Digital media made electronic books accessible to readers. The next step is audiobooks, but there is a great deal less information out there about audiobooks. How do you produce one? How do you sell one?
Recently, I released my novel, Earth-Sim, as an audiobook through ACX which is owned by Amazon. In this post, I’ve asked both Mark Waters, the director of my audiobook division (sounds so much better than “my husband who pushed me into audiobooks”) and Jennifer Reilly, the producer and voice artist of Earth-Sim to share some of their insights on audiobook production.
First, let’s welcome Mark. Tell us, how did you decide among all the auditions you received? What was your screening criteria?
MARK: Before you talk about screening auditions, it helps to have auditions. ACX provided an incentive for various talented individuals to take the time to audition by offering a stipend in addition to the royalty share agreement. Not sure exactly how ACX choose to offer a stipend, is it all new authors? Or certain segments they are trying to grow? Whatever the reason, the stipend helped bring in a number of quality auditions.
I always take the time to listen to the whole audition. I appreciate the time that someone has spent to create a 5 to 10 minute audition. I have three criteria are sound quality, character fit and versatility. Sound quality, is basic professional standard recording, actually all the auditions met this criteria. The second is character fit. How well does the voice match my idea of the main character. And then versatility, the novel has several characters, how well does the voice artist create a unique sound to the character. Using those three criteria I separated auditions into ones I liked and narrowed the list down to 3 that could do the job. Though when I heard Jennifer’s audition, I knew this is the one!
What was your process for reviewing and quality-checking the recordings that Jennifer sent back to you? How long did it take? How many times did you listen to the recordings?
MARK: Typically, I reviewed each chapter 3 to 4 times. Once with a book in front of me going line by line. This catches missed words, added words, and mispronunciations.
The second time I’d listen to the overall flow. I look for pacing, the sound of the characters or other more subjective things. Sometimes I would stop there until I got any corrections. Other times I would take a break and listen without any agenda. I reviewed just the corrections when received and at the end I listened to the entire book for one last quality check. So for a 6 hour book, it was 18 to 24 hours of listening. The big thing though is having a notation for errors. I liked to have a paper copy of the book to mark up with a few symbols to make corrections.
In hindsight, is there anything you would change about your process for coordinating the production of an audio book?
MARK: ACX has a real nice platform to get connected and get things done. Find someone talented, tell them what you are looking for, let them do their thing, make any corrections, and you are done! Simple.
Let’s talk about pricing. How do you price an audio book?
MARK: ACX has guidelines based on length. I also checked other titles in the same genre looked at their length and priced it accordingly.
Amazon is obviously keen on promoting audio books. What other interesting aspects of ACX should authors know about?
MARK: As I mentioned in the first question, Amazon offers a stipend paid to the Producers/Voice Artist of $100 per finished hour in addition to Royalty Share.
They also offer an introductory bonus, if your book is one of the first three downloaded by a new subscriber then you get $25 per download (or split if it’s a royalty share agreement) ACX is investing in expanding the number of audiobooks available and in encouraging people to tap their social networks to find more buyers for audiobooks.
What tips do you have for authors (or their representatives) on ensuring a smooth working relationship with the voice actor?
MARK: Find someone great, give them some guidance as to your vision, then get out of their way.
Now, let’s go to that someone great that Mark found. Jennifer Reilly is the producer and voice artist for Earth-Sim. Jennifer, how did you get into voice acting and audiobook narration?
JENNIFER: Completely by accident! I went to Colombia College Chicago for theatrical performance and during my senior year of college, I took a voice over workshop. I fell in love with working behind the microphone and was fortunate enough to meet a local producer who really believed in me. After the workshop was over, he mentored me, hired me for my first voice over job and helped me get an agent. The rest (as they say) is history…
Your narration of Earth-Sim was outstanding. What do you consider your strengths as a voice actor?
JENNIFER: Thank you so much! It was truly a pleasure working on this book. I have extensive stage training and I think my theater background helps me with every performance.
How do you go about screening and choosing ACX projects? How can an author catch your attention? What to actors look for in an audiobook projects?
JENNIFER: Well, the process may be a little different for everyone, but for me the main thing I look for is a great story that I can connect with. Above all else, I want to be able to do the author’s intent justice.
Approximately how many hours of work does it take to produce an hour of an audiobook? (Revisions included.)
JENNIFER: There are a lot of steps when it comes to producing an audiobook. Reading the book, researching the content and characters, narrating, proofing, editing, revising and mastering. For Earth-Sim, I spent about nine hours on each one hour section of the book.
Wow, that is a great deal of time per hour of the book. (As an FYI, Earth-Sim is just shy of six hours long as an e-book). Just out of curiosity, what does your voice studio look like? More broadly, why should authors choose to work with professional voice artists instead of reading the audiobook on their own?
JENNIFER: It’s pretty funny to describe my recording studio. It’s essentially a small windowless, padded room with a microphone that I spend all day talking to myself in. Glamorous, right!?
Writing is so personal and I can’t imagine the level of trust it would take for an author to give their work to someone else to perform. It truly an honor to do the work that I do.
There is a creative side and a technical side when comes to recording a quality audiobook. Having an experienced storyteller who understands both makes a huge difference.
What tips do you have for authors on ensuring a smooth working relationship with the voice actor?
JENNIFER: Good communication is key to any seamless working relationship. Having a great dialogue with the author about their book and characters can add even more to the performance.
Thank you, Jennifer and Mark!