If you're an indie author looking to find out a bit more about turning your novel into an audiobook, this is the guide for you.
While most indie authors are intimately familiar with ebook publishing, there’s another publishing trend on the horizon that’s quickly taking hold: the self-produced indie audiobook.
Although it's true that audiobooks only comprise a small percentage of overall publishing sales, they are the fastest growing sector in the industry. But before you jump into the recording studio, we recommend you ask yourself if an audiobook edition of your book:
● Aligns with your goals
● Fits into your budget
● And (last but not least) is something you actually have time to do
To help you answer those questions, we've put together this brief indie author guide to audiobooks. Let's start by analysing how an audiobook might fit into an author's publishing goals.
Does an audiobook align with your goals?
If your only interest is Return on Investment, then audiobooks are probably not your top priority as an independent author. As a good rule of thumb, you can expect your audiobook to sell about 10% of your book’s print or digital version — so financially, your investment might not fully return at all.
But that doesn’t mean audiobooks aren’t worth putting time and money into. They can still be used to:
● Gain visibility,
● Market your book to a broad spectrum of readers,
● Give your book social proof or greater prestige,
● Or, if you’re a series writer, help you hook readers for many more books to come.
Overall, the audiobook market is far smaller than print or e-books. This means fewer sales, but it also means it’s easier for your title to stand out. If that fits with your marketing goals, then it might fits with your budget, too.
Does an audiobook fit into your budget?
We should get this out of the way first: audiobooks can cost a lot of money to produce. Then again, you could always just record them on your iPhone, but that comes with an obvious trade-off in quality. When figuring out how much you want to spend on your audiobook, these are the sort of pros and cons you’ll need to consider.
When it comes to recording, there are only two real options to consider: you can either pay professionals to do it for you or do it yourself. We’ll break down each option next.
Option 1: Pay a professional
The first option is the most expensive. It requires hiring a professional voice actor and covering their recording costs, an editor to put it together, and a publicist to put it out there. This is often handled with the help of a traditional publishing house and seldom taken by indie authors.
However, there are a handful of quality, independent audiobook studios you can book (albeit for a little more money than if you were to do it yourself). Most allow you to be as hands on or hands off as you like. Through studios like the Audio Publisher’s Association or ListenUp IndiePub, you’ll be able to select a narrator and give direction without actually sitting in on the recording process, and you’re virtually guaranteed to end up with the highest quality production and narration. However, most don’t offer distribution, so you’ll still have to handle that yourself.
Another option many indie authors use is the Audible Content Exchange (ACX). It allows you to submit a title and have narrators and producers vie for the chance to work on it. Some narrators on ACX will opt to split royalties with you 50/50 (after Audible takes 40% royalty through an exclusive distribution deal), so you actually have the ability to produce an audiobook for free through the exchange. However, established narrators and producers probably won’t audition for a Royalty Share title unless you already have a large following, so you might wind up with less experienced professionals and a lower quality recording.
You can also always Pay for Production (i.e. negotiate an hourly fee), which is usually a better choice but, of course, still a significant investment. And, through ACX, you’re still responsible for managing the process from start to finish.
Option 2: Do it yourself
On the other hand, you could opt to handle everything yourself, saving money while spending more time. But it still won’t be cheap — especially if you want to compete with professional-quality audiobooks. A voice actor can cost up to £175 per recorded hour. And even if you’re recording the audio yourself, you’ll want to book a studio. Here’s a quick by-the-numbers breakdown:
● Normal speaking pace = 9,000 words per hour → 80,000-word book = 9-hour audiobook.
● The ratio of studio time to finished audio = approx. 2:1 → 9-hour audiobook = 18 hours of studio time.
● Price of studio time ranges from 60-150 GBP per hour → 9-hour audiobook = about 1,000-2,700 GBP in studio time.
When booking studio time, you are also paying for an audio engineer. During the recording process, they’ll help you get clean audio. But to put together a professional-quality audiobook, you’ll still want to hire an editor with specific experience in the field. They’ll usually charge between £15 and £30 per hour. For a 9-hour audiobook, figure on 18 to 24 hours of editing — so that’s another £400 or so right there.
Spending up to £3,000 on a product that will likely sell less than your book might seem questionable — but if you can swing it in your budget, it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
How do you publish an audiobook?
Audiobooks aren’t only a significant investment from a financial perspective — they simply take a lot of time, too. In this section, we will break down every step it takes to produce, distribute, and market your audiobook so that you can easily see if the time commitment is right for you.
Succinctly, these are the steps it takes to produce an audiobook:
1. Choose a narrator. Regardless of whether you prefer Stephen Fry’s voice or your own, carefully consider how you want listeners to hear your story. Male? Female? Young? Old? Give it some thought before you decide to either hire a narrator or simply narrate the audiobook yourself.
2. Prepare for recording. This should take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and typically involves reading the entire book out loud beforehand, making choices on how each character will sound and brushing up on any pronunciation or specific accents.
3. Recording. Whether you work from a home booth or in a professional studio, the recording process will still take many hours. Be sure to keep individual sessions within four to six hours, as any more might strain the voice.
4. Post-production. No matter how careful you are in the studio, the recording will need to get cleaned up, mixed, mastered, and formatted. Unless you have a working knowledge of audio software like ProTools, Logic, or Ableton Live, the book should be handed to an editor who will listen for mistakes while processing the sound.
After that, your audiobook is ready. To upload it onto a distribution platform like Audible, you’ll need an MP3 version, not a CD — it is 2018, after all. We’ll dive into those publishing platforms next.
When it comes to distributing your audiobook, Audible is the place to start. It’s owned by Amazon, provides cataloging for iTunes, and overall comprises about 90% of the digital retail market. Most listeners discover new audiobooks through Amazon, so hosting your book on Audible is probably a good idea.
Audible offers 40% royalty for authors distributing exclusively through the platform, but only 25% for a non-exclusive contract. However, Audible does not reach the library market, so diversifying your reach might be worth it. In that case, look to Overdrive, the largest player in digital library services. Libraries are the second largest source of audiobooks and an excellent outlet for indie authors to get their name out.
There’s also Findaway, a backend provider for many audiobook outlets. They provide behind-the-scenes distribution for platforms such as Nook audio, Scribd, and TuneIn. Here’s a list of the other main distribution outlets:
● ListenUp Audiobooks
The more places you publish your audiobook, the more work you’ll have to put in — but the more listeners you’ll reach. As with everything else in audiobook production, it’s simply a question of what is worth more to you.
For the most part, marketing your indie audiobook is very similar to marketing a self-published print novel. But there are some specific tips to keep in mind:
● Audible gives authors 25 free downloads with every book they publish on the platform. Many authors will give these promo codes away through their existing social media channels or newsletter, while gently requesting the listener leave a review in return.
● There’s also a discount audiobook newsletter called Audiobook Boom! It only costs £10 to include your book in their weekly email, which reaches an audience of around 5,000 subscribers — and most of them will leave a review in return for a free listen, too.
● Take advantage of the audio format. Include a personalized introduction at the beginning, an interview at the end, or a chapter from a forthcoming book: anything to interest readers in buying both the audio and the print.
● If you used a narrator, they might have an established brand on social media. Ask them to share the audiobook there, or perhaps even an interview with you about the experience. You could host it on Soundcloud, or stream a live conversation on Twitch or Facebook.
● Finally, Audible includes an audio sharing feature called Clips that allows you to post 45 seconds of your audiobook to social media and email it directly to your friends, family, or newsletter group. This can be a great way to get your podcast out there without giving it away for free.
The publishing landscape continues to favor independent authors and more convenient ways of consuming stories, so if you’ve written a book, self-publishing it as an audiobook will immediately set you at the forefront of the trend. And while the costs are admittedly high, the demand is quickly rising to meet them — so be sure you rise with it.
Casimir Stone is a writer for Reedsy and host of Bestseller: a podcast that follows independent authors as they write and publish their first book.