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July 9, 2015

Audiobooks: Getting Started with ACX — Guest: Amy Patrick

Microphone on a counter with text: Audiobooks: Finding the Right Narrator

I’ve shared the advice before that slow writers can be more successful by creating more income streams for each book. In other words, for each book we slowly pound out and release, we can maximize our income by adding more versions.

Sometimes that means adding a print version. Sometimes we might re-release several completed books in a bundle. And sometimes we might release an audio version.

I don’t know about you, but audiobooks seem like a foreign process to me. First of all, my audio processing is terrible, so I don’t usually listen to audiobooks, which means I have only a vague idea of how they work. *smile*

Secondly, I’ve been studying writing and the print publishing industry for years, but audio publishing? Not so much.

So delving into audiobooks feels like I’d have to start from scratch with my knowledge. Luckily for us, the last of my guest posts for my vacation break is a narrator for Amazon’s ACX service. Score!

Amy Patrick is going to tell us everything we need to know about how to get started with ACX, especially on how to audition and work with a narrator. Please welcome Amy Patrick!

*****

Auditioning and Working with
an ACX Narrator

I love audiobooks. They save my sanity while I’m commuting, doing the dreaded housework, or stuck in a long line. And I’m not alone. Now that audiobooks are so easy to download and listen to on our tablets and phones, sales are seeing the same kind of exponential growth enjoyed by ebooks in recent years.

But I’m not just a listener of audiobooks. I’m also a narrator through ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange, a subsidiary of Amazon created in 2011 as a sort of matchmaking service between rights holders (authors or publishers) and audiobook producers (narrators and studio professionals like sound engineers.)

As an author myself and a professional voice actor for the past fifteen years, ACX was a natural fit for me. And it may be a good fit for you as an author seeking to maximize all of your publishing rights. Indie pub giants like Bob Mayer and Hugh Howey are big audio advocates, calling audiobooks “an essential part of the ‘long tail’ that is the core of success for an author” and part of your “media empire.”

If you’re self-published, you already own your audio rights. If you’re under contract with a publisher, read the fine print and/or check with your agent before diving into audiobook production. Some authors are requesting reversion of their audio rights if they’ve sold them and they’re sitting there unused by the publisher.

Where to Begin?

The audiobook creation process is surprisingly simple. I’ve found working with ACX to be very straightforward and trouble-free. They have an awesome step-by-step guide for authors to get you started and answers to just about any question you might have on the FAQ page.

I won’t try to explain each step of the process because those tutorials do a better job than I ever could. But I thought you might like some tips on hiring and working with a narrator from the narrator’s perspective. I find myself frequently answering questions from friends on the many author chat loops I belong to, and the same questions come up again and again. 🙂 Such as…

How Much will This Cost Me?

It varies. There’s no up-front fee to ACX for using its services to connect with a producer and create your audiobook, but you will obviously have to pay the narrator/producer, and there are two ways to do that.

  • Up Front:

    You pay a one-time fee, and all profits from the audiobook sales go to you. You and your narrator agree to an amount based on the number of finished audio hours, and you pay when the project is completed. It generally takes a narrator about two hours to record an hour of script. The post-production will take another one to three hours per recorded hour. You pay only for what comes out the other end—the finished audio hours.
    ACX says the average performer narrates about 9300 words per hour. Divide your word count by 9300 for an estimate of how long your audiobook will run. I’ve found most novel-length books run about 8-10 hours, and while narrators’ fees vary, the range goes from about $250 on up to $1000 per finished hour. The high end if you want a better-known actor (like someone you might have seen on TV or in movies) or toward the lower end for someone non-famous with fewer audio titles to their name (like me.)

  • Royalty-Share:

    You pay nothing up front, and your narrator/producer gets a 50/50 cut of every sale you make. Sounds great, right? The problem is many high quality narrators aren’t interested in this kind of arrangement. They could wind up with a pile of money if the audiobook has outstanding sales—or with not much to show for a lot of work if it doesn’t sell well.

I usually work with authors who pay me the upfront fee. But…

I have been tempted to do royalty share on certain projects. It is possible to make the royalty-share option more attractive, and that’s addressed in the answer to the next question.

How Can I Find the Best Narrator for My Book?

When you sign up for ACX and create a new title profile, you’ll have the opportunity to give as much (or as little) information about your book and what you want in a narrator as you’d like. My advice is to give a lot of detail.

You’ll be asked to choose a genre for your book, the language you want the narration in, a gender and age range for your narrator, as well as the accent and vocal style you desire. For instance, if the book is a cozy mystery set in a small Southern town featuring a female protagonist, you might want a female narrator with a hint of a Southern accent.

The standard advice is to choose a narrator of the same gender as your main character, whether the book’s written in first or third POV, but if you’re not sure yet, you can choose “either” and listen to auditions from males and females.

Those are the basics. But where you can really make your title profile shine and attract a great narrator are your Book Description and Comments from the Rights Holder sections.

The Book Description Section

The book description is that sparkling, attention-grabbing blurb we seem to have to trot out at every turn. Just as you use it to attract readers, a well-written, exciting blurb can lure a talented narrator to your project.

I personally have passed on auditioning for books with dull or poorly written blurbs—even when the money was great. I have to spend a long time with that book, reading it and listening to it multiple times over many weeks, and if it’s not good, that would be misery. A blah or bad blurb makes me think the book will be bad as well.

The Comments from the Rights Holder Section

The Comments from the Rights Holder section is where you give some pre-performance direction, where you can share your vision for the project, the personalities of your lead characters, any special accents or pronunciations or vocal acrobatics your narrator will need to perform to do a great job on your audiobook.

Comments Section Tip #1:
Think Like a Director

This is the place to let your prospective talent know how the read should “feel.” Is it lighthearted and snarky? Ominous? Straightforward or full of humor? Don’t worry about sounding picky here—specific is good. It’ll cut down on the number of where-the heck-did-that-come-from? auditions.

Here’s a great example from the Comments section of one of the titles I recorded:

  • The books are written in third person but I imagine the narrator as sounding like AnnaLise Griggs, the main point-of-view character, if perhaps a decade older than she is at the start of book one, when she’s 28. AnnaLise was born and raised in the North Carolina mountains, but she moved away to the Midwest for college and then a career as a reporter. As Running on Empty opens, she is called back to her quirky hometown in the mountains because of an incident with her mother.
    While AnnaLise has lost her North Carolina accent, most of the characters will have a slight southern veneer to their dialogue. (I find the North Carolina accent a little gentler and less assertive than that of some southern states.)
    While I want a trace of accent in the characters’ (other than AnnaLise) dialogue, it shouldn’t be to the point of being tiresome. The only one who can be a bit over the top is “Mama,” who is both southern and Italian-American.

As a former news anchor/reporter who had to lose her own accent for work, I was instantly attracted to this project. And I had a pretty good idea how the author wanted it to be read. If you’re not sure yet what kind of sound you’d like for your book, go to Audible and listen to samples of various books. That should help you identify what appeals to you in a read.

Comments Section Tip #2:
Make Your Book Sound Like a Successful Project

Another important factor to include in the Comments from the Rights Holder section—especially if you want or need to do a royalty-share—is to point out how well your book is doing (or you expect it to do). Make it attractive. Has it won awards? Gotten great reviews? Made a list or two? Part of a popular series? Put that info here!

Here’s a good example:

  • Among Monsters is the companion novel to Red Hill. Jamie McGuire is a #1 New York Times bestseller with over 200,000 combined Facebook and Twitter followers.

And another:

  • All of author’s books have ranked in Amazon’s Top 100 in Regency Romance
  • Aggressive promotions aimed at increasing fan base appreciation of audiobooks via annual promotions, dedicated web page to request audiobooks for review
  • Webpages with embedded Soundcloud audiobook excerpts / buy links
  • Created YouTube videos for new audiobooks and share across social network.
  • Launched second annual Audiobook Spring Fling Campaign to increase audiobook awareness among my readership base

Another opportunity for enticing a quality narrator (and identifying the right one) is your audition sample, which leads us to the next question.

What Should I Put in My Sample Pages?

ACX recommends a page or two from your book. I’d lean toward a few pages rather than a shorter sample. A page is not quite enough in my opinion.

On the other hand, I’ve seen authors put up huge sample sections, but many narrators won’t want to read an entire chapter for an audition. Just like the finished project, recording and editing audition samples takes a good deal of time and work on our part.

I’d actually recommend two samples—a couple of pages from two different sections of the book. Think of the scenes you’re most fond of—the ones you really want the narrator to “get.” Make sure there’s dialogue on those pages, and if your main character does lots of italicized introspection (internal dialogue) throughout the book, include a sample of that.

And if you’ve got any sexy sex in your book, make sure one of your samples includes one of those scenes. You want to hear how your narrator will handle that and give the narrator the opportunity to decide whether they’re comfortable reading that kind of material before committing to a project.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

The Oopsie:

Does your book contain unusual character names or places? Even within the U.S., every area has its own “special” pronunciations. For instance, I was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi. Everyone there pronounces it La-FAY-ett. In other areas the same word is pronounced La-fi-ETT.

The more of these things you can point out to your narrator, the better. It would be a shame to have your narrator mispronounce a name or place throughout the entire book and have to go back and make a zillion fixes.

I worked with one author who gave me a spectacular spreadsheet listing each character in the book, their age and defining characteristics, and the pronunciations of their first and last names. It was a godsend!

The Nails-on-a-Chalkboard:

How many people would you love to listen to for nine or 10 hours straight? The list is probably small, and you likely married or gave birth to everyone on it.

It’s critical to make sure the voice you select is highly listenable. You can give direction about things like pacing or attitude in the delivery, but if the voice itself kinda bugs you, your audiobook listeners are likely to feel the same. Over the course of several hours, the cumulative effect of that annoyance could lead to a stop button and a bad review.

In general, less is more as far as regional accents, angst, and snarkiness. It’s the old “a little goes a long way” principle.

The Do-Over:

Be sure to tell your narrator at the outset what kind of read you’re looking for. Once you’ve approved the first 15 minutes, you won’t have the chance to hear the book again until it’s done. At that point, you can make up to two rounds of revision requests from your narrator, but it’s best to be as clear and specific as possible from the beginning to prevent headaches for yourself and your voiceover talent.

I worked with one author who, after the entire project was done, told me she had wanted all the scenes from one particular POV to feel foreboding. Because I wanted her to be happy, I ended up re-doing many chapters and many, many hours of work that could have been done right the first time with just that little bit of direction at the outset. In the end everyone was happy and it was worth it, but it was a throat-punishing chore.

The Shocker-oo:

Again, do make sure you let it be known up front if your book contains graphic violence or hot sex scenes and make sure your narrator is up for the task. If you write romance or erotica, you want your sex scenes to come across sexy, right? Not stilted or flat or over-the-top pervy. Nothing sexy about that.

The Silent Suffering:

Don’t be shy about asking for changes in the finished chapters. Some errors and re-takes are inevitable. You’re the “director,” and you’ll need to listen carefully for errors in technical delivery and feel.

And you do have the right to request changes. Your narrator wants you to be thrilled and promote the audiobook with gleeful shouts from the mountaintop when it’s all done. As writers, hearing our words spoken aloud is a very personal, emotional experience, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of wanting it to be done right.

When you’ve approved the final product and paid your narrator/producer (if paying upfront), ACX will distribute your audiobook through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. You’ll receive monthly royalty payments on your sales.

Two Ways to Find Narrators on ACX

  • Post your title profile (with that sparkling book description and thorough Comments section) and let them come to you—if you offer fair compensation and have a great blurb and bona fides, I promise they will.
  • Or you can go in search of just the right voice—ACX allows you to search using criteria like age and gender, preferred reading style, accent, and desired fee range. Spend some time combing through the profiles and listening to samples of the different narrators available through the exchange.
    Then you can approach your favorites through a private message on ACX with the opportunity to record your wonderful book. Everyone wants to be wanted, and if you explain to a narrator why you believe she/he would be perfect for your book, you may just make an audiobook love connection.

Good luck! I’ll be happy to answer your questions in the comments. What would you like to know?

*****

Amy PatrickAmy Patrick is a two-time Golden Heart finalist (2013 and 2014) who writes Contemporary Romance and Young Adult fantasy/paranormal romance. She is the author of the Hidden Trilogy and the 20 Something series. Living in New England now with her husband and two sons, she actually craves the heat and humidity of Mississippi, where she grew up. She’s been a professional singer and news anchor and currently works as a video host and voice actor as well as an audiobook narrator.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest

*****

Hidden Deep coverSixteen-year-old Ryann Carroll has just run into the guy who saved her life ten years ago.
You might think she’d be happy to see him again. Not exactly. She’s a bit underdressed (as in skinny-dipping) and he’s not supposed to exist.

Seventeen-year-old Lad knows the law of his people all too well: Don’t get careless and Don’t get caught.
It’s allowed his race to live undetected in this world for thousands of years, mentioned only in flawed and fading folklore…

Lad’s never been able to forget about Ryann since that night ten years ago. When he sees her again, his fascination re-ignites and becomes a growing desire that tempts him to break all the rules. He’s not even supposed to talk to a human, much less fall in love with one…

Amazon US | Amazon UK | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

*****

Thank you so much, Amy! This is fantastic information that we’d only be able to get from someone “in the know” about both sides of the process.

I had no idea how much was possible with narration “feel” and accents. I think I could lose days just by listening to samples to get a feel for what our options are. *grin*

One tip that I just saw recently was to search on Audible for the narrators on our short list. Reviews on Audible break out the “stars” by “Overall,” “Performance,” and “Story.” That Performance element (and sometimes the comments in the review itself) refer to what listeners thought of the narrator, so those reviews can give us a fuller picture than what we might be able to tell from a short audition.

I hope to release audiobooks someday, and this gives me a great head start on knowing how to plan and manage the project. It’s enough to make me feel like not only could I do it, but also makes me want to try it—right now. Anyone else feel the same? *smile*

Do you listen to audiobooks? What makes an audiobook good or bad for listening to? Have you created audiobooks before, or have you thought about creating one? Does this post help you know how to set up an ACX request and get what you want? Do you have any questions for Amy?

(P.S. Don’t miss my 5th Blogiversary Contest! Entries close this weekend!)

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

I’m glad I don’t have the “processing issues” Jami (and some authors I know) have with audio in general as audiobooks SAVED my reading life during periods of time when “Reading what I write” was feeling more like a punishment than a pleasure. Partly because of the “Envy Complex” and it’s also allowed me to revist books I first read and loved in print, but due to length or subject matter can’t always go back to. Like Amy said above, anything that makes the durgeries of housework and other slowgoing activities more bearable is a godsend! Plus, for those of us who were not read to as kids, audiobooks can be the next best thing, as long as you groove on the narrator, it’s a great way to enjoy new books and revisit old favorites. I’d love to do a full cast version of my novel “Gabriel” but that’s the kind of thing that’s tricky to navigate via ACX from what I’ve heard. Plus, the upfront expense would be steep. If I get to do a an audio version anytime soon (as in, around the initatal publication of the print/ebook version), it most likely will be a solo narrator, and I can’t yet think of who would be a good fit to solo narrate it. I have time on my side on this aspect at least. I’ve worked with voice actors before with some videos I’ve done on my YouTube channel, partly for fun and partly to experiment and get…  — Read More »

Amy Patrick

Hi Taurean! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog and sharing your own thoughts and experiences. Good luck with your audiobooks!

Kait Nolan

Transplanted Rebel in Bulldog country waving hello (and happy to send the heat and humidity up your way–we’ve had enough of it, thanks!)!

Amy Patrick

Hi Kait! I remember you from connecting on Twitter a while ago. Great to see you here on Jami’s blog. And no need to send it– I’m coming down to get a little of the good Mississippi swelter myself in August!

Asa Maria Bradley

Great advice Amy! Thank you so much for hosting, Jami. I have put away audio books by favorite authors because I just couldn’t stand the narrator. It’s such an important choice.

Amy Patrick

I’ve done the exact same thing, Asa. I guess no one voice will please every single listener, but I think it’s possible to find one that’s pleasing to most. Thanks for stopping by!

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

As I mentioned in my intiatl reply, audiobooks can sink or swim depending on the narrator, I’ve been lucky that most of my favorite books (that have audio versions) had great narrators, and my tastes aren’t as “mainstream” as others so that might also help. I can empathize with Asa’s situation regarding narrator disappointment (if not apathy) regarding audiobooks. Of course, not everyone’s favorite books have audio versions (esp. if you have non-maintream tastes, like me), but the books I love that do have auido versions, with narrators I enjoy (or can live with) are, again, a godsend! Another consideration with audiobooks is the matter of “Abridged” versus “Unabridged.” The “Adbridged” version will have left out certain parts of the book to make it a faster listening experience, but you lose a lot of info the original book had. Lots of illustrated/illuminated versions of classic stories like Tom Sawyer or Sherlock Holmes are abridged, meaning the length is shorterned of what the original story was for quicker reading. “Unabridged” means the whole book in its entirety is included, akin to movies or television shows on DVD//Blu-Ray/Digital dubbed “Uncut” or “Uncensored” meaning length isn’t cut PURELY for time (Which occurs often with some films on television, particularly older ones pre-2000 that run over two hours) or suggestive scenes aren’t cut, fuzzed or bleeped out (often due to suggestive matters of language, violent, sexual, or other potentially offensive content). The narrators also might differ on the abridged versus unabridged version of the…  — Read More »

Lark Brennan

Wow, Amy! Great advice. I’ve never thought a lot about how audiobooks are produced which I need to now that I have a release in December. This is fabulous information! Thanks!

Lark

Amy Patrick

Hey Lark! So happy you stopped by and found some of the info useful. There is a lot to learn, but it’s so much easier now than it used to be. Can’t wait for your debut!

Shelly Alexander
Shelly Alexander

I’ve just started listening to audio books myself, and never really considered how important the voice is until now. This is great information for the future when finding a good voice fit for the books I write myself. Thanks!

Amy Patrick

Hi Shelly! At the rate you’re going, you bestseller, you, we’ll all be listening to YOUR audiobooks soon. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

Nan Dixon

Amy what a wonderful piece on making audiobooks. Sigh … I wish I had the rights to my books.

Amy Patrick

Hi Nan! I think with the way the industry’s changing, it’s very likely that even trad-pubbed authors will have options for retaining (or regaining) audiobook rights at some point in their careers. Thank you for making the time to come by today. 🙂

Sarah Andre

GREAT advice, Amy! I have never listened to audiobooks, so I’ve never given it much thought. You are turning into quite the teacher! First the beautiful book trailer, now this. I foresee RWA workshops in your future!

Amy Patrick

Hey Sarah! Thanks for the wonderful compliment and for stopping by to comment today. You’re quite the book trailer diva yourself! 🙂

McCall Hoyle
McCall Hoyle

Amy, I love audiobooks, and the narrator’s voice can definitely make or break a story. This post is a valuable resource. Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

Amy Patrick

Thank you so much for taking time out of your crammed schedule to stop by and comment!! <3

AE Jones

Amy –
Thanks for sharing all of this wonderful information with us! I am filing away this for further reference when I finally jump into the audiobook market!
AE

Amy Patrick

You bet! I predict your audiobooks will do VERY well when they eventually hit the market. Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. 🙂

Carrie Padgett
Carrie Padgett

Great post, Amy! I don’t listen to audio books much, so they’re not on my radar. Thanks for giving me lots to think about. I have a friend who also does audio book narration, Jenny Drake Ford. She’s fabulous and so are you. If I ever decide to have one of my manuscripts done by a professional, I’ll have to flip a coin, I’m afraid. Yikes!

Amy Patrick

Hey Carrie! Thanks for stopping by. Warning: once you start listening to audiobooks, they’re kind of addictive. That’s so cool you have another friend who does them. I’ll be fine with either side of the coin. 😉 There’s PLENTY of work to go around.

Jacqui Nelson

Thank you for sharing your wonderful tips on audiobook creation, Amy. At my day job in a bookstore we sometimes have audiobooks playing. Harry Potter is the usual pick, but I think it’s time to branch out. So many wonderful stories out there waiting to be read and heard. You inspire me on so many levels!

Amy Patrick

Jacqui! That’s funny, because you’ve been a big inspiration to ME! You do what you do so well. I think that’s a fabulous idea, by the way, to have audiobooks playing in a bookstore. I’ve never seen it done before. They should ALL do it!

Leslie Lynch

Hi, Amy! I just released Hijacked, my 2013 Golden Heart final as an audiobook. I’m lucky to live near Louisville, Kentucky, home of the American Printing House for the Blind. I also lucked into stumbling into a partnership (and now friendship) with an awesome narrator who has 20 years and 400+ titles with the American Printing House for the Blind. Her name is Carol Dines, and she wanted to get started in commercial audiobooks. Again, I lucked into being one of her first clients. It worked beautifully; I was not on a deadline, so we could take our time with the process. She sent me 10 or so chapters at a time that I listened to, then provided feedback. I had far more ability to direct than I would have had I gone through the ACX process. It was an incredible learning experience. It’s rare that you, as author, have the opportunity to listen to a reader as they interpret your words. She got everything spot on with one or two notable exceptions – which she changed when I explained my vision for the lines. My writing will improve, too, as a result. It’s one thing to read your own manuscript out loud, or have the computer read it back to you; it’s totally different to have another person read it back to you. It’s an experience that has been a real stretch for me as author, plus being a lot of fun. As an indie-pubbed author, I’ve grown used…  — Read More »

Amy Patrick

Hi Leslie! Wow- what a great experience you had. Thanks for telling us about that. You’re so right that hearing the words read aloud makes us better writers. I listen to my own books with the speech-to-text feature after finishing each draft- it really helps! Of course, there’s zero inflection, but it’s better than nothing. 🙂 So glad you stopped by, and good luck with your brand new audiobook!!

Vanessa Barneveld

Hi, Amy and Jami! My apologies for dropping by so late. Thanks so much for an informative post, Amy. I’ve recently fallen in love with audiobooks. My publisher released mine through Audible. Such a huge thrill to have your work come to life in this way!

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[…] break, and I want to give a humongous shout out to all my guest bloggers: Rachel, Tamar, Rhoda, and Amy. (And a bonus shout out to Kerry, who filled in ahead of time to give me a chance to pack.) […]

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[…] These days authors need to be somewhat tech savvy. David Kudler explores 4 ways to create an epub ebook, Candance Williams shows how to make a book trailer in iMovie, and Amy Patrick explains how to get started in audiobooks with ACX. […]

Tony Mendoza

This was a very good and insightful article on getting your book made into an audio book. I’m not novelist but I am definitely an audio book lover. I always knew a lot went into the production of the book. Thank you for sharing your insight.

bellardila52
bellardila52

Audiobooks seems very interesting. I’d never listen to it before.

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