A Beginner’s Guide To Audiobooks For Authors

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The notion of forfeiting the sensations stemming from reading a book in favor of listening to a book seems, to those of us who are more traditional bibliophiles, somewhat counterproductive to the concept of “reading”.

While audiobooks may be considered as “cheating”, for writers, they can be highly valuable in promoting readership. The way we absorb and communicate information is changing with an increased access to digital content and it’s only right that writers take advantage of this.

So, if you’re toying with the idea of creating an audiobook for your novel, there are plenty of questions you’ll have and which I will answer for you.

Let’s have a look at what is involved in creating, producing and distributing an audiobook, the costs and time needed, and whether the decision to delve into the world of audiobooks is right for you.

1. How do I create an audiobook?

Before we start looking at the drawbacks and benefits of audiobooks for writers, let’s begin by looking at how to go about creating one to begin with.

  • The first and most obvious method to create your audiobook is to record it yourself, and then either self-distribute it or market your audiobook to external companies. If you wanted to do this, you would need a couple of essential pieces of equipment:
    • A laptop or PC which has a high quality sound card or, an audio mixing console which you can connect to your device.
    • A microphone which produces excellent, clear sound quality.
    • Software that you can download to actually record and edit your audiobook. For this, a popular choice amongst authors is Audacity, which can easily be downloaded for free.

The trouble with recording your audiobook on your own is that, while you may have an excellent novel, you might not be a great narrator. After all, a strong, engaging and “listenable” voice is necessary to entice listeners. If you feel like this isn’t something you have, then there are alternatives you can look into for producing your audiobook.

  • An alternative to self-producing is using ACX, an audiobook producing company pioneered by Audible.com which is owned by Amazon. The service introduces new authors to professional narrators who are producers specializing in narrating audiobooks. The benefit of this is that they have professional, high-end equipment, resulting in quality, professional audio. An added advantage is that you get to choose the narrator you’d like to produce your audiobook and make them an offer for payment (more on this later!).

2. But what about distribution?

The good news is that there are also audiobook producing companies which not only assist you with production, but also take charge of distributing your audiobook to wider audiences.

If you’ve created your audiobook independently, then software such as Soundcloud can enable you to share, upload and promote your book to millions of users across the globe. With Soundcloud you are free to embed your audio link to your blog, social networking feeds or website. You can even provide free samples for people to listen to, and then charge for the full audiobook.

Authors producing audiobooks with ACX, or alternative producers such as Dynamic-Ram, can take advantage of distribution policies which mean that these companies distribute your audiobook via Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

Distribution of your audiobook, then, seems relatively easy.

3. What about time and costs?

This is an important question and is one that should be considered carefully.

Unfortunately, the truth is, neither producing nor distributing audiobooks is cheap or entirely time efficient.


If you’re choosing to self-produce and self-distribute your audiobook, then you will need to a) have time and b) be tech-savvy. As an estimate, a standard length book (say approximately 50,000 words) will take no less than 40 hours just to narrate.

This doesn’t include time you will need to re-do unclear bits, or to edit and refine your narration; this may take time to master as you get to grips with the equipment and hardware that you have chosen to use.

If you then choose to self-distribute to websites such as Soundcloud for example then, although you have 2 free hours of upload initially (which might be great as a taster), you will subsequently have to subscribe to a package plan of $130/year for unlimited uploads.

Using ACX

If you choose to produce your audiobook with ACX, you must negotiate the pay and royalties with Amazon.

The choice that you make then forms a legally binding contract, so it is very important that you do think very carefully about the royalties that you will have to surrender to Amazon.

ACX have a fixed flat rate of 40% royalty rates, with exclusive distribution of your audiobook to Audible, Amazon and iTunes. As the author, you are required to split the profits of the audiobook 50/50 with the narrator/producer. This can be very problematic for authors if and when audiobooks are sold at a discount price.

ACX have also introduced a bounty program which writers can opt for where ACX pays a bonus payment of $50 per download every time your audiobook is the first purchase made by a new Audible customer. The $50 payment is divided 50/50 between the author and the narrator which amounts to $25 dollars each.

Pay per hour

Other audiobook production companies can charge by the hour which can make it difficult to know just how much you might end up spending. Although the final product is professional and high quality with clean sound, it is difficult to put a budget aside for your audiobook production.

4. Is it really worth it?

So far, we’ve taken a look at how to go about producing and distributing your audiobook, as well as the time and costs involved in the process.

Let’s balance out the pros and cons of investing time and money in producing an audiobook to help you decide if it really is worth your time and effort.

The pros:

  • The biggest and most obvious advantage of audiobooks is using any audio platform puts you in touch with a potential audience almost immediately and that means exposure, exposure, exposure. If your work can be easily located on audiobook or podcast websites, readers are more likely to find it, despite living on the other side of the world to you.
  • There is the potential to increase your book sales. Popularity and a fan base is the most effective method to reach out to new readers. After all, all it takes is the curiosity of one reader who listens to a snippet and is enthralled, and follows your non-audio work thereafter.
  • Audiobooks can also enhance readership through word of mouth and recommendations to friends or fellow book lovers.
  • Audiobooks can be a means of additional income. You have the potential to make up to an extra 20-25% per download in addition to your book and e-book sales.

The cons:

  • Audiobooks can be great for authors who already have bestsellers, or are already well known; they have the potential to make more money from the royalties and bounty program that ACX offers. However, this isn’t great news for new authors who are still in the process of marketing and promoting themselves.
  • This calls in to question whether this is cost-effective for new writers; is it worth the time and financial investment if the return is uncertain?
  • The royalty rate of 20% offered by ACX is, in truth, not much. To add to this, these rates are volatile and unpredictable. For instance, ACX has only introduced the new royalty and bounty rates in March 2014; what if they decide to make further, unforeseen changes?
  • Large corporations such as Amazon do not solely cater to author’s needs; they are a business who, arguably, promotes their own commercial needs before those of the author. In other words, you do need to make sure that you read between the lines.

You can get a comprehensive guide to recording your own audiobook from Author Toolkits here.

Have you used audiobooks to reach new readers? If so, how have you orchestrated the process, and what results have you achieved? Would audiobooks be something that you consider? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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