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As an author, actor, and audiobook producer, Craig Tollifson brings a unique perspective to ACX. His publishing industry background has allowed him to make the most of the time he spends auditioning by putting his effort into the most promising titles. He joins us today to share his tips for picking the best Royalty Share projects.
The first audiobook I narrated went on sale in early 2015. It sold 11 copies. Since then, I’ve narrated 19 other titles, learned a lot about narrating, and learned even more about choosing good Royalty Share projects. This month I’ll pass 10,000 total sales, and recently averaged over 1,500 sales a month. And those numbers just keep going up. Not bad for a beginner!
I got my start on ACX as an author. I had my novella, The Junior Arsonists Club, produced as an audiobook by the talented Amy McFadden. I was interested in eventually narrating my own work, and had experience as a stage actor, so I decided to jump in and try it myself. Now I’m a full-time audiobook narrator and no one can say it’s weird that I sit in a giant box and talk to myself all day.
Having been on the other side of the fence as an independent author has helped shape my choices as a narrator. I knew from the start I wanted to pursue Royalty Share projects. For years I’ve followed the indie publishing scene and noted a parade of successes, like Hugh Howey, Michael Bunker, and many more. The potential to earn more than a regular Per-Finished-Hour rate over the long term and gain passive income was very appealing. I also knew that I had to be smart in choosing the right projects. I had to get good at picking the books with the most potential for success.
ACX gives you the basic research right on the project page. Now, let’s assume you’re skilled at narration, you’re interested in the project, and your voice is a good fit for the work. Here are some of the key points to consider:
- Genre makes a difference. Fiction accounts for nearly 80% of audiobooks sold, with mystery/thrillers and sci-fi/fantasy being near the top. Stick with popular genres if you want to sell.
- The Amazon sales rank can be very important for predicting success. This number represents sales per day compared to every other book in the Amazon store. Audiobook and eBook sales tend to rise and fall together. Remember, this is one product on two platforms. The lower the sales rank, the better! Without going into too much detail: a sales rank under one hundred is amazing. Run to the booth and start auditioning! A sales rank in the thousands is pretty great (remember there are over a million books in the Amazon store!). When you get over a hundred thousand, or two hundred thousand or more, well…that’s not so great. But remember: this rank is only a snapshot of one moment which represents that day’s trend. Message the Rights Holder on ACX to see how the book has been selling historically. Oftentimes, a great rank can be the result of a recent promotion, and when the promotion’s over it can completely sink again. Also, make sure the number you’re looking at is the paid rank. If the book is free, the rank loses a lot of its meaning and is not a good predictor of audiobook sales.
- The more reviews the better, and the reviews should be mostly positive. Take some time and read some of those reviews. I recommend reading the most recent reviews, as early reviews are often solicited. Click through some of the reviewers themselves and check their profiles–if it’s the only book they’ve reviewed, it’s likely they are friends or family of the author and shouldn’t be considered. Reviews are also great for quickly getting a sense of the story, often more so than the author’s description, or first few pages of the book.
- Length of time on sale is a great metric when combined with the number of reviews and sales rank. A book that’s selling great, and has been on the market for, say, two years may have better potential than a book that’s only been out for two weeks with the same sales rank.
- Evaluate the rest of the author’s catalog–every last book–with the same criteria as the one up for production: sales rank, reviews, etc. If they have other audiobooks, even better. Ask the Rights Holder how many copies the other audiobooks have sold. Or, check to see how many ratings the other audiobooks have on Audible. More ratings mean more copies have been purchased.
Now that you’ve done your research, you need to define success. Though you’re not working for a Per-Finished-Hour (PFH) rate when producing Royalty Share projects, you should still be thinking about how much you hope to earn. What is your time worth? Recording usually takes around 2 hours in the studio for every finished hour of audio. Then there’s editing, proofing, and mastering, which can add 3-4 hours (or more!) per finished hour of audio. You could easily be putting in 6 hours for every finished hour. With all that in mind, come up with your ideal PFH rate for the project. Multiply it by the length of the book in hours. Now, divide that total with a ballpark royalty and you’ll see how many copies you’ll need to sell to be satisfied that you’ve made a good decision. Do you really think the audiobook can sell that many copies? Does the Rights Holder? If you’re on the fence about a project, I find that thinking about earnings goals can help cement a decision.
Once the book is produced and on the market, you and the Rights Holder both have a stake in its success. Before you jump into your next production, spend some time marketing. I spend time every week promoting titles via giveaways and soliciting reviews. Social media can be a great resource if you find the right communities. There are a ton of places online that fans gather to discuss their favorite genre, like Goodreads, reddit, and many Facebook groups. Get yourself into those communities. You’ll meet fans and authors, both of which will help your audiobook career.
The last thing you’ll need is a little bit of luck. All the points of research can add up to the best looking potential project on the planet, and you can do great promotion, but still…the audiobook may not sell well! Royalty Share comes with an element of risk. Your job is to find the ones with the best odds.
I hope that the research tips I’ve given you today can help you choose the best bets for success.
Craig Tollifson is the author of the Kindle Single the Junior Arsonists Club, the forthcoming novel Happy, and has written for Mystery Science Theater 3000. When he’s not writing or performing on stage, he narrates audiobooks under the name Andrew Tell. He lives with his wife and kids in sunny Los Angeles, California.
great read – thanks for sharing 🙂
Andrew… you have inspired me to keep trying! I started narrating about a year and a half ago and am currently working on project number 15. I have learned the points you mentioned and things are slowly taking off but I have a ways to go before I get to your level! Slowly and surely, I WILL build it up. Apart from writing, this is all I want to do! 🙂
Glad to help Wendy! Passion, persistence and a little luck go a long way.
Thanks, Andrew! 🙂
Thanks you. Great advice.
Thanks for the really helpful info. As a super-newbie, I got my start as a producer on ACX in 2016 my first project went live last week. I’m a children’s author, so understand the need for reviews. But, as a producer, am I trying to find reviews for the book or the audio? Or both? A jillion more questions, but wow was this helpful as I look at auditioning for the next project.
Hi Gail! When I refer to seeking out reviews in the article, I mean audiobook reviews (on Audible). Just like with regular books, reviews serve as social proof of a worthwhile experience for potential listeners.
Your comments are extremely helpful.
I am joyfully enthusiastic about narrating the projects that command my attention.
I narrated “Nelson Mandela’s Quotes and Tributes” that sold less than 20 copies because the author and her publishing company did not make an effort to promote the audiobook.
I am currently investing in a recording studio in my place and I am looking forward to narrating the Kids, Adventure, SciFi, Historical and Romance books that compel me to build the enthusiasm in listeners to want more.
My Profile on ACX has attracted the attention of several authors and I am eager to work with them and those who I form a bond of collaboration with.
Again, thank you for your timely comments.
Great tips, thanks! I had already been checking out Amazon reviews to choose books but this is so much more. I’ve been a narrator since June last year, and been getting really discouraged lately with the lack of sales, especially since mystery/thriller and fantasy are high-selling.
Thanks for sharing Andrew. I was beginning to wonder if people ever really made and money narrating audiobooks. I enjoy doing it, but some additional revenue would be great. Thanks for the tips!
Thanks, Mate for taking the time to write this very informative piece. Gives me cause to re-think things.
“…and you can do great promotion.” Take this article through a reality filter. It’s very odd that a narrator who works for royalty share, with absolutely no guarantee of sales, would have to not only provide his/her services, but also take on the additional responsibilities of marketing and promoting the book for the author/publiser, too. What a great deal for the author! What a sad state of affairs for voiceover artists. The only solace is knowing that true professional VO artists RARELY work royalty share ONLY (except for authors like Stephen King, etc) AND act as promoters, too. Agents would simply not allow this, amateur vo talent might.
I’m so very grateful for your insight from BOTH sides of the equation! I intend to put your information into effect right away!!
I’ve had some bad and good luck with royalty share deals in the past so this was super helpful – thanks 🙂
Excellent article, Craig. As an audiobook publisher in a niche market, I look for the same details you mention here when selecting a book to record. An issue that can harm both an independent publisher such as myself, and narrators engaging in Royalty Share projects is the Whispersync program. When an audiobook is allowed to be purchased for $1.99, and the 60% of that is taken away, leaving 80 cents left to the publisher is kinda hard on anyone’s pocketbook. Is there a way to opt out of Whispersync if the publisher is the full Rights Holder?
New to narration and out of 17 auditions I have had 3 royalty share offers. (Not sure what an expected ratio should be). Anyway, I turned two of them down because the authors would not tell me their e-book sales numbers. Actually one rescinded his offer after I requested the information. The offer had also been made in a message, not via the ACX offer section.
One thing ACX Should do is clearly list the actual book sales in the royalty share agreement! If a narrator wants to do a book for the experience then he can do so. But I don’t want to spend 60 hours to sell a dozen books.
Oh, and as a newbie my production ratio is higher than 4 or 5 to 1. I’m double that as I’m sure most tyro’s are
Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
I’ve put thirty audiobooks out there on Audible ever since last September, when Audible opened its doors to Canadian authors. I still have some more work from my back catalogue but I really need to get busy writing some new novels to get out there and market.
I’ve been happy with how the audiobooks are working for me. I make a bit of money every month – but I am looking to make more. Like the gent in this reblog, Craig Tollifson, I try to spend time every week getting review requests out there to try and improve my visibility. You’d think thirty audiobooks and rising would be about as visible as Godzilla walking into a one-dead-horse town – but I seem to be more along the lines of the Loch Ness Monster, namely mainly mythical.
Still, just yesterday I read a brand new review of my redneck noir audiobook, HAMMURABI ROAD. That little work has received a lot of positive reviews but this is one of the best one’s yet.
Check it out, would you?
And then give this article a re-blog a read as well. It originally appeared about two years ago on the ACX audiobook blog, but the information is timeless.
Hi Craig, my name is Ritesh and I’m a 20 year old from India. Though I speak fluent English I still have an inevitable accent,should I still try narrating?