For Authors, Publishers, Rights’ Holders:
TURNING YOUR BOOK INTO AN AUDIOBOOK
I’m Australian born and bred. My background is in the television industry (under an alternative name), where I’ve worked for over 20 years, both in front of the camera and in production. I’ve produced over 800 video segments, and voiced over a thousand voiceovers for TV shows, corporate videos, training programs and TV commercials. I narrate in Australian, British RP and General American accents, with additional character voices in Cockney, Irish, Scottish, Russian, Southern US, French, German and New Zealand accents. In UK-accent, I’m usually asked to narrate historical fiction (Regency/Victorian romance). I work through ACX.com, Audiobooks Unleashed, Spoken Realms, Findaway Voices, Northern Lake Audio and other platforms.
I record in my home studio using an AKG C214 large diaphragm condenser microphone, feeding through a Yamaha MW10 mixing desk, into Reaper software. File cleanup is done with Izotope RX10. I can provide clean, proofed, ACX-spec, mastered, retail-ready mp3 files or raw punch-and-roll files if preferred.
Audiobook production is a time-consuming process. As well as requiring specialist skills, equipment and a whisper-quiet recording area, each hour of finished audio takes around 6 to 9 hours to produce (see What’s Involved below). Payment for audiobook production is usually managed in one of three ways:
(1) an upfront rate per finished hour (PFH) of audio (i.e. a set rate for each hour of finished audio that ends up in the audiobook);
(2) a Royalty Share basis (no upfront cost, but a share of profits from sale proceeds); or
(3) a Royalty Share Plus or a Hybrid deal (a Royalty Share plus a small set amount per audio hour to offset production costs).
Rate Per Finished Hour (PFH): My rate generally ranges from USD$250 to USD$350 per finished audiobook hour (PFH). A 50,000 word book would normally make an audiobook of about 5.5 hours long. If the book were 5.5 hours, the cost would be 5.5 times the per finished hour rate, so @ $300 PFH audiobook production would be 5.5 times $300 = $1650. The PFH rate depends on how soon the work is needed and how many other projects are on my plate; whether the client requires raw unprocessed files, or retail-ready audio (edited, proofed and mastered mp3 files). For books less than 30 minutes, there is a minimum charge of 0.5 hours.
Royalty Share: Under a Royalty Share contract, there will be no charge to produce the audiobook, and the right’s holder (i.e. author or publisher) agrees to split profits with me, generally at a fifty-fifty rate. It takes around 7 hours to produce one hour of finished audiobook product, so generally I will only do Royalty Share contracts for books that have a very good chance of selling well. Rights holders may need to furnish evidence that the audiobook is likely to be a good long-term seller, in order for a narrator to enter into a Royalty Share contract. Though new narrators may be happy to enter into Royalty Share deals to build up their portfolios, it quickly becomes financially untenable to work on a Royalty Share basis unless a book is selling extremely well (around 10K or less ranking on Amazon.com). If a book is closer in ranking to 100K or higher on Amazon.com a narrator is unlikely to break even (much less make any profit) from taking on a Royalty Share only deal. That doesn’t mean narrators don’t take on Royalty Share only deals, but they’re more likely to take a hybrid or PFH deal unless a book is selling extremely well.
Royalty Share Plus (aka a Hybrid Deal): Royalty Share Plus is a mix of the two other arrangements, and is particularly useful for authors and publishers who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars on audiobook production. RS+ is a Royalty Share deal, where, in addition to the fifty-fifty split of the profits, the author or publisher also agrees to pay a smallish fee per finished hour to the narrator so the narrator is not completely out of pocket for the 7 hours spent producing each finished hour of audio or outsourcing some of those hours of work (for proofing and editing) . The additional fee can be whatever is negotiated between the author/publisher and the narrator, but is typically in the range USD$75 to $150 per finished audio hour. The narrator can use this money to outsource (some or all of) the proofing, editing and mastering (which typically costs $75 to $125 PFH), or use it to offset the time taken to perform those tasks themselves. Rates at the lower end of the scale ($50 PFH or less) are available where there is evidence the audiobook is likely to sell fairly well and/or the rights’ holder or author can demonstrate they have a solid marketing campaign in place to promote the audiobook.
Managing Production and Distribution
Many US rights’ holders have wanted to work through ACX.com, which I am able to do. Increasingly, however, rights’ holders want to publish ‘wide’ and/or are rights’ holders outside the ACX-approved countries of US, UK, Ireland and Canada. Under these circumstances, there are a number of options, including ones where the author may choose Royalty Share simultaneously with wide or exclusive distribution (a choice that ACX can’t offer!) Arrangements can include paid up front, Royalty Share, Deferred payment or any combination of these, distributing wide or exclusive. For authors new to audiobook production, the FAQs for Authors page at AussieNarrator.com provides helpful independent advice on many aspects of audiobook production and distribution (including alternatives to ACX.com such as distribution through Voices of Today, Pink Flamingo Distribution, Findaway Voices, Spoken Realms, Spectrum Audiobooks, etc).
What’s Involved in Producing an Audiobook?
Why does it take 6 to 9 hours to produce each hour of finished audio?
- Read the book cover to cover, making notes as you go, so you know who each person is and what their story arc is. This saves time during recording, because you know who each character is and where they fit in the story. Therefore you know the appropriate voice for them and what emotion they’re carrying in each scene. Even non-fiction books generally need a pre-read before heading into the studio, so you can note down any words to research and pronunciations, etc. (Pre-production read-through takes 1 hour of the narrator’s time for each hour of finished audio.)
- Research any place names, word pronunciations, etc. Research, practice and (hopefully) become proficient at any foreign accents required. (This might take 5 minutes or might take an hour or more. It just depends)
- Mark up the (electronic) script to make it easier to narrate (to save time, energy and retakes in the soundbooth). Markups include different colours for the dialogue of each character, phonetic spellings for odd words/foreign accents, underlining for emphasis or words describing vocalisations, and any other notes on the script that will aid during recording. The ability to markup a script greatly saves time recording and doing retakes, so my preference is always for a text or word file (rather than PDF or mobi). (Script markup for novels take about one hour of time for each hour of finished audio. Less time can be required for non-fiction books, depending on their subject matter and level of jargon or difficult pronunciations.)
- Head into the sound booth and record the narration from a marked-up (electronic) script. This is generally done using a “Punch and Roll” technique, which – although it takes a little longer in the sound booth – greatly streamlines the editing process. (Due to stopping for mistakes, performing Punch and Roll, stopping for sips of water, redoing a take to provide a better interpretation, etc, it generally takes 2 hours in the recording booth for each hour of finished audio.)
- Proof each file (or outsource the proofing, generally at a cost of $25 PFH). This is where a person listens to the audio while reading along with the written manuscript to check for accuracy of the recorded audio. Mistakes are noted down with a time-stamp of the errant words, extraneous noises, etc. (Proofing takes at least 1 hour per finished hour of audio, usually 1.25 to 1.5 hours.)
- Head back into the soundbooth to re-record any pickups (i.e. mistakes identified during proofing). (This generally takes about 15 minutes per finished hour of audio, not counting the time to re-edit)
- Edit the files (or outsource the editing, generally at a cost of minimum $75 PFH). Editing can happen at the same time as proofing and may be done by the same person if they are commissioned to do both services. Editing consists of manipulating the audio to get rid of any extraneous sounds (mouth clicks, loud breaths, traffic sounds/dog barks, etc), adding top and tail room tone, tweaking the lengths of pauses between paragraphs, words or sentences to help with logical timing, and fixing inconsistencies within the audio. After retakes or ‘pickups’ are recorded, considerable editing skill is also needed to seamlessly meld the corrected pieces back into the original files. (Editing generally takes at least 2 to 3 hours for each hour of finished audio)
- Mastering (if outsourced, this will usually be included in the price of editing). Mastering is where the audio engineer examines each edited audio file, and brings up and/or evens out the volume across each file and across multiple files, so that each piece of audio is clear, consistent and easy to understand, with minimal background ‘room ambiance’. (Mastering might take 15 to 20 minutes for each hour of finished audio)
- Export each file to mp3, and archive all material. (This might take 10 to 20 minutes per hour of finished audio)
- Upload files to client. (This might take 15 minutes per finished hour of audio, not counting any other communication with the client to let them know the files are there, etc).
From the above list, it’s easy to see that even an audiobook requiring zero research, recorded with zero mistakes (i.e. no pickups and no re-edits needed), will require 6 to 7 hours to produce 1 hour of finished audiobook. Producing audiobooks is extremely labour-intensive!
“Narrated by Amy Soakes, her Aussie accent gives this story the authenticity of being in the Outback. I loved her voices for the characters; each has its own personality and is easily distinguishable. Her pace is perfect, and she makes this listen full of the emotional drive it is and takes you with Max and Maggie as they grow.”
Patricia, Audible Review at Audible.co.uk
“The narrator used proper voice inflection based upon the emotion and occurrences in the book at that given time. She employs natural pauses that contribute to the story’s description and details. The dialogue presented was conducted in such a fashion that her voice made it possible to produce a visual image. Her performance enhanced the story and created the atmosphere for this audiobook to be enjoyed and appreciated.”
Donna from Orlando, Review at Audible.com