Category Archives: Authors + Publishers

Best of the Blog: 2015

We’re back to close out 2015 by highlighting some of our best pieces of the year. Some will educate, some will inspire, all should remind you of the awesome opportunity audiobooks present as we look towards 2016.

For Producers:

Mastering Audiobooks with Alex the Audio Scientist – Our resident audio expert brought his “A” game to the blog this year, educating producers on a range of recording and production topics. This post tackles one of the more intimidating aspects of post-production with an illustrated, step by step guide.

ACX University Presents: Finding Your Voice: Part 1 – This May, we hosted our third annual ACX University, which offered 70 producers in-person courses on audiobook production and performance. All of the sessions are available to watch on our YouTube channel, including this performance intensive featuring Audible Studios producers and Audie Award-winning narrator Ellen Archer of Orange Is the New Black.

ACX Storytellers: Anna Parker-Naples – One of our first UK producers shares her inspiring journey from the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to self-made audiobook success.

Five Things Every Audiobook Beginner Should Know – Voiceover actor and coach Gary Terzza offers a crash course for those new to audiobook acting and producing.

Archive: This Week in Links – Our weekly look at the best audiobook-related links from around the internet provided a range of perspectives, advice, and entertainment. We featured over 150 links for producers, so take a scroll through some of the best the voiceover industry had to offer in 2015.

For Rights Holders:

Market Smarter, Not Harder: The Personal Touch – Author Ryan Winfield dove deep on the ways he invested his time and reinvested his audiobook earnings to forge a personal connection with his listeners that paid off in the form of a loyal fan base.

You Kept Your Audiobook Rights – Now What? – Three top authors discuss the varying benefits of self-publishing your audiobooks or selling the rights to an audio publisher like Audible Studios.

ACX Storytellers: Joanna Penn – The “author entrepreneur” offered an inside look at what a writer who want to narrate their own work need to know to succeed.

Creating Your Custom Audible 30-Day Free Trial LinkAuthors (and producers!) can learn how to create a powerful marketing tool for their audiobooks – a custom landing page on Audible.com featuring any of your ACX projects.

ACX Storytellers: Sandra Edwards and Regina Duke – Two ACX authors share their takes on the value of a mentor/mentee relationship, as well as their top tips for audiobook publishing and marketing success.

 

Market Smarter, Not Harder: The Personal Touch

ACX author Ryan Winfield has written in the past about the value of retaining your audio rights and producing audiobooks using ACX. He joins us today to describe his experience promoting and marketing those audiobooks once they’re available for sale.

Ryan Winfield Headshot

ACX Author Ryan Winfield

I’ve heard it said that every author, once published, is a self-published author—and I believe it now more than ever after watching a big New York publisher roll out three of my titles. The simple fact is no one will ever market your books with as much zeal and creativity as you will yourself. I find that I have an advantage with my self-published books and audiobooks. Why? ACX and Kindle Direct Publishing royalties are more readily measurable via online dashboards, and are paid directly to rights holders monthly (not to mention ACX’s $50 Bounty Program), which allows me to reinvest a portion of my earnings into marketing. I do this consistently with a set percentage of my royalties, and what seems to work the best is focusing my marketing effort on making a personal connection.

Getting Personal

Most authors would love to see their title on the side of city busses and on billboards lining busy streets. They’d love to be the new “thing” getting the latest internet “buzz.” But it’s a mistake to think that those ads and that buzz are what make a hit book. I’ve discovered that it is much better to make a big impression on a small group of people than a small impression on a big group.

It sounds counterintuitive, but marketing to people who are already aware of you just works better. Promoting a Facebook post about my new audiobook to readers who already “like” my Facebook Fan Page yields much better results (better click rate, better conversion, and better engagement) than advertising to a wider audience that is not yet familiar with my work. I’ll sooner read a book recommended by a friend than one advertised to me on my phone or laptop. This is why reviews are so helpful, and why reviews by peers are so important. It’s my job to make my readers my friends—friends who will read my work and recommend it to their friends.

Here are some ways I do just that:

  • Sending personal emails to past readers offering free audiobook download codes in exchange for honest reviews nets me not only grateful fans but also plenty of referrals.
  • Reinvesting some of my earnings to offer a Kindle Fire or gift card giveaways to new readers who “Like” my Facebook page or subscribe to my email newsletter. (There are many services that can help with this, from Rafflecopter to Shortstack to Mailchimp, and many other helpful tools are available for those willing to do a little research.)
  • Making myself available for book club appearances, both in person locally and via video chat more widely, has won me many lifelong readers and friends.
  • Making my email address publicly available. Nothing will endear you to new readers more than a personal response to their questions or comments. When Jane’s Melody was first climbing the bestseller charts, I was answering as many as fifty emails a day. It became impossible to keep up, but as soon as things slowed down I returned to personally responding to messages.

Invest In Your Own Success

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00029]With every royalty payment I get, I earmark a percentage for marketing. With every marketing dollar I spend, I ask myself if I’m helping to reinforce my brand with those already connected with me. And with every connection I make, I ask myself if I’m making an impression that will lead these new friends to recommend my work to their other friends. Perhaps the best part of reinvesting royalties in this way is that it’s scalable. The more books or audiobooks I sell, the larger my marketing budget is and the more readers I connect with. The larger my marketing budget is and the more readers I connect with, the more books I sell. And so on and so forth.

Give it a try. Commit a percentage of your royalties to marketing and promotion, but then spend it wisely. Run some contests, promote some posts, and let people know about your unique voice. And who knows, maybe someday, with just the right amount of luck, that self-perpetuating cycle might just scale itself up until your book is topping bestseller lists and is plastered on every city bus and billboard.

Ryan Winfield is the New York Times bestselling author of “Jane’s Melody“, “South of Bixby Bridge“, “The Park Service Trilogy,” and several other books. He lives in Seattle, and you can connect with him at facebook.com/ryanwinfield.

You Kept Your Audiobook Rights – Now What?

We last spoke with ACX DIY author/narrator Scott Sigler almost exactly one year ago. Back in 2014, Scott shared the success he’s had racking up our $50 bounty payments by driving new listeners to Audible. Today he joins us to discuss the decision that made all of those bounties possible: keeping his audio rights instead of signing them away to his print/eBook publisher.

Scott Sigler

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Author Scott Sigler

The debate about “what’s best” for authors — doing it all yourself as an indie writer, or striving to sign with a traditional publishing house — has been the stuff of bloggers and Internet wags for some time now. While proponents of each camp make excellent points, there is a third side to this coin: doing both and becoming a “hybrid author.”

A “hybrid author” is someone who produces independent works and writes for traditional publishing at the same time. One way to do this is to retain your audio rights when you sell print and/or eBook rights to a publisher. That’s what I did when Del Rey bought my Generations Trilogy. Alive, the first book of that trilogy, is out in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook on July 14, 2015.

That’s right: hardcover and eBook from Del Rey, audiobook from, well, from us. “Us” is Empty Set Entertainment, the company I own along with my business partner A Kovacs. When Del Rey rolls out the beautiful hardcover of Alive, Empty Set will kick out the unabridged audiobook. We did all the work for that audio version, and will also earn all of the royalties from it.

Retaining audiobook rights was a natural for us, because we’ve been creating our own audiobooks for years. We produced eleven of my fifteen titles currently available on Audible.

AliveFew publishers are going to offer to let you keep audiobook rights. Publishers are in business to make money, not to be your pal. If you want to keep those rights, you’ll have to negotiate for them. That’s what happened with fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan.

Sullivan’s first publishing deal was with Orbit, who kept the audiobook rights and sold those rights to Recorded Books. Sullivan was happy with Recorded Books — and his narrator, in particular. When it was time for a new deal, though, Sullivan wanted more control.

“When my agent was negotiating my second Orbit contract, I asked for her to get the audio rights held back,” Sullivan said. “Orbit said it would be a ‘deal breaker.’ When all was said and done, we signed the contract, and asked them to keep the rights with Recorded Books. They agreed and so the first two books of the Riyria Chronicle series were published as a subsidiary right.”

For Sullivan’s latest deal, however, he and his wife, Robin, took a different strategy — they sold the audiobook rights first. Therefore, those rights weren’t on the table for Del Rey, who will be releasing Sullivan’s next novel Age of Myth next summer.

“The lack of audio rights definitely wasn’t a deal breaker for Del Rey,” Sullivan said. “Nor the other publishers who were interested in the series.”

What to Do with Your Audio Rights

First, you can keep the audio rights in a print/eBook deal, then sell them to another company. That’s what John Scalzi did in his recent blockbuster $3.4 million, 13-book deal with Tor Books. This gave Scalzi the ability to negotiate for a higher payout for audio, and as part of that negotiation, possibly have more influence over production and casting decisions.

“I held onto the audio rights, as I hold on to every other right I can, because they have value,” Scalzi said. “Economically and artistically, it makes sense for me to maximize both (print and audio). I get the most amount of money possible and partner with the people who I think will do the best job making and marketing the work.”

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Author John Scalzi

The second method would be to produce your own audiobook, which is what I did for Alive. Alive is a YA title with a female protagonist as the only point-of-view character. The readers see everything through her eyes. For voice talent, we hired Emma Galvin, who narrated Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. Emma was a perfect fit for my book and we were lucky to get her.

Producing it ourselves, means we earn the full 40% royalty from ACX, which is extremely competitive. That’s good, but it comes at a cost — all production and talent expense came out of our own pockets. We invested $5,000 in the creation of the Alive audiobook and will need to sell about 660 audiobooks to make that money back.

We invested similar amounts for our audiobooks Nocturnal and PandemicNocturnal earned out in eight weeks, Pandemic in seven. That means everything we earn for the remainder of the seven-year contract term is straight profit.

That accounting, however, only represents our cash outlay. I am not factoring in the time I put in auditioning narrators, communicating with Emma, communicating with the engineer about edits, and managing the process. I can’t put a specific dollar amount on that time. It’s an opportunity cost, measured as time I was not writing new product. If you produce your own audiobooks, you’ll also encounter those opportunity costs.

Sullivan has considered producing his own audiobooks, but with the significant sales his works generate, the advances for audio rights are high enough that it makes more sense to sell them off.

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Author Michael J. Sullivan

“The most attractive thing ACX has going is that the author’s cut isn’t diluted,” Sullivan said. “If my future audiobook advances were to go down, then I would have a bigger incentive to self-publish the audio. I would definitely consider ACX.”

If you don’t want to sell your rights, and you also don’t want to produce the book yourself, that leaves the third method: using ACX’s marketplace to find a producer who will create the audiobook. Through the marketplace, you can either pay for your production up front based on the final running time of the audiobook (per-finished-hour (PFH) payment), or enter into a royalty share done as a 50/50 split between writer and producer. That makes your 40% share a 20% share, with the producer getting the other 20%. Seems severe, doesn’t it? Not when you take a step back and realize you don’t have any up-front costs, as I did with Alive. The royalty share method means you start earning revenue with the very first sale.

And, of course, there is one additional choice: sell the print, eBook, and audiobook rights to a single publisher. Collecting an advance and — hopefully — future royalties is still a viable option if you want to focus all of your energies on creating new works.

As for our strategy? Now and in the future, we enjoy the total control over our audiobooks, and we enjoy the higher profit margin. As long as we have working capital to produce the audiobooks, we’ll keep doing things that way.


New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler is the author of over fifteen novels, six novellas and dozens of short stories. His hardcover horror-thrillers are available from Crown Publishing and Del Rey. He also co-founded Empty Set Entertainment.


Are you a hybrid author? Tell us your story below.

ACX On the Road: 7 Success Tips from Authors at Romantic Times and Book Expo America

May is the busiest month in the audiobook publishing industry, and this year we connected with ACX authors and publishers at the Romantic Times convention, Book Expo America, and The Audio Publishers Association Conference. We spent a lot of time talking about rights, new technologies, marketing strategies, and so on, and we’re happy to share with you the advice from seven bestsellers we met:

Use paid Facebook posts to drive fans to your audiobook detail pages on Audible.com. Soon after learning she’d won an Audie award for her ACX production of Alpha, Jasinda Wilder created a promoted post mentioning the win so she could capitalize on the buzz. More info on using Facebook to promote your audiobook can be found here.Jasinda Wilder Alpha Facebook AdHold onto your audiobook rights when negotiating traditional book deals. Author Ryan Winfield shared the importance of this decision with us last summer, and pushed to keep the audio rights to his upcoming Falling for June, set to release on June 30, 2015. Separating rights allows authors to leverage the promotional might of a publisher for print/eBook while being able to negotiate better royalty rates for the audiobook.

Expose readers to audio by sharing excerpts on your website via services like SoundCloud. Using these excerpts, authors create dedicated audiobook pages to promote their ACX titles. Check out the audiobook section of ACX author Wendy Lindstrom’s website:

Wendy Lindstrom_Combined

New to audiobooks? Your best resource is… other authors. Sandra Edwards and Regina Duke have turned their friendship into a mentorship; Sandra was the first to take the plunge into audiobooks and makes herself available to Regina for questions and best practices.

Find creative ways to expose your audiobooks to new listeners. We spoke to authors who send ACX promo codes to audiobook blogs and give them out to fans via their newsletter or Facebook page in return for unbiased reviews. Authors are also leveraging each other’s popularity by writing posts for each other’s blogs and even co-writing books and anthologies.

Use GoodReads to make sure readers are aware of your audiobook. The GoodReads Audiobooks page is ideal for finding audiobook reviewers to whom you can give promo codes. Have you noticed GoodReads started rolling out audiobook samples on title pages? ACX author Ava Miles’s title Nora Roberts Land is a good example of this new feature (highlighted in red below), and once samples are available for all titles with audiobooks, every author will be able to use their title page to promote the audio version.

Nora Roberts Land on GoodReads

Run a BookBub ad for your Whisperysync-enabled eBook. Exposing your eBook to a wider audience can have a trickle-down effect when readers find out they can get a great price on your audio version, as well.

While we learned a lot from the authors and publishers we met this May, we know there are even more of you out there working hard to promote your ACX audiobooks. Share your audiobook publishing and marketing tips below and help your fellow rights holders learn from your experience.

The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook

Today, we’re joined by Robin Whitten, Editor and Founder of AudioFile Magazine, one of the industry’s top sources for audiobook news and reviews. Robin is here to demystify AudioFile‘s editorial process, teach ACX Rights Holders how to cast the best voice for their book, and share how to submit for a review.

The Elements of a Well-Reviewed Audiobook

AuON14_cover_300dioFile has been around the block with audiobook reviews. I started the magazine in 1992 when I could not find any reviews that considered the audio performance or the listening experience. What started as a 12-page newsletter has morphed into a multi-platform audiobook review and recommendation source. We review nearly 200 audiobooks per month, and now have 36,000 reviews in our Review Archive.

Listeners, library selectors, authors, narrators, and publishers access AudioFile reviews in our print bi-monthly magazine, in weekly e-newsletters, on the AudioFileMagazine.com website, at AudiobookREX.com, and featured by content partners who sell audiobooks.

Audiobooks come into our Portland, Maine, offices in a steady (digital) stream. We receive review copies from all major publishers and in increasing numbers directly from authors, rights holders, and narrators. Our AudioFile reviewers –about 120 individuals from all over the country with a few scattered around the world—help us create 40-50 professional reviews each week.

What’s a professional review?

A professional or editorial review is often different from a user-review. Editorial reviewers step back and consider each audiobook from a wider perspective. They use their audiobook listening experience to evaluate and assess the quality of the narration, the overall performance, and the alignment with the author’s intent. A professional’s critique is considered alongside the many other audiobooks they’ve experienced.

There’s always a place for user-reviews. The candid enthusiasm and satisfaction (or lack thereof) offers immediate feedback and is easy for others to react to. AudioFile reviews are more than just one reviewer’s opinion; they’re deliberate and collaborative. At AudioFile, we encourage discussion of elements like successful emotional tone & dramatic style more than a rating system. Our reviews are carefully edited and meet strict standards. Three editors see each review, and the grammar and the sense of the language have to pass them all.

The Focus of AudioFile Reviews

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Robin Whitten, AudioFile’s Founder and Editor.

AudioFile reviews very specifically focus on elements of the performance, and what sort of listening experience to expect. Obviously we have to discuss the storyline, but we are not there to critique the author’s written work, or to give a plot summary. Each AudioFile review should make clear to the reader that it’s an AUDIObook review. We may be critical of a performance choice, or the success of an accent, but we do not trash titles indiscriminately.

What Should Authors Listen For?

The most critical element for an audiobook review is the casting. The choice of the right narrator is essential. The skilled narrator can fulfill the intent of the written work and give subtle layers of brilliant storytelling. However, the narrator is not just a voice. The narrator has to get inside the words, and thus into the head of the author. Experience shows, and reviewers can spot the pros.

Sound quality is also something noticed by all listeners. Lapses in QC, like extraneous noise, sloppy edits, and varying sound levels will always be called out by reviewers. All of these are controllable issues, and not perfecting them is a black mark.

Unpredictability comes into reviews primarily because all performance choices or all stories do not appeal to all reviewers. Part of the professional review process is to match reviewers with audiobooks appropriate to their tastes and skills.

AudioFile reviewers are given criteria for their evaluation, criteria we take seriously enough to outline on our masthead: Narrative voice & style; Vocal characterizations; Appropriateness for audio format; Enhancement of the text. We have great respect for the narrators and authors. To get top marks with our review criteria, here are some specifics:

  • Listen for more than “a great voice.”
  • Choose a narrator whose vocal style and tone is aligned with your written style and tone.
  • Make sure the narrator emotionally connects to your intent.
  • Think about how much “performance” you want from your characters. (Note: at Audible, we recommend a subtle performance over a “cartoonish” one.)
  • Consider whether big accents will define your characters or distract from them.
  • Consider whether your book has visual elements like maps or charts, essential footnotes or multiple time-line shifts? These present extra challenges in audio production.

How Do We Choose Audiobooks to Review?

The audiobook publishing floodgates opened a few years ago when ACX added their titles to the already expanding lists from traditional publishers. AudioFile receives announcements of upcoming titles from traditional publishers and starts our selection process there.

CoverBest of-300We make one pass after looking over basic title merchandizing sheets; references from various book scouts in the library and publishing industries; and whatever publicity we find. If an audiobook comes out after the success of a print or eBook title, reviews and buzz can bring these into focus. We take recommendations from narrators, and authors, as well as standard publicity information.

Rights holders, authors, and narrators can submit titles to AudioFile by sending an email with information about the title to editor@audiofilemagazine.com. AudioFile’s managing editor, Jennifer Dowell, will coordinate the review copy and make sure we have all the relevant details.

Why a Good Review is Only Half the Story.

A good review can go a long way, but you need to get out in front of the crowd with the good news. Marketing audiobooks is one of the toughest parts of the process. ACX gives rights holder’s good tips and resources. AudioFile’s broad listener audiences are eager to find their next audiobook. Our readers depend on us to find and review gems that might otherwise be missed. To give listeners an additional resource we started the Indie Showcase for independent authors and publishers. The advertising program gives prime print and online exposure to individual titles. To find out more about the Indie Showcase, email Michele Cobb, michele@audiofilemagazine.com.

AudioFile strives to find the best audiobooks to recommend to our subscribers and visitors. If you follow our advice above and end up with a great audiobook, we’d love to hear it! Please send it in for review.

Robin Whitten is the Editor & Founder of AudioFile Magazine.

How Julianne MacLean Got Her Audio Rights Back

Rights holder Julianne MacLean kicked off September with a $5,000 payment from ACX. How did she manage that, having sold a number of books (audio rights included) to a major publisher in the early aughts? Read on to find out!

Sometimes, All You Have to Do Is Ask.

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ACX Author Julianne MacLean

I wish I could tell the tale of an epic battle where I triumphed magnificently, but getting my audio rights back from my publisher was actually quite simple. All I had to do was request that they return them to me. Thirty days later, they did.

Of course, it’s not always that easy. It depends on what your contract says. So if you are a traditionally published author with books that are still controlled by your publisher, at least go and read your contract. You may be able to get this one important subsidiary right reverted.

Why should this be important to you? Because audiobooks, as a means of entertainment, are growing more popular by the minute, thanks to new digital technology and the fact that almost everyone has a gadget and earbuds in their purse or pocket these days. It’s a perfect breeding ground for sales to listeners who love books. And it’s yet another way to reach new readers, and yet another income stream for the author, above and beyond her usual print and ebook royalties.

In my case, I had sold nine books to Avon/Harper Collins between the years 2002 and 2007.  In each of those contracts, this is what the audio book reversion clause looked like, and it was boilerplate at the time:

“6(d) If the Publisher does not either exercise or license audio recording rights to any Work within 60 days from the date of the Publisher’s initial publication of such Work, the Author may request in writing that the Publisher revert to the Author such rights, and the Publisher shall revert such rights to such Work within 30 days of such request.”

Color of HeavenI’m sure this language is no longer standard, however, because audiobooks are now in a stage of tremendous growth in the marketplace. Moving forward, publishers will no doubt want to hang onto those rights. So this is something to consider when negotiating a new deal with your publisher.

First of all, try and keep your audiobook rights if you can. If that is not possible, do your best to arrive at terms that provide a decent reversion clause.

So what can you do if you get your audio rights back?

You basically have three choices: sell those rights to an audiobook publisher for an advance; publish your own editions independently; or do nothing.

Personally, I chose to publish the audio editions independently through ACX. Within a week of receiving the reversion letter from my publisher, I had contracted Rosalyn Landor to narrate and had pushed the entire Pembroke Palace series into production.

Wildest FantasiesI am finally capitalizing on a format I had not been able to break into while I was at Avon – and yes, it’s lucrative. The first few months may have been slow to get rolling with only one title in my catalogue, but as I added new books and listeners began to find me – and I started pushing harder to promote my audio titles – my monthly earnings began to increase substantially. Two days ago, I received a check from Audible for $5,113. That was for one month’s royalties and bounty payments. So as of this month, I have earned back my investment in the production of all ten titles, and all future revenues will be pure profit. Thank you, ACX.

And I am very glad I checked the reversion clauses on my old contracts. You just never know what you’ll be able to claim as your own.

Portions of this blog post originally appeared at JulianneMaclean.com You can download the Pembroke Palace series from Audible here.

Directing the Actor

As an author, you’re probably used to working with editors, proofreaders, and cover designers. But when you put on your audiobook publisher hat for ACX, you’ll meet a new type of creative person: the actor. To ensure you cast the right actor and can effectively direct them on your audiobook’s needs, you need to know how to communicate. Read on for our expert advice on the subject and helpful forms you can use to guide your actor to a great performance.

Casting the Actor

Casting the right actor is the important first step towards getting the best performance. ACX features a wide range of talented actors,  and you’ll want to narrow that list down to those with the specific vocal attributes you’re looking for in your audiobook. During the title profile creation process, you’ll come to an area with the following options:

Describe

 

This is where you’ll set the overall tone of the narration. If the book is set in England, or the main character has a heavy Spanish accent, now’s your chance to note such details. You should also begin thinking about the more specific aspects of who your characters are, and how that plays into their personalities. You can include some of this information in the “Additional Comments” field of your title profile.

Directing the Actor

Any actor worth their salt wants to produce the best audiobook they can, providing their best performance while honoring the material and the vision of its creator. As a rights holder, you can help him or her achieve this goal by providing detailed notes on the characters.

How can you help your narrator get the characters and tone right? Start by thinking back to when you were writing the book. Dig deep into your characters’ origins, histories, and motivations. Try to answer some of the following questions to get a sense of who your characters are:

  • Where do they come from?
  • How were they raised?
  • How do they act when happy/sad?
  • How do they react to adversity?
  • Are they book smart or street smart? Perhaps neither?
  • Are they generally upbeat or pessimistic?
  • What motivates them to take make the decisions they make throughout the book?

Thinking about these things and communicating them to your actor will not only help ensure you get a great read, but will help you better understand your own writing and characters! Also, make sure to think about any tricky pronunciations, either place names, names of people, or made up words or names from a conlang (we’re looking at you, Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors).

A Good Example

Check out these character descriptions from a recent Audible Studios production:

The romantic leads: 



  • Jessica: She has a slight southern accent – nothing over the top. If we don’t have a soft southern lilt, then a soft, clean, alto voice. She’s a teenager and should sound like one.
  • Kayne: Slight Scottish brogue. Sexy. He’s the lead male in this book.
  • Sonyaza, The Mephilum King (aka The Bad Guy): Strong, deep, dark, old voice; he’s been around for a while (20,000+ years).

Supporting characters: 



  • James: British. steady. He’s one of the crew’s moral compasses, so a moral-sounding voice.
  • Norris: His voice is a superpower, so it needs to be very resonant; the kind of voice that can command people. Preferably a deep voice.
  • Mary-Beth: Neutral young woman, maybe with slight ‘valley girl’ undertones. She’s a fun person.
  • Eden: Smug, sensual, earthy.

Use this handy Audio Information Form to provide your actor with the information they’ll need to succeed.

The 15 Minute Checkpoint

The 15 Minute Checkpoint sets the baseline for the recording and performance quality you need. We’ve covered reviewing your audio for technical issues previously, so now we’ll delve into tweaking an actor’s performance.

When it comes to guiding or correcting your actor’s performance, remember two key points about your collaborator: he or she is an adult, and he or she is a professional. And like any adult professional, he or she should be able to handle constructive criticism when given respectfully and directly. Keep the following tips in mind when communicating your needs to your actor:

  • Be clear and confident in your vision. You’re going for respectfully direct, not wishy-washy.
  • Use a well known actor to guide your examples. “This character should be charming and romantic, like James Marsden.”
  • If your character is based on a friend or colleague, describe that person.
  • If you can’t describe what you want, try describing what you don’t want.

The Final Audio

If you’ve followed the advice above, you should reach the final audio review stage with very few, if any, notes on character voices and scene tone. Make sure to plan time to review your final audio, and if you have notes, communicate them expeditiously to your producer. It will only become more difficult for them to re-immerse themselves in the world you’ve created as time marches on and they move on to other projects.

Be sure to make reasonable and specific notes. Requesting a complete change to a character voice you approved in the 15 Minute Checkpoint is probably not a reasonable expectation at the final audio stage, but it’s OK to ask for tweaks to a key scene or a few lines of dialogue over the course of a book. You can make things easier for yourself and your actors by making use of the Audible Studios audio review form, found here.

Remember, an audiobook production is a collaboration between two creative parties. Setting up your partner for success will help ensure that you have a productive creative relationship that results in a great sounding audiobook.

Producers: What kind of direction do you find the most helpful? Tell us in the comments!

 

The ACX Author’s Audiobook Checklist

Authors, do you think of yourselves as audiobook publishers? You should! When creating an audiobook through ACX, you cast the title, set the schedule, control the quality and promote the finished product. So, we think you can safely add “Audiobook Publisher” to your job title.

Being a publisher might sound daunting. Many tasks are vying for your attention, and at the end of the day you are responsible for the quality of the finished product. That’s why ACX Rights Evangelist Nicole joins us today to share her ACX Author’s Audiobook Checklist. Follow her the steps to ensure you stay on the path to successfully publishing your books in audio.

The ACX Author’s Audiobook Checklist

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An author’s best friend: ACX’s Nicole

Working with authors, publishers, and agents all day, every day, I’ve discovered that in audiobook publishing, there are optional items as well as critical items that must be checked off before proceeding from one step to the step. Here’s my handy check list for every step of the audiobook publishing process on ACX.

Stage 1: Before You Begin Production.

Verify Rights

checkbox-unchecked Confirm you have audio rights for your book by checking your print or eBook book contract. If you’re self-published (say, through Kindle Direct Publishing or CreateSpace), you’ve retained your audio rights. If you do not have audio rights, and the current rights holder has not produced an audiobook of your work, consider pursuing rights reversion like author Marta Acosta.

checkbox-unchecked Ensure your book is appropriate for audio. Click here for a list of books that usually do not turn into great audiobooks.

Claim Your Title on ACX

checkbox-unchecked Create an ACX account. You can use your existing Amazon email and password to log into ACX. It is important to fill out your name and address, bank information and tax information up front because I don’t want incomplete info to delay your payments once your audiobook is complete!

checkbox-unchecked Claim the best performing ASIN/version on ACX. Many rights holders have more than one version of their book (eBook, paperback, hardcover), and ACX will pull in certain metadata from your Amazon listing, such as the summary and current rankings and ratings. Potential audiobook producers will use this information when deciding if they would like to audition to narrate your book, so put your best foot forward.

checkbox-unchecked Start drafting your audiobook marketing plan. Keep your fans up to date throughout the production process to build anticipation for your audiobook. Your audiobook marketing plans can help you set due dates for your production and the time line in which you want your audiobook to go on sale.

Post your book for auditions on ACX.

checkbox-unchecked Create the title profile for your book. Creating a robust, specific, and accurate title profile is important. A book description that’s detailed and compelling helps producers get excited about working on your project. I always tell my authors to include some performance notes (characters, accents, overall tone, etc.) and to mention if the title is part of a series.

checkbox-unchecked Choose the right audition script for your book. This portion should be about 2-3 pages, and should include some dialog, some descriptive text, and any important accents or character voices. Don’t worry if you can’t find all of these things in one scene – you can build an audition script that includes a few shorter passages that cover the items above.

checkbox-unchecked Decide the payment method for your production. Do you want to pay your producer for their efforts upon completion of the audiobook (a fee per finished hour, as part of a Pay For Production deal) or do you prefer to split your royalties with them 50-50 (as part of a Royalty Share deal)? Learn more about payment options on ACX here.

checkbox-unchecked Make an offer! Clicking this button will start the process of making an agreement or deal. I recommend opening a dialogue with your narrator before or during the offer stage to ensure you are on the same page.

checkbox-unchecked Set a proper production schedule based on your needs and the narrator’s availability. Make sure to leave yourself time to review your final audio and communicate  any corrections to your producer.

Stage 2: Time to Produce

checkbox-unchecked Send the manuscript, and decide on a 15 minute checkpoint once your producer has accepted your offer. You can piece together the 15 minute checkpoint script from multiple parts of the book if need be. Make sure to include main characters, dialogue as well as descriptive text, any particularly tough scenes or tricky pronunciations. If any portion of the book seems likely to trip up your narrator or deserves extra attention, include it in the 15 minute checkpoint.

checkbox-unchecked Request clear and specific corrections to the 15 minute checkpoint as necessary. Once you approve, you narrator will have the green light to produce the rest of the book in its entirety.

checkbox-unchecked Secure and upload your audiobook cover. Cover art should meet our cover art requirements and should make your book attractive to potential listeners.

checkbox-unchecked Line up promotions. I’m constantly telling authors to think about marketing from the very beginning. Are you blogging about your upcoming audiobook? Are you alerting your fans or newsletter list that they will soon be able to hear your book? Keep whetting their appetite for audio and ensure they’ll be eagerly anticipating the day your audiobook becomes available for sale.

Stage 3: Review, Approve, and Pay

checkbox-unchecked Request clear and specific corrections to the final audio as necessary. Don’t be unreasonable, but don’t be shy. This is your audiobook, and sometimes corrections are necessary.

checkbox-unchecked Approve and pay for your audiobook (unless it is a Royalty Share, of course). Your title will be submitted to ACX and receive a quick quality assurance check and, if all is well, should be available for sale within 7 business days of your approval.

 checkbox-unchecked Finalize your marketing plans for when…

Stage 4: Your Audiobook is on Sale!

checkbox-unchecked Use your codes to drive reviews and sales of your audiobook. Once your audiobook is on sale, you will receive 25 free promotional codes via email to distribute to fans and reviewers.

checkbox-unchecked Update your web site, blogs, and social media accounts to reflect your new audiobook. I think author Barbara Freethy’s audiobook section of her website is a great example of how to feature your audiobooks.

checkbox-unchecked Check your backlist, and do it all over again! The only thing better than having a book made in audio via ACX is having ALL your books made in audio via ACX!

Download a printable version of this checklist.

Cynthia Hartwig’s Top Five Marketing Jobs for New Authors

We met Cynthia Hartwig in Seattle at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. Cynthia teaches writing and storytelling at the Richard Hugo House and The School of Visual Concepts, and we learned right away that she had a knack for tackling topics writers find daunting. She joins us today to demystify what some consider to be the scariest task new authors face: marketing their titles.

Cynthia02The Top Five “Absolutely Positively Have-To-No-Matter-What” Marketing Jobs for New Authors

We need to talk. Yes, I’m talking to you, friend. I get that you’re a writer, a word nut, a lover of deep, heartfelt tales, more conversant in character arcs than target markets and audience splits.

Stop shaking in your boots. I’ve narrowed the marketing tasks down to the top five most effective steps for authors new to the marketing conundrum. If you’re stultified by the thousand things you’ve heard other experts telling you to DO RIGHT THIS MINUTE, start here and you’ll do better than fine.

Understand that a marketing hat is not a dunce cap, a cone of shame or a dog collar.

Writers are strange animals. They write books and they want people to read them. And yet when someone says, “be a marketer” they get all shamefaced and embarrassed.

If you can’t admit to the idea that marketing = sales, try thinking of marketing as an honorable way to find readers. Assuming you’ve got a great story, an inviting cover and a hook-‘em-hard title, this list of marketing priorities will get your book sales moving.

1.  Fill out your Amazon Author Central profile to help readers find you.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many new authors forget this basic task. Filling out your Amazon Author Central page is far more effective than paying for a sexy web site at the early stage of your author career. This is because Amazon attracts millions of readers to its site—and all of them have no idea who you are or why they should look for you UNLESS your book comes up in their search bar.

You have no real brand identity (yet), so it makes sense to help Amazon direct readers to your e-books and audio version(s). Amazon is the online mega-store equivalent, so naturally you want to be front-and-center, as close to as many reader “buy” buttons as you can get. Your author profile page is there to help you.

2. Give out free copies like candy in exchange for reviews.

Cynthia04Deborah Reed, pictured right, is a very successful writer of both literary novels (much harder to sell than genre books) and thrillers (written under the pseudonym, Audrey Braun). Deb recommends sending lots of free copies of your book to bloggers for review. “Be incredibly generous and polite to said bloggers,” she says. “Also give free copies to other writers and readers, including people you know, in exchange for an honest review.”  Don’t worry that giving your book away will steal sales away from you; while it seems counter-intuitive, free sampling is a proven way to build an audience. Once you hook a listener, they will clamor for more. (ACX gives you 25 free download codes that you can use as Cynthia recommends. Just email support@acx.com to request them.Ed.)

3. Reviews are worth mowing the neighbor’s lawn, changing diapers, and washing cars.

Reviews are social proof that your book is worth spending hard cash for. We’re herd animals and believe me, the more you can herd friends, hair cutters, garage mechanics, yard people and yes, even family members, to write a paragraph of honest copy about your book, the better your sales will be.

Your goal is to hand-sell 20-25 reviews. Call in every favor, every chit, every IOU or marker you have outstanding from people in exchange for a review. Do not worry one whit about whether the reviews or good or bad; in fact, I believe bad reviews have a positive effect because people are so cynical they will distrust you if all the reviews are glowing.

4. Build an email list of 1000+ and mail an e-newsletter once a month.

Books have always been sold hand-to-hand until the marketing snowball gets rolling. I hope you started an email list a long time ago but if you didn’t, immediately start collecting names and email addresses of everybody you come in contact with. My list includes business associates, past clients, social club members, PTA committee volunteers, neighborhood watch folks and a host of people I meet in a busy social life. You want to track everyone you meet because people who know you are more likely buy your book than people who don’t. It’s been said that an email list is the one marketing tool that traditional publishers most want to get their hands on. So it makes sense as a “self-marketer”, that you’d build your list into a marketing asset of at least 1000 names.

cynthia03

Next, create an e-newsletter and mail it once a month. More often than that is annoying; any less and people will forget why they are getting a message from you and will unsubscribe. If you happen to blog, the best things to put in your e-newsletter are interesting and informative posts—just don’t make them posts about writing (most of your friends and associates don’t care a whit about the writing, just the reading). Always include a clear, simple call-to-action asking the recipient (nicely) to buy your audiobook. Show your cover with its short sales blurb and make sure they can click a link to buy on Audible, Amazon, or iTunes. If the e-news is informative and doesn’t bludgeon them over the head with a buy-Buy!-BUY! message, your newsletter will be the closest thing you have to your own storefront.

5. Create a blog that doubles as your web site (and isn’t about writing).

You won’t find social media on my “top five absolutely, positively must-dos” for a self-published author right out of the gate. Even though I’m a huge social media fan.

I believe a new author is better off creating a blog that will build credibility in a specific area and will later become the hub for social media. Instead of randomly tweeting or posting “Buy my book!” on Facebook (which doesn’t work and annoys people), create a strong blog designed to build both platform (aka who you are online) and proves your authority (why readers should care).

Don’t make your blog about writing, because the field is saturated. Instead of writing about writing thrillers, blog about weapons the good and bad guys use against each other; don’t write a blog about writing Regency romances, write a blog about the amazing fabrics (duppioni, muslin, jacquard, white weave, slub, satin!) of Regency-era fashions. Once you’ve got yourself established in the blogosphere, then links to your posts become the “there there” that all your tweets, Facebook posts, Goodreads comments, and Pinterest boards lead to. I use WordPress as my blog and website platform and by far, the Two Pens blog aimed at business readers is one of the most important marketing component I use.

6. Once You’ve Written a Book, Record It

I know, I said there would be five tips. But here’s a bonus. You’d expect that the ACX blog would recommend having your book produced in audio. But don’t do it just because ACX says so. Do it for selfish (i.e. marketing) reasons: people who buy audiobooks are way different than the people who buy e-books or print books—and the market is growing. Audiobook listeners are multi-tasking in some way: they’re driving to or from work, they’re riding the subway, enjoying a sunny day in the park – doing a hundred and one things you can’t do with your eyes glued to a page. A basic tenet of marketing is to be everywhere your buyers are. Why not expand your readership beyond books to listeners of audiobooks since ACX has made it so easy to have your words professionally recorded?Cynthia01

-Cynthia Hartwig

Have you tried any of Cynthia’s marketing tactics? Which have worked best for you? Tell us about it in the comments!

5 Tips for Choosing a Narrator

Today, we’ve got a crash course for ACX rights holders on choosing the right narrator for your book. How does an author know which voice is best to bring their work to life? We’ve got 5 tips below that you can use to hone in on the perfect producer for your title.

1. Better the narrator reads a little too slow than a little too fast.

Proper pacing for your title can be hard to nail down. Romance will have a different pace than action books or adventure novels. Different scenes within your title may require a slightly different read based on the content. But overall, it’s better for your narrator to err on the slower side than rush through the material, leaving listeners in the dust.

Listen to the following example of a passage read too quickly:

Notice how it’s hard to distinguish between dialogue and descriptive text. The poor listener is left in the dust, with no time to comprehend what’s being conveyed to them.

Now, let’s listen to the same passage read a little too slowly:

The pacing is a bit deliberate perhaps, but at least the listener can settle into the story and process what’s being read.

2. Character voices should sound natural, not over the top and “cartoonish.”

Another aspect of narration that will quickly turn off listeners is ridiculous sounding character voices. When in doubt, understated is best. Narration that hints at a new character speaking is better than a jarring change in tone. Here’s a clip of a silly, distracting character:

Yeesh! Who could listen to that for the length of an entire book? Now, let’s listen to the same clip with a more measured, understated read:

Much better. Notice how the narrator subtly hints at a change in tone, trusting the reader to pick up on the change in character. (Thanks to Victor Bevine for providing the audio examples above.)

3. Check to see if the narrator has other audiobooks on Audible, and read the reviews.

Proper pacing and character voices are definitely an art, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you’re new to audiobooks and unsure what sounds best. If that’s the case, we recommend you take advantage of the combined knowledge of Audible’s listeners! If the narrator has books already for sale on Audible, check the reviews of those titles. The “What Members Say” section can be found on each title’s product detail page, under the “Publisher’s Summary” section.

Ratings

 

Note that Audible has ratings and reviews specific to performance, not just for the story itself. You can also scroll down further and read opinions from individual Audible Listeners. Many are as attached to their favorite narrators as they are their favorite authors!

Reviews

 

4. Ask for your fans’ opinions.

Author Hugh Howey linked his fans to the ACX sample search and asked for suggestions. If you’ve already started receiving auditions, you can download them from ACX, post them to your website using a service like SoundCloud, and poll your readers with easypolls or another free online polling tool.

Download

 

This is also a great way to build some advance buzz and get your fans excited for your upcoming audiobook!

5. Trust your instincts

You know your book better than anyone. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it probably won’t sound right to others. If you’re unsure about a particular voice, use ACX’s sample search to invite a few of our 15,000 narrators to audition for your book. We’re confident that the perfect voice on ACX, ready to narrate your title!

How do you find the perfect voice for your title? Tell us in the comments!