Audiobooks are positively exploding in popularity. They reached nearly $1 billion in sales in 2018 amid seven years of double digit growth that shows no sign of abating.
And you might be surprised just how easy it is to get an audiobook out there! It’s totally possible to self-publish an audiobook and reach readers in this fast-growing format. I did just that with my guide to writing a novel, now on sale as an audiobook.
In this post I’ll cover:
- The different paths you can take to self-publish an audiobook
- How to decide whether to narrate yourself or find a narrator
- Recording tips
- How to find a narrator
- How to distribute your audiobook
Understand the paths to self-publishing an audiobook
There are two main questions that will help determine the path to take when self-publishing an audiobook:
- Do you want to narrate yourself or do you want to hire a narrator?
- Do you want to make your book available exclusively via ACX (which distributes to Amazon/Apple/Audible) or do you want wider distribution?
The answers to these questions will help determine how you go about producing the files, where you will sell them, and the royalties you receive.
For instance, ACX offers different tiers of royalties depending on whether you produce your own files, hire an audiobook producer on their platform with an up-front fee, or hire an audiobook producer on the platform via a royalty share:
- DIY (you produce your own files): 40% royalties exclusive; 25% nonexclusive (minus your costs)
- Pay one of their narrators: 40% royalties exclusive; 25% nonexclusive (minus the fee you negotiate with the narrator)
- Royalty share: 20% royalties, exclusive only (no up front costs)
ACX distributes to Amazon, Audible, and Apple only. There are also other audiobook distributors like Findaway that will make your audiobook more widely available to a burgeoning audiobookselling landscape that includes Google Play, Nook Audio, Overdrive, and others.
Findaway’s royalties are 80% of net (example: for an a la carte sale at a $10 list price, $5 goes to the distributor, $1 goes to Findaway, and $4 goes to you). More details here.
If you opt for non-exclusivity, you can absolutely make your audiobook available via both ACX and Findaway.
It’s tricky to make the economics of self-publishing an audiobook work, so before you even start, get a sense of the costs and how many copies you’d need to sell to break even depending on the path you choose, and do a gut check to make sure it makes sense for you.
For my guide to writing a novel, because I philosophically believe in making my work available as widely as possible, I decided to go the DIY nonexclusive route, distributing via both ACX and Findaway.
How to decide whether to narrate your audiobook
Chances are you find the idea of someone else reading your book out loud a little strange.
But consider this: it is very difficult, exhausting, and time consuming to read your own audiobook, and there are professionals out there who are wildly good at it.
Here are some of the things you should take into account as you’re deciding whether to read:
- Do you have the time? A very, very rough rule of thumb is that every 10,000 words on the page results in one hour of finished audio. If you’re an inexperienced audiobook reader, accounting for breaks and do-overs, you should plan to spend at least two-three hours reading for every finished hour of audio. So if you have an 80,000 word novel, you should plan to spend about 24 hours recording. This really adds up!
- Do you have access to a soundproof recording space? To produce a good audiobook you need to produce it in a soundproof space that will result in a high quality recording. Audiobook distributors check to see if your recordings meets their standards, so don’t even waste your time recording in a loud space.
- Do you have access to a sound engineer/editor? In addition to a recording space, it’s helpful to have someone who knows what they’re doing on hand to make you sound good and then stitch together the final product out of all of your stutters and do-overs. There are lots of local studios who offer this, so check your area for resources.
- Are you a good narrator? Be honest with yourself on this one.
- Do the economics make sense? Unless you’re going full DIY, believe it or not it’s often more affordable on the front end to hire a professional than it is to read yourself, especially if you’re able to work out a revenue share agreement with a narrator.
Make sure to familiarize yourself with audioboook requirements (here’s ACX’s and Findaway’s). Unless you’re an expert or are super into learning new skills, I’d highly recommend hiring a professional studio to produce your audio, which will likely run you between $250-$1,000 or more per finished hour, depending on how quickly you’re able to get through the material with all the do-overs.
Personally, when it came to How to Write a Novel I just couldn’t imagine someone else reading it because it is actually written in my own voice. So I recorded it at John Marshall Media. (Here’s what it’s like to narrate an audiobook).
For my novels, however, I would hire a professional narrator, no question about it. I don’t think I’m good at reading fiction aloud.
Tips for recording an audiobook
So you wanna take the “read your own book” plunge? Here are some tips:
- Make sure you have the right equipment and a soundproofed space: You can’t just read into your phone or AirPods, you need proper equipment and a truly quiet place, preferably a dedicated studio or recording space.
- Prep your script in advance: Create a script that includes the title and any introductory material you want to include. Don’t forget that you’ll need a closing (at minimum “The End”) in order to satisfy the audiobook distributors, and for nonfiction you want to swap out all references to physical pages like “read on” with “listen on.”
- Go slow and steady and take breaths: I was super excited when I started reading… and I went way too fast. I eventually found a rhythm but ultimately needed to go back and re-read introduction so it sounded right. I probably should have practiced a bit more ahead of time to find the right pace.
- Abstain from alcohol the night before and eat the right amount of food: Whoo boy do those stomach growls show up on sensitive recording devices. Eat bland food that won’t upset your stomach the day(s) of your recording and don’t eat too much or too little. Make sure you have something soothing like tea on hand.
- Take breaks: It’s exhausting to read an audiobook and nail every single word. It’s awful to get stuck in loops where you just. can’t. say. something. right. and have to try again and again.
- Smile as you read and gesticulate wildly: Energy is everything. It feels weird to wave your arms like a crazy person in a small studio but it worked for me.
How to find a narrator
Want to find a voice that’s as great as your book? Both ACX and Findaway offer services to connect you with narrators that are integrated with their platforms, and there are many other places you can cast an audiobook narrator, including John Marshall Media, Voices, Upwork, or your favorite local freelance voice actor.
If you’re paying up front, you should plan to spend $100-$400 per finished hour on a narrator.
It’s helpful to have a sense of the type of reader you want beforehand so you can articulate this to the narrators who will produce a brief audition. Then, after you have some auditions, choose the one you feel is best for your book and work out a deal.
Also: Don’t just send the narrator the book! You need to work on an audiobook script that adds any introductory material you want, swaps out all mentions of “reading more” for “listening more,” and includes a wrap-up that’s at minimum “The End,” (which is mandatory for the audiobook distributors).
How to distribute your audiobook
Once you have the digital files, you’re ready to get everything uploaded. But it’s helpful if you plan some important elements well in advance.
There are a few important things to know ahead of time:
- It takes a long time between uploading the files and going on sale: As of this writing it takes 10-14 business days for audiobooks to go through the review process at ACX and Findaway, and they may ask you to make changes. If you want your audiobook’s publication to coincide with the publication of your print book/e-book, plan to upload the files at least three calendar weeks ahead of your pub date. If you are planning to find a narrator on ACX/Findaway you’ll need to build in even more lead time to produce the files.
- For ACX, your book needs to be available on Amazon before you can upload files: If you’re self-publishing a print book or e-book, this means you need to make it available for pre-order before you can get started with the audiobook production and/or distribution process.
- You need a separate audiobook cover: An audiobook cover has distinct requirements, so you’ll need a dedicated cover. In deference to the days of CDs, these are still square: 2,400 x 2,400 pixels are the minimum dimensions. Here are the requirements: ACX and Findaway.
- It’s helpful to secure an ISBN for the audio edition: If you’re making your audiobook available nonexclusively it’s helpful to have an ISBN to facilitate broader distribution. These are available at $125 each (or in bulk at a discount) via Bowker.
For ACX, as I mentioned in the first section, when you upload you’ll need to choose between exclusive or nonexclusive distribution.
For Findaway, you also have a few options for deciding where you want to make your audiobook available. They’ll ask you if you’re also using ACX, which will preclude you from publishing on Amazon/Audible, but you can still publish to Apple via Findaway.
More resources for self-publishing an audiobook
Here are some more posts that might help you on your audiobook self-publishing journey:
- How to self-publish a book
- How To Record Your Own Audiobooks For ACX (Creative Penn)
- Producing An Audiobook With Findaway Voices (Creative Penn)
- How to choose an e-book cover
- 32 book marketing ideas
See anything I missed? Have any questions? Take to the comments!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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