Thursday, February 28, 2013

Earshot: An Indie Author's First Foray into Audiobooks

Recently, I announced on my Facebook page that I was working on getting my first novel, No Easy Hope, on audiobook format.

Like most things in my life, the path that led me to pursue this endeavor was not a straight one. It started with a private message on Facebook from a publishing house that I have exchanged messages with in the past. I will not state their name here, because I don't want my experience with them to color anyone's opinion. They are, for the most part, a reputable organization. But my dealings with them have not been altogether positive.

They contacted me a while back to buy the rights to the Surviving the Dead series. Long story short, I turned them down. They couldn't do anything for me that I wasn't already doing for myself, and with the royalty stucture they were offering, I would have had to take a pay cut. No thank you.

Later, they contacted me again to purchase the audiobook rights. This came as a surprise; audiobooks were not even on my radar at the time. Their rather hefty price tags have always been a turnoff for me, and I didn't think there were enough people buying them to make them worth my time.

I could not have been more wrong.

I contacted a friend of mine--a fellow zombie author with whom you're no doubt familiar--and asked him for his opinion. His response was (and I quote):

"Audiobooks are fuckin' huge. My first novel has been out for three years now, and it has, like, three-hundred reviews on Amazon. The same book has only been on audio for about ten months, and the audio version has over a freakin' thousand reviews. I'm  telling you, audiobooks are fuckin' huge."

Maybe it was the sincerity in his tone that got me, or the thick New England accent, but I believed him. So I entertained the publishing house's offer. I even agreed on the advance and royalty.

Then they sent me the contract.

Now, there are a lot of authors out there who jump at the chance to sign on with a publisher. I have never been one of them. I am a paranoid person, I don't trust anyone or anything, and I always assume that anyone who comes to me with an offer for anything, no matter what it is, is trying to screw me. This attitude has saved me from a lot of grief.

So, being the pedantic, untrusting soul that I am, I forked over a few hundred dollars to have a reputable attorney review the contract for me. A few days later, I got his response via email.

Oh. My. God.

I won't bore you with the grim details, but suffice it to say, what they were asking for was not NEARLY worth what they would have been paying me. As you can imagine, I wound up turning them down.

Now I had a dilemma. I knew that I would be leaving money on the table by not putting my books on audio, but I didn't have the cash it would take to pay for production. Making a well-engineered, professional audiobook can be an expensive proposition.

Enter: ACX.

Amazon's Audiobook Creation Exchange platform. It is, in a word, awesome.

There are three parties, generally speaking, involved in creating an audiobook. The rights-holder (me), the producer (most of the time, but not always), and a narrator. Some narrators do their own production, but many work with private studios or production companies. In the past, it was difficult--nigh impossible, in fact--to bring these three entities together without involving a major publishing house.

If there is one thing Amazon it good at, it is spotting opportunities.

They created an online, B2B marketplace where all of these separate parties can come together and make audiobooks. Here's how it works:

As a rights-holder (author), what I did was create a profile for my book (which is essentially a sales pitch) and posted it for auditions. When you create a profile, ACX gives you two options for paying for the production: You can either name a budget in terms of how much you are willing to pay per finished hour of audio, or you can offer a royalty share agreement.

With royalty share, the deal is simple: The author pays nothing up front, the producer or narrator records the audiobook on their own dime, and then the two parties split the royalties fifty-fifty. This is a great deal for indie authors; you don't have to come up with thousands of dollars up front, and all of the risk essentially falls on the producer. If the book doesn't earn out, it's no skin off the author's back. For me, it's all profit no matter what happens. My up front cost is ZERO.
Shortly after posting the profile, the auditions started rolling in. Some were kind of crappy, but most of them were actually really good. In fact, I was kind of taken aback at how talented some of the voice actors were.

Right about the same time, I got another message on Facebook. This time it was from Gregg Savage, the proprietor of Sunny Day Audio. He has done some quality work in the past, and has been in the audiobook business nearly his entire life. I called him, heard what he had to say, and hedged my bets by asking him to submit an audition.

Gregg went above and beyond by actually submitting two auditions from two different narrators on his payroll. Both were good, but I wound up going with Guy Williams. He has quite a bit of work available on the various audiobook platforms, and I think he is genuinely talented.

I have to hand it to Gregg, he brought his A-game. The narration was good, the engineering was crisp and clear, and the overall production was thorough and professional. He impressed me, and that is not an easy thing to do.

The production is now finished, ACX has the final product, and hopefully in the next week or two, it will be available for purchase. For any authors out there who read this blog, and haven't considered the possibility of getting your books on audio, my advice is this: ACX is your huckleberry.

Look into it.

Audiobooks are fuckin' huge.