Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Movie in My Head: The Fast-Growing World of Audiobooks

by Basil Sands, author & audiobook narrator 
 Basil Sands midnight sun audio cover
Do you listen to audiobooks? Have you published any of your own books as audiobooks? If not, why not?

Audiobooks are one of the fastest growing waves in the publishing world right now. More and more book lovers are reading with their ears. According to Audio Publishers Association, audiobook consumption went up 16% from 2011 to 2012, with over 7100 titles published in audio in 2012. Audiobook download revenue went up an amazing 32.7% in that same period.

So how do we get into this party? That depends on who owns the audio rights to your book.

 Publisher-owned audio rights

The vast majority of traditionally published book deals in the last few years include audio rights. The most common approach is for the print publisher to sell the audio rights to an audio publisher and you, the writer, get a share of that amount which could be up to 50% (minus agent’s 15%). The largest publishing houses have their own audiobook production wing, so if they plan to make the audiobook, that is usually included in the initial contract. A terrific blog post on the details of this process from an agent’s perspective can be found here.  

Author-owned audio rights

Authors can hold their own rights. If you’re self-published, this means you have always had the option of paying a studio to record your works, but the cost has generally been prohibitive and did not include distribution and marketing. Which meant that after spending several thousand dollars creating an audiobook, you had a handful of CD copies and little else. In 2009-2010, companies like Crossroad Press came up with the idea of doing a royalty-sharing production system where narrators recorded books on the basis of sharing the royalties among the author, publisher and narrator.  

Where to start?

Enter the undisputed king of self-published audiobooks,, aka Audiobook Creation Exchange, which happens to be a subsidiary of the undisputed king of self-published ebooks, Amazon…go figure. Having been on the ground at the intro of ACX as both an author and a narrator, I can attest it is a wonderful system.

ACX allows the author to get their work matched up with a narrator they can afford and get their book placed on, the #1 retailer of downloadable audiobooks in the world, as well as on iTunes. One of the best things for authors on limited budget and for narrators trying to build their portfolio is that the book can be set up for either royalty share, which costs the author nothing out of pocket, or for a cash deal with a more experienced narrator.

Side Note re royalty share: A typical 100k-word novel comes in at about 10 hours of finished audio. Each hour of finished audio (read, edited, cleaned, mastered) takes 4-6 hours of actual labor. An experienced narrator/editor earns between $300-$400 per finished hour on a paid project ($3000–$4000 per book). That’s a lot of money to gamble for one who makes a living at this.

For royalty share, ACX does the accounting bits, so neither the author nor the narrator gets cheated. Likewise for cash deals, ACX does not release the book for sale until the narrator has verified the work has been paid for. It can be a win/win situation for all parties.

ACX also has the option for the author to narrate their own works, which I’ve done for my own books.

Warning: Creating your own audiobook is a daunting task. It requires a lot more than a ‘nice voice’ to do right. It takes patience, endurance, and strong acting chops (I was a stage actor for twenty years before writing my first novel). Not trying to scare you away, but before you invest a couple grand in a home studio, sit down and read into a recorder for four hours straight, taking only a ten minute break once per hour. Then go back and listen to what you recorded while proofing it against the text. If you think you can enjoy doing that every day for five days straight, then proceed. If not hire someone.

Sales and Earnings:  So how much money are we talking? Audible/ACX keeps 50% of the sales price of all audiobooks sold through its site. The remaining 50% is the royalty that is either shared or kept.

So how much money will that mean in your pocket? That depends on what it sells for. According to ACX, here’s a guideline of how much a book will retail for:

Under 3 hours: under $10
3–5 hours: $10 – $20
5–10 hours: $15 – $25
10–20 hours: $20 – $30
Over 20 hours: $25 – $35

Once the book is out there, marketing is the next key, and that can be a real bear, as anyone who has self-published and even most traditionally published can attest. Here are some tips from ACX:

Marketing Checklist:

1. Email your contacts to announce it.

2. Create a post on your blog—include an image and an audio sample.

3. Post a status update on Facebook, and link to your product page at online retailers.

4. Tweet about it.

5. Send influential colleagues and reviewers a synopsis or free copy of your audiobook.

6. Ask key peers and colleagues if they would help share the news by emailing or tweeting about your book.

7. Request listener reviews from your contacts. Retailers that are selling your book will allow for reviews.

8. Review related titles on Amazon and link your reviews back to your Author Page on Amazon.

9. Respond to or retweet any commentary you receive.

10. Encourage your audience to buy your book as a new AudibleListener® member on
When they do, you’ll get that extra Twenty-Five Dollar Bounty Payment. It can add up fast!

Those are the basics in a nutshell. Authors, are you interested in joining the audiobook party? Listeners, do you have a favorite audiobook or a favorite narrator?

The floor is open for general discussion - all takers are welcome!  Basil Sands profile

Basil Sands has written four thrillers, a novella, more than a dozen shorts, and is currently working on an ambitious thriller series set in Alaska. He's also an audiobook narrator with dozens of titles recorded for several best-selling authors. His full bio is at

Basil lives in Anchorage, Alaska, with his wife and sons.


  1. Thanks, Basil (and CFC) - I love posts like this - plenty of hard information, subject thoroughly presented, good advice. I've shared widely :-)

    1. Thank you for sharing Michael. It's truly a great industry to be part of.

  2. Welcome to CFC, Basil! Lots of good, concrete, usable info here! I'll be sharing this!

  3. Thanks for sharing this info, Basil. Audio is definitely on the up and there are many benefits.

    1. It really is an amazing thing to watch it grow as an industry.

  4. Thanks, Basil. The audiobook for THE MISSINGS will hopefully be available for the holidays. My narrator was selected by my granddaughter (after I narrowed the field) and I trust her judgement. I'm looking forward to getting it released and getting it into the hands (ears) of other readers (listeners).

    1. Congrats on the production. And great way to get the family involved. Did you go through ACX for the narrator?

      Speaking of your granddaughter, I just got home from the Alaska Young Writer's Conference where one of the sessions I presented was this same topic. It was incredible how many of the kids, middle & high school students, were interested in the whole audiobook process. We nearly ran out of time with all the questions they had. Also had some of them volunteer for a cold-read of an audition script from a book I narrated last year. Some definite talent on the rise there.

    2. I did go through ACX. We have a royalty split and he tells me he loved the book.

      This is truly a growing segment of our market.

  5. Does anyone here have experience with the Whispersync feature on Amazon - where if the customer has purchased your ebook they have the option to also buy the audiobook at a discounted price? Just wondering how that works from the author/rights holder perspective.

    1. The Whispersync feature is something the rights holder can choose to opt into. But, it takes time to get set up as a proofer at Audible has to proof the ebook to the narration and the two have to match with at least 97% accuracy to qualify.

      Here's how the Whispersync for Voice option looks on one of the books I narrated at Amazon...

      "Add the professional narration of High Treason (A Jonathan Grave Thriller) for a reduced price of $3.49 after you buy this Kindle book."

      So basically if they buy the ebook at regular price, they get the audio at a significantly reduced price. The rights hold will be paid their royalty based on the actual sales price of the book. So while you may make less on the individual items, it is like the point of sale candy shelves in the store in that the reader wasn't planning to get the audio at all, but couldn't pass up the deal on the way out the door.

      Here's ACX's link to the Whispersync FAQ

    2. Thanks so much! This helps tremendously.

  6. Great information. I was a little surprised to hear that ACX keeps half, but I'm still going to use the site to produce an audio book of The Trigger. The one downside of the site is that you can't get started on your audiobook until the novel is available on Amazon in print or ebook. So there's no way to do a simultaneous release.

    1. This is true. I know major publishers are capable of doing this by setting the dates for each avenue to all coincide. I've had to rush narrations through on short notice at times to ensure that the audiobook was ready before the ebook and paperback releases. If I learn how it can be done via ACX I'll make sure to share it here.

  7. Thank you, Basil. Great article. I'm starting production of my first book this week, I hope. I've decided not to go with ACX for the narrator. Any words of wisdom?

    Teresa Burrell

    1. Congrats Teresa. So I assume you are self-narrating? Are you going to use ACX to post it to the world or planning something else? I've done my own author-narrated books through other publishers as well as ACX. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

  8. No, I'm not self-narrating. I have a professional narrator but I will be able to participate in the process. Then I plan to go with ACX to post it. ACX appears to be the only way to get on Audible. Is that correct?

    1. Pretty much, they are at least if you want to get major distribution. Even the small publishers who record for their authors usually put it on the market via ACX.

      It's a good system though. Best of luck!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.