A rights holder’s perspective: literary agent Joelle Delbourgo on her first ACX venture

Joelle Delbourgo is President and Founder of Joelle Delbourgo Associates. A former editorial and publishing executive at Random House and HarperCollins, Delbourgo now runs a literary agency whose clients include Geeta Anand, Ellen Schultz, Chris Farrell and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. One of our “early adopters,” Delbourgo (and client Joan Wester Anderson) was kind enough to share her experience of producing her first audiobook on ACX, from evaluating auditions to final production. Here’s her ACX story:

It was a brisk day in May 2011 when, along with 100+ agents including my colleague, Jacqueline Flynn, I arrived for an invite-only presentatation at Audible’s headquarters in Newark, NJ.  I had known founder Don Katz in the pre-Audible days, when he was a successful journalist and author and all-around nice-guy.  I remember clearly when more than a decade ago, he first described his idea for a device that would allow consumers to download books so that they could listen to them easily.  I was secretly skeptical—after all, he was a writer, for goodness’ sake.  Little did I know that Katz was on to something so big, so innovative that it would change the way we listen to books and purchase those books forever.

Audible’s offices are fabulous—sleek, colorful, super-modern.  Jacquie and I instantly were ready to offer our services to work there on the spot! Instead, we listened to a presentation about ACX, an amazing new service Audible was launching that would allow agents, authors and publishers to create quality audio products easily and directly. The rationale we were given is that the average Audible consumer downloads 17 books a year—that’s huge!  These are the readers we are looking for, serious readers who are hungry for more content.

Essentially a matchmaking service, ACX allows me to find the partners my authors need—and it is fun.  I post a profile of the book, including a brief excerpt, and invite “narrators,” who also function as “producers” in many cases, to “audition.”  For my first venture, I chose Joan Wester Anderson’s In the Arms of Angels. Anderson is a New York Times bestselling author who is beloved by her readers.  I asked for a middle-aged woman with an “American” accent, but when J.C. Hayes, a male, Southern radio show host with over 30 years of broadcast experience and a more distinct accent, tried out, I was smitten. Hayes had the warmth I was seeking, to relate the powerful stories of the lives of ordinary people transformed by the presence of angels among us.

ACX gives you several financing options.  An author can pay the narrator for his or her time, or partner under a royalty share deal. We chose the latter, which meant Joan did not have to pony up a fee, and the narrator/producer will share 50/50 in the profits from the sales after Audible takes its share.  The result is that the potential earnings vastly exceed the traditional royalty model from a licensing deal.

The system on the site guides you step-by-step through the process, allowing the author to “approve” first a chapter, and then the whole.  I won’t say that the system was not without its pitfalls or challenges (for example, you have to provide a cover in an unusual square format that required adaptation and permission clearances), but the support staff at ACX was so incredibly helpful that even a Luddite can do this eventually, and they are improving the system as “pioneers” like me give them feedback.  And they truly seem so committed and passionate about what they do–I know, I know, it’s a business, too– that the enthusiasm is contagious. 

Ten weeks later our first audiobook was ready, and all three of us—the author, the narrator, and I—could not be more thrilled with the quality of what was produced.  Audible puts the final cut through quality control before releasing it, which was reassuring.  In the Arms of Angels is now available on ACX’s site, as well as at Amazon and iTunes.

I’m so hooked that I’ve begun to collaborate with novelist and New York Times book reviewer Roy Hoffman to bring his backlist book, Chicken Dreaming Corn, to audio.  Once again, I’ve chosen an author who has a proven platform and will be a great promoter.  I’m already in love with our narrator, a London-based actress, Toni Orans, who is brilliantly breathing life into our characters, Jewish immigrants in the deep South circa 1920s, and even researching—and planning to sing–the original songs embedded in the text.  Roy and I can’t wait to hear the result!

–Joelle Delbourgo, President, Joelle Delbourgo Associates Literary Management

One response to “A rights holder’s perspective: literary agent Joelle Delbourgo on her first ACX venture

  1. I appreciate hearing how this played out. I would have also liked to learn how many narrators auditioned, how many auditions were actually listened to, who listened to them (single person or a team of rights holder, partner and author), and what the time frame was from posting the book to assigning it to J.C.

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