Audiobooks have become increasingly popular in recent years. This means that as an author, you’ll inevitably have to ask yourself at some point, “Is producing an audiobook the right option for me?” If you decided that the answer is yes, you’ll then have to ask how to do it. John Wagner-Stafford has some advice to help you make the best decision.
John is a co-founder of Ingenium Books. A Gemini Award-nominated former sound engineer and audio producer for music, film, television and video games, he leads Ingenium Books’ work on audiobooks. Check out John’s film and TV credits on his IMDB profile.
You can listen to the conversation with John about audiobooks for authors on The Empowered Author podcast via the direct link below.
Should every author produce an audiobook?
John thinks that almost regardless of the type of book you’ve written, producing an audiobook probably makes sense. The global audiobook market is currently (at the time this podcast was recorded, June 2021) worth about US$4.8 billion and in the next eight or nine years, that figure is set to grow to around US$19.8 billion. In the United States alone, about 131 million people over the age of twelve are listening to audiobooks.
What are possible routes to audiobooks for authors?
According to John, there are three main routes to audiobooks for authors: you can do it yourself, you can hire a narrator/producer, or you can work with a partner.
- Do it yourself: The do-it-yourself route is the cheapest way of producing an audiobook. You are not only responsible for the cost of buying or renting the necessary equipment and studio time but also for narrating the book yourself and managing the entire production process.
- Hire a narrator/producer: With this route, you hire a narrator with some technical expertise to narrate your audiobook for you and prepare the audio files for you. Normally they work on a fee-for-hire basis, but some narrators on some platforms may agree to reduce their rates in exchange for a split of the royalties on sales. Hiring a narrator is a good option if you want to remain in full control of your book but don’t have the narration skills, voice quality, or technical expertise to produce a quality product. However, you’ll still manage the project and the rest of the process, from coordinating cover design, metadata, account and book set up and uploading to the distributor platform (e.g. ACX or Authors’ Republic) of choice.
- Work with a publishing partner: When you work with a partner—a publisher or audio producer—they help you manage the process. They have the expertise to help you choose the right narrator, which may or may not be you, as well as the right studio and how to determine the studio staff knows what to do for voice direction during narration and the quality standards required for an audiobook. Your partner will guide you through the technical aspects and give you the confidence to be hands-off, so you can spend time marketing your book or writing your next one instead of checking the db levels and whether you’re popping your Ps. A publishing partner producing your audiobook may work on a fee-for-service, royalty split, or combined approach, but either way, they have a vested interest in making sure that your audiobook is the best it can be and that it will sell.
What to look for in an audiobook narrator
Before you choose a narrator for your audiobook, you first need to get samples from a variety of candidates. This will give you an idea of the kind of voice you want and what each narrator’s abilities are.
Personality, fit, spirit
When choosing your narrator, John thinks that first of all, they need to fit: they need to be able to adopt the personality and spirit of the character. So, they need to understand the story and connect with it in some way.
Another important aspect to look for is how the narrator is using their voice: are they reading at a suitable pace, speeding up or slowing down as necessary? How are they inflecting: are they raising or lowering their voice in the right places? Being able to vary their voice in a way that sounds natural will help tell the story and keep the reader engaged.
When it comes to accents, the final decision is up to you. It really depends on the book. With nonfiction, there isn’t usually much characterization but, as John says, “You do need to pay attention to consistency: the pronunciation of the words that are delivered to the reader, where your reader is located, and how they’re used to hearing words pronounced.” If your market is mainly American, for instance, you wouldn’t likely want a British accent or British pronunciations because it would be jarring. However, while your narrator may not need to emulate your accent as the author, they still need to sound authentic: a Southern drawl for a memoir or biography set in Scotland will sound strange.
What about quality control?
You shouldn’t publish a book without having it edited and proofread first, and you shouldn’t publish an audiobook after the first take. Quality control involves listening to the recording again and making sure there are no mistakes, that the pacing is good and words are pronounced correctly and clearly, there are no odd or distracting background noises or lip-smacking. John says that when you have a little bit of distance—a day or two or even a week—you’ll more easily pick up what needs to be changed. However, editing as much as possible during the recording session means there will be less that needs fixing later on.
What about the cost of audiobooks for authors?
How much it will ultimately cost you to produce your audiobook depends on how you choose to produce it, narrate it, and the length of the book. Professional narrators generally charge by finished recorded hour. John uses a ballpark figure of about 9,300 words per hour to determine how long the finished product will be. The industry standard starts from around US$250 per finished hour but if you’re using a celebrity, for instance, their fee can be in the thousands of dollars per hour.
Where to sell your audiobook
As with your print book and ebook, you need to be fully engaged with the marketing and sale of your audiobook. A strategy we endorse at Ingenium Books is to distribute it as widely as you can, wherever people buy audiobooks. This includes ACX and Audible but also Findaway Voices and Author’s Republic, for example, and to ensure your audiobook can be found where your readers like to find their audiobooks.