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Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


So, um, I'm juuuuust a little excited about this, but I turned one of my ebooks into an audiobook, and you can too.  In fact, you should.

In September, I came across Hugh Howey's article on Wattpad about discoverability and the indie writer. I paused when I got to the point where he said every writer needs an audiobook (actually, what he said was "Audiobooks make you look like a media empire.")

I'd considered it before but don't have either the tech or the voice to record my own, plus I have no idea how to distribute it. I'd considered podcasting one of my books, but that's as far as it went.

Enter ACX, Amazon's audiobook-making platform. And oh, wow. Once I got over the inital terror of "Aaaah, I'm doing somehing new!"it was kind of fun. If you've retained your books' audio rights, I really encourage you to do it too. I'm going to assume you don't want to narrate your book yourself or you don't already have an ongoing relationship with a narrator.

You create an ACX account, which then locates your books on Amazon. You figure out which book you want to turn into an audiobook and tell ACX a bit about your book, yourself, and what kind of narrator you want for it (gender, age range, style). ACX then makes your project available for audition. If you're impatient (and I was impatient) you can start sorting through voice actors' audition tracks and ask them to read a brief audition script from your book.

At this point, you and potential narrators are going to be gauging each other for whether you want to work together. I'm not going to lie -- it was intimidating as all heck to be contacting voice actors and asking if they'd like to work with me on my project, but it became fun after a while. I talked to four different narrators about my novella The Boys Upstairs before settling on Ryan Prizio, who impressed me with his enthusiasm and versitility. Eight hours after I contacted him and asked whether he'd be willing to take a look at my project, he'd recorded the first chapter. And even with zero guidance from me as to what my characters sounded like, he brought them to life in that audio file.

As an author, you may know exactly how your characters sound. Or like me, you may not. Ryan had me describe my characters and give a general idea of how they sounded in my mind, and one night he sat on his couch and recorded himself talking as each one of them. It was amazing listening to my characters speaking for the first time, and for the most part he nailed every one of them (except for the one I'd described to him poorly, and he perfected her on the second go-around.)

Your narrator will record the first fifteen minutes of your audiobook, and after you approve it, the narrator can record and submit the rest. You'll need a cover for your audiobook too, and bear in mind that the print and ebook covers won't be the right dimensions. I used this as an opportunity to get a brand new cover for my book, by the way.

Once the audiobook is finished and approved, ACX arranges distribution. They set the price (the only part that's not under your control) and make the audiobook available through Amazon, Audible and iTunes. If you've chosen a royalty-share with your narrator, then you didn't pay the narrator up front and ACX will split your royalties with your narrator, 20% of the price to you and 20% to your narrator. (If you're able to record your own book, you get to keep all 40%.)

One caution: going through this process, I can see where an author and a narrator could go head-to-head about the process. Keep in mind that just as movies are different media than books, so too with audiobooks. I'd urge you as the writer to let go a little bit: no one's going to render your book exactly the way you imagined unless you do it yourself. But think about how many different interpretations you've heard of any literary work that's been made into a movie or even subjected to criticism. Your book, once you're done, lives independently in the heads of the readers. Similarly, these narrators are evoking parts of your book you may not have heard the same way before. Let go a little and let the piece breathe.

At about the midpoint, my two main characters have a no-holds-barred confrontation in front of a number of onlookers. They're brothers, so they're both carrying a lot of baggage, and they're really good at pushing each others' buttons (because, as I'm told, they installed them.)  Whenever I read that passage, I hear Jay as offended/outraged and Kevin as mocking to cover up his own insecurities.

When Ryan narrated that passage, he read Jay as heartbroken. Baffled. Vulnerable.

They're the same words, exactly the same, and an interpretation that I think works so much better in audio format than it would have in print (where I'd still tend to interpret it as majorly pissed off and defensive.)

In another section, one of my characters was interspersing his actions with snippets of memory, and Ryan realized the reader wasn't going to be able to hear what I was doing on the page. Remember, narrators can't speak in italics, and they can't speak in graphs or charts. So we changed the text, and it worked because both of us were willing to communicate and willing to trust the other's skill set.

Work together. Make yourselves a team.

I dare you: tell me you don't want to do this. Tell me you don't want to hear your characters speaking to you through a pair of headphones. Tell me you don't want to reach a whole cluster of people who say, "I don't read books" but who will pay to listen instead. Try, but I bet when you think about it, now that you know it's possible, you really do want to do it.

So yeah, so far it's been a blast. I'm really happy with ACX, and I think my narrator did an awesome job. You can check out Ryan Prizio's website, and you can also visit his ACX profile to listen to his work. (Just be sure to leave him some free time to do the rest of my catalog!)

Jane Lebak is the author of The Boys Upstairs. She has four kids, three books in print, two cats, and one husband. She lives in the Swamp and tries to do one scary thing every day. You can like her on Facebook, and if you want to make her rich and famous, please contact Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency.


Unknown said...

Jane, thanks for sharing your story. You've got me hooked! I am about to publish my first novel DEAD LIES and have been wondering if (and wishing) there was an easy way to do an Audio book. Mine is a mystery novel and a dramatic reading would bring it to life. Best of luck with your book and Audio book, and thanks again! Cybele Loening, Author of Dead Lies.

Unknown said...

Jane, thank you so much for the kind words! It's so interesting to read about the "other side" of the process. I'll be writing about my experiences as a narrator on acx at my website ryanprizio.com in the future!

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Fascinating post! I hadn't even considered audio books, thinking it would be too expensive. Thanks for the info.

Joy Smith said...

Thanks for the great info. I'm definitely going to consider it. The AX site only spoke about $50, which seemed a royalty.
May I ask how much you needed to pay upfront? If you choose to respond, you may email me privately at jsmith6568@gmail.com