Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Business of Writing: The Audiobook #MFRWOrg #ASMSG #RLFBlog

One must die. Refusal is not an option.
The Challenge by Kim Iverson Headlee.
Audiobook is FREE with Audible trial!
With a manuscript sold to a traditional publisher (Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, etc.), the author usually must sell all rights—including the right to produce ancillary editions such as the audiobook—and then sit around hoping and praying that the mass-market paperback does well enough to convince the publisher to publish the novel in other formats.

Not so in this day and age of independent publishing, thank heaven!

In 1997, when the first edition of my novel Dawnflight was having its contract negotiated with Simon & Schuster, their boilerplate stipulated the purchase of a lot of rights, including foreign translations and the production of an audiobook edition. I have to admit that the prospect of having my work in those other formats was exciting. However, Simon & Schuster never exploited those rights, so when the 1999 mass-market paperback edition went out of print in 2004, those rights reverted to me as well.
Duty wages war against love on the
battlefield of opposing cultures and agendas.
Dawnflight by Kim Headlee.
Whispersynch to your Kindle copy!

The novel in all formats lay fallow until 2012, when I decided to overhaul it and release it as an official second edition in print as well as e-book. My e-book coding mentor introduced me to the unique joys of audiobook production via Amazon's Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), and although I am aware of other audiobook production services, I have never looked back.

The ACX audiobook production process.
  1. A book's Rights Holder—author or publisher—visits and signs in with his/her existing Amazon account.
  2. Once logged in, "claim" the book via ACX's "Add Your Title" function (top right corner of window). This performs a search of the Amazon product catalog to retrieve available editions.
  3. Stipulate whether the audiobook will be self narrated.
  4. Fill out all the requisite information about the title, including:
    • Production payment type: Royalty Share (50-50 split of net royalties paid to Rights Holder and Producer; i.e., the Producer bears all risk for production) or pay some agreed-upon amount upon completion of the project (i.e., the Rights Holder bears all the risk). In rare cases, ACX will deign to pay the producer a fee even though the Rights Holder has stipulated a royalty-share contract; this happened for my e-book coding mentor with her first audiobook, but not for any of my titles thus far, and of course it's not applicable for self-narrated titles.
    • Distribution: Exclusive (distribution to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes only, which yields a 40% net royalty for the title) or Non-exclusive (distribution to Audible, Amazon, iTunes, and anywhere else of the Rights Holder's choosing; 25% net royalty). The 40% or 25% amount is what is split with the Producer in a royalty-share production agreement.
    • If the audiobook is not to be self-narrated, the type of voice desired (male or female, age, narration style, accent, etc.) may be specified, in addition to genre and other details.
  5. Upload an audition script (or not, if you're narrating your own title, and skip the next step too). The ideal audition script will feature a particularly dramatic moment from your book that includes dialogue for the main character(s) so that you can evaluate the prospective narrator's emotional and vocal range. It should be no more than 750 words (i.e., a maximum reading time of about 5 minutes).

    If you upload a longer script, don't be surprised if the candidate doesn't read it all! In the comments section, do specify details such as the characters' ages and accents, and expected pronunciation of unusual names or words, to give candidates the best chance of recording a great audition.
  6. Either wait for a Producer (i.e., narrator) to submit an audition, or search for suitable producers and contact them via ACX's messaging system. The latter entails listening to posted clips and can be very time consuming.

    I have done the proactive approach for only two producers, and neither of them answered me. If you have had luck with this approach, leave a comment to let me know!
  7. Once the Rights Holder receives an acceptable audition (or not, if self narrating), then the process of recording and approving audiobook chapters begins! If you're not doing your own recording, this phase consists of waiting for the Producer to upload a new segment, listening to the segment, and providing feedback. The length of this phase is usually a direct correlation to the length of the source material, although I recently had to officially cease production on a project because the Producer fell ill and couldn't complete it.

    For all of my completed projects, I elected to manage them on a chapter-by-chapter basis, and I developed an Excel spreadsheet as a tool to identify specific problem areas as well as communicating positive feedback. Like any type of artist, most vocal artists take great pride in their work and welcome feedback so that both parties are happy with the production.

    I do not recommend waiting to listen to the Producer's work until after all files have been delivered because of the sheer amount and variety of issues that can crop up, some of which may "ripple" throughout the rest of the production. It is far better for everyone involved to keep on top of the process at every step along the way.
  8. Upon final approval of all chapters, and uploading of the cover art and retail sample (a 3-5 minute excerpt), the Rights Holder (and Producer, if they are in a royalty-share agreement) waits for ACX to perform an internal quality-control audit of the audiobook.

    For the 2013 editions of Dawnflight and The Color of Vengeance, the internal ACX audit took about a month between my acceptance of the files and ACX's release of the audiobooks into retail channels.

    With The Challenge, I elected to enter into a per-finished-hour upfront payment agreement (rather than royalty share; see below for explanation) with an ACX Certified Producer, and the internal audit was completed in less than two weeks—with the Thanksgiving holiday smack in the middle. Whether this speed increase was due to hiring a certified producer or not, I cannot be certain, but obviously it didn't hurt. And I scored a few extras, such as special voice modulation effects, in the bargain. :)
  9. Wait another week or so for the title to cross-populate into Amazon and iTunes catalogs, and begin the distribution process to other sites (CD Baby, etc.) manually if you've chosen non-exclusive distribution.

Choosing the right Producer for your audiobook.
Vengeance was the only burial gift he could bestow.
The Color of Vengeance by Kim Headlee.
Audiobook is FREE with Audible subscription!
If you have a bestselling title, you want to delve into crowdfunding, or you are otherwise wealthy enough to drop $5K or more on paying someone else to produce your audiobook, you can investigate these high-end independent producers in this article published in BookLife, the news outlet produced by Publishers Weekly for independent publishers.

Otherwise, decide upon the type of voice you're looking for, establish your ACX budget, and—literally—hope for the best.

Paying for production entails a unit called the "finished hour." For planning purposes when setting up your book to receive auditions, ACX estimates one finished hour to be 9300 words of text.

Once the book is recorded and uploaded to ACX, then the actual production cost is calculated to be the sum total in hours and minutes of all files multiplied by the agreed-upon per-finished-hour (PFH) rate. Producers with a presence in ACX stipulate their minimum accepted PFH rate, though it may be open to negotiation. If you do elect to negotiate, whether you're a Rights Holder or a Producer, keep in mind that ACX's offer-rejection letter sent to the other party may sound final but really isn't, and submit (or accept, if you're the Producer) a new offer.

My 135K-word manuscript for Dawnflight was estimated to be 14.5 finished hours… and the final production weighed in at 17.7 hours. If I had hired an ACX-certified producer for that project, at $200 per finished hour (a typical rate for that level of production experience), I'd have been on the hook to pay more than $3500!!

That is the kind of math to be aware of when making your audiobook title setup decisions. Producers registered via ACX (whether certified or not) may elect to be paid in the following PFH increments: $0-$50, $50-$100, $100-$200, $200-$400, and $400-$1000. A thousand dollars per finished hour will usually get you a team of male and female voice artists, musical interludes, sound effects, and the whole shebang. Cue the crowdfunding! The $0-$50 end will probably yield a bare-bones basic production, perhaps by someone just starting out in the narration business; in that case, you're probably better off stipulating the royalty-share production arrangement and seeing if you can attract a producer with a higher experience level.

Getting reviews.
If you think it's hard to get your e-book reviewed, just wait till you enter the wild & woolly world of audiobooks. To get you started, here are a few sites to contact:
If you have a story about any phase of the audiobook production process, leave a comment to share with us all!

Best of luck in all your publishing endeavors. :)

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