further down this page. But first, let’s talk about who produces the finished audio files which are uploaded to the aggregator. There are three types of entities who can produce your audiobook files:
- a single narrator (who you find either by advertising an audition or making contact yourself via websites like AussieNarrator.com). This narrator will either perform all the production tasks themselves or outsource some aspects (usually proofing, or proofing plus editing and mastering).
- a specialist audiobook production house who will coordinate a team including (at least) a narrator, an audio engineer/editor and a proofer.
- the production house attached to your chosen Aggregator. Most aggregators have an arm of their business dedicated to producing audiobooks, and just like audiobook production houses, they will coordinate a team including (at least) a narrator, engineer/editor and proofer.
The differences between these three partners and which will best fit your situation, depends on: your budget; whether you’ll be selling ‘wide’ or ‘exclusive’; who your distributor/aggregator is going to be; and whether you will be buying the audio outright or whether you and the narrator/s are going shares in the royalties.
Working directly with an experienced narrator is quite easy, and generally no more time-consuming than dealing with a production house or aggregator. But if you’re nervous because you’ve never produced an audiobook before and find the process daunting, or you fear the narrator you’ve chosen isn’t very experienced, then partnering with a production house for your first audiobook is a great choice, since you’ll have someone holding your hand through the entire process. It’s an easy and reassuring way to dip your first toe into the industry, and by your second audiobook you’ll understand things well enough to choose whether you wish to stay with a production house or go direct with a narrator for the cost savings and added control. Working with a production house may cost you more than working directly with a narrator, as there may be a fee for using their services for PFH projects. For royalty share projects, you will likely lose a percentage of the net royalties to the production house, (in addition to percentages going to the narrator and aggregator).
Commissioning an aggregator to produce your audiobook has similar advantages to using a production house, but it often will cost more and possibly be more impersonal, but there can be other advantages that being branded with your aggregator can bring.
Note that production houses and aggregators usually outsource narration to the same narrator contractors who can be employed by many other production houses or can be employed directly to narrate your book. Narrators work on a project-by-project basis, and the same narrators that work for one production house often work for any and all of them, as well as working directly for authors who contact them via their narrator website or other means. So if budget is your primary concern, it can be worth working directly with your narrator, rather than having production managed by another entity.
So, what’s the difference between using these three entities? Who should you get to produce your audiobook: a narrator, production house or aggregator?
Most experienced narrators can arrange the entire process of audiobook production for you (everything except cover art, which you usually need to arrange yourself). They are the project coordinator who is in charge of producing the finished, retail-ready audiobook files, and they seamlessly manage the entire process for you.
Using an experienced narrator as coordinator means you’re only dealing with one point of contact. It means that information you’re giving is immediately getting right where it’s required.
But using a narrator as audiobook producer requires a level of trust. If your narrator doesn’t deliver what’s expected, there’s no one else to complain to! So research your narrators well; look at what other books they’ve done; speak to authors who’ve worked with them; listen to audiobooks they’ve narrated – at least to the free audio samples for their books at Audible. Make sure your narrator is experienced enough to be able to arrange all aspects of the production themselves.
Using a production house means someone (who isn’t the narrator) is overseeing the process. The production house will cast the narrator (or manage casting, in consultation with you), and have their own audio engineers and proofers take care of the editing, proofing, correcting, mastering, conversion and file upload, (leaving the narrator to prep the manuscript, narrate and re-record any corrections).
Using a production house can remove some of the uncertainty, but if you’re paying up front, it will often cost more than employing a narrator directly to manage all aspects of production. If you’re not paying up front, most production houses will only offer a royalty share arrangement if your work demonstrates consistently high sales (whereas you may be able to get a narrator to enter into a royalty share arrangement with you for your book if they see its potential, or they have a gap in their schedule, or they’re new to the business and they want another book on their portfolio).
Using a production house means there’s a team of professionals ensuring the quality of your audiobook, but production houses can also sometimes feel a little like mass-production, since your book is one of a number in production at any point.
Dealing with a coordinator who isn’t the narrator has advantages and disadvantages. You always have someone who can go in to bat for you, but you may not be able to clearly communicate directorial information directly to the person who’ll be bringing your words to life. Working through a production house may also bring other advantages, such as access to narrators that you couldn’t choose from otherwise, or dedicated marketing tools as part of their brand (like your book on their website, for instance).
Using a production house for PFH work will likely cost more than working directly with the narrator, though some are very reasonably priced. If you are working with a production house on a royalty share title, the production house will likely also take a percentage of your royalties, just as the retailer and aggregator do.
Most audiobook aggregators have an arm of their business which produces audiobooks (their in-house ‘production house’). The brand recognition that goes with being an aggregator means authors trust aggregators to produce quality audio. Aggregators can also offer additional value with marketing, since they have a vested interest in the success of the audiobook.
Aggregators as audiobook producers usually outsource the narration of their audiobooks to a pool of experienced narrator contractors, many of whom work for more than one aggregator or production house, and who also work direct (usually cheaper), so bear that in mind when considering this avenue. This method has the same pros and cons as outsourcing production to a production house.
Generally, this method tends to be the most expensive and has the least personal contact, but some aggregator production houses provide added value, such as a dedicated sales page for your audiobook, promotional codes that you can give away to potential reviewers, and other help with marketing, such as being featured on the aggregator’s website. One advantage of working with an aggregator’s in-house production team, (over working with another production house) is that for royalty share projects, the aggregator is already getting a cut of the profits, so you may not have to give them an added percentage for producing your audiobook (which you would likely have to do when working with any other production house). But you should check this for yourself before entering into any arrangement.
Audiobook production is usually paid in one of four ways:
- Rate per finished audio hour (PFH).
A set rate for each hour of finished audio of the audiobook, usually paid with a deposit up front, and the balance upon completion. In Australia, typical PFH rates for fully-finished, retail-ready audiobook files are between AUD$300 and AUD$400 per finished audio hour. The number of words per audio hour is usually estimated at 9300 words, so a 50K word novel should cost between AUD$1600 and AUD$2150, depending on the PFH rate and how many hours the audiobook ends up being.
- Royalty Share (RS).
No upfront cost to the author, and the narrator receives nothing up front for their labour or the cost of outsourcing any tasks such as edit/proof/master. Then the narrator and author share the profits from sale royalties 50/50.
- Royalty Share Plus (RS+), also known as a Hybrid Deal.
A (modest) amount per finished audio hour is paid to the narrator, ostensibly to assist with edit/proof/mastering costs, and the narrator and author share the profits from sales royalties 50/50. In Australia, typical PFH rates for the ‘Plus’ part of Royalty Share Plus range from AUD$75 to $200. There is also a version of this provided by one of the aggregators (Findaway Voices) where the price paid is half the PFH cost, and the narrator is paid 20% of the royalty profits.
- Royalty Deferred
No upfront cost to the author, but the narrator is paid all the profits from sale proceeds until the full amount the narrator would have received PFH is paid out; after which time the author receives 100% of the sales proceeds. (As at July 21, this method is only offered by one aggregator – Audiobooks Unleashed Distribution.)
Although there are four different pricing structures, the ones that are open to you may depend on the aggregator you choose and on the likelihood of your audiobook selling well. Audiobook production is labour-intensive, so most experienced narrators are reluctant to enter into royalty share deals unless there is a good likelihood of making back the time and money they’ve invested within a year. So they look for projects where the author’s ebooks are selling well; the author has a loyal fan base; and the author pays for advertising to help sell their work. If a project doesn’t look like it will make back the PFH cost within a year or so, then the author may need to sweeten the deal by either paying up front, or mitigating the narrator’s risk by putting at least some money into production to change the deal from a straight Royalty Share deal into Royalty Share Plus (also known as a Hybrid deal).
In Australia, expect to pay
- PFH – $300 to $400 AUD ($250 to $350 USD) per finished audio hour for audiobook production.
- Hybrid – $75 to $150 PFH plus 50/50 royalties for audiobook production, provided your audiobook has a reasonable chance of some sale.
- Royalty Share – nothing, but it may be difficult to find a large pool of narrators to choose from unless you can demonstrate a good likelihood of your audiobook selling at least 1000 copies within 2 years. Newer narrators may be happy to narrate your audiobook without a sales history; but it’s up to each narrator whether they have the time available to invest.
Dual narration, duet narration, multi-cast or sound effects inclusion will all add to the cost. The most cost-effective forma is usually a single narrator, employed directly by the author.
Why is the PFH cost so expensive? Audiobook production is labour-intensive, with each finished hour of audio taking 6 to 8 hours to produce.
No matter who you choose as your aggregator, you will have the choice of either a higher royalty percentage at Amazon, Audible and iTunes if you agree to go ‘exclusive’ with those retailers (so your audiobook available at Amazon, Audible and iTunes only) or a lower royalty rate for sales at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, but your audiobook available in many more venues (including libraries) if you go non-exclusive (aka ‘wide’).
Note that if you go exclusive, you can’t sell your audiobook on your website (unless the sale goes through Amazon) or at book fairs or conferences.
Which is better – wide or exclusive? That’s a choice you have to make. Five years ago, almost everyone went exclusive. Now, with better aggregator deals which include library borrows, CD sales and 50 or more retail outlets and borrowing/subscription markets, many authors and narrators are choosing to go wide. In addition, many aggregators will put your ‘wide’ audiobook as ‘exclusive’ for the first few months, and then automatically change it to wide after a set amount of time, which can give you the best of both worlds.
Note that if you want your audiobook produced with a royalty share component, this may impact whether or not you can sell wide, depending on which aggregator you choose. This is because some aggregators are just aggregators and not audiobook producers, and you must come to them with your audiobook already produced. Others can help you produce your audiobook (for a price!), or can provide an online dashboard where you and your narrator producer can self-manage production yourselves, ticking each task off as it is completed, until final approval is given, and the work is sent to the retail markets. As you can see, many of these entities wear multiple hats and have different services they offer. I’m hoping by the end of this, you’ll understand who can provide what, and which service is likely to suit your situation and budget best.
As mentioned earlier, the aggregator is the entity that sends your audiobook to retailers and collects and collates payments and sales reports on your behalf. They are the link between you and the retailer. (They are the KDP, Draft2Digital or Smashwords of the audiobook world.) You will need to choose an aggregator to get your audiobook to market, so let’s look at the main ones and their pros and cons.
The biggest aggregator is ACX.com (the Audiobook Creation Exchange). ACX is Amazon’s self-publishing arm for audiobooks. (Think of ACX as ‘KDP for audiobooks’.) ACX helps narrators and authors find each other; it manages author/narrator contracts; it gives the parties a platform and dashboard to upload and approve the files of an audiobook; it distributes that audiobook to Amazon, Audible and iTunes; it collects payment from royalties; and distributes those payments each month to the author, (or to the author and narrator, if the audiobook has a royalty share component).
But ACX is not open to authors or narrators unless they reside in USA, Canada, UK or Ireland. And ACX can only sell to Amazon, Audible and iTunes, so if you have a non-exclusive contract with ACX and wish to sell to other retailers, you will need to upload your audio to another aggregator to get it to the additional ‘wide’ retailers.
Even though ACX is not open to Australian and NZ authors/narrators, it’s worth understanding the ACX royalty model, because the other aggregators generally provide you with ACX-equivalent royalty options for all sales through Amazon, Audible and iTunes (albeit you’ll have to pay them a commission).
So for an ‘exclusive’ deal with Amazon, Audible and iTunes, the retailer will deduct 60% of the price of each audiobook sold, leaving 40% (termed the ‘net royalties’) to be disbursed between the other parties (i.e. between the aggregator and the author; or the aggregator, author and narrator if it’s a royalty share deal).
For a ‘non-exclusive’ deal (i.e. if you want to sell your audiobook ‘wide’), the retailer will deduct 75% of the price of each audiobook sold at Amazon, Audible or iTunes, leaving 25% (the ‘net royalties’) to be disbursed between the other parties (aggregator, author, and narrator if it’s royalty share). So you’ll lose a significant amount of the sales price to your retailer (60 to 75% if your sale is through Amazon, Audible or iTunes, and typically 50% if it’s any other retailer). Then the remainder will be split according to agreed percentages between the other parties – aggregator, author and (for royalty share contracts), the narrator.
For a long time, Australian and New Zealand authors (and narrators) have lamented that we can’t access ACX (thus not being able to easily find narrators for royalty share projects), but in the last two years some great alternatives have cropped up, for royalty share and PFH; exclusive and wide distribution. Below I’ve listed the ones I know, and their pros and cons. There’s also a table which details royalty percentages for each aggregator under wide/exclusive and royalty share/PFH circumstances.
Note that not all aggregators can provide all services, (for instance, ACX cannot do royalty share and wide simultaneously), so make sure you read through all the notes and visit each aggregator’s website before making any decisions.
Also, if you’re going with an experienced narrator, use them as a knowledge resource; many of them have experience with multiple platforms and aggregators, and can advise on which might best suit your situation, and where the industry is currently at.
The brain-child of US narrator Sarah Sampino, Audiobooks Unleashed Distribution provides (as far as I’ve seen) the most flexible options and takes the lowest commission of any of the aggregators available to non-ACX-ratified countries. Audiobooks Unleashed can work with royalty share, royalty share plus, paid up front (paid Per Finished audio Hour) and Deferred Payments. Deferred Payments are new option pioneered by Audiobooks Unleashed where an authors pays nothing for audiobook production, but then forfeits royalties until the narrator has been paid out in full for production from the royalty payments that come from sales. Audiobooks Unleashed is also one of the few aggregators which can split royalty share payments across more than 2 parties (eg, for dual or duet narrations) and also in any ratio the parties wish. This is something that ACX can’t do! In addition, Audiobooks Unleashed can work with exclusive or wide projects.
Audiobooks Unleashed can provide full-service production for you (casting, engineering etc), but generally their services are usually utilised once author and narrator have found each other. So an author and narrator will come to Audiobooks Unleashed together ready to make an audiobook as partners. They create a project at Audiobooks Unleashed, are given a online contract that clearly states both their responsibilities and the royalties they’ll receive, and then both parties have a dashboard where they can tick off each task as it’s completed. Once all is done, the book goes through a quick quality check and is then sent off to retail markets. Audiobooks Unleashed collates payments and pays out royalties once a month.
Sarah also runs the website AudiobooksUnleashed.com which helps authors and narrators find listeners for their promo codes and gain reviews for their work.
Audiobooks Unleashed do not charge any up-front fees (unlike Findaway do if you want them to produce your audiobook as well as distribute it), and instead take a modest commission (the smallest of any aggregator outside ACX) from royalties (see table of royalty comparisons below).
AU’s wide distribution includes more than 50 retailers and libraries, such as Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Scribd, Kobo, Downpour, Hoopla, GooglePlay – even AudiobooksNZ!
They also offer a service where you audiobook can be exclusive for six months, and then made non-exclusive after a minimum of six months.
They also offer translation and foreign language production services.
Payment is paid in US dollars via Wise.com (formerly TransferWise.com), easily withdrawn to your local bank account. This is one of the most cost-effective ways to receive international payments (actually the cheapest way that I’ve found), with currency conversion ratios held at mid-market rates and a small transparent withdrawal fee incorporated (unlike Paypal which charges ‘hidden’ fees of 7.6% to receive funds internationally.)
Audiobooks Unleashed does have its own production arm, but it’s more commonly used as a platform/dashboard for authors and narrators once they’ve found each other via websites like AussieNarrator.com. There is no fee for this service, and the only money taken is commission from audiobook sales.
Summary – in my opinion, Audiobooks Unleashed offers the widest choices for Aussies and Kiwis. Why? They have the best royalty rates (see my table below). They have similar advantages and flexibilities as Spoken Realms, but you get to choose any narrator anywhere (instead of being limited to those listed at the Spoken Realms website). Audiobooks Unleashed pay monthly (instead of quarterly), and pay via Wise (so you’re not gouged 7.6% by Paypal). They have a $50 payment threshold (as opposed to Findaway’s $100 threshold). I’ve worked through Audiobooks Unleashed and will do so again. Sarah appears to be a dynamo of energy and refreshing, bright ideas, intent on making audiobook production attainable to more people through flexible payment arrangements. She seems to ready to pivot to expand her service with each new challenge.
Spoken Realms is a long-term aggregator run by highly-respected US narrator, Steven Jay Cohen. As well as a full-service production arm, Spoken Realms has a curated list of narrators to choose from, ensuring your production is in safe and experienced hands. Projects can be exclusive (Targeted Distribution) or wide (Global Distribution), as well as royalty share, royalty share plus or paid up front. Just like Audiobooks Unleashed, Spoken Realms can split royalties in any ratio you wish and between any number of parties you like. Royalties from multiple distributors are forwarded quarterly.
Spoken Realms can arrange all aspects of production for you (i.e. a full-service production house) but I am unaware of the cost of details of how this works. The work that I know them for is provision of contracts and a production dashboard where author and narrator can self-manage their own audiobook production. Then once production is complete, Spoken Realms works as the aggregator for the finished audiobook. There is no charge for using Spoken Realms in this way for self-managed production, and they then receive a cut of the royalties forwarded from retailers. The deal Spoken Realms has with its retail partners prevents its royalty rates being listed publicly, however its rates are reasonable and between the highest and lowest aggregator on our list. You can email Spoken Realms to inquire about rates.
Narrators usually come to Spoken Realms with a project already in place, (so if you wish to use Spoken Realms, a first port of call might be to contact some of the narrators who are listed as ‘Featured Voices’ on the Spoken Realms website, to find a narrator to partner with). Spoken Realms is also able to partner you with a narrator themselves if they take on your project as an in-house production.
After a project is set up, online contracts are provided, as well as a dashboard where narrator and author can track production progress and royalty payments.
Spoken Realms’ Global Distribution (i.e. wide) automatically includes an initial period of 12 weeks of Audible exclusivity (giving you higher royalties during this time, as the retailer’s cut is reduced during Audible exclusivity). After this time, your audiobook will start to appear in other retail outlets. There are at least 46 retailers, including Audible, Amazon, iTunes, OverDrive, Findaway, Chirp, Scribd, Kobo, Downpour, Hoopla, GooglePlay and AudiobooksNZ!
With Global Distribution, you can also receive free 50 Downpour promotional codes so you can give away rent copies of your audiobook to gain reviews, and Spoken Realms can arrange for CDs to be available to you at a reduced cost. Their website also lists a distribution model that includes ‘wide’ distribution plus streaming (so your audiobook could be monetised via youtube, podcasts and Audible).
Spoken Realms pay via Paypal, so budget to lose an additional 6 to 8% of royalties unless you reside in the USA. (Paypal takes 3.6% for international commercial payments plus currency conversions use exchange rates set 4% above the mid-market currency exchange rate. Paypal is a very expensive way to receive international funds.) I believe Spoken Realms do not have a payment threshold, so you will be paid each quarter, regardless of the amount you are owed.
Summary – Spoken Realms is solid and dependable choice, having a long track-record within the industry. They offer some of the best royalty rates available (email them for details). If you’re happy to go with one of the narrators on their list, they’re a great choice, and have a curated pool of hand-picked narrators to choose from, (rather than taking a chance on someone whose pedigree is unknown). But you are generally limited to using one of the narrators on their books, and it may not be possible to bring your own narrator to them (though you could ask, I guess). As they pay through Paypal, budget to lose around 7.6% of your payment amounts to Paypal’s international currency conversion ‘fees’. I’ve worked through Spoken Realms and will do so again.
Findaway Voices are an aggregator, but they can also produce your audiobook for you – on either a PFH basis or as a hybrid royalty share deal through Findaway Voices Share. So they really have three distinct offerings.
Findaway has three distinct offerings for you as author, and it pays to understand the differences between them:
1. Findaway as your aggregator
You upload finished, retail-ready audio files (typically produced by you working directly with a narrator and paying your narrator PFH) and then use Findaway as your aggregator. This means you’ll need to find your own narrator and work with them to produce finished, retail-ready audio files. You will need to pay your narrator PFH, because Findaway will not be able to split payments between more than one royalty recipient;
Findaway are great as aggregaters. They take 20% of the net royalty payments (the net royalty is the price the audiobook sold at, less the amount the retailer deducts as their cut). Though there are aggregators who take less than 20% of your royalties, they do offer some other pros (and cons).
If you use Findaway as your aggregator, you can sell audiobooks directly with Authors Direct, which gives you an online platform to sell directly to listeners, with a dedicated listening App (Authors Direct), plus promotional codes to give away copies of your audiobook to potential reviewers. You can also easily run discounts and promotions from a single platform which will filter through to all platforms that are open to price discounting.
Findaway distributes to at least 34 retail outlets, including Audible, Amazon, iTunes, OverDrive, Findaway, Chirp, Scribd, Kobo, Downpour, Hoopla, GooglePlay and AudiobooksNZ.
Payments are monthly, but you have to be owed at least $100 before you get paid; otherwise payments are held over until you trigger that $100 payment threshold. For those outside the USA, the cheapest form of payment from FV will be Paypal, but it is by no means cheap! Just like Spoken Realms and Authors Republic, Findaway Voice pays via Paypal, so you’ll lose an additional 6 to 8% of your royalties to Paypal between it leaving Findaway and ending up in your local currency in your local country. (Paypal takes 3.6% for international commercial payments plus currency conversions use exchange rates set 4% above the mid-market currency exchange rate. Paypal is a very expensive way to receive international funds.)
Using Findaway to produce your audiobook (as well as being the book’s aggregator)
Findaway’s audiobook production arm can coordinate all aspects of production, including providing you with a short-list of narrators from which to choose, and ensuring you have a quality product upon completion.
Findaway’s audiobook production charges include a fee for finding your narrator (even if you’ve already chosen your narrator yourself beforehand) plus an additional 30% mark-up on the usual PFH rate charged by your narrator. That’s an additional 30% of PFH charge for working with a narrator who you could just as easily approach yourself to work with directly. So bear that extra 30% cost in mind when considering working through Findaway on a PFH basis.
There are many other ways to produce an audiobook without having to pay a hefty mark-up for narrator access (For instance, you can source a narrator yourself and then take the project to Audiobooks Unleashed or Spoken Realms; or you could commission a production house like Voices of Today to produce the audiobook for you at a much cheaper rate; or you could work with the narrator directly and then just take the finished files to Findaway to use as your aggregator).
A number of other aggregators also take a smaller cut of royalties as well. So I usually advise authors to look at what each aggregator has to offer, do the maths, and if they want to use Findaway Voices as their aggregator, then be aware of the cost savings they could make if they get their audiobook produced first, then take the finished audio files to Findaway for aggregation (rather than using Findaway to produce the audiobook as well as being their aggregator).
Findaway have a curated list of experienced narrators whom they contract for narration, and if you use them to produce your audiobook, they will usually present a short-list of suitable narrators for you to choose from. Although outsourcing production to Findaway is much more costly than working directly with your narrator, there are value-adds that distributing through Findaway can give you, including promo codes through Authors Direct, a dedicated sales page through Authors Direct, and access to audiobook promotions through Chirp (Chirp is basically ‘BookBub for audiobooks’).
2. Findaway as your audiobook producer on a PFH basis
Findaway will organise all aspects of production for you, and charge you a set fee (including the narrator finder’s fee and the 30% PFH mark-up already mentioned). You will then own the audio outright, and not have to share profits with a narrator.
3. Findaway as your audiobook producer via Voices Share (a royalty share plus or hybrid deal)
Findaway’s solution for authors who find the costs of paying up front prohibitive is called Voices Share. With Voices Share, the PFH costs you’d normally have to pay to Findaway for them producing your audiobook are halved in return for you giving up an extra 20% of the net royalty payments to go to your narrator on each audiobook sale for the life of the 10-year contract. So instead of getting 80% of the net royalties, you’d get 60%, (20% going to your narrator and the other 20% going to Findaway as your aggregator). But although you’re only paying half as much, remember that the cost Findaway charges has a 30% markup added, so you may find it makes more financial sense to produce the audiobook directly with your chosen narrator and pay them up front (for not much more than Findaway’s ‘half-price’ Voices Share fee), then take the finished audio to Findaway and not have to share any royalties with the narrator at all. Also note that if you use this method, you have to go exclusive with Findaway (because they need to pay royalties to your narrator, so you can’t really be selling your audiobook elsewhere, as your narrator would then miss out).
– Authors Republic
Authors Republic’s cut of the remainder left over after each retailer takes their cut, is 30%, which is 10% more than most of the other aggregators listed. At the time I’m writing this, Authors Republic’s website states “You’ll receive 70% of what your audiobook earns” but rights’ holders should keep in mind that is NOT 70% of the book’s selling price; but rather 70% of the amount the aggregator receives after the retailer takes their 50% to 75% cut of the selling price (so the percentage is applied to the remainder or ‘net royalty’). I feel Authors Republic should make this clear on their website, as anyone new to audiobooks may erroneously imagine they will receive 70% of each audiobook sale.
As with any aggregator, Authors Republic may have access to additional retail or subscription channels that others do not, or have other added value that listing with them provides. So it’s not always as simple as comparing commission rates only. In addition, the details (including exact percentages) of the royalty rate agreements each aggregator has with its retailers (so the percentage the retailer takes before sending the remainder or ‘net royalty’ to the aggregator) are individually negotiated and generally not made public. So without knowing the exact amount each retailer with take, you can’t accurately determine the exact royalty you’ll receive from the sale of your audiobook at any retailer, which makes it impossible to accurately compare returns from each aggregator. The only information we have is usually the commission percentage the aggregator takes (not the ‘net royalty’ percentage they receive from the retailer), and Authors Republic take a 30% commission after the retailer has taken their 50-plus percent of the price at which your audiobook sold. A commission (on the ‘net royalties’) of 30% is higher than most other aggregators. What you need to do is weigh up whether the advantages of aggregating with Authors Republic justifies losing that extra 10%. They may be a great fit for you, depending on your project and your individual needs.
With Authors Republic, your audiobook can reach over 50 online retailers, libraries, subscription services and streaming platforms.
Currently Authors Republic is an aggregator only and cannot help you make an audiobook or provide a portal where author and narrator can self-manage production. They do have relationships with several production houses, and can steer you towards professionals who can help produce your audiobook. Otherwise, you must go to Authors Republic after your audio files have been produced, and upload fully-finished retail-ready audio (which also means you can’t do royalty share with Authors Republic; it has to be PFH only). Located in Canada, they have a smaller team than many of the other aggregators, which may provide a more personalised and ’boutique’ service with hands-on help and faster response times, as well as more individualised communication. This may mean they can help those new to audiobook production through the process, providing additional guidance, compared to some of the larger aggregators.
Authors Republic pay monthly, but they pay via Paypal, so if you’re outside the USA, expect losses of a further 6 to 8%, due to Paypal’s international ‘fees’. (3.6% for Paypal international commercial payments plus another 4% due to currency conversions with an exchange rate 4% above the mid-market rate. As stated previously, Paypal is an expensive way to receive international funds.)
My opinion / experience – I have not worked with Authors Republic, and when I wrote the initial version of this page, I had no information apart from what I could find online. A member of the Authors Republic team has since contacted me. She explained it’s a friendly workplace of like-minded people who are passionate about what they do, efficient and responsive, and particularly committed to providing individualised and exceptional customer service. They regularly help those unfamiliar with audiobook production through the process, including providing advice and guidance on getting audio files up to retailer specification. I got the impression they are focussed on continual improvement, with changes in the wind which will further assist authors in audiobook production. Their commission is 10% higher than most of the others on the list, but they may provide additional advantages, and it may be worth reaching out to them to find out what they can offer that other can’t. As with choosing any aggregator, weigh up the pros and cons, run your numbers, consider how hands-on you want to be, and if possible, talk to others who’ve worked with them, before making your decision.
- Audiobooks Unleashed, Spoken Realms and Findaway Voices all allow wide or exclusive distribution; have no geographical limitations; and have an online portal/dashboard where you and your chosen narrator can manage audiobook production.
- The commissions charged by Audiobooks Unleashed and Spoken Realms are some of the lowest available (meaning you’ll keep more of your money).
- Audiobooks Unleashed is the only aggregator on our list who pay by Wise rather than Paypal. If you’re outside the USA, this can save you additional fees in getting your money from USD into your local currency/bank account.
- Findaway Voices is a solid choice as an aggregator, (and have some Chirp and promo code advantages) but be warned that if they produce your audiobook for you, I’ve been told from multiple sources that they add a hefty mark-up to narrator PFH rates.
- If you want to use Findaway Voices as your aggregator, it may be more cost-effective to not go through Findaway Voices for your production, but instead produce privately with your narrator, and then upload the finished files to Findaway yourself as a completed project (otherwise you may be paying a hefty mark-up on the cost of your narrator).
- Author’s Republic appear to take the largest commission, but each retailer’s deal with each aggregator is individually negotiated and not generally made public, so it’s impossible to accurately compare aggregators to work out your likely returns when you don’t know exactly how much cut each retailer will take through each aggregator. Despite the higher commission, as a ’boutique’ aggregator, Authors Republic may offer other advantages, and they should form part of your research when considering who to partner with for aggregation.
If you use Audiobooks Unleashed as your aggregator, and you elect to sell ‘wide’, your audibooks will be distributed to Findaway through Audiobooks Unleashed. There has been discussion in author groups about the fact that Chirp deals aggregated through Audiobooks Unleashed will make less royalty than Chirp deals aggregated direct with Findaway. Author discussion has said that it would therefore be better to go with Findaway than Audiobooks Unleashed as an aggregator. I disagree with this as I don’t think the maths stacks up, since Findaway charge a larger commission on all other audiobook sales. My advice is to run the numbers.
During the relatively short duration of a Chirp deal, you will likely sell a lot of audiobooks, but they’ll be at a heavily discounted price. For instance, the 13 audiobooks on today’s Chirp deal (10 July 2021) 12 of them were discounted 77% to 92% off full price. The average discount for those 12 books was 83%. So let’s consider a book that sells for $20, and compare royalties if your audiobook was aggregated with Findaway or with Audiobooks Unleashed:
Findaway as Aggregator
Audiobooks Unleashed as Aggregator
Commission on the sale of an audiobook at Audible for full price of $20
Commission on the sale of an audiobook during an 80% off Chirp deal (so audiobook’s selling price is $4)
Audible takes 75%; leaving $5 forwarded to the aggregator. Then Findaway takes 20% of the $5, leaving $4 for the author.
Findaway take their 20%, leaving 80 cents for the author.
Commission on the sale of an audiobook at Audible for full price of $20
Commission on the sale of an audiobook during an 80% off Chirp deal (so audiobook’s selling price is $4)
Audible takes 75%, leaving $5 forwarded to aggregator. Then Audiobooks Unleashed takes 15% of the $5 (=75 cents), leaving $4.25 for the author.
Findaway take their 20%, leaving 80 cents, which is paid to Audiobooks Unleashed, who then take their 15% = $0.12, leaving $0.68 for the author)
Author is paid:
$4.00 for each full price sale at Audible
0.80 for each audiobook sold through Chirp during the Chirp promotion.
$4.25 for each full price sale at Audible
0.68 for each audiobook sold through Chirp during the Chirp promotion
With Findaway as Aggregator, the book makes an extra 12 cents per audiobook sold during the Chirp promotion.
With Audiobooks Unleashed as Aggregator, the book makes an extra 25 cents per audiobook sold at Amazon and Audible for the entire life of the audiobook.
So for a $20 audiobook, your choices are:
(1) aggregate with Audiobooks Unleashed and receive an extra 25 cents for every sale on Audible and Amazon; or
(2) aggregate with Findaway and receive an extra 12 cents for every sale during its Chirp deal only (when you’ll sell a lot of audiobooks, but only for a short timespan).
I know which I would choose, but you must make up your own mind.
So what does all this mean in terms of profits? How much do you get paid per audiobook sale?
Visit the Royalty Comparison page for a filterable comparison of how the different options stack up.
If you’re producing your audiobook through an aggregator’s production house, they’ll manage the process for you and should provide everything you need.
But if you want to partner with either a specialist production house or work directly with a narrator, you’ll need to choose who to use. A list of production houses follows:
Why use a Production House?
Production Houses generally provide a cost-effective method of having an experienced team project-manage your audiobook production. They’re a great choice for first-time audiobook authors or for those who don’t want the worry of casting or attending to other details (such as cover art) themselves. Prices vary greatly, with some being exceptional value and others not (though often still cheaper than using an aggregator production arm). They often provide added value through access to extra marketing or other assistance, as well as the brand recognition of having your audiobook under a branded banner.
Voices of Today are a global audiobook production company based in Australia, with a network of narrators around the world. Originally concentrating on public domain titles, they’ve recently branched out into contemporary manuscripts, with several Australian novels currently in production. They can work with PFH, RS+ or royalty share projects, and are interested in working with both new and established authors.
As the company is Australian (co-owned by two Australian narrators), they have access to numerous Australian narrators, and are positioned to understand the nuances of Aussie/NZ pronunciation, history and culture. For PFH projects, they can invoice in Australian dollars (saving you currency conversion fees). Voices of Today are very supportive of local authors, and happy to provide personalised service to guide first-time audiobook authors through the process of production. They’ve a reputation for mentoring new narrators, and their long history of public domain productions means they have the industry contacts to open overseas doors, with a proven willingness to help narrators advance their careers.
I’ve worked with Voices Of Today (on group, duet and solo projects) in 2020 and 2021, and in 2021 I was invited to become part of their associate team (though I have no financial interest in the company). I joined because I admire their ideals of helping indie authors find a cost-effective path to audio, as well as helping mentor upcoming narrators.
Though Voices of Today are fairly new to contemporary audiobook production, they’ve quickly gained ground, and are keen to cement a place in the local industry as a solid producer of quality audiobooks for a diverse author base. Their costs are currently very reasonable (though as they grow, that may change). At present, I believe they are a good choice as production partner, particularly for emerging Australian authors or anyone new to audiobook production. They can manage all aspects of production, and they aggregate through either Audiobooks Unleashed or Spoken Realms (with all the advantages that those two aggregators bring). As with most production houses, if you’re doing a royalty share deal, you will lose a percentage of the net royalties to Voices of Today, in addition to the narrator and aggregator.
I recently found Audiobooks NZ. They appear to be an aggregator and audiobook production house, and they appear to aggregate through Findaway Voices. I have no experience with them and no knowledge of their pricing, etc. (If anyone has first-hand knowledge, please write to me via the Contact page so I can include more info here.)
Bolinda in Melbourne and Wavesound in Sydney both produce audiobooks for the trad publisher market. I have no knowledge of whether they are open to inquiries from indie authors about turning their work into audio, but they may be worth approaching. (If you have knowledge of this, let me know and I’ll include it here.) There are several other Australian ebook publishing, book marketing or audio production facilities who advertise that they can produce audiobooks. I have no knowledge of how they work or which narrators they outsource to, but they may be worth contacting. They can be found via google.
There are a number of (usually US-based) production houses that can also produce audiobooks, managing all aspects of production, from casting to final upload, including outsourcing narration to a curated list of established narrators. As with most production houses, there will be a fee for using their services for PFH projects. For royalty share projects, you will likely lose a percentage of the net royalties to the production house, (in addition to percentages for the narrator and aggregator).
Offshore production houses include:
- Spectrum Audiobooks, run by narrator Anneliese Rennie
- Pink Flamingo Productions, specialising in romance, (run by narrator Sarah Puckett)
- Lyric Audiobooks, specialising in romance, run by narrator Andi Arndt.
- Northern Lake Audio, specialising in mystery/thrillers, run by narrator Craig Hart
- Fireside Horror, specialising in horror, run by narrator Joe Hempel
- Blunder Woman Productions, run by narrator Tanya Eby
(And as already mentioned, Spoken Realms, Audiobooks Unleashed and Findaway Voices all have sections of their businesses that function as in-house production houses also, so if you’re wanting to partner with someone other than directly with a narrator, these might also be worth an inquiry.) (Who else needs to be added to this list? Please us the Contact page to let me know!)
Think about the sort of narrator your work needs – vocal age, gender, accents, etc. You can either compose an audition to list at AussieNarrator.com or on relevant narrator Facebook pages, or you can browse the narrators on websites like AussieNarrator.com and filter your list to find those whom you want to contact or invite to audition.
Advertise your project on the Auditions page of AussieNarrator.com. There is no cost to do this.
Also, approach narrators yourself. Browse our narrator pages, or use the search function to narrow your search to the narrators that fit your bill, then send them an inquiry by filling in the form at the bottom of their narrator profile page at AussieNarrator.com or the global narrator database at our sister site, NarratorList.com.
Probably the largest database of narrators at present (containing all levels, from newbies to masters) is ACX.com, so if you can’t find what you need here, you could look there. Yes, Aussies and NZers can’t generally work through ACX, but that doesn’t stop you from listening to narrator samples and then trying to contact suitable narrators, via their website, facebook page, twitter account, messenger or anywhere else you can find them.
Work up an audition script of about 800 to 1000 words. It doesn’t have to be a continuous part of the script, so it could be broken into 2 or more scenes/sections of script, if you wish – in fact this can be beneficial if you want to hear how a narrator handles different characters/dialogue/accents or different emotions required for different scenes. You might want to include sections so that you can hear how each prospective narrator handles different character voices or different situations, for example a love scene, an action scene, a highly emotional scene, etc. You might also want to give a little background to the characters and the scene so the narrator knows who is who or what to bring to the scene.
When you write your audition notice (or your email to narrators, if you’re approaching them directly), remember that making an audiobook is a huge undertaking. Even a modest novel of 50K will take 45 to 50 hours to produce, so you want to make your audition sound as appealing as possible to encourage narrators to apply. Be honest about the payment methods and amounts you are considering, without misrepresenting the top price you would be willing to pay the right narrator.
You and the narrator will quite possibly negotiate the final PFH amount and delivery date, but narrators need to know at least the range you’re open to paying for the right narrator, so they know whether it’s worth them applying or not.
You are allowed to have a range – afterall, you may be willing to pay one price for one narrator, but a higher price for a different narrator who has a high brand recognition which could drive sales to your book; or you might pay a higher rate if a narrator delivers your book within four weeks or a lower rate if you allow them more flexibility with a delivery date (for example, delivery date within four months), or a narrator may be willing to negotiate lower to get the job if they have a gap in their schedule. There are no hard and fast rules with rates, until you’ve both committed (at that point, you’re pretty much locked in). Narrators will want to know what sort of remuneration you are open to before auditioning. Putting a higher rate will likely get your more auditions and better narrators auditioning, but don’t misrepresent what you’re willing to pay either.
When setting a price PFH or RS+, you may be willing to pay different rates for different narrators. You have to weigh up what a narrator’s work is worth to you, considering their quality, availability, what you hear in their audition, their track record and their ability to perhaps use their reputation as a drawcard to get people to listen to your audiobook. Narrators will be doing the same thing when considering your project; whether they want to audition or not may not just depend on the rate, but also upon their availability, the likely popularity of your audiobook; their interest in the subject matter; etc.
Whether a narrator wants to take on a royalty share deal or not depends on a lot of things – how many other jobs they have to narrate, what the likelihood is of the audiobook selling well, how well the ebook appears to be selling on Amazon, any plans or marketing campaigns the author may have for the audiobook, the length of the manuscript (a 50K RS project is a lot less of a gamble or time commitment than a 100K manuscript), whether the material interests the narrator or not, whether the project is likely to lead to more (paying) work, etc.
Many top narrators will only take on Royalty Share deals if there’s a good likelihood that the proceeds from the sale of audiobooks will provide more income for the narrator than the up-front per finished hour deal would, so a book needs to be selling very well or have a significant advertising campaign in place in order for experienced narrators to take on Royalty Share deals. Newer narrators, though, can be happy to do Royalty Share or Royalty Share Plus deals in order to have another book to add to their portfolio. Remember, making an audiobook is a massive undertaking for a narrator, with each hour taking around 8 hours to produce, so most don’t take on RS deals lightly!
I do know a lot of the narrators listed at AussieNarrator.com, but this is not a curated list, and I haven’t vetted them all. That’s not the purpose of AussieNarrator.com and I don’t want to decide who is and isn’t ‘good enough’ to be on the site. The purpose of AussieNarrator.com is to provide a place where narrators and authors can find each other. AussieNarrator.com is the introduction agency. It’s up to you guys (as authors and narrators) to then perform your due diligence to research who is the best fit for you, for a match made in heaven.
For authors, the purpose of auditioning narrators is to find one who produces work in a narration style which will suit your writing and a quality level that you are happy with. Some narrators will have better production values than other (clarity and cleanness in their audio files) and some narrators will fit your budget more than others. You need to audition narrators and then negotiate payment or royalty options with them until you find one that is the right fit for your situation.
Similarly, narrators need to research the books authors have on offer see whether they will be a good fit for the narrator’s current availability and pricing structure and (for any work with a royalty share component), research each book’s sales history to gauge how well an audiobook of the ebook is likely to sell.
If you’re considering a narrator who has done plenty of Voiceover or podcast work, but fewer audiobooks, make sure you have confidence they can either do the job or outsource those parts that they can’t. Voiceovers, podcasts and audiobooks are three different animals, and audiobooks are produced and edited differently than other forms of audio. (For instance, we leave the breaths in for audibooks, but they are taken out for short-form voice-overs; podcasts often have the sound ‘gated’ to produce silence between sentences, whereas this is never done in audiobooks; audiobooks need to have no extraneous sounds, whereas podcasts and voiceovers are more forgiving, etc).
If you want to learn more about audiobook production (so you can ask the correct questions of your narrator), join some narrator Facebook groups and read through the FAQs for Narrators on the website.
Before offering a project to a narrator, perform your due diligence. This is a big investment of money for you and time (and possibly money) for your narrator, so you both need to make sure you’re on the same page, and that the other party can deliver what’s needed. Research each narrator you are considering. Look at their experience. Listen to the retail samples of books they’ve already produced that are listed at Audible. Listen critically to each audition. Make your short-list and then listen again.
Do not feel they can produce a quality product with great sound and suitable character voices? Do they have the range to do what you want (if this is a concern, make sure you include scenes demonstrating that range in your audition script). If you have any concerns, maybe don’t go ahead with production – or at least delay it until you’ve had more time to think about things. It is far too time-consuming a process for a narrator to do the work, and then have you not be happy with the outcome (or worse still, not get paid!) You need to communicate clearly, and sort things out early on with your narrator so that you are both on the same page.
Do not be afraid to reject a narrator who isn’t right for the job. Seasoned narrators know that auditioning is a numbers game, and they can’t be right for each job. A reasonable audition strike rate is landing about one job in 10 auditions, so we’re used to not getting a job.
If you’re tossing up between two auditions, you can contact the narrators to find out whether there are any other aspects that might tip the balance towards one or the other. This could include negotiating a different rate or a different time-frame. Or you could explain that you are considering another narrator and would they mind recording a second audition with a different audition script to help you choose. They can only say no, after all.
One of the reasons you engage a particular narrator is because they are a professional who knows what they are doing. Part of their job is making artistic decisions for the audiobook on behalf of you. They are the performer, and you are the writer. The audiobook is a joint project and you must trust each other to perform your own jobs (and not necessarily the other person’s job). Don’t be tempted to micro-manage. If you don’t trust a particular narrator to do a good job, don’t employ them.
(If you really want to direct the lines your narrator speaks, you can hire a studio and audio engineer, and bring in your narrator so that you then become the director (instead of the narrator self-directing), but this is then a very different (and more expensive) process than a normal audiobook. )
As the author, you certainly should give your narrator/s as much information as you feel will be helpful to them (the ages, backgrounds, personalities, accents, attitudes and any vocal characteristics of characters, and possibly information on the tone, feel, pace or emotions you want to come out in the audio). But then you should step aside and let the narrator get on with their job. You have to trust their creativity, and if your audiobook doesn’t turn out with exactly the same voices as those you’ve pictured in your head, that’s okay. It’s a piece of art in its own sake, different from, but related to your ebook and print work.
Providing direction early on (prior to approval of the ‘first 15’ check-point), is acceptable, but it is too late at the end, after a book has been recorded, to go back and make large artistic changes. You are not the director. The narrator is the director, and the narrator uses the information you have provided as a guide to produce their work, but ultimately it is their vision of your characters, (in conjunction with the information you’ve given them to work from, of course) that ends up in the audio.
It is not acceptable for you to go back at the end of recording and give your narrator a list of artistic changes (eg, can you make Kate’s voice deeper; can you put a larger pause between this sentence and that one, I thought Peter sounded too posh, etc). It’s not practical for large-scale changes to be made. A word here or there, if it’s wrong is fine. But it is incredibly time-consuming for an editor to slot in numerous changes after recording is done. So much so, that if there are five or more places on a page of text that need replacing, it becomes less time-consuming for the narrator to redo the entire page (including re-proofing and re-mastering) rather than trying to slot in multiple re-recorded snippets of dialogue.
Although the ebook is your baby, you may need to accept that the audiobook is only half your baby; it becomes someone else’s baby once you commission a narrator. Trust in your narrator’s work – you’ve employed them for their knowledge and expertise. They probably know what they’re talking about.
Tread very gently when giving narrators constructive criticism about their performance. Imagine how you’d feel if your narrator started telling you how to rewrite your book to make it better. How dare they propose to tell you – the writer – how to write! That’s how a narrator can feel if you start telling them how to narrate, or you want to make seemingly inconsequential or minor artistic changes after the book has been narrated.
By all means, if there’s something you feel very strongly about that is a quick fix (only necessitating a couple of re-recorded lines), then ask nicely if your narrator would mind changing those parts. But understand that the only changes a narrator is obliged to make after the end of recording, are any text errors, misread words or mis-pronounced words (according to accepted local pronunciation).
So you need to make sure you’ve given your narrator the information they need to produce a quality product you’re proud of. If a character’s name could be pronounced more than one way, let your narrator know what pronunciation you want. Providing them with a document giving some background or other info about each character (particularly anything that impacts on the voice of the character, such as where they are from, what age, what socio-economic background, what sort of personality they have, accents, vocal qualities, etc) can be invaluable in ensuring they deliver a performance in keeping with your expectations.
And never forget that narrators thrive on praise! Like most people with artistic temperaments, they’re often a complex combination of creativity, insecurity and bravado, and a bit of praise can go a long way to buoying their spirits and getting an excellent performance from them.
Since it so difficult for narrators to go back and make multiple changes after the narration is done, there is often a 15-minute check-point included towards the start of recording, so that the author can check they are happy with how everything is sounding. This is the time that the author should give constructive feedback and directorial ‘notes’. If notes are given, the first 15 is re-recorded and again submitted to the author for approval. If approval isn’t given and you’re not happy with how things are sounding, this is the point at which the contract should be dissolved, and you and the narrator should part ways.
The 15-minute checkpoint is the last point at which the author is meant to give direction or artistic notes. After that, the only changes that the narrator is obliged to make is the fixing of text errors (such as misreads by the narrator).
So as an author, you need to make sure you like what you hear in the 15-minute checkpoint. That is your sample of what the entire book will be like, so make sure you’re happy. Your approval of the ‘first 15’ is your go-ahead for the narrator to continue on to finish the entire book. Because of this, you may wish to hear something specific in the ‘first 15’. If you don’t specify, then most narrators will send over the first 15 minutes or the first chapter or so as a checkpoint. If, instead, you would like them to read specific sections for the ‘first 15’, then let them know early on, and send them a 15-minute script which includes the excerpts you want to hear (for instance, particular character voices you might be concerned about, or scenes that could be problematic, like love scenes or action scenes.) Communicate with your narrator early, so that they know you definitely want to be sent a 15-minute checkpoint file, and let them know whether the narrator should send the first 15 minutes of the book or whether you’ll send over a script containing specific excerpts that you’d like to hear.
If the entity who is producing your audiobook files is either your aggregator or a production house, it’s likely that they’ll send an online contract for the author and narrator to sign, so that all pertinent details are in a written agreement. If you’re working direct with a narrator but uploading through a self-managing production dashboard through your aggregator (ACX, Findaway Voices, Spoken Realms, Audiobooks Unleashed), these entities will also organise the necessary online contracts for both parties to sign.
If, however, you’re working direct with a narrator but outside one of the aggregator dashboards (so if your plans are to pay your narrator PFH for their finished files, and then upload your purchased retail-ready audiofiles to either FV or AR as a finished audiobook), then you won’t have a written contract unless one of you provide it, and you may want to put the details of your agreement in writing. Some people modify a contract from another audiobook as a basis for making a written contract; some just trust each other to do the right thing (I’ve a regular client I’ve worked with for over a year, and I just produce her books and she pays me – simple as that and we both know the other party will do the right thing, without bothering with any written agreements, since we’ve established a trustful working relationship). Whatever you do in this situation is up to you, but just ensure all parties are clear on who is responsible for what and the timelines before you start. And for PFH work by a narrator who hasn’t worked for you before, it’s common to provide a deposit up front (anywhere from 25% to 50%). Again, it’s up to both parties to negotiate, but you may be asked to supply a deposit and/or sign a written contract.
Unless you’re working through a production house that provides this service, usually you will be responsible for providing a cover for your audiobook. Check the specifications for covers at ACX (so your cover will be acceptable for Amazon, Audible and iTunes). Most covers are design modifications from the book’s Amazon/KDP ebook versions. Many times the original ebook designer will modify your original artwork to make it into a square of the right resolution for your audiobook for a small fee (since they already have the artwork and elements, and just need to tweak them).
As with ebooks, never underestimate the power of a good cover, which is easily readable in a small thumbnail size, and one which uses the accepted current ‘genre shorthand’ images to convey a book’s contents to a book-savvy audience. There is currently no requirement to include the narrator’s name on your audiobook cover, though most narrator’s appreciate it, and if the narrator is well-known, (or becomes well-known) it may help the sales of your audiobook to have the narrator name included. Some audiobooks have ‘Narrated by’ and some use ‘Read by’ or ‘Performed by’.
Consider what you can do to help market your audiobook and get some buzz happening about it during the narration process. Your narrator may be happy to record live on Discord (see below) and you can publicise their times of broadcast on your Facebook page and have fans turning up to hear the book read live. Or if you’d like a video snippet to use on your Facebook page, maybe ask your narrator if they could send you 30 seconds of their narration which you could use with Headliner (or a similar program) to make a great post as a pre-release teaser or a behind the scenes look at audiobook production.
Fans love hearing narrators on Discord, as they can interact via messaging with the narrator (as can you also, if you drop in to hear some of the live recording sessions – just don’t start micro-managing your narrator. Like most performers, underneath our outer bravado is often a timid and fragile ego, so tread carefully! Remember you’re hearing the raw files on Discord with all the bloopers and re-reads included. I both love it and hate it when authors listen in to my reading their work on Discord. It’s amazing having the author right there with you, able to answer any questions, etc, but it’s also rather nerve-wracking! Fans, though, are great!
Publicise your upcoming audiobook in your newsletter and on your website.
There are companies and facebook groups who will help launch your audiobook. There are often promo codes that you can give away to gain reviews (post a giveaway on Facebook or you can use promo code giveaway websites like AudioFreebies (run by me!), Audiobooks Unleashed (run by Sarah Sampino, the same narrator who runs the Audiobooks Unleashed aggregator company) or Audiobook Boom and FreeAudiobooksCodes.com (both run by narrator Jeffrey Kafer).
If you’re wanting to push sales, sometimes the best thing you can do is advertise your ebook via Amazon or Facebook ads. If your ebook is selling well, your audiobook will tend to sell well also, and I’ve seen narrators who advertise their ebooks gain audiobook sales also.
Chirp special deals will usually net a lot of sales (anyone who has data on how many, let me know and I’ll add it in here!). Chirp is owned by Findaway Voices (but you don’t have to be in Findaway to apply for a Chirp ad). Think of Chirp as ‘Bookbub for audiobooks’. It’s a daily list of heavily discounted (typically 80 to 90% off) audiobooks temporarily on special, which is emailed to thousands of subscribers and displayed on the Chirp website.
Five to ten years ago, I remember reading on various author forums that the usual estimate of audiobooks sold was one audiobook sale for every 10 ebook sales. I’ve no idea whether that estimate still holds. But when estimating how much you’ll gain in revenue for each audiobook sale, find a book similar to yours on Audible (similar length and genre – don’t forget you can estimate the length of your audiobook by dividing your manuscript by 9300 words to get the approx number of hours in your finished audiobook). Then use the table of royalties above to see how much your audiobook will make you for each sale.
Be aware that many audiobooks don’t sell at Audible for full price. For instance, if an audiobook is ‘bought’ with an Audible subscriber’s monthly credit, the royalty you’ll receive will be as though the audiobook sold for around $15, regardless of the nominal list price of the audiobook. Similarly, if the audiobook is purchased by an Audible subscriber, they receive a member discount of 30%, so the book’s sale price will be 70% of its list price. And savvy audiobook listeners know they can buy many audiobooks at a heavy discount if they also buy (or already own) the corresponding ebook. So listeners can buy audiobooks at Amazon in conjunction with the ebook, giving the audiobook a massive discount. For example, the audiobook for this book at Amazon is $17.99, but on the book’s Kindle page, you can buy the ebook and audiobook together for $11.50 – that’s over a third off full price and the listener gets both ebook and audiobook. (At least you authors get the benefit of an ebook sale at the same time; whereas a narrator in a royalty share deal for that audiobook loses out heavily on that transaction!). So take these discounted prices into consideration when estimating your return from audiobooks or calculations of how many sales it will take to pay back a PFH outlay.
Facebook Groups – There are many authors who join the Facebook groups for narrators to learn about audiobook production and make contacts in the community.
Just like author Facebook groups, there are narrator groups where authors and narrators share ideas and information. Probably the best known narrator Facebook group is https://www.facebook.com/groups/ACXNarratorsProducers/, frequented by many of the top narrators internationally. Reading past posts, using the search function and looking at the FAQs pages for this group (which are listed in the text if you click on the top banner picture), provides a wealth of information for narrators and authors alike. If you wish to join, you’ll need to answer a few questions. Be honest – if you’re an Australian author exploring audiobook options and looking to learn about audiobook production, say that, and hopefully you’ll be approved to join.
- Audiobook Edge for narrators and authors – https://www.facebook.com/groups/aeauthorsandnarrators
A single narrator is the most common form of audiobook, and generally the most cost-effective to produce. Many romances use two narrators, in either dual or duet narration style.
Dual narration is where each narrator reads the sections or chapters of the book which are written from their gender’s point of view (so the male reads the male hero’s chapters, and the female reads the heroine’s chapters). This is fairly easy to accomplish and shouldn’t add anything extra (or very little) to PFH titles, since if you’re paying per finished hour, then you can split the work by word count, and pay each narrator accordingly. It does require you to find two narrators and for them to communicate so that the voices of the common characters sound roughly similar no matter which narrator is narrating. And it helps if the editor can master the audio so both recording environments sound similar.
If you are doing royalty share, you can also easily do dual narration, provided your aggregator allows for payment splits of to more than two people and in ratios other than 50/50. Audiobooks Unleashed and Spoken Realms both can do this. I’m not sure about FV, but it might be worth inquiring (though their royalty share service works out comparatively costly, compared to some of the other options).
Duet narration is also often used in romances. This is where the male speaks all the lines of dialogue that any male in the book speaks, plus all the lines of the narrator which are written from the male point of view, and the female speaks all the lines of dialogue spoken by any female characters anywhere in the book, as well as any narrator lines written from the female’s point of view. Producing this sort of audiobook is much more time-consuming, and therefore much more expensive. Afterall, a conversation between the hero and heroine will mean every line has to be edited together back and forth between lines of dialogue which were recorded by different speakers in a different studio, most probably on different days, without hearing the other speaker. These must be put together like a jigsaw with the background room sound perfectly matched, as though they are both speaking in the same room.
Very rarely (though it’s becoming more common – particularly for trad-publisher audiobooks), more ambitious projects engage a cast of multiple narrators, so that each character and the narrator are all played by different narrators, much like a radio play. These productions also often incorporate sound effects or music to add extra atmosphere. Multi-cast projects are usually produced by experienced production houses (rather than a single narrator), and are generally quite costly to produce. If you are interested in seeing how this works, check out soundbooththeater.com.
If your manuscript includes erotic or controversial content, your narrator may wish to narrate under a pseudonym. Many narrators have established pseudos that have their own social media pages and websites, so this can be a good fit and even benefit your work if the pseudo is as popular as the real narrator’s name. Similarly, if your work is a ‘clean read’ you may wish your narrator to narrate under an alternative name, to distance the work from the narrator’s steamy titles. This is very easy to accomplish and doesn’t usually present any problems. Just let your narrator know beforehand.
For the author, very little! The most you’ll need to do is:
- provide a manuscript for the narrator to read from (pdf, docx, doc, google doc. I prefer something text-based rather than a PDF, so that I can put it into Word and mark it up in my preferred format so that it’s easiest for me to read (change spacing, font size, colours for each characters, add notes or phonetic spelling, underlining for emphasis, etc).
- provide an audition script and any instructions for the audition.
- Listen to the auditions and choose a narrator, including negotiating fees and conditions with them.
- Ideally, provide a character sheet so the narrator has pertinent info about each character. (background, age, attitude, accents, any other vocal qualities, whether they’ll become a recurring character in later books, etc)
- Approve the 15-minute check-point (or provide feedback if it needs adjustment).
- Approve the final audio files.
- Arrange for cover art (unless someone else is taking care of this).
For whoever is producing the audiobook, there’s quite a bit of work to do! In fact, the reason that PFH rates are so high is that audiobook production is very labour-intensive. Each hour of finished audio takes between 6 and 9 hours to produce.
An audiobook is like a play where one person plays all the parts, so the narrator has to understand the story and the characters before they begin. In addition, the audio has to be crisp and clean (unlike a podcast or radio broadcast, where there’s some allowance made for background noises like chair squeaks or tummy rumbles, and there’s often music under some of the talking. With an audiobook, the expectation is for crisp, clear speech recorded in an environment that is free of any background noise or echo. That sort of quality takes time and care to achieve. In fact, it’s not the narration that takes the most time – it’s the editing to make the audio accurate and free of extraneous noises.
Here’s the life-cycle of the production stage of an audiobook, together with how long each stage takes.
- 1 hour minimum – Reading and research.
Read the entire book while taking notes on characters, accents, story arcs, unfamiliar words and place names, names with ambiguous pronunciations etc. Even non-fiction books benefit from a pre-read to not only note words for pronunciation research, but also so the narrator has the confidence of knowing the subject before they start. Research pronunciations, practice accents or foreign lines.
- 0.5 to 1 hour – Mark up the script (to reduce the number of retakes in the soundbooth).
Narrators have their òwn favourite methods. Some mark in breaths. Some add underlining for emphasis or marks for pauses. I mark dialogue in different colours for each different character; add phonetic spelling for words I’m likely to mispronounce; underline vocal descriptors (whispered, yelled, gruffly, gasped, breathily, etc).
- 2 hours – Record the script using “Punch and Roll” technique.
Punch and Roll (PnR) is a method of ‘editing as you go’, where each time a mistake is noticed or the narrator needs to re-do a line to make it more meaningful, they go back to the end of the last good sentence, and re-record from there on, to record over the mistake and keep going. Experienced narrators generally spend 2 hours in the sound booth to get one hour of PnR audio.
- 1.25 to 1.5 hours – Proof the recording.
Listening to the recorded audio while reading along with the script to ensure no mistakes were made. Good proofers will also listen out for extraneous noises. (Accepted best practice is for narrators to not proof their own work, and many will outsource proofing, even if they perform every other task themselves.) Proofers note mistakes and the location in the script and the audio where they occurred.
- 15 minutes – Re-record misreads and mistakes identified during Proofing
This generally takes about 15 minutes per finished hour of audio, not counting the time to re-edit.
- 2 to 3 hours – Edit the audio.
Depending on the workflow, editing can be done in one procedure after proofing and pickups, or have part of it done before proofing and part done after. Editing consists of cleaning the audio to get rid of any extraneous sounds (mouth clicks, tummy noises, chair squeaks, traffic, dogs barking, etc), adding top and tail room tone, tweaking the lengths of pauses, reducing the volume of loud breaths, fixing inconsistencies within the audio, and seamlessly editing in the re-recorded ‘pickups’ identified during Proofing.
- 0.25 hours or a bit less – Mastering.
The frequencies and volumes within different parts of each audio file are manipulated to improve the clarity, crispness and ‘sweetness’ of the sound. Additional processing evens out the volume somewhat (making the loudest parts a little quieter and the softest parts a little louder, then brings up the overall volume, so that the audio is a more consistent volume to allow even the softest parts to be heard in a noisy environment without adjusting the volume. Mastering is what is done to make audio files meet strict audiobook file format guidelines, so that the volume across audiobooks is roughly equal. In practice, though mastering is fiddly and takes software knowledge and an expert ear, once it is set for one file in the audiobook, it becomes streamlined for every file – hence the low amount of time it takes to perform over a whole audiobook.
- 0.25 hours or a bit less – Export and Upload
Export and upload each file to Wav, Flac or mp3 format as required. Archive material in wav or flac for the client. Upload the files to the client or to the aggregator, as required.
Note that for non-trad-published audiobooks, the author is usually provided with a 15-minute checkpoint towards the start of production. Either the first 15 minutes (if nothing else has been specified) or a set 15-minute section (including scenes the author has specified, usually so they can hear different character voices or the emotional level of key scenes) is narrated, edited, proofed and mastered and sent to the author for their approval. This is the last point in the process where the author can provide advice or artistic direction. After this approval is obtained, the project is then completed ‘full steam ahead’.
Once the project has been narrated, proofed, corrected, edited and mastered, final files are sent to the author for approval (either by author or by Quality Control at the production house). Once approved, the final audio files are uploaded to the aggregator, who will then perform their own checks and repackaging of the audio before sending it to retail outlets.
You’re embarking on a relatively new industry in Australia and New Zealand which has great growth potential, and you’re incredibly lucky that this is at a time when you have access to more information than has ever been available before. Podcasts, blogs, online tutorials, youtube channels, books, workshops, one-on-one coaching – it’s all there for you to digest to find out how others go about producing audiobooks – either as an author or a narrator.
But when you’re looking online, don’t forget that a lot of what you read or watch may not be completely helpful. Some of it could be very out of date or misleading – made by a well-meaning person who didn’t know much more than you do.
The secret is to read or watch way more of it than you think you need to, and you’ll start to sort out the fact from the fiction. Find information from multiple sources. The more voices you hear from, the more you’ll get a feel for who is giving great advice and who isn’t.
And make sure you look at the date at which the information is provided. It’s amazing how fast things change in the literary world. What might have been de-rigeur for audiobook production five years ago, may not be so at present.
If you want to know more about audiobook production, you can listen (and often watch) narrators working live on Discord.com, even interacting with them via text chat. There are two narrator portals in particular which might be useful:
You may even be able to listen to your narrator narrating your book if you arrange this with them. This can be really interesting, and really helpful. (It’s wonderful to have the author there to ask questions on pronunciation, etc). Just remember though, it can be nerve-wracking having an author listen to you narrate their work, so resist the temptation to add too much direction. But it’s a great way to create buzz about an upcoming release, so you might want to send your fans to Discord to publicise an upcoming release.
These wonderful videos are by narrator, Catherine Bilson. Originally from the UK, Catherine is an Aussie-resident narrator and author, so she knows the business from both sides. As these videos were recorded in 2020, there are a few minor things which have changed, but generally these videos are a great source of information for Australian/NZ authors wanting to know where to start to get their books into audio. There are a few things which have changed since these videos were recorded, so check the info above for anything you’re not sure about.
Detailed additional notes coming soon!