Category Archives: Storytellers

ACX Storytellers: Chris Philbrook

Author Chris Philbrook parlayed his love of playing role-playing games into an opportunity to write for them, and eventually, himself. His post-apocalyptic Adrian’s Undead Diary series has garnered an average 4.6 rating across 5,200 reviews on Audible. Read on to get his advice for achieving audiobook success.

Q: How did you become an author?

A: Ever since I was a kid my friends told me I was a storyteller. I cut my teeth running role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and White Wolf through my teenage years, and I broke into writing by authoring serials for a game developer’s website in my early 20s. Writing for their games put the itch on me. I developed an idea for a series of stories, and one of my best friends from childhood essentially dared me to write it.

I started a blog with his help, and we did a lot of marketing online to promote it, like sharing posts in Facebook genre groups and giving out simple prizes. With that online exposure, I grew a reader base of thousands within a few months, and when I made the jump to eBook/print (and later audio), I had a path to success laid out for me. Eight novels into the Adrian’s Undead Diary series, I broke off and started to write other stuff, and those titles have been received well, too.

I make stuff up for a living. It was a good dare, and I’ll forever be thankful that my friend pushed me harder than I pushed myself.

Q: Can you tell us about your experience on ACX?

A: I had caught wind of the ACX platform through a few writers groups on Facebook. Most of the authors reported an easy, profitable experience, and I got excited to try a new way to add readers to  my writing portfolio. After doing some research, I decided to post one of my titles. Forty-odd auditions later I made a connection with producer/narrator James Foster, and we were off to the races. He’s been my end-all, be-all resource, my close business associate, and dare I say, a friend.

Taking this step has opened up a world of opportunity for my creative talent. Going from print to eBook or vice versa is not the same as going to audio via ACX. The audio production process through the ACX platform is far more like going from print to the silver screen. You are producing a theatrical version of your book.

Creatively, you will be sharing a vision with a narrator and producer who have different takes on your story. They have ideas for how it should sound, and how it should be listened to, and there’s tremendous merit in listening to their ideas. Greatness is rarely developed in a vacuum, and ACX puts you in a position to interact with incredibly talented people who want to take your story and add to it so that an enormous audience can access it. It’s a thrill to work with folks who want to be successful with you, not just because of you.

I trust James’ ideas and interpretation because we’ve worked so closely together for so long. I put my vision in his hands, and know that he has learned about my writing style and reader base, and has my best interests aligned with his own.

Q: What are you doing to grow your skills and get better at your profession?

A: I read blogs about the profession and attend writers meetings as often as I can. Cory Doctorow’s blog, Poppy Z. Brite’s, and Neil Gaiman’s Journal are all favorites of mine. Joining the Horror Writers Association and the New England Horror Writers was a terrific pair of decisions that led to making many friendships, and securing a literary agent to promote my titles and help me be a better writer.

I also challenge myself by writing stories out of my comfort zone. I truly believe that the only way to be a better writer is to write things you wouldn’t normally write. I’m most well known for a post-apocalyptic story, but I love writing dark and urban fantasy. My dark fantasy works have been less of a hit, but my contemporary fantasy has been a smash. Walking away from my supposed bread and butter was frightening, but I think the payoff has been enormous. Taking the risk and writing new stories causes you to access new dialogue, new situations, new characters, and new ways to engage your potential readers. If you’re not trying to get better, you risk boring your readers.

Finally, I believe that traveling and meeting new people is huge when it comes to being a quality writer. Writing is about the characters, right? Compelling, interesting characters can be based on, or inspired by real people. I find traveling and meeting people is the best way for me to be inspired.

Q: Is there someone you look up to in your industry? Why?

A: I look up to the people who treat writing as more than just an artistic endeavor; I appreciate the folks who understand the level of commitment required and passion it takes to succeed. I appreciate the people who see the tools that are out there, and snatch them up to find success, not wait for it to come to them. Using email blast services, doing podcasts, attending conventions, speaking at panels, doing small local signings…all of it leads to selling books, and being a successful creator/author. This applies to the big people as well as those still coming up. Folks like Hugh Howey, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, Mark Tufo, and others have led the way, or are leading the way.

Q: What is your must-have item in your writing space?

A: I require music (preferably without lyrics) and copious amounts of coffee. I mean borderline illegal amounts of caffeine. Like, I should probably either scale it back, or get some kind of prescription.

I also need water. Not to drink, but to sit near, or listen to. I write so effectively when I’m near a lake, or river. I used to drive ten miles to a secluded town beach to write during warm weather because I just felt the writing there.

And don’t laugh, I keep a Chicago Manual of Style in the top right-hand drawer of my desk. Without it, I’d have to pay double to have my indie titles edited. Probably far more, based on how fast and loose I write when I’m feeling it.

Q: Can you tell us about a mistake you’ve made in your career, and what you learned from it?

A: I have consistently made the mistake of under-promoting my new releases ahead of time. I tend to complete a project, and after it has been edited and finalized, rush it to market. I’ve learned over time that if I slow it down, promote the title through social media, blogs, and interacting with authors in the same genre as my release, I tend to have much higher early sales (which means I chart higher), and then go on to have more subsequent sales of other titles. I’m a work in progress.

Chris Philbrook is the creator and author of the urban fantasy series The Reemergence, as well as the dark fantasy series The Kinless Trilogy and the post apocalyptic epic Adrian’s Undead Diary. Chris is the owner of Tier One Games LLC, his game development company.  He and his wife welcomed their first daughter, Willow, to the world in April of 2016. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

ACX Storytellers: Amanda Rose Smith

As an engineer, editor, and director, Amanda Rose Smith has worked on over 700 audiobook productions, 300 of which are ACX titles. After years of working with studios and publishers, she struck out on her own, and recently dropped a vocal booth into her Brooklyn apartment so she can see productions through from start to finish. Read on to learn her thoughts on collaborating with narrators and the value of knowing what “ə” sounds like.

Q: How did you become an audiobook studio pro?

A: I was a music major at Smith College, studying to be a composer for film, TV, and video games, and I decided I’d like to record my own work. Simultaneously, my work-study job in college involved read aloud for blind and dyslexic students, recording each week’s lessons onto those old tiny tape recorders.

Later, when I traveled to New York to get my masters in Music Technology, I began working for the American Foundation for the Blind as a recording engineer and editor for audiobooks. After that I was at a commercial studio for several years, working on audiobook productions for several publishers, doing post-production for film and television, and eventually became the production manager for the entire studio. A few years ago, I left that position to start my own business. I now work directly for publishers, with narrators on ACX, as well as continuing my work in film, television, and video games. I recorded all the ADR for the second season of Orange Is the New Black, for instance.

As a studio professional working indirectly with ACX (I’m usually hired by producers to edit and master their home-recorded audio), ACX work factors in as a significant portion of my income and in growing my business. After encountering lots of producers who would love to work on ACX but don’t yet have their own recording spaces, I decided to buy my own booth and create my own recording space.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?

A: I wish someone had explained to me how vulnerable one has to be, as an actor, to get the right performance across. Consistently connecting with this work on an emotional level is a hard job. Over the years, directing actors, I’ve learned how closely collaborative this work is. The engineer/director and the actor have to fully engage with each other to allow the best product to emerge.

In my early years, I was sometimes afraid to be as hands-on as I could have been in that collaboration. That feeling probably stemmed from an interaction I had with a very seasoned—but also sensitive—narrator on a book. They had started the book with another director, and I had been brought in to finish things off at the last minute. So we hadn’t really built a rapport yet. Being the pronunciation and misread nerd that I am, I came down a little hard and fast from the start of our session, pointing out all of their mistakes right away, before we had built any trust. It made for an uncomfortable session and the ensuing performance suffered.

Tremontaine

One of Amanda’s 300 ACX productions, the serialized prequel to the Audie-winning Swordspoint

Mistakes are important to catch, of course, but over the years, what I’ve learned first and foremost is the nature of collaboration in session work. Now, I record all sorts of people—from actors who have been narrating for decades to authors who have never spoken in public—and I always approach it from a place of collaboration rather than just fixing someone else’s mistakes. The overall quality, performance, accuracy, and technical sound quality are all part of the whole.

Q: What are you doing to grow your skills and get better at your profession?

A: I’m always researching new gear, new software, new techniques, etc. Social media plays heavily into my keeping track of what my peers in the industry are doing. When I notice buzz about a new piece of software or gear, I’ll try it out. In any technical industry, which this is, it’s important to stay current. For example, I was using ProTools pretty much exclusively when I started out, but a number of other digital audio workstations (DAWs) have cropped up in the past few years. Different programs have different strengths, and studying them allows me to find the most efficient ways to get the work done. While I still often use ProTools, Reaper is also fantastic for audiobook production, especially since it works equally well on PC and Mac. Twisted Wave is great for bulk processing. Izotope RX is indispensable for noise reduction.

Staying up-to-date in this way also helps me advise others when they have technical problems. This is still a very word-of-mouth industry, and I’ve gotten lots of work simply by offering a few minutes of my time to fix a problem.

Q: What are your favorite educational resources for audiobook production?

A: The main physical dictionaries: Merriam Webster and Oxford. When I worked for the American Foundation for the Blind, we weren’t allowed to use online resources. So, I had to learn to read all of the pronunciation symbols in order to do pronunciation research. I’m grateful for that now, because most of the pronunciation sites that are reliable, like Merriam-Webster online or Dictionary.com, may only have audio files for one version of the pronunciation. Those will often be followed by a bunch of symbols only nerds like me can read.

Workspace

Amanda’s home studio and editing suite

Q: What is your must-have piece of studio gear?

A: There are a lot of microphones and pre-amps and plug-ins that I like, and I’m sure that one of those would probably be the expected answer here. But honestly? My favorite piece of studio equipment is the iPad. I have the new 12.9 inch pro in my studio and I’m in love. I started working in this field while people were still using paper scripts. When the iPad became ubiquitous in the audiobook studio, the changes I saw were profound. Narrators who previously had to stop every two pages or so (to avoid the page flip getting caught on-mic) could now go on for as long as they desired—or until I stopped them for a misread. I saw some actor’s output go up by as much as 15%; people who previously finished a session with 180 minutes of raw audio were now finishing with 200 or 210. That might not seem like a big deal, but since most publishers pay on a per-finished-hour basis, it was a game changer.

Q: How do you define success in your creative career?

A: I feel most successful when I pull my head out of my book/computer/headphones and think, “Wow, I’m getting paid to do this.” For me, getting paid to do something you’d probably do anyway is the highest form of success. I also try to keep moving forward, in terms of my level of knowledge. If I can look back on a year and feel that I know more than I did last year, that’s a good year.

ScubaQ: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I love to travel! Also, I scuba dive. In 2013, I went scuba diving off the coast of Belize, at the second biggest barrier reef in the world. To an audio engineer, there’s something oddly relaxing about the near-silence of an underwater environment.

After earning a BA in Music Composition from Smith College, Amanda, originally a musician, moved to NYC where she completed a master’s degree in Music Technology at New York University.  Recently, she was the dialogue editor for Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead: The Game.” She loves most things Star Trek, and hopes to visit all seven continents before she dies. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

ACX Storytellers: Bethany Claire

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Self-published author Bethany Claire has used ACX to publish her ten books and two boxed sets in audio, amassing over $60,000 in earnings in 20 months. A master of Scottish time travel romances who harbors a not-so-secret Disney obsession, she joins us today to share her audiobook story.

Q: How did you become an author and audiobook publisher?

A: The writing bug bit me in college. I started writing creatively just for fun, which allowed me to escape from my 18-hour course load for a half an hour each day, and I lived for it. But that half hour quickly grew into several hours, and I knew that my passion for writing went far beyond the enthusiasm I’d had for any other hobby. Over the course of the next four years, I changed my major seven times. But it wasn’t writing.

Then, on one fateful summer day, I heard about a writers’ academy hosted by my university. I enrolled right away. It was the first time I’d been around other people who were as passionate about writing as I was. It totally changed my world.

When I decided to drop out of college and pursue writing full-time, I wrote like a fiend, studied every single thing I could find about the business, and made a plan for publication. I continued to work part-time before releasing my novels, but five months after dropping out of school, I released the first three books in my Morna’s Legacy Series. Less than a year after that, I hit the USA Today best-seller’s list.

Two years after releasing my first three books, I made the jump into audio after listening to ACX representatives speak at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) national conference. It was something that my readers wanted, and I’d been curious about for a while. I knew it had the potential to be an extra source of income for my business, and I looked forward to the creative process of bringing the characters in my stories to life.

Q: What decisions have contributed to your audiobook success, and what made them the right decisions?

A: From the very start, I think one of the best things I did was offer a high per-finished-hour payment rather than the royalty share option. Despite my fear of investing so much money upfront for the audiobook production, I knew that my goal with my business has always been to look at long-term success. I knew that eventually I would earn out on that investment, and once I did, I would be so glad that I was able to keep my full royalties. It was an excellent decision. It only took a couple of months for me to earn out on the investment of paying my narrator a set amount.

Focusing a section of my marketing efforts towards the sale of my audiobooks has really helped with my success. Giving out the free download codes that ACX provides with each new audiobook release is a great way to build buzz among your readers about a new release and to encourage reviews. I also post and tweet about my audiobooks often, and use online design tools such as Canva to create beautiful and professional-looking images to go along with my posts and ads.

cover01Q: What are you doing to grow your skills and get better at your profession?

A: Writing consistently is one of the best things I do to continually grow my skills. When I do skip a few days of writing—whether it be to travel, sickness, or just plain laziness— my writing is always a little rusty on my first day back.

On the business end of things, I’m continually working to stay on top of changes in the industry. Conferences are a great way to do this. I try never to miss RWA’s national conference and will be attending the NINC conference for the first time this year.

Podcasts are a great way to stay educated. I love Joanna Penn’s podcast. She does a great job of discussing a wide range of self-publishing topics, including audiobooks. Another great podcast is the Sell More Books Show, which focuses on current news, and is a great way to stay on top of changes in the industry.

Blogs are another phenomenal resource. Jane Friedman covers everything from traditional publishing to self-publishing, marketing, and social media. I also think every author should read BookBub’s regular blog posts, which are filled with marketing tips.

Q: What do you wish you’d known when you first started out as an author?

A: I wish I’d understood the importance of creating work-life balance from the start. My first few years as an author, I worked nonstop. While I know it contributed to my success, every other area of my life took a hit as a result. I hit a wall in 2016. Totally burned out and exhausted, I had to stop everything for a number of months. Hard work is important, and I love my job, but if I had started writing and publishing from a place of balance—with self-care as a top priority—I wouldn’t have suffered the major burnout that I did last year. Now that I’ve re-evaluated my priorities, everything is in better shape—even work.

Bethany's writing room

Bethany’s writing room

Q: How about when getting your start in audiobooks?

I wish that someone had urged me to start sooner! I waited two years to get into audiobooks—two years that I could’ve spent growing my audiobook audience and income. I was nervous to take the initial dive into this format, but I had nothing to fear and so much to look forward to. I wish that I had considered audiobooks at the beginning of my publishing career.

Another piece of advice I would offer to fellow authors is that if you have a book that contains multiple points of view, post an audition piece that allows the narrators to read from each POV. For example, all of my books have scenes from both female and male POVs, and they are romance novels. So when I posted my audition script, I included a scene from each POV, as well as a love scene. Hearing the narrators read these portions helped me cast the perfect voice.

Q: What is your “must have” item in your writing space?

A: Every time I sit down to write, I diffuse peppermint and orange essential oils in the diffuser that sits close to my desk. The peppermint keeps me alert, and the orange is a mood lifter.

Bethany and friends at Disneyland

Bethany and friends at Disneyland

Q: Do you have a fun hobby or skill unrelated to your audiobook work?

A: I can plan a trip to any Disney theme park like a boss! Seriously, Disney should hire me. I also love to play the piano, although I’ll admit that eighty percent of the songs I know are Disney. In case you can’t tell, my love for Disney is a bit of a problem.

Bethany Claire is a USA Today Bestselling Author of the Morna’s Legacy Series, with more than ten books published since the release of her first novel in 2013. Bethany loves to immerse her readers in a world filled with lush landscapes, hunky Scots, lots of magic, and happy endings. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

ACX Titles Grab Audie Nominations!

The APA announced the nominees for the 2016 Audie Awards on Tuesday, and we’re thrilled to see that ACX authors and actors received seven nominations across four categories! We checked in with a few of our finalists to get reactions from some of ACX’s accomplished creative talent.

Category: Inspirational, Faith-based Fiction

Finalist: Come to Me Alive: A Contemporary Christian Romance Novel, written by Leah Atwood and narrated by Pamela Almand

Summary: Country music’s hottest star, Bryce Landry, and newly single,  risk-averse Sophie Thatcher discover that finding each other was easy, but holding on will be a different story.Come to me Alive

Memory: When asked about producing Come to Me Alive, Pamela Almond recounted a unique challenge she faced during production:

“Leah Atwood wrote beautiful lyrics to a country-western song, also called Come To Me Alive, and as the narrator, I had to sing it as bad-boy country star Bryce Landry, singing along to his radio hit, then as his girlfriend…and finally as a duet between the two of them! This was more a credit to my editing skills than my singing skills, for sure!  But I loved doing the book, a very uplifting and well-done contemporary Christian romance, and Leah was great to work with. I am so honored and humbled at being named an Audie Award finalist for it.”

Category: Erotica

Finalist: Beta, written by Jasinda Wilder and narrated by Summer Roberts and Tyler Donne.

Summary: The sequel to Alpha, last year’s Audie winner in this very category, Beta finds main characters Kyrie and Roth traveling around the world when a mysterious tragedy strikes.

Beta

Memory: Author Jasinda Wilder stuck to her guns with the follow up to her genre blending Alpha:

“I personally love Beta. I love the way it plays with the accepted boundaries of romance and erotic suspense, or erotic romance or whatever category you want to slot it into. We made it different and a little darker than our usual fare on purpose. Not all of our fans appreciated Beta, though. I get that it’s not for everyone, and that a sequel can’t ever totally live up to the first book. So putting Beta into audio was a little scary, because we weren’t sure how it’d be received.”

Narrator Summer Roberts shared the excitement of tackling the sequel to an Audie winner:

“Erotica can be a really hard genre, but Jasinda’s writing is so rich and her characters are so multi-layered, that it makes narrating her work really fun. I think Tyler and I were just as excited as listeners to find out what was going to happen to Kyrie and Roth in Beta.”

Beg Tease Submit

Finalists: BEG TEASE SUBMIT, written by CD Reiss and narrated by Jo Raylan & CONTROL BURN RESIST, written by CD Reiss and narrated by Jo Raylan and Christian Fox.

Summary: In BEG TEASE SUBMIT, Jonathan Drazen is a known womanizer and a gorgeous piece of man who’s more capable of domination than love. In CONTROL BURN RESIST, his partner in pain Monica struggles with the discovery that love can be just as painful as submission.

Memory: Author CD Reiss recalled the casting process and the relationship she’s forged with her producers:

“I got a great selection of professional auditions to choose from. But I had an idea in my head and every one that didn’t meet that idea was painful to hear. Jo Raylan had a certain something that was spot on, and she let me know right away she’d do whatever she had to to get it perfect. It was obvious she had the talent, so I scooped her up. Christian’s audition for Jonathan was a home run right out of the gate. I would have walked on a bed of Legos to get him on the production. Fortunately, my feet were spared. Control Burn Resist

I’ve developed a wonderful friendship with Jo and have a deep respect for what she does. She wants it perfect. She wants every word to express the right emotions, and we spoke about the character of Monica for a long time. What she wanted, how she sat, where her fear was. It was deeply creative and deeply satisfying.”

Want to create an audiobook worthy of the Audies yourself? Check out our recent tips for rights holders and producers, then head over to ACX to get started.

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Picking the Right Royalty Share Projects

Like to listen? Click on the player below to hear this post in audio.

 

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.

Craig Tollifson_Headshot

ACX Author/Narrator Craig Tollifson (aka Andrew Tell)

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 thJunior Arsonists.jpge 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.

ACX Storytellers: Sandra Edwards and Regina Duke

ACX authors Sandra Edwards and Regina Duke understand the impact a mentor can have on a writer’s career. A chance meeting at a local writers’ luncheon turned into an opportunity for Regina to learn from the writing, publishing, and marketing knowledge Sandra gained over her nine ACX productions. They join us today to explain how they both benefit from their mentor/mentee relationship and share some tips they’ve learned along the way.

ACX: Regina, how did you and Sandra first meet?

Regina Duke

ACX Author Regina Duke

Regina: I went to a luncheon to talk to another writer who was quite popular with the group. But other authors immediately surrounded her, so I sat next to a friendly looking lady with the hint of a southern accent. Within half an hour, she was doing all the talking and I was taking notes on every piece of paper I could find…a flyer, a napkin, and an envelope. She outlined for the group, step by step, what she had done to get her books up for sale on Amazon. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a successful indie author outlining what steps to take. Near the end of our luncheon, Sandra leaned over and said to me, “Email me if you need a formatter.” I was thrilled.

Sandra: Romance writers are incredibly generous. Find one who knows her stuff and let her lead you.

ACX: How did this relationship lead to publishing your audiobooks through ACX?

Regina Wedding WagerRegina: I’d decided that 2015 was the year I would get into audio, but the prospect was daunting. Sandra told me of her experiences with ACX, and that helped make up my mind. I bought her first audiobook and absolutely loved hearing it “read” to me. It was a short hop from Sandra’s success to my decision.

ACX: Sandra, what aspects of publishing and marketing have you helped Regina with?

Sandra: There are a few areas where I think I helped Regina. Here are some specific pieces of advice:

  • Work on your craft. Everyone says this, but its importance cannot be overstated. Even now, we read writing books between projects. Never stop improving your writing.
  • Hire a cover artist. Once you are ready with the best book you can write (after proofreaders and editors have done their jobs), seek out a professional cover artist. Writers often think covers don’t count, but on a site such as Audible or Amazon, a compelling, professional cover is as important as the quality of your content.
  • Take your time reviewing the auditions you receive on ACX. Don’t rush to hire someone. It takes voiceover artists time and effort to submit an audition. Listen, listen, listen. Make notes to yourself about what you like or don’t like in an audition. Listen to samples and read reviews on Audible to get a sense of what listeners like and don’t like.
    Sandra Edwards

    ACX Author Sandra Edwards

  • Include your audio version in every bit of marketing and promotion you do. Don’t let your audio version languish as a stepchild. Promote it as vigorously as you promote your Kindle books. And make sure your audio version qualifies for Whispersync, because that makes it even more desirable for your readers.
  • Budget your time between writing and marketing. Many writers love the writing process to the exclusion of all else. If you want to sell your audiobooks, you will need to parcel your time to include marketing. “No, no! Not the M word!” There’s a lot to learn when it comes to marketing. It’s been a “trial and error” thing for us. What works for some may not work for others.
  • Dont wait to publish (in audio or otherwise) until youve written five books. We hear this advice at every conference and it astounds us. Some successful authors are telling newbies to wait until they have five books written before publishing. We respectfully disagree. What are you waiting for? There is so much to learn about being an indie author. Get that first book out there. Do it right: hire an editor, proofreaders, cover designer, formatter, and start learning.

ACX: How can ACX authors go about finding a mentor themselves?

Regina: I would turn that question around and first ask what I can offer someone who might, in turn, have information they’re willing to share with me? I call Sandra my mentor in the Romance category, but she has frequently assured me that our friendship is very give-and-take. I share any and all marketing opportunities I run across, and we both share learning opportunities.

Sandra_Marriage CaperSandra: This is where conferences and writers group meetings come in handy. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be able to email a New York Times Bestselling Author out of the blue and ask them for advice. Well, I guess you could, but it’s unlikely that you’ll get very far.

Sandra and Regina can be found online at: SandraWrites.com and ReginaDuke.com. Sandra and Regina’s collaborative efforts can be found at: www.LoversLaneRomance.com.

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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

PenguinRandomHouse_ScottSigler_JoanAllenPhoto

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.”

Scalzi

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 Storytellers: Joanna Penn

In addition to connecting authors and publishers with voice talent and studio pros, ACX offers those with completed audiobooks a pathway to distribution through the top audiobook retailers, Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. This DIY” workflow is a popular choice for authors who want to voice and even produce their own work. Author Joanna Penn recently completed the process herself, and she joins us today to share her experience recording Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur (out today) for ACX.

ACX Author and DIY Narrator Joanna Penn

ACX Author and DIY Narrator Joanna Penn

How to Record Your Own Audiobooks For ACX

Audiobooks are a fantastic growth market for authors, narrators, and producers alike, and I’ve been working with fabulous narrators for my fiction since ACX opened up in the UK in 2014. But as a listener, I prefer non-fiction audio in the voice of the author themselves, so I decided to record one of my own books, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur.

Here are the lessons I learned in the process:

1. Make Sure You Record the Highest Quality Audio

There are specific technical requirements one must adhere to when publishing an audiobook on ACX, so that the listener has the best experience possible. You can reach this level of quality by recording in your own home, but only if you can get rid of the various noises that may pollute the audio, which you may not even hear anymore.

I’m a podcaster so I’m used to recording and editing audio, but when I listened to the sounds of my flat, I could hear planes overhead, cars going past, the rattle of someone in the garden, and the occasional yapping of a dog outside.

AndyMarlowRecordingStudioInstead, I hired professional audio producer (and musician) Andy Marlow (pictured), who has a great little studio just a bus ride away from me in South London. We worked in two-hour slots and Andy made sure that the quality of the initial audio was excellent, and he mastered the file to produce my retail-ready audio for upload to ACX.

2. Prepare Yourself for Recording

It’s surprising how tiring recording audio can be. I was exhausted after each two-hour session, because it was essentially a performance. You have to put energy and expression into what you’re saying. And in a professional studio you might be shut into a small, padded box, which takes some getting used to! Here are my tips to manage yourself during the audio process.

  • Schedule sessions a few days apart if you’re new at recording to ensure you have enough energy. People can hear exhaustion in your voice, so respect your audience and make sure you’re at full strength when starting, and stop before your voice begins to drop. It took 7 sessions of 2 hours each to get to a finished audiobook of 6.5 hours, a ratio of about 2:1.
  • Try to avoid dairy before recording or anything that might give you excess phlegm or clog your throat. Try cleaning your teeth and create a routine so that you know your voice will be ready for speaking. If you’re ill or your voice is affected in any way, you’ll need to postpone, as audiobook listeners will be able to hear the difference.
  • Joanna Penn records her audiobook.

    Joanna Penn records her audiobook.

    When you’re recording, try to modulate your breathing so you don’t end up holding your breath. I found that I needed to stop sometimes for deep breathing during longer chapters. I would consider a voice coach for help with this if I was recording more often, as it definitely affected my stamina. Professional actors and voice artists can record for a much longer period, as they have mastered this.

  • You’ll want to read from a Kindle or other tablet so you don’t encounter page-turning noises while recording. Remember to turn off any WiFi connection on the devices and set to airplane mode as they can make a static noise on the audio, even if you can’t hear it when recording.

3. Learn Some Editing Skills to Keep the Costs Down

You can pay a producer to edit the audio files as well as record and master them, but this will make your cost per book higher, meaning less profit for the project. Since I already edit audio for my podcast and I had high-quality raw audio files, I decided to do the edits myself.

Here are some specific tips:

  • You can use free editing software like Audacity to produce professional-sounding audio.
  • If you make a mistake when recording, clap your hands so you create an obvious spike on the audio file that you can use to find the error later (pictured).Clap in Waveform_01 Your error rate will increase as you become more tired, so make sure that you take breaks. I found that 40 minutes was the maximum time I could spend reading “in the box” before I needed a break.
  • The ACX technical requirements require you to add a few seconds of room tone at the beginning and end of the file. We recorded this separately, in the silence of the empty vocal booth. I then just used the pre-cut segments to begin and end each file, which made the process quick and easy.
  • After editing, there needs to be a full QC listen to the audio to ensure all the edits are done properly and the audio matches the book. Since I was truly sick of hearing my own voice by this stage, I employed my Virtual Assistant to do this step for me. Most of the files were fine, but there were a couple of instances where I had repeated myself without editing the error, so this QC step is crucial to avoid issues later.
  • High-quality audio files are very large, and because you’ll be sending them back and forth, you can’t use email for this. They will also fill up your computer memory really fast. I used Dropbox to send the edited files to my Virtual Assistant and the final files to the producer.

For more recording and editing tips, I recommend Audiobooks for Indies by Simon Whistler which has a lot of useful information, whether you want to record your own books or work with a narrator.

Would I do it again?

This process has given me a renewed respect for audiobook narrators, because now I know how hard the job is and how many hours go into recording and editing a book. It was much harder work than I expected!

businessaudioHowever, it was definitely rewarding and I will be recording other non-fiction books in the future. It also gives the entrepreneurial author another product in their business, and if you’d like to learn more about that, check out Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, available now on Audible.

Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn. She also writes inspirational non-fiction for authors and is an award-winning creative entrepreneur and international professional speaker. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn.

ACX Storytellers: Rosalind James

Audie-nominated ACX author Rosalind James has done it all throughout her audiobook journey. A longtime audiobook listener, Rosalind self-published 6 titles through ACX, driving enough buzz and sales of her audiobooks that Audible Studios bought the rights to her next series. She joins us today to share her path to success and the benefits of a varied audiobook portfolio.

Rosalind

Audie-nominated ACX author Rosalind James.

Almost exactly a year ago, my first audiobook, Just This Once (Escape to New Zealand), went live on Audible via ACX. To say that I didn’t know what to expect would be an understatement. Not only was the book my first work of fiction, it was my narrator’s first audiobook. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it?

The results of that experiment, and the four books in the series that have followed it over the past year, have far exceeded my expectations. It hasn’t been cheap­ (more than $16,000 for narration), but I’ve earned a good return ($35,000 so far), publishing-industry visibility and credibility, and—to my utter shock—an Audie nomination in the Romance category for that first book.

Why did it work? I think partly because, as an early adopter with hundreds of books in my audio library, I knew what to listen for. The narrator is truly an equal partner in an audiobook—not just a reader, but an actor. A talented narrator can make a good book great and a great book outstanding. When it came time to pick my own narrator, I opted to pay upfront (in the $200-400 per finished hour range) in order to attract the quality I wanted. I was able to choose from a multitude of excellent narrators, and the one I cast, Claire Bocking, absolutely nailed the feel and tone of the book. She somehow read that little piece of an emotional scene at the end of the book exactly the way it had played out in my head. Readers (not to mention the Audie judges) have felt the same way, and I have reaped the benefits.

Just This Once_HDNot to say that the past year has been entirely smooth. First, there was listening to the auditions. I had to have my grown son sit with me to do it—that is how strange it felt to listen to my words spoken aloud. And after three books produced by three different studios, Claire has finally settled on producing them herself, facing her own learning curve. Fortunately, through all the trials, her acting talent has never wavered, and the books just keep getting better and better.

The Next Phase

As happy as I have been with my narrator, and with the production wrinkles ironed out, why did I sell the rights to my second series to Audible Studios? Two reasons: time and money. The benefit of ACX is that the author has control. We select the narrator, we listen to the book as it is recorded, and we guide the performance. I think a lot of authors (especially indie authors) have a little control freak in us. It is definitely more comfortable to get your book narrated and produced your way. And the royalties are better, but there’s that pay-upfront aspect, too. And the control comes at a price in terms of the time spent listening to auditions, communicating with your narrator, and proofing the audiobook—time you could spend writing.

So when Audible Studios offered me an advance and promised to take all that work off my hands for my Kincaids series, I jumped at the chance to be one of the chosen few authors. I knew they could do the project quickly, accurately, and with less input on my end than going through ACX. They even solicited my input on narrators and secured my first choice, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Now I have what I hope will be the best of both worlds: two series, each with a different professional narrator, and each produced in a way that worked best for me at the time.

KincaidsWhile audiobooks don’t currently have a fan base to rival print and eBooks, I believe that the medium is still in its infancy. From what I have seen with my books, the Whispersync for Voice program seems to be attracting a whole new group of customers to audio, and their purchases push Whispersync enabled books higher up the charts. From there, the books can be noticed by subscribers looking for a place to spend their next credit. For that reason, I always beg for my books to be Whispersync enabled early—it’s the best tool I’ve found for visibility. I believe that, in our multitasking, mobile society, audio is only going to grow, and that authors who have their catalogs in audio will be in the best position to benefit from that growth.

Most importantly, perhaps, having my books in audio is just about the coolest thing that’s come out of my publishing career. When I realized that one of my books could be seen alongside Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ latest—that was an incredible moment. Right there with the woman whose books I had listened to again and again, who set my standard of what a romance audiobook could be? Cool.

Rosalind James, a publishing industry veteran and former marketing executive, is an author of Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense novels published both independently and through Montlake Romance. She and her husband live in Berkeley, California with a Labrador Retriever named Charlie (yes, she named a character after her dog, but she swears she didn’t realize it until later).