We hear so much about eBooks these days that it’s almost easy to forget that long before the eBook, there was another way to enjoy a title: in audio. And if you talk with audio book lovers, they are (very) passionate about their books, and many can’t recall the last time they actually read a book, as opposed to listening to one. I spoke to some cross-country truck drivers who said they go through as many as five books a month. What do they read? Anything from world history, to self-help, to fiction.
Audible has been around for a long
time, we see the deals everywhere via Groupon and others for a free month on
Audible to try and coax people into the system. Now, however, with the Audible
technology changing and Whispersync becoming a popular way to both read and
listen to books, there may be no stopping this form of book
About three years ago, Amazon launched ACX, which is a means
for any author to turn their book into an audio product. I spoke with Jason
Ojalvo, who is the Senior VP of Content, and he told me that ACX has been
pouring a lot of resources into this new production and delivery system and it’s
obvious from the buzz around this that they mean business.
Now, if you
have the budget anyone can turn their book into an audio product. And it takes,
surprisingly, very little effort. You can also get your book production for free
by doing a reader royalty share, but it’s not the quickest or most efficient way
to get your audiobook created. I’ve spoken to numerous authors who have said
that the process of 50-50 is often met with limited results, and again I think
this depends on the genre. I’ll take you through the process a little later on
in this piece but first, let’s look at a few tips I gleaned from avid audiobook
If you’ve ever listened to an audiobook you know that the
narrator can make or break a story. I was listening to a book recently and,
though I liked the story, I had to stop the audio because the narrator was just
not right for the book and read in a way that was too distracting to the
This is why you want a professional narrator (other than those few
instances in which authors narrate their own titles, Audible and ACX use only
professional narrators). You should never, ever read your own book (which is
likely what happened in this case). Even if you do voiceover, it’s just not a
good idea. Having taken voiceover classes and done some voiceover work, I can
tell you firsthand that having a “voice” and being able to narrate and produce
an audiobook are not the same thing.
For audio to work in a book format,
the narrator needs to have some acting experience, because you’ll want
inflection, emphasis, and perhaps also drama. These are things you just can’t
get if you just have voiceover experience or just “have a good voice” – you may
save some money in the production, but it’ll be a waste of time and effort and
it could taint your book. Imagine a bunch of reviews on your book page
complaining about the narrator. That’s not something you want prospective
readers to see.
So if you’re going to do this, spring for some good
talent. And talent isn’t terribly pricey actually, not when you consider how
much work is involved to produce a finished book hour (which often requires
several retakes). Typically it takes six hours of work to create one hour of
audio, and most highly-experienced readers will want a minimum of $300 per
finished hour and books are typically 8-10 finished hours in length (note that
9300 words equals about one finished hour).
The other thing about the
narrator is to make sure you like working with them because if you’re doing a
series, you’ll want the same narrator for all of the books. When I spoke to
readers they told me it was a major pet peeve when an author swapped out a
narrator. Audiobooks create a very personal environment. The listener is
inviting the reader into their car and their world, so it’s important to respect
that connection the reader gets with the narrator.
According to the folks
at ACX, the hottest genres are mystery/thriller, science fiction, fantasy, and
romance, and one of their fastest growing categories right now is young adult.
But this is all about to change as more and more authors jump on this way of
extending their book reach. Additionally, I’ve spoken to several bloggers about
audiobook blog tours and many are very excited to offer this to their readers.
Some, in fact, already do this exclusively. We’ll cover more on audiobook
promotion in the next post.
We hired Lisa Cordileone (http://www.lisacordileone.com)
to do The Publicist, Book One which is a book we’ve been promoting. She
has worked on several audiobooks, and also done acting. Additionally, she’s
listed on the ACX site as a preferred audio book reader. I asked her about how
to find audio talent, and this is what she had to say:
new to audiobooks, I think ACX is a great resource to find a narrator. But it is
not the only one. To the best of my knowledge there are close to 30 Audiobook
production companies nationwide that hold SAG-AFTRA agreements available for
their talent. If I were an author new to this type of work, I would find out who
those companies are, or spend some time looking at AudioFile Magazine's resource
list of companies. The APA (Audio Publishers Association) is also a fantastic
If you want to go outside of ACX, an author should
look for audio publishers or recording studios that have been doing this for
years. Look at the list of titles they have produced; have a conversation with
them about who the talent is on their roster, and start listening to
samples. Most of these production companies have a casting director and will be
able to help you find a voice that fits your book.
Creating an Audiobook
The first step to
creating an audiobook is to figure out where you’re going to list it, but
regardless of your preferred studio, you’ll need a good character description
and a sample of the book to do interviews. Jason with ACX offered
“We recommend you keep your audition script to no more than 2-3
pages. You’ll typically know right away from the audition if the voice is right
for your project. You should choose a dynamic selection from your project,
rather than the first 2-3 pages, or select 2-3 passages from different sections
of your work to get a sense for the actor’s range. “
When I talked
with Lisa about this she agreed. Longer scripts can take a ton of studio time,
and keep in mind that the sample will need to be produced which will add to the
time it takes to create a sample. Also, when doing auditions, consider using a
sample that’s more challenging. Likely this will be further into your book. You
want to find a section that will give you a good sense of the narrator’s voice
and their ability to do other voices, accents, or characters. “Pick the
strongest, not the longest. You’ll know in two minutes whether that person is
right for your book.” To that end, Jason brought up a good point when he
Do disclose all the different accents you expect in the book
up front. Don’t expect your producer to read your mind; if you don’t provide
direction on the type of performance you’re listening for, your actor will give
his or her own interpretation of the work. Our philosophy is the more guidance
you provide to your producer – especially up front -- the more satisfied you’ll
be with the auditions, samples, and finished audiobook production. At minimum,
provide a few descriptors of each of the characters included in your audition
script, as well as a pronunciation guide for any words that are medical,
technical, or conlang (constructed languages).
Finding the Right Narrator for Your Book
In terms of
narration and finding the right person, here are a few suggestions:
we were doing The Publicist, Book One, I sent her a blog post the
author did on this book around the casting call, you can see it here: (http://www.thepublicistnovel.com/and-the-oscar-goes-to-casting-the-publicist).
The blog played on the fact that every author wants their fiction book to be a
movie, so we went with that. Lisa told me that something like this, showing the
actors assigned to the roles, actually helped her dig deeper into the
characters. But what happens before you ever hire someone? Well, when you sign
up on ACX and put the book out for bid, you’ll need to include a description of
the main character and, as Jason mentioned earlier, be sure to mention dialects,
etc. so the narrator knows if it’s something they can do.
Brief descriptions for character breakdowns help guide me in
the right direction. I think the blog article you posted was a great way to
describe the characters in your book. It gave a visual, a brief description, and
a quick comparison to celebrities who we have a sense of based on their work.
What happens with a word like 'snarky' is an actor is going to
see that word, and make a strong choice to be 'snarky' and that's what the
audition will most likely sound like. An alternate way is to think outside of
just using adjectives. Who is this person, what is her relationship to the other
major characters in the story, what is her driving force or obstacle being dealt
with, how would she deal with the situation at hand? A well rounded description
will always serve better than adjectives alone, so we can identify who this
character is and personalize it to give the best audition
Once we listed the book and started to get auditions, I
took the extra step by looking at their background to see and hear the range of
books they’d done. You can find most of them on Audible and get a real sense of
how they sound doing different characters. This is also important because you
aren’t just going to be featuring one person in your book and the audition
sample likely won’t have every character in it, either, so do your due diligence
and really listen to some of the other samples you can find.
Most of the
narrators do other work, though some are exclusively audio.
Most, if not
all, will have websites that show previous work, acting background, and other
things they are involved in. I think that since the narrator is going to be
tethered to your book series (if that’s what you’re doing) it’s a good idea to
know who you are hiring. The other piece of this is that you may want to bring
the same narrator in for all of your books, regardless of whether it’s a series
or not. If you find someone you work well with, why not continue the
Jason at ACX recommended communicating with the folks
who’ve auditioned and letting them know you appreciate that they’ve taken the
time to do so. There’s a place on the ACX page where you can dialog with them
and, he said, “A quick thank you goes a long way.” I would agree. In fact, I
actually had a few folks who were auditioning offer to do additional samples if
it would help my decision-making, which I thought was above and
Male, Female, or Both?
listened to bestselling books on audio, you may notice that some have female and
male narrators. This is done, but it’s not common. If you’re struggling with
this idea consider that it could add a big cost to your bottom line to do both
when really you don’t need to.
Lisa offers this from a narrator’s
I was always taught that a narrator should be able to
perform all parts, male and female. Most, if not all, audiobook production
companies are going to want to hear that on a narrator’s demo, ie. Sample of
fiction with a narrator, and 1 female and 1 male character exchanging dialogue.
It is a specific skill set that audiobook narrators should have.
Making the Decision to Hire
from start to finish moves along pretty quickly. Once you confirm who you want
to hire, you’ll make them an offer and then give them a chance to respond and
accept it. From there the experience is now between you and the
They’ll record a 15-minute session and upload it to ACX for
your approval, and though I don’t know if this is the norm, Lisa really went
several steps further to narrate the best book she could.
asked for the entire book right off the bat so she could read it, then she took
the time to highlight difficult names to be sure she wasn’t messing up the
pronunciation. I think those two things are important and will, in the
long-term, speak to the integrity of the book.
Once you approve the
15-minute sample, the actual recording process will begin. Keep in mind that
you’ll define the dates for production, meaning you need to tell the narrator
how much time they have. We gave Lisa well over a month and she finished it in a
couple of weeks. Most narrators when taking on a project will tell you when they
can start so there are no misunderstandings around timing.
Whispersync, ACX offered the following: “As you probably know,
Whispersync for Voice is a program where matched Kindle eBooks and Audible
audiobooks allow you to alternate between listening and reading. All audiobooks
that are produced through ACX are scanned for Whispersync for Voice-eligibility.
If a ebook meets the criteria (and the audiobook is almost 100% accurate to the
eBook), it is Whispersync for Voice-eligible. We cannot guarantee that all ACX
Titles will be added to the Whispersync for Voice program.”
other words, if you modify the audio book too much, it won’t be included in this
additional service. I don’t know what the percentage is that’s included in
Whispersync, but I have to imagine given the benefits to the readers that as
long as the books meet the criteria outlined above, that it’s a pretty high
Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com