(I am heading to the RWA national conference in Anaheim right now, so I wrote this blog before I left.)
My subject for today's "adventures in self-publishing" is audiobooks. Yup, you can self-publish audiobooks.
I think this is the neatest thing since the iPod. My first audiobook project, the short story Cat's Blood, is now available. It is a bit daunting to hear one's words read by a professional narrator, let me tell you!
What I like most about doing this particular project as an audiobook is how it takes a 10,000-word short story and turns it into an experience. Sitting and listening to a storyteller narrate the tale for an hour and a quarter allows you to follow along on Henri and Cat's journeys as they both learn and change from beginning to end. Hearing a story in this way slows down the experience, making it something to savor. I now get the appeal of audiobooks (I had not been an audiobook listener before this). Now I want to buy a bunch of audiobooks by other authors, too!
So how does a self-published author create an audiobook? Once again, the giant company Amazon.com has come up with a plan (or a way to get their fingers into one more pie, a cynic might say <g>). They own audible.com, a major retailer of audiobooks, and also distribute audiobooks via amazon.com and iTunes.
To get started creating your own audiobook, go to acx.com (the Audiobook Creation Exchange). You sign up, and list the book(s) you want to turn into audiobooks (making sure, of course, that you own the audiobook rights--check any publishing contracts to be sure where you stand).
Once you have signed up, you can list your project, describing the book itself, giving a sales pitch to potential narrators (I'll get to why in a minute), and then listing what you are looking for in a narrator: genre, gender, language, accent, style, and last but not least, price.
For Cat's Blood, I ultimately decided I wanted a male narrator who could do a French accent for my French-born vampire. I wanted a more mature voice (not a teenager), something that would capture the darker element in the story. This part of your decision is important. I'll provide a link at the end to a free sample of Cat's Blood. Imagine how different the story would sound if I'd decided I wanted the voice to be representative of Cat, the teenaged, very traumatized heroine. I deliberately went with the male voice to emphasize Henri's story (he makes the greatest change in the story), and to not dwell as much on Cat's trauma (which personally freaks me out, even though I wrote it).
So then we come to actually finding a narrator. The pricing becomes important here. There are two approaches to this.
One, you propose that the narrator does the audiobook essentially for no money up front (except for a stipend that AFTRA actors must be paid), and then you split the royalties 50/50 for the seven-year term of the audiobook contract. You can see how this puts a huge burden on the narrator to invest in your work (10-15 hours of labor per hour of finished audiobook). This means you must pitch your project to the narrator, convincing the actor to spend time on a project with no guaranteed profit.
The second option is to pay for the work up front. You agree to pay by the hour for the finished audiobook. The narrator's investment is then done, you own the audiobook for seven years, and have the right to distribute it according to the terms you agreed to, keeping all the profits for yourself.
As you can imagine, the more experienced audiobook narrators tend to go for the pay by hour terms, and the newer or less-experienced narrators are more willing to go for the split-royalty terms.
I started out thinking I would do the split-royalty terms, but then decided I would see if I could find someone who could complete the project for about one-month's worth of Cat's Blood's current ebook and print royalties. I decided I was willing to invest that much to see how this would work. For this short project, that actually put me on the high end of hourly rates (about $300/pfh -- per finished hour).
For this first project, I approached a few narrators and asked them to audition (you can hear samples of narrators' work, and then ask them to try a short reading from your book). I listened to both male and female narrators, with several different accents and approaches, and then decided on Gary Dikeos, who really impressed me with his audition.
The project was completed quickly, within a matter of weeks, and once the narrator was paid, the audiobook went live on July 18th, with distribution to amazon.com, audible.com, and iTunes.
So was it worth it? At this point, who knows. The first day I had 7 sales. Ten days like that and I'll start turning a profit. Hard to tell what the long-term earning potential is so soon. But I see a lot of options for using the audiobook sample for promotion, and it's yet another way to increase visibility for the story. So I'm pleased with the experiment, and time will tell.
You can hear a free sample of Cat's Blood at the places below:
And here's my first promotional postcard for the Cat's Blood audiobook:
Coming up in "Adventures in Self-Publishing": I hope to return from the RWA National conference in Anaheim with a bunch of new promotion and craft ideas, which I'll share with you in my bi-weekly posts for the rest of 2012.
Happy writing, everyone!