In light of June Westerfield’s recent post about creating your own book cover (if you missed it, you can read it here), you’re thinking I’m going to say you shouldn't narrate your own audiobook, right? Wrong! My answer is:
Yeah, that's helpful, right?
I think the easiest way to explain is to tell you how I did it, the pros and cons, and let you decide for yourself. But first:
Do you have the rights?
If this is a New York published book, odds are, the answer is no. Publishers don't often give up the chance to make a buck. I'm not sure about Small Presses - check your contract to be sure. Self-pubbed? Green light!
I released my first self published title in January of 2016, Days Made of Glass. I loved the control of self-publishing. Then I read how audiobook sales are on the rise, and thought that I'd love to have Days in an audiobook format.
I read through ACX (Amazon's audiobook publishing arm-very informative), and through pages and pages of Google results, and discovered . . . it's expensive.
First, you need a narrator/producer. They usually receive compensation one of two ways:
Outright payment - They charge around $200 an hour (SAG members start at $225/hr). You can do the math. I got the following chart from EA Book Publishing:
Schedule of Costs (this is for narration and production)
Words Narration Hours Production Hours Final Cost
10,000 1 5 $ 950
20,000 2 10 $1,900
30,000 3 15 $2,850
40,000 4 20 $3,800
50,000 5 25 $4,750
60,000 6 30 $5,700
70,000 7 35 $6,650
80,000 8 40 $7,600
90,000 9 45 $8,550
Be sure when you're negotiating with a narrator, that you verify if the cost is for narration only or full production. A producer cleans up the file, checks for errors, misspoken lines, and puts it in the correct format. You'll need that.
Or Royalty share - They get 50% and may ask for a non-refundable upfront cost
Another option is to buy professional equipment, park yourself in a closet at home and record. That was cheaper, but still, the software and the equipment can run into the to thousands.
If you know me at all, you know I'm as cheap as a prison-release suit.
It's okay, I own it.
Going it on your own:
I dearly love reading out loud. I volunteer time, reading at a senior center, so I wondered if I could do this myself. Hey, I created my own website, and my own self-published book. Okay, so the book cover thing didn't work out so well, but....
Then I heard my local Recording Library needed volunteers to read books, daily local newspapers and textbooks for the blind. Volunteer doing what I love? I'm all over it. When I saw their offices, and the little soundproofed recording booths, I stashed an idea in the back of my mind, dug in, and got over my hatred of my own recorded voice (I hear this is a universal thing - because we hear our voices from the 'inside' and can't judge the quality). It took several months, but I became proficient at it - cutting my teeth on oil reports and school board elections. When they came back and told me I was a natural, and was one of their better-sounding volunteers, I popped the question: Would they mind if I recorded my own book for their library (and take a copy for myself, of course). They said, yes. I was off in a cloud of turkey-turds!
I began recording, correcting when I screwed up, making sure the quality was as good as I could get it. The in-house producer cleaned up the file (taking out background noise, blank air time, etc., and put each chapter in a separate mp3 format for me.
In the meantime, I studied the options for publication, and decided on ACX, Amazon's audiobook publishing arm. You can go exclusive with them, and get a higher royalty percentage, but I decided to keep my options open and go wide. I learned everything I could from their helpful website about how to go about it.
I wanted a different cover for the audiobook than the paperback and Kindle version - I liked the result so much I did a poll on Facebook about maybe changing covers on the book, but since people were split 50/50, I decided to keep both: (keep in mind, an audiobook cover has to be perfectly square)
The audiobook of Days Made of Glass went live a month ago!
So, back to the question, SHOULD you create your own audiobook? I'd recommend it if:
I DO NOT expect to make a ton of money on this. After all, there are less listeners than there are readers. But I loved the process, and will do it for my future self-published titles. To me, it's one more way to be proud of my work.
What do you think? Would you attempt this? Would you hire it out, or DIY?
* * * * *
Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women's Fiction and Romance.
She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.
Laura began a video blog for writers, answering their burning questions. You can watch all the episodes HERE. If you have a question you'd like her to address in a future episode, leave her a comment!
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Good timing. I'm in the midst of starting production of my 12th audiobook via ACX, and am listening to auditions. No way would I do it myself. I can barely read a paragraph out loud without stumbling over something. I've used 3 different narrators so far, for 3 different series.
Early on, getting a straight royalty share was easy, but since ACX changed their rates (used to be 50%, split between author and narrator, but now it's 40), fewer narrators are stepping up for this kind of deal. I've done hybrid and straight up front payments, and I'm paying a SAG/AFTRA narrator on a per finished hour basis, which is how most of the ACX narrators charge for their time, so my 90K novels don't cost me anywhere near the figures you've got in your chart.
.(Apparently the rest of my post stick this into "too long" to be posted, so I'll do it in 2 parts.)
Wow, Terry - thanks for sharing your experience, and updated stats! Very helpful.
Part 2) For me, it's about the same as hiring my editor and cover artists for the manuscript, and the ROI for audio is slower, but after writing 3 novels last year, getting titles into audio was a way to keep my name out with "new" releases.
One thing to consider is time. While the book is already written, you're still going to have to "proof listen" and there's absolutely no way to go any faster than the narrator reads. That part is tedious, but critical if you want a polished end product.
Good luck with your book! I hope you'll do a follow up column
Software exists that can play audio faster (or slower) without altering the pitch. Apparently some people who listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts routinely listen to them faster than normal. But I agree you shouldn't skimp on your "proof listening" stage. You don't want to find out from a review that the narrator omitted a crucial scene or consistently mispronounces your hero's name.
99.9% of authors should not narrate their own audiobook. Professional narrators speak more legibly, speak more quickly (probably 20% faster) and have the breath control to allow for long runs that don't need to be edited together. Even when I hear established authors read their own audiobooks it generally sounds like amateur hour. There are resources that allow you to hire professional narrators at lower rates than what you've posted, but a good reader is essential to audiobook success. Even with professional narration, I sometimes stop listening to a book if I don't like the read.
And that's another "scary" thing for authors. Listeners often choose which books to buy based on the narrator, so there's a whole new consideration in the mix. They might love your book, but if they don't love your narrator, you're up that creek.
I attended a webinar a while ago, presented by a chap who had narrated well over a hundred audiobooks. He said that every narrator has listeners who love their voice and listeners who hate it. So I suppose as long as you (the author) find their voice pleasant to listen to, it's not worth fretting over what anyone else will think of it.
Hey, Steve -- we're authors. We fret about EVERYTHING.
And that's why I wanted to do it myself. My first book was narrated by a very popular narrator, but I hated her accents. Personal preference, I guess. And yes, if it's self-pubbed, I'm a bit of a control-freak.
Thanks, Liz for the point of view as a long-time listener.
Your post is very timely. I begin recording the first of three of "God's Little Miracle Book" this week. I hope to bring inspiration to a whole new audience who need encouragement--those who are too sick or blind to read a printed page. Thank you for stepping out.
Hint: I'm reading at my local library's sound studio for FREE! Loved your book BTW.
Oh, thank you, Sally! Don't think our library has a sound studio - I'll have to check it out though. Wow, that would make a huge difference to most people, about whether they try it or not!
I wouldn't read my own book because I don't have that kind of voice! But a sound studio...wow. That's just awesome.
Like you, Laura, I love the control of self publishing. But since I write Regency romance, I'd never attempt to record my own stories. I don't much enjoy audiobook romances so I haven't been in a hurry to get my books recorded. I always find the male actors doing falsetto and vice versa off-putting.
Oh, that would be awful, Alina! I haven't listened to much, and no romance. But probably like a New Yorker trying to sound Texan...
Oh, yes, THIS. First time I tried to listen to an audio book, the first falsetto made me bail forever. Which is probably stupid, but there it is. In some ways I'd love to read my stuff, because I enjoy reading shorts by writers like Poe or Kincaid aloud to my students -- it's a performance art, really -- but 1) the books are long, so it would be a huge undertaking, and 2) there's a learning curve, and it's not like I want to make a profession out of this, and 3) I have a slight lisp. I think it's forgivable in a short story, but if someone had to listen to it for 80,000 words, probably not.
I think it's all about your voice, Sandra. But I've found, like someone said above, just like some people like/hate your stories, some people will like/hate your voice.
Sigh. Why do we do this to ourselves?!
You have a wonderful voice, Laura. Very soothing. I think you will have good reader response to your voice.
Thanks, Laura. You’ve covered the basics wonderfully. I'm a do-it-yourselfer who started by working at a mike stand in front of a couple of shoji screens covered in quilts, to serialize my first book for podcast. My husband, David Stifel, and I are both SAG/AFTRA, and it became serious when he discovered ACX. We built a booth and have watched the industry grow from lots of Royalty Shares to Finished Hours under union contracts, which is a Godsend. I learned how to work alone in the booth and have recorded two of my own books, with David (who has completed 105 full length books), as final producer. I have no plans to record the book I’m working on, now.
I asked David to take a look here, and he said that the EA Book Publishing list is terribly inflated by today’s standard. The industry has changed substantially in the last ten years: old school productions used/use in-house studios and engineers, with Narrators who narrate only. ACX formalized new school Narrator/Producers who “do it all.” All Narrators are paid by finished hour (excepting Royalty share deals). An ACX Narrator/Producer receives $300 to $350 pfh (per finished hour); thus, a one hour book will cost $300 to $350, rather than the $950 EA figure. (Continued)
Estimated finished length is calculated by word count. The rule of thumb is 9,300 words per hour. Narrator/Producers need to know: is it character rich?; what accents are required?; will there be a lot of research into pronunciation, especially foreign languages? If there is a lot of research required, the pfh will increase. Some Narrator/Producers request to be paid 50% up front.
Lastly, it’s a popular fallacy that a narrator sells a book; it’s unwise to depend on the power of a “name” to promote sales. The title and the author sell the book.
(NOTE: Looking through the comments, David said he would be happy to answer questions online, if you wish.)
Wow Nance (and David) - thank you SO much for the on the front lines updates. Since I didn't go that route, I was relying on the internet, with predictable results. Great info - and best of luck to you both!
Laura, I was so excited to find out when you started narrating Days. To me, getting to hear a story in the author's voice is special. And yes, even with my time on stage, I have no recordings of anything I've done because I really didn't like hearing my own voice. So kudos to you! (Oh, and thanks for all the info--from you and the commenters!)
"Cheap as a prison suit" LOL
This is fascinating Laura. I absolutely hate the sound of my own voice but I love audiobooks. Will be stashing this information away for sure. Congratulations on mastering another skill!
I love your accent, Debbie (though it's too bad it means you root for a nasty football team). Since you write Southern, you may want to consider it... Read Nance's comment above, for updated costs, if you don't want to do it yourself.
What accent? 😉 Roll Tide LOL
I love the way you two taunt each other. 🙂
I'd say something mean, but since she's up for a RITA in a few hours, I'll cut her some slack.
Hahahaha!! Go, go, GO!!!
Although, I just can't get my head around this changed structure with the awards being at the beginning, rather than the end.
Congrats on the audio book, Laura! You are fearless! I love audio books but haven't listened to one in a long time. I'm ordering yours!
Oh now I'm nervous, Barb! I forgot to mention - this is one more way to get angsty about your work - it's not only, 'Will they like the book', you have 'will they like me reading it' on top of that!
I'll let you know!
[…] Read the rest of this post on the Writers in the Storm blog HERE. […]
This is so amazing. I didn't know you could. Amazon did audio for my first book, and the names are pronounced differently. That shouldn't bother me, but it does.
Jeanne, I'd be interested in knowing why you had no input on pronunciations - that should never happen with ACX - but you say "Amazon" which leads me to suspect that it's a Whispersync read. Which is the best reason, of all, to make certain your book is read by a live person you can interact with during the process.
[…] Three bloggers contribute some tips on self-publishing. Beth Bacon explains how to write a creative brief so your graphic designer creates an amazing book cover, and Nicole Dieker relates her experience in self-publishing a debut literary novel: the actions, the costs, the results. You can also put out your own audio book, but Laura Drake asks: SHOULD you create your own audio book? […]