I got this question from a couple of authors over the past year, so I thought I’d address it in this post.
Audiobooks are only worth creating if any of the three conditions are met: you are making serious money (like A LOT of money) in ebooks already, you have a narrator who is willing to do the work for free (and get compensated via the split-royalty program), OR if you love making them and will do the narrating yourself.
I don’t know why there are people out there telling authors that audiobooks are “huge” and they are a “must”, but audioboks are in a whole different category from ebooks. Ebooks are the indie author’s best friend because this is where the main source of income comes from. In my experience, more people are still reading ebooks than listening to audiobooks. I assume the cost of ebooks and widespread availability of them are to credit for this.
An audiobook takes a lot more work to create than ebooks. When you write an ebook, you can have many disruptions and pick up where you left off. If someone interrupts you while you’re narrating an audiobook, you have to edit these interruptions out. With a house of five other people, I am greatly limited in narration time. This limits how much I can get done in a week. In my experience, it can take anywhere from 2-4 hours to edit one chapter in an audiobook. (My chapters run anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 words.) Then when the narration (and editing) are done, you have to upload the audio files. Uploading each individual chapter can be time consuming. I believe it’s at least an hour on Findaway Voices for me to upload an entire book. ACX was longer. If you end up with a quality issue, you’ll have to go back and figure out how to fix it. Also, changes made to an audiobook are not automatic. When I recently made a change in the audiobook I narrated, Findaway Voices told me the changes could take up to a month to go through to all of their retailers. When you make changes to an ebook, those changes go through fast. Usually, within a day or two, you’re good to go. But with audio, it’ll be longer. So be prepared for that and try to get your audio files correct the first time.
Even if someone else does the narrating for you, you have to listen through every single chapter to weed out any errors. If the narrator is splitting royalties, you don’t upload the files. They have to worry about that. But if you own the audiobook version outright, you still got to upload them. I guess if you have an assistant who knows what they’re doing, all of the listening and uploading can be done by them, but not many authors can afford an assistant, especially one who has experience under their belt. I hired someone to listen to the audiobook I narrated, and I caught some things they missed. This person was not qualified to do the job. I hired my oldest to be an assistant to help me this time around, but he’s starting out, and there is a lot of hand-holding and training I have to do before he’s ready to be on his own.
Another factor to consider is your return on investment. ACX’s policy of deducting future royalties from authors if someone returns an audiobook totally sucks. For example, let’s say I sell an audiobook in March but the person returns it in April. ACX will take that “return” out of my future royalties. In other words, I pay ACX back. This happens even IF the person listened to the entire audiobook. As you can imagine, this puts a damper on your return on investment. Findaway Voices, on the other hand, is author friendly. They send audiobooks to all retailers (including Audible and Amazon if you don’t claim your book on ACX), libraries, and subscription services. I paid about $10,000 in 2020 to have five audiobooks made. Through ACX, I’ve made $228 so far this year. Through Findaway Voices, I’ve made $395 so far this year. If you are exclusive to ACX, you’re shooting yourself in the foot UNLESS you’re doing a 50-50 split royalty with a narrator. At least then, you didn’t put any money into the venture.
I also want to point out that most of the royalties I make off of Findaway Voices comes from libraries and subscription sites (like Scribd). They do NOT come from sales where a person keeps the audiobook forever. Considering the fact that people on Audible have a library mentality (where they “buy” a book and later return it), ACX is pretty much another library. That’s just my personal experience. That’s why I say you should be a super-selling author if you’re looking to pay a narrator to make audiobooks. If you are a big name, you will be more likely to pick up those people who will keep an audiobook forever. I am not that kind of author. I can get people to keep my ebooks, but I can’t get them to keep my audiobooks. Before taxes, I bring in $80K in ebook sales. This is why, in my opinion, you need to have substantial money coming in from ebook sales if you expect to make a return on investment when you pay for a narrator. I have no regrets in paying that narrator. She did a terrific job. I just can’t afford to keep paying her when you factor in living expenses for a six-family household, repairs that pop up, and taxes. That’s why I’m narrating the books myself.
Suffice it to say, if you’re going to do audiobooks, do it because it’s something that truly interests you. Regardless of whether you go with a narrator or do the book yourself, this should be a passion project. Do it because it’s fun. Do it because you want to hear your own book in audio format. If you do that, you will never regret making the audiobook.
I’ve been thinking a lot on this (and doing research on Findaway Voices), especially for The Pure World Comes. Good to know. I’ll be keeping this in mind while I consider how to approach an audio book for it. Especially since most of my sales come from magazine/anthology sales and books sold at conventions.
Is your publisher going to handle the audiobook production for The Pure World Comes? If I had sole enough ebooks for the Montana Collection and the anthologies, the publisher would have had the audiobooks produced, but I never met the required threshold in sales to make the return on investment worth it.
I don’t think Findaway Voices allows a straight 50-50 split with no money down to the narrator. I know there is a royalty share option, but I think you still have to pay the narrator a certain amount of money upfront. It’s been over a year since I looked at the details. I love Findaway Voices. They’re a great company to work with. But in order to get my audiobooks on there, I have to do the narrating myself.
No, I’m handling it. And I’m assessing my options.
Nice. Keep me posted on how things go. I’d love to hear about your experience. 🙂
I’ll let you know. The goal is to get paperback and ebook out at the same time, and the audio book soon after if not at the same time. We’ll see what happens.
I love your books, I can understand why you would question making the audiobooks. I love audiobooks because I listen to them when I’m working but I love curling up at night and reading a book. So no matter what you decide I am a big fan of your work and don’t let others push you into something that may not be good for you. Thanks for your hard work. Pam S
I love narrating my books, so I’m making them. It’s like play time for me. I get to do the dialogue between the characters as I imagined them in my head while I wrote the scenes. I also get to insert the tone of the story in the narration that fit with how I felt as I was writing the story, too. This is especially fun in comedy where the pitch in narration varies more than it does in a more serious story. I don’t have the same “quality” voice that professional narrators have, though. That’s the only drawback. I’m working on improving, but it doesn’t come as easy to me as the writing part does. 🙂 My son is a lot better than I am, and I’m having him share the narration in some of my audiobooks. He does the male roles while I do the female roles. But for certain books that are heavier in the spicy content, I do everything. He’s an adult, but he doesn’t want to think of his mom as being anything but “mom”. LOL You can’t blame the poor kid.
Thanks for the huge compliment. I really appreciate it! I don’t know if my voice will be something you’d like to listen to, but I am going to start rolling out romances in November in audiobook format. I’ll post links to You Tube, Rumble, and Bitchute so you can sample my work.
I have an Audible subscription and listen to audiobooks all the time. I couldn’t afford to pay for these books without a subscription, but with the subscription, it’s much more affordable. Audiobooks and ebooks are my indulgences in life. I don’t buy a lot of clothes or jewelry. I do listen to so many audiobooks that I sometimes have to buy extra credits. So there are some of us who listen to almost as many audiobooks as read ebooks. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the norm. I have never returned an ebook or audiobook, and I don’t have a lot of respect for people who do it just to get free books. That’s just not right. I don’t see how they sleep at night. It’s like stealing in my opinion. It’s like those people who buy clothes to wear to an event then return them.
I would love to narrate my own audiobooks, but I have this very southern accent that doesn’t translate well in recording. My son could do an excellent job narrating, but he really doesn’t have a lot of time. I’ve offered to pay him. He can make his voice sound almost any way he wants. Maybe someday.
I don’t see why you should let your voice stop you. My voice isn’t all that great. I might not have a southern accent, but I have a tendency to slur some words and I can’t say the word “asked” right to save my life. I figure even if no one else listens to the audiobooks I create, I will, and that’s enough of a reason to make them. I used to take a mini tape recorder and narrate my books back in 2009. Then I’d listen to them while doing housework. Being able to get them on retailers and social media just makes it easier for me to access. The tape recorder could only hold one book. My phone can have unlimited. I use Apple to get my audiobooks since I can carry my phone with me during the day and listen to them.
Even if you are the only person who wants to listen to your books, I’d think they are worth making if the idea of making them excites you. It just depends on how passionate you are about it. 🙂
Audible is a great deal for customers. So is any other Amazon program that exists out there. Amazon knows what it’s doing. People who game the system can only do is because Amazon allows it. Amazon can crack down and say if someone listened to the whole audiobook, they can’t return it, but they choose not to. Amazon could allow up to 30% of the audiobook for free before requiring payment for the entire thing that is non-refundable. Or perhaps these people could only be refunded a portion of the sale depending on how far they got into the audiobook. Amazon has ways it can help authors and narrators out, but they choose not to do any of them. Yes, people who game the system are stealing, but Amazon is helping them do it. At least with KU, authors get paid for pages read.
I’m going to have to eat my words. After some debate, I decided not to proceed with audiobooks. My narration skills leave a lot to be desired. I don’t feel like dealing with the complaints about the clicks and such. I’m a far cry from the professionals. I wish there was an easy way for me to create an audiobook that is just for me and put them on my iPhone to listen to while I do housework.
I think one other thing to consider is if you have a passion for making books available to the sight impaired. This community is always looking to add to what is available. My MIL is legally blind and adores her audiobooks.
I hadn’t thought of that, but that is a good reason to make them. My sister is a trucker, and she listens to a lot of audiobooks off of You Tube while on the road. I’m not sure how well You Tube works with search results or if it can be searched via voice command, but that’s a possible place she might go to in order to find audiobooks. My sister said there’s a ton of them there.
I’m currently uploading one of my romances on You Tube, Rumble, and Bitchute for November. My goal is to have one new book up a month. I’ll do this for a year and see how it goes. (As an aside, Rumble and Bitchute lack enough content to make the audiobook search worth your MIL’s time. I would stick with You Tube if she can. My son found a few channels on You Tube where people read stories that writers submit to them. It’s fun to listen to some of them.)