My first experience with audiobooks was not a good one. To encourage myself to walk more, I’d purchased (or borrowed) a Johanna Lindsey historical romance on cassette tape. (Yep, that long ago.) I loaded the cassette into my Walkman, put on my headphones, and started my laps around the park. The narrator was a man, and I hated it. Worse, it bored me to tears. I came away with the conclusion that audiobooks were not for me.
My next experience was 100% better. A coworker got me hooked on the In Death series by J.D. Robb. I was slowly reading my way through my coworker's private book collection. When hers ran out, I shopped the local used book store. I was able to find all but one—Survivor in Death. I looked everywhere for that stupid book, and no one had it. Finally, I found it on Audible. An audiobook. I groaned, but I was desperate so I bought it (with a 30 day free trial membership).
The narrator blew me away. It was like listening to a play. I couldn’t put it down, and when the story finished, I mourned its end. That’s when I discovered the power of the narrator. The right one can make a mediocre story great, and the wrong one can make a great story sound mediocre.
I continued with my Audible membership, quickly growing to a library of over 200 audiobooks. I learned what I liked in a narrator, and what I didn’t. For instance, I prefer female narrator's voicing male characters rather than male narrator's voicing female characters. I stay away from erotic romance audiobooks because not all narrators can read sex scenes without sounding corny or cheesy. Others sound like I’m listening to porn, which does not make for a pleasant listening experience. This knowledge of my likes and dislikes helped when I branched out to publish my books in audiobook format.
I discovered the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), which is an Amazon owned company. Through ACX, you can hire narrators to produce your book, or if you have the skill and the talent, can narrate your own book and upload it through them for distribution. I do not recommend the last option for romance books. It might work fine for non-fiction, but honestly, fiction readers want a listening experience, not just someone reading to them. They can use Alexa for that.
Since my original posting of this article in 2018, several other audiobook publishing options have become available. Findaway Voices operated similar to ACX with more distribution outlets. I believe they no longer offer narrators for production since being purchased by Spotify, but consider using them if you want to take your published audiobooks and distribute them wide.
In addition to several audiobook publishing companies, in recent months, AI (artificial intelligence) narration has become an option. Google, Apple, and now Amazon offer it, along with several other publishing companies. Since I prefer human narration--that's a whole other conversation--you'll have to research if you want more information on this.
Payment options on ACX.
Royalty share — This payment option is popular with authors without a large budget, but not so popular with narrators. The narrator produces the audiobook. You (the author) publish it, and you and the narrator split the profits. Royalty share contract terms are usually seven years. Audible will not release you, the author, from this contract unless A) the narrator agrees and/or B) you've paid the narrator to release you from it. Be careful if you choose this option. Seven years is a long time.
Phaze, one of my former publishers, contracted two of my books as a royalty share option before going out of business. They tried to cancel the contracts with ACX, to no avail. I was able to get The Contract canceled with the narrator's permission. It took months of back and forth. He wanted payment to cancel the contract, but I had no money to offer. Phaze was listed as the legal rights holder, and despite my documentation from Phaze proving otherwise, I was left on the outside looking in.
With True Mates: Mary and the Bear, I had to wait until the contract ended last year in 2023. I never received payment for that book. The narrator wouldn't respond when I reached out, and the publisher's portion of the royalties went fell into the void. One day, when I feel up to the fight, I'll reach out to ACX's legal team about my money--again.
Pay For Production Fee (PFH) — With this option, you pay the negotiated amount upon completion of the project. This is the option I use, though it can be pricy.
Royalty Share Plus — This option combines Pay for Production with Royalty share. You pay so much in cash, and the balance is paid via royalty share. I don't know what the contract term is for this option as I've never used it.
Finding a Narrator
This is, perhaps, the longest part of the process. I’ve learned through trial and error that success depends on two things: timing and payment option.
Last December (2017), I posted several books for auditions. At first, I didn’t get any nibbles. So, I went to the Producer for Hire section, listened to samples, and invited several to audition. Things picked up dramatically. Because of the amount I offered--up to $200 per hour--there was plenty of interest. (Please note: In 2018, the highest PFH rate was $200-$400. Now in 2024, it's $400-$1000, though I expect with AI now being an option, this may come down.) This allowed me to be very choosy. In addition to the audition clips, usually 5 minutes long (about 2 pages of script), I listened to the narrator’s samples. If they had produced audiobooks for other authors, I listened to those clips and read reader reviews about the narrator.
Don’t be afraid to dialogue with the narrator, or request an additional audition with a different section of script if you’re having a hard time deciding between two or more narrators. I did it with my True Mates series. The initial audition script was for Carol’s Mate. When I narrowed down my choice to a final three, I explained that the narrator I chose would be for the entire series, and that they were one of the finalists. Then, I asked if they would mind reading another audition from a different book in the series. They all agreed.
A note about audition scripts: Be sure to choose a section of your script that has both male and female dialogue. If your characters have accents, supply a section of that script as well. If the book is spicy, consider giving them a sex scene to read. Give your narrator as much information as possible as to what you’re looking for and tips/characteristics of your characters that will help them with their narration. This benefits them and you.
Be upfront with the narrator about your expectations before sending the contract. I’m pretty easy going. I don’t mind slight changes in the script as long as it doesn’t change the intent of the wording, or change how I view my character. I expect requested changes to be made without argument. Also, I appreciate narrators that keep in touch with me and keep me appraised of their progress. I try to do the same with them.
It is not the narrators job to edit your manuscript. They will read it exactly as written. It’s a good learning curve for writers, because you hear every typo, repetition, or omitted word when the story is being read.
Edits are in two, or rather, three rounds. The narrator will send the first 15 minutes for your approval. This is so as the Rights Holder, you, can be sure you and the Narrator/Producer are on the same page regarding pronunciation, characterization, etc. If you don’t like it, offer suggestions for improvements. If you still don’t like it, don’t approve it. Once you do, you’re locked into the contract. I’ve only had one case where this happened. I didn’t like the narration style of the female half of the couple I contracted. Her voice was flat and monotone. I explained my dissatisfaction to the narrators, and ACX canceled the contract.
Once the first 15 minutes are approved, the narrator will complete the rest of the book. They’ll send it to you. It’s your responsibility to listen to it. I do two listens. One without the manuscript in front of me, listening to the flow. Then I listen to it again, reading along with the narrator so I can note any errors or discrepancies. When marking errors, you need to inform the narrator of the chapter, time stamp, what they said, and what you wrote. Occasionally, I’ll add a note of explanation if it's possible the narrator may think I'm being nitpicky.
You send this information to the narrator. They make the corrections. You listen a second time to make sure all the corrections were made. If not, you can send it back one last time. I’ve rarely had to do this. When satisfied, you approve the book and return it to the narrator. They finish the formatting and mastering for ACX.
Once you’ve approved the book, ACX will prompt you to provide payment. You submit payment via the agreed upon method. I use PayPal. The narrator confirms they received payment and submits the file to ACX for quality assurance and approval. Once ACX approves it, they will schedule it for release and notify you (the author) when it's available for purchase by readers.
To date, I have twenty-seven produced audiobooks and one in production. Longer audiobooks sell better, as most readers prefer a longer listen (12 or more hours). They also cost more to produce. I began with my short stories first and worked my way to the longer books, going series by series. I still have several books not in audiobook format.
If you're looking for an instant return on your investment, audiobooks may not be for you. My experience with audiobooks show this to be a long-term investment. Audiobooks are more popular than they used to be, and their popularity continues to grow. However, a large portion of my readers still prefer ebooks or print to audiobooks.
To check out my catalogue of available audiobooks, click here: https://www.zenawynn.com/audiobooks