Last week in comments, ELB asked me to talk about the process of creating an audiobook. This is an interesting one; I’ve made two audiobooks and I am incredibly unlikely to make any more—not because I don’t like having audiobooks, but because they are incredibly expensive to make.
Cory Doctorow wrote a Medium article about ARCs a while back that was . . . well. I have a lot of respect for Cory Doctorow. But here’s the part that made me shrivel up and die inside:
Remember how reviewers get 30 times more print ARCs and 100 times more e-ARCs than they can read? Those same reviewers get virtually no audiobook review copies. If you send a reviewer an ARC, there are 29 books competing with it. Send that reviewer an audiobook and usually there are no other books competing with yours.
Yeah, sounds like a great idea! But, as I replied to the person who sent it to me,
I note that what he REALLY wants is for a small publisher to spend £3k+ to produce an audiobook for a novel that nobody has yet even agreed to read when provided to them for free.
My own experience of audiobooks is that I can’t afford to make them. Periodt. I gave it a shot with Some Rise By Sin and The Workshop of Filthy Creation. I was able to justify my audiobook experiement with these two books because of the way Amazon’s audiobook creation service works.
“Hold on!” you yell. “Amazon audiobooks are not good for readers! They aren’t available in libraries! Bookstores can’t sell them! To listen, people have to pay Amazon, and everyone knows Amazon is EVIL!” Or you send me this link.
And I say—ok, but Amazon is the difference between having an audiobook and not having an audiobook, for me and for many self-published authors and independent presses.
To create an audiobook generally, you need to pay someone to read the book aloud, and someone to produce and edit the audio (sometimes the same person does both parts). As you can imagine, this is hours and hours of work. Do it right and the £3k+ figure is your minimum spend. Et voila! You have an audiobook. Now you upload it wherever and bang, it’s for sale. And you hope to god you sell enough copies to make that £3k+ figure back.
In sort, making and producing an audiobook can more than double the amount you spend on making and marketing the book in every other format. Margins are already so tight for me that I couldn’t face that.
The Amazon audiobook platform (ACX) is a little different. Yes, you can find audiobook producers there who will make your book outright as described above. But some audiobook producers are willing to make and produce your audiobook FOR FREE if you agree that they will then take some large-ish percentage of the sales. And some are in the middle: you agree to pay them part of the fee upfront plus a promise of a medium-ish percentage of sales, and everyone hopes the number of people who go on to buy the audiobook will make it worthwhile for everyone.
The creation itself was, from my perspective, pretty straightforward. You provide a script that interested narrators then use to audition. People who think your project sounds interesting record themselves reading it, then send their recording to you via the ACX platform. You then assess the auditions, pick the person you think does the best job, and haggle over the terms of payment.
When they agree to make the audiobook, they have benchmarks they must reach based on the date you want the audio to be available. They record and produce the audio, you listen and ask for any edits, eventually it all gets done, and you put it live. Easy.
Now, I found that the quality of audiobook readers promoting themselves for free was a little lacking. When you’re auditioning readers, you describe the quality of voice you’re looking for (old, young, male, female, gravelly, smooth, British, American, and so on). I got a lot of people auditioning for my “middle-aged British gravelly” voice who sounded like they were off to a keg party at their University of Minnesota dorm. I can’t blame them for trying, I suppose.
I was so lucky with the narrator I found, David Lane Pusey, who did both of my books with the middle-way arrangement. At least he got paid for his studio time; I don’t know if or when sales will ever make up for the rest of his time plus my outlay. But he did a beautiful job, and I hope more people do buy the audiobooks. (Those links again: Some Rise By Sin, The Workshop of Filthy Creation).
Book Twitter puked all over itself last year when this Publisher’s Weekly article about AI audiobooks came out. I’m not personally that into having AI read my audiobooks (though maybe with something like The Transfer Problem it could be a fun idea). But again, for independent publishers of all sorts, it may be the future—and sometimes it may be the difference between an audiobook and no audiobook at all.
Hey, this has been fun! Do comment if there is anything else you are curious about; I’m more than happy to talk about all of this stuff.
Also, in my own attempts to send out free copies of the audiobooks I did make in exchange for reviews, I got very little takeup. So I’m not sure it’s the kind of risk any small publisher can take. Naturally, I think it’s a no-brainer for publishers who have the money to produce audiobooks as part of their typical offering.
It’s also still the only place you can reliably get The Transfer Problem in paperback since Ingram Spark still haven’t figured out the problem they are responsible for. Authors and publishers also get more money per copy sold on Amazon than in bookshops (if they’re using Ingram Spark). Just FYI.
I would be happy to help you find and evaluate text to speech AIs. I would like to listen to The Transfer Problem in the Jessie voice from TikTok.