Tangible to Audio

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    Unless you count the children’s dinosaur book that had an accompanying 45 record I could read along with back in the 80’s, I’d never listened to an audio book before I proofed my own. So, in 2010, when the first version of my book was published, print was the only medium I’d considered.

    Fast forward eight years and one nightmare publishing experience later, I began the process of self-publishing. Once they were in print and e-book, the number one question asked at signing events, on social media, etc. was, “When’s the audio book coming?” Like Neo and bullets, I dodged that question quite expertly for some time. I’d already moved on to my new series and I though my first, The Last Archide, was done. I didn’t want to revisit it.

    For any Indie author reading this, I don’t have to tell you the monumental effort that is publishing your own book. Between self-editing, peer-editing, professional-editing, money, cover design, formatting, money, price point, money, marketing, money (did I mention money?) your passion quickly becomes your nemesis. You learn quickly that, if you don’t really want this, you won’t finish. You also learn if you want it to be successful, you must be willing to pay to get it done right. In many ways, your audio book is similar.

    But, realizing I was missing out on a potential revenue stream that seemed to have a lot of popularity behind it, I felt it wise to at least dip my toe in the pond. No need to bore you with details here, but I discovered there were two ways to go about creating an audio book. One was to pay a narrator up front for their time (author gets 100% of the sales profit after) and the second was royalty share. I pay nothing up front, but I split the profits 50/50 with the narrator when it starts selling. Obviously, most narrators prefer the first.

    I’d already sunk a lot of money into the series and didn’t want to spend too much more except for marketing dollars. So, paying someone up front to narrate almost 1000 pages was a steep price tag. Then there’s the control aspect. After trusting a publisher that wasn’t trustworthy with my work, I was hesitant to relinquish control to anyone else. I thought about doing it on my own, but quickly realized that I had neither the knowledge, the passion, the time, or the resources to do this well. I learned a few publishing lessons by making costly mistakes, so if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right the first time. This was followed by a few months of internal debate resembling Muhammad Ali fighting Joe Frazier-long and painful.

    I was a proven author, but I’d been at it for less than a year. I knew the potential was there and I knew if a narrator was willing to take a chance, they’d make money. That meant I had to sell the merits of the product to strangers…almost like a business owner looking for investors. The first step, getting auditions from narrator was free, so why not give that a shot?

    If you’ve never done it before, you must provide a short excerpt from your book for potential narrators to read-about 3 pages worth, which winds up to being about 5 minutes of narration. They record themselves reading that excerpt and send it back to you. That’s their audition. 

    I thought I might get an audition or two in a week. I had to shut down the auditions after 48 hours because I had to sift through 30 narrators. Luckily, It was easier than I thought. Many of the potentials didn’t notice that I was looking for a royalty share and were quoting me their hourly rate, so I didn’t bother with those. Of the remaining narrators, some were eliminated quickly. Their voices just weren’t what I was looking for. Too high, too low, too nasally, too boring, and so on.

    It’s akin to online dating. I’ve seen your profile and heard a clip of you for five minutes. Now it’s time to have you screened by experts aka friends. I turned it over to the experts: my wife and two of my friends who are active audio book listeners. I chose my narrator and he and I presented ourselves on the battle field with armies at our back to discuss terms. Or, we discussed things over e-mail and worked out the. Either way, we made sure we were both on the same page.

    To clarify: there’s nothing that says. “you must use this narrator or else”, but you’ve come this far, and you want to stick with your decision. I was very fortunate in that my narrator, Scott, was open, honest, and motivated. 

    He was also willing to educate me on the finer details of what it takes to have a book professionally narrated. As part of the agreement, I get to give him a deadline on two things: completion of the first 15 minutes and completion of the entire project. He was kind enough to shepherd me though a few things, so I could make a realistic timetable. From him I learned that, like getting my book from a word document to a best seller on Amazon, there are steps to the process. 

    First, he reads the source material aka the book-which I provide at no cost. He asked for a pronunciation guide to the names I’d created for the people and places. He asked for clarification on details, even caught a few mistakes that my many rounds of editing had missed.

    Scott completed the first 15 minutes (a process I’ll go into more detail about below) and sent it to me for review and approval. I could, if I chose, make suggestions or corrections as needed.

    After all of that was done, he did the initial recording (if you want some appreciation for it, locate the word count of your book, then Google how long that many words takes to speak), then he edits his own recording which included things I’ve never considered like eliminating the sound of his breathing and swallowing, the length of pauses between sentences, letters or words that sound off, and many more. That process helped him identify any mistakes made so he could do what he called “pick-ups”. Scott would re-record a small portion, word or paragraph, and then insert it into the master file. 

    After he was done, he submitted it for my approval. I listen and proof, then approve or send it back for revisions. Even after that is done, Amazon has to listen to is and approve it (ensure that it is clear, that the narrator is true to the book, etc.) for distribution. From start to available for distribution was about 3 months.

    As the preacher said, “I’d write shorter sermons but once I get started I’m too lazy to stop.” So much of what we do as authors is about critical mass and adding an audience that was previously unavailable to me has been a boon to my cause. As an Indie author, I have to compete with large publishers who can afford to produce all 3 mediums up front, have more marketing dollars to spend, and so on. Feels like a sports team with a salary cap competing with one not having that restriction. 

    The audio book is another avenue to generate revenue and, if you can find a narrator who is willing to work with you on a royalty split, the cost up front is nothing. All of my ads and marketing now say, “Available in print, e-book and audio” which has increased sales on both sides of the aisle. To a potential reader/listener, having everything available makes your presence feel far more legitimate. I would caution to be patient with your narrator as it’s not as simple as recording your voice and hitting submit, but it’s worth the wait. 

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