The audiobook market is booming!
By William L. Hahn
When Love and Need Become One
So here comes a heaping helping of what’s good for my soul. I’ve always told tales. I just had trouble, the first fifty years or so, believing that people would pay me to tell them.
But I had a revelation recently, the kind that comes with advancing age and wisdom, with an insight that I deserve work that makes me happy, and above all, with getting laid off. And for the better part of the past three years, this is what I do. Up early, look for auditions, record and edit the words of other fine authors and try to bring them to the ear.
Bottom Line: I could be richer, but I don’t think I could be happier.
I believe audiobooks are the most exciting aspect of your writing that you might not be paying attention to. I’ll try to touch briefly on some lessons I learned recently, in the hopes of informing you– OK, tempting—to consider this alternative if you haven’t already. Authors fall into two categories, those who have done audiobooks and those who need to get cracking.
So, Should I Do This?
The figures are quite clear — when you look at the book market by form factor, audiobooks are not only an attractive niche, they could be the only sector that’s growing. See the chart here, trying to talk up how print is not yet dead. Fine, but what’s the only line showing growth over the past three years?
And a-book listeners are a win-win audience for you, because so many of them are no threat to ever read your book in paper or on a screen. Think commuters, or busy students who are so done with turning pages, people who just understand better by ear than eye.
Think about folks trapped by the pandemic and looking for something new. And my youngest sister who cleans houses for a living, and once told me “I already know what the vacuum cleaner sounds like”. Audiobooks are new territory — you risk no existing customer by getting into them.
And are they ever into you! Or they could be, because audiobook listeners are rabid. Check out some of the audiobook groups on Facebook and you’ll see folks posting the covers of what they listened to in the last month. Have tape handy, your jaw could drop clean off. It’s a horrible secret, which I’ll share with you now…
:: looks both ways, whispers :: They speed it up.
Honest. They crank the book up to 2x or 3x speed, until James Earl Jones sounds like one of the Chipmunks. It’s UTTERLY HORRIFYING. But what do you care? They bought the book, and they say they enjoy it. I’m a narrator and sure, I’ll sound like a castrati on crack, but that’s my problem.
Unless you become a narrator, of course…
Yeah, But Should I Do This?
Welcome to the section where I become my own worst enemy. YES, you need to seriously consider recording your own voice for audiobook format. And this could be a series of posts on its own—hey wait, it already is—but here’s the Listener’s Digest version:
- While Writing: you proof your work by chapter and pick up an incredible number of errors, weak expressions, repeated words, and more that have easily evaded your previous attempts to do so only by looking at the page.
- While Wrapping: you read it all aloud and now your cat is happy. Or your spouse if they’re patient enough. Remember, you are also rehearsing!
- While Waiting: when the book goes on sale it’s now available in a new market (see above). I know, I know, you hate the sound of your own voice. But other people love it. Become one of those people! And customers are drawn to the author’s reading because they figure you know how it’s supposed to sound, the sense and pace come directly from the creator of the tale. Are they wrong?
It does vary a bit by genre. Memoirs are obviously prime material for “authorrators”*, so personal and intimate. But sure, if you want a cast of dozens, or a storyteller who will do their best to imitate one, hiring might fit your epic fantasy or murder mystery. I constantly see romance books out for audition where the author specifies that they want a man and a woman. My lovely wife is not interested (in recording, I mean) so I look elsewhere. To each their own.
But read your draft out loud. Try it. See if you like it first, then decide. Narrating your own tales gives you the best chance to put the right meaning and spin on the words, and also provides the largest royalties since you aren’t splitting with someone you hire.
And speaking of money…
You Can Pay Your Favorite Price
Authors new to creating and marketing audiobooks will see some familiar terms. Hiring a narrator doesn’t have to cost you a penny up front.
“Royalty Share” means you offer a narrator half the leftover price of the book (after Audible & Co. takes their cut) for each sale as it happens.
“Per-finished-hour” (PFH) means you pay a rate up front (your tale is very roughly an hour per 10,000 words) and then the royalty you get comes completely to you.
If you have a good idea how many copies you are likely to sell, the math is not hard to do. Most publishers have their own audiobook assets by now; you may find a contract you signed already had language in there regarding those rights. It’s worth asking about, and maybe pushing back on if you have your own ideas.
I’ll say this—if Stephen King or Danielle Steele let it be known that their next audiobook was going to audition on Royalty Share, there’d be a bloodbath among narrators as we quite happily tried to kill each other for a chance. Famous authors want to pay a narrator the same way they do a cover artist or an editor (and publishing houses use that calculus when they provide such services under contract).
Don’t ignore Royalty Share, especially as a way to get your foot in the door of this dynamic market niche.
Finding a Narrator: Like Facebook or Tinder?
I’ve been privileged to work for fellow authors on Royalty Share as well as for PFH rates, and most major platforms like Audible (ACX) and Findaway Voices have a hybrid model which is half of each.
Audible is the 800-pound gorilla of the audiobook market of course, and the bulk of all authors distribute exclusively through them (the “narrow” path that you also see with, oh for example, Amazon!).
On ACX, Audible’s creation platform, you post your book with an excerpt for prospective narrators to read as well as a series of categories you are looking for (female, British accent, etc.). You define what business model(s) you are willing to consider. And then sit back, the auditions come to you, and you can listen to them and make a choice.
With Findaway Voices (the #2, “wide” path option) it works somewhat the same for business model. But Findaway offers a “marriage broker” audition process wherein they select a small number of “suitable” candidates to audition for you.
So you wouldn’t have as much work to do (I’ve been told by more than one ACX author that they heard over a hundred auditions), and Findaway distributes to more than forty retailers such as Google Play, Apple, Kobo, and several library platforms (as well as Audible too). As an author I find value in that and have worked with Findaway for my own books: they take an extra cut of the royalties in return for managing distribution.
There are other options out there: if you DIY the narration, you could post the result to your own website and sell them direct. But much as with the e-book and paperback, distribution and marketing are key questions that indy authors must face. The quality of that doesn’t change with audio; make the same decision you already did! Just, again.
Stay in Earshot
Audiobooks are a fast-growing market segment, can cost you zero dollars to get into, and widen your platform for every book you’ve got. Never mind about the part where your writing will evolve because you get the tale back in the ears. I’ve heard from several clients with series who say they think differently about how the conversation will go, anticipating what I’ll do with the text now. A good narrator can have an impact much like a beta-reader or colleague.
Or perform the tale yourself, and just keep the growth of your writing style a secret.
If you haven’t tried audiobooks, your opportunities are quite literally unheard of.
by William L. Hahn October 24, 2021
What about you, scriveners, have you turned a book into an audiobook? How is it selling? Do you find the audiobook audience is different from your reading audience? How do you reach the audiobook fans?
William L. Hahn teaches History, drives the car, carries a wallet, herds cats and in between narrates audiobooks. You can hear his work on Audible and other major platforms. Will serves as the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales of epic and heroic fantasy, and has become an authorrator of those stories as well. He holds forth on various eclectic topics loosely associated with the writing life on his website.
Could someone kindly get this kitten off his work chair? And never mind how cute she looks…
Featured Book: Harbingers of Hope
by William L. Hahn
After two millennia of peace the relentless war between Hope and Despair flares again. With the innocent in peril, can raw unproven heroes resist immortal foes?
Treaman lives for the thrill of adventure. Guiding a group of enterprising companions, he’d put his life on the line for any of them. But when the adventurers become lost in a land tainted by the growing curse of Despair, he fears his leader’s mission is destined to end in failure and death.
Solemn Judgement will never see his homeland again. Brought to unfamiliar shores, Solemn burns any chance of return along with his boat and his father’s body, before setting out to seek his purpose. But the determined young orphan has no idea that acquiring his education could unleash the ultimate evil.
In a world that only dreams of heroes, can they rise up against oppressive forces and prevent the Lands of Hope from descending into foul darkness?
Read Harbingers of Hope to stand up and fight today!
Praise for Harbingers of Hope on Amazon:
5 Stars: A Towering Work of Fiction!
Harbingers of Hope is the sort of book that High Fantasy was meant to be—exciting characters engaged in inspiring deeds in a world that is riddled with history and budding with many more stories waiting to be told. You won’t regret reading it!
5 Stars: I was sad when it was over
This book is a welcome departure from the muddy morality and gray tone of more recent fantasy novels in the mold of George RR Martin. Instead, we are treated to romantic tales of courage, honor, sacrifice, love, and friendship — all in floral prose that immediately drew me in.
Caption: Pew Survey research quoted in https://www.tonerbuzz.com/blog/paper-books-vs-ebooks-statistics/
Caption: Growth data from https://www.audiopub.org/uploads/pdf/APA-Research-2016-2020.pdf