Expanding into Audio

Young woman, wearing headphones and looking down at her phone,sits on her floor. Superimposed is the post title, 'Expanding into Audio'

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

When I was a traditionally-published author, I remember my frustration that I didn’t hold any audiobook rights.

My publisher held them, but never exploited them. And I regularly had readers asking if they could listen to my books.

When ACX first opened to independent authors, I jumped at the chance to have my self-published novels in audio format. The main thing that I was worried about was the cost. I was delighted to discover that I could choose an option where my only cost was to have my cover adapted into a square for audio. That’s the royalty-share option (more on that, below).

Since then, most of my self-published books are in audio. I get a nice amount of income each month–comparable to my US print sales each month.

Last year was a good year for audiobooks for traditional publishers, too. The Association of American Publishers reported that downloaded audio revenue was up 29.2%.

Even serialized reading platform Wattpad is getting into the audiobook game, partnering with Hachette to produce 50 audiobooks of their stories for a summer release.

There are a few questions you should ask yourself before diving into audiobooks. 

Do you want to go through ACX (which distributes your audiobook to Audible, Amazon and iTunes) or someone else?

Do you want to try narrating your own book, or are you looking for a professional?

How long is your book (longer books will take longer to produce and a narrator would cost more if you paid upfront).

Will you pay your narrator upfront or choose a royalty share option?

If you’re leery about ACX (more on their rights grab and pricing control below), there are other options. Author’s Republic is becoming an increasingly popular choice.  To learn more about what they offer, read this piece by Meaghan Sansom from Author’s Republic, guest posting on the blog for the Alliance of Independent Authors and this post on the same blog by writer Katherine Hayton with more details.  I’ve also heard that some authors use CD Baby/Alliance CD . Mark Williams from the International Indie Author Facebook Group has mentioned considering opportunities in translation for foreign sales of audiobooks (ACX has this capability, as does Ubook (Mark states they operate out of Brazil and offer audiobooks in Portuguese and Spanish).

I’ve found the ACX process easy.  You search for your book and claim it on their site. You verify you have the audio rights. Then you submit your book for auditions (you’ll provide a page or two for the auditioning narrators).  ACX will ask you to choose the type of voice you’re looking for.  You’ll state if you’re looking for a royalty share arrangement or will pay upfront.  If you’re looking for a royalty share, it’s important to know that the risk is on the narrator’s end…it’s a huge time investment for them to narrate.  If your book is less of a risk (is successful, is part of a successful series), that’s good to state in your pitch in the ‘additional comments’ section.  ACX will notify you via email when you’ve received auditions. You’ll listen and choose a narrator.  The contract is a standard electronic version that ACX creates (you fill in certain stipulations: payment arrangements (by the hour or royalty share), deadlines for completion, etc.  All business is conducted through ACX’s message system/portal. The narrators function as producers–they edit and upload the audiobook for review.

ACX does hold onto our rights for seven years and they do control pricing.  Those are the downsides.  With my royalty share agreements, I split my royalties 50-50 with my narrator. But if I hadn’t chosen the royalty-share, I wouldn’t have any audiobooks at all…and now I receive regular income from ACX.

More information on getting on ACX in this post of mine from 2013 (the only thing that’s really changed is the stipend program–that’s either completely suspended or greatly reduced).

Have you considered releasing your books as audiobooks? Are you an audiobook listener?  If your books are in audio format, what are your thoughts so far?

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18 thoughts on “Expanding into Audio

  1. Audio was on the downswing for a while, but with people listening to them on their phones, it’s booming again.

    ACX is a great way to go. It’s a nice bonus of money coming in every month.

  2. This is such a timely post for me, Elizabeth! I’ve recently gotten the rights back to one of my novels, and I already had them to another. And I was wondering about doing audio versions. I may very well give it a try. Thanks for sharing this – it’s really useful.

  3. Elizabeth–as others have said, a very timely post. And as is so often the case, your post is truly a “value added” source of useful info.
    I happen to think all writers are closet or not-so-closet hams, and if this isn’t a universal truth, it certainly applies to me. I just finished narrating my most recent suspense novel. I teamed up with a retired electrical engineer, and we learned (I hope) together. Almost no one knows about my writing, but I’m hoping that an audiobook, were it to succeed, would serve as a marketing tool for the rest of my stories.
    Thanks again. I didn’t know there were alternatives to ACX, but now I do.

    1. Sounds like you and your engineering friend had an adventure!

      Yes, it’s a great visibility option. There are people who listen to books as they commute, exercise, do housework, etc. And, sometimes, those are the only types of books that these readers ‘read.’

      There are definitely options–good luck exploring!

  4. I’m not a fan of audio books for myself (I’m WAY too easily distracted!!) but I LOVE that they’re so easily available for people who enjoy them! I like the options available too – thanks for the info!

  5. Thanks for the info. I hadn’t really considered the audio book option as I thought it would be much too expensive. The royalty share option, however, is a great compromise. I may have to wait until my books are a bit better known though.

    1. You could, or you could try listing them for auditions and see how it goes. You could always pull them if they don’t get the attention from narrators that you’re looking for.

      Another option I didn’t mention is a high profile brand/large online presence. I think for authors who are new to writing or whose books aren’t as well known, if they have a large online footprint (ability to promote to large groups), that’s also something that narrators may want to know.

  6. Hi Elizabeth – thanks for a really useful and eye-opening post … one question (even reading Barry’s comment, I probably still need to clarify) do I need an actual book published? I’d like to put my A-Zs into an audio format at some stage …

    Cheers Hilary

    1. That’s a good question. I was about to answer “no,” but on ACX you must search for your book on their site at the beginning (ACX connects to Amazon), so the answer there is ‘yes.’ I would look at Author’s Republic and see if you could use a compilation of posts for a ‘script’ there.

  7. I want to narrate my own books. I have the voice, the skill, and the set up, but my goodness, the time? Ugh. I keep telling myself, “Soon”, but I’m starting to think it might be best to go with an outside option.

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