For nearly 10 years, audiobooks have been making big profits for publishers and authors alike. That has some indie authors asking the obvious questions like: how do I make one? Should I even make one? And where do you promote them? Curious, I went on a quest to learn the ABCs of audiobooks. Now before I begin, let me be clear, when I refer to audiobooks I’m talking about MP3/M4B digital files that can be uploaded to retailers like Amazon’s ACX, Kobo, Google Play or Apple.
However, I understand there are authors still creating CDs for their books through CD Baby, the sister company of Book Baby. If you want to learn more about that you can read their blog post here. Though I personally don’t know of any authors making money from CDs, it’s still an option.
Also, there are streaming services and podcasts where authors hire voice actors to read their books but that requires a huge financial investment which many can’t commit to. Most authors these days go to Amazon’s ACX or Findaway Voices and sell their audiobooks through them and I’ll be focusing on that today.
Step 1: Production
Just a few years ago, you had two choices when producing an audiobook and those were: DIY (Do It Yourself) or go through Amazon’s ACX. Most authors went for the ACX deal because most professional narrators have a fee of around $200 – $400 per hour. At ACX, they had narrators who were either paid based on a flat fee or shared a piece of the royalties. Today, however, authors can find reasonably priced narrators (notice how I didn’t say cheap?) or find a narrator who will agree to a royalty share at the following places without any exclusivity:
If you want to narrate the book yourself, you’ll have to invest in the proper equipment like a microphone, sound proofing and audio editing software. But if you have the resources, you can book a professional studio as well as a sound engineer and record it that way. Be warned, you’ll have to fork over a lot of money because it costs anywhere between $30 – $100 per hour. Also, it could take you days to record your book, so this is not the most cost effective method for a first time author or for those on a budget. Another thing to consider is post production, because there may be things you want removed or added in later on and audio editors cost around $25-$100 per hour. Now one bright spot in all of this is you can possibly write off these expenses on your taxes, depending on the country you live in.
Step #2: Distribution
If you went through ACX, the terms were exclusive or you paid for expanded distribution with smaller royalties. At this time, ACX is the biggest game in town, so most indie authors go in that direction, naturally. But making money with ACX is hard because you could only sell your books on Audible, Amazon.com, or iTunes.
Luckily in 2017, Draft2Digital partnered with Findaway Voices to make audio production and distribution seamless. So now that ACX has real competition authors should seriously consider getting their book in the wider market. Here is a list of the most popular distributors of audiobooks:
- Findaway Voices
- Author’s Republic
- Publish Drive
- Overdrive (Distributes to libraries but you’ll need a large catalog of audiobooks)
Step #3: Marketing
Just a few years ago, there weren’t any major sales routes for indie authors wanting to advertise their audiobooks. There was no BookBub or Bargain Booksy to advertise your audiobooks. However, things have improved and now, there are more serious avenues that authors can pursue when promoting their audiobooks.
For those who don’t have a big advertising budget, some sites will review your audiobook and even hold giveaways if you’re interested:
- Audiobook Jukebox
- Audio File Magazine
- Audiobook Reviewer
- For The Love Of Words
- Books For Ears
- Audiobook Fans
The Reality Of Audiobooks: Doing The Math
What a lot of authors don’t understand is that it takes time to get an ROI on an audiobook. Despite all of the hype that has been going around the publishing community about audiobooks, this is a lot of work. One professional narrator said that authors have to sell about 100 ebooks to make just one audiobook sale. So this is not a get-rich-quick scheme, in fact, despite the new opportunities, I would still caution indie authors to set realistic expectations when going into the audio market.
Another point authors don’t consider is the complexity of a project, for example, some authors commission several narrators to read the female and male characters of their book. If this is your plan, you’re going to have to pony up more money of course.
I still think audiobooks are worth the investment but only after you’re making consistent sales on your print and ebooks. I see audiobooks as a more advanced part of an indie author’s career. This particular game isn’t for rookies because you can easily lose money on this type of project. Nonetheless, the audio market is evolving after years of stagnation and those authors who are ready could find another potential stream of income and this is always a good thing in our industry.
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