Learn How to Turn Your Book into an Audiobook
A detailed guide to Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) for authors — from someone with experience on both sides of the process
If you have ever published a book through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you may have thought about turning your book into an audiobook but presumed that the process would be time-consuming and expensive.
However, increasing numbers of self-published and indie authors are discovering just how easy it can be to open up their work to a new audience and increase their revenue by embracing the audiobook boom. As someone who is both a self-published author AND an audiobook narrator/producer, I’m here to provide you with a how-to guide and some valuable advice on how you can attract a whole new audience to your books…
Audiobooks are booming. Deloitte predicts that in 2020, the global audiobook market will grow by 25 percent to US$3.5 billion. Increasing numbers of consumers are opting to listen to books rather than reading them in e-book or hard-copy form. Indeed, Good e-Reader reports that “for the first time ever, US audiobook sales have eclipsed e-book sales”, and as a self-published author with all of my KDP publications now available as audiobooks, I can attest to this fact. The sales of the audiobook versions of my books far outstrip their sales as e-books.
This being the case, getting in on the booming audiobook market by making your work available in audio format is a very effective way to increase your sales and to attract a wider audience. And it is easier than you may think. There are a number of companies through which you can do it, from ACX and Findaway Voices, all the way up to professional studio-recording companies such as The Audio Cafe.
In this guide, I am going to focus on ACX specifically, as this is the company I use to create my audiobooks both as an author of my own work and as a narrator/producer for other authors.
ACX for Authors: First Steps
ACX, or Audiobook Creation Exchange, is an Amazon affiliate that enables authors (known in ACX lingo as “Rights Holders”) to register their book/s for production and sale as audiobooks on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Your book must be listed on Amazon in order to register, and creating your profile and claiming your title is easy:
- Log into ACX using your Amazon credentials and fill in the necessary personal, banking, and tax details.
- Click the blue “Add Your Title” link at the top right corner of your dashboard to search for your book/s, assert it as your title, and add it to your profile. Your book/s will now appear on your ACX dashboard.
Now you have two options: to upload your own audio files or to hire someone to do all the work for you.
Unless you are already a dab-hand at audio engineering or are prepared to invest time and money in purchasing your own equipment, installing and setting up your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation — basically the software upon which you will record, edit and produce your audio files) and are willing to dedicate a lot of time to internet research and YouTube videos, I highly recommend hiring yourself a producer. And I’m not just saying that because I am a producer myself!
ACX (indeed all audiobook production platforms and retailers) have stringent guidelines when it comes to quality assurance, and all audio files must be produced to certain technical standards in terms of bitrate, decibels (dBs) RMS (Root Mean Square), and have a noise floor no higher than -60dB RMS, among many other specifications.
An experienced audiobook producer will already be all over this; for an inexperienced newbie it’s going to take a lot of time, research, and trial and error to get up to speed. If you’ve got the time and the inclination, by all means, give it a go, but most authors prefer to get their audiobook finished, cleared by Quality Assurance, and out into the world to start earning royalties.
Hiring a Producer to Bring Your Book to Audio-Life
When it comes to hiring a producer to create their audiobook, Rights Holders have a couple of options available to them.
- If you already have someone in mind, you can search for them on ACX and get in touch with them directly. To do this, click on their name, which you will see on each of the audio samples that appear in the results of your search query. This will take you to their profile page, where you will see a “Send Message” button.
- If you want to peruse a few producers’ samples first, you can use the “Filter” options on the left side of the search page to narrow down what you’re looking for (e.g. male or female, accent, genre, payment rates).
- You can open your audiobook project up for auditions. This tends to be the most popular option, as it enables you to hear someone reading a section of your manuscript, and you can make your hiring decision based on a number of submissions.
To make your title available for auditions, you first need to create a title profile. You should make your title profile as enticing as possible in order to attract lots of auditions, and remember to include any requirements in terms of the sex of the narrator you’re looking for, any accent work required, any important character notes, and your project budget.
Project budgets, costs, and the various production deals
Once again, you have a couple of options where it comes to your project budget and production costs. ACX offers three payment methods; Royalty Share, Royalty Share Plus, and Pay-For-Production (PFP). You can read more about these production costs here, but in a nutshell, these equate to:
- Royalty Share: No out-of-pocket cost to you for the production of your audiobook, but your producer gets a 50% share in your royalties (exclusive titles earn 40%, so 20% each. Obviously the amount is less for non-exclusive titles).
- Royalty Share Plus: Your initial cost for hiring the producer is reduced, and again, your producer has a 50% share in your royalties for every copy sold. (You may ask what’s in it for you on a Royalty Share Plus deal? The answer is that most producers won’t take on Royalty Share Only projects as, unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling, they’re unlikely to earn much, at least not straight away. With a Royalty Share Plus deal, you can attract a bigger range of producers while at the same time reducing your up-front costs.)
- Pay-For-Production: You pay your producer a one-time fee, and then retain 100% of your royalties on the audiobook’s sales.
Audiobook production costs are based on rate Per Finished Hour (PFH), in both Pay for Production and Royalty Share Plus deals. So, for instance, if your finished audiobook is 6.5 hours long, and you’ve agreed to a deal with your producer for a rate of $100 PFH, the cost to you will be $650.
You don’t need to guess how long the audiobook version of your manuscript will be; ACX will calculate an estimate based on your word-count (as per your book’s Amazon information). Bear in mind, though, this is an estimate, and it doesn’t take into account the genre, the number of chapter breaks, the amount of dialogue, etc.
A recipe book or an instruction manual, for instance, with lots of headings and subheadings (each requiring a space in the narration), will be much longer in running length than the same amount of words arranged in very simple prose with no gaps for subheadings, character dialogue, etc.
I recommend allowing for around 10–15% on top of the ACX estimate when budgeting for your audiobook project, but it’s always a good idea to confirm with the producer once you’ve found someone you’re interested in hiring.
Putting your title out for auditions
Now that you’ve created the title profile for your book and worked out your budget, it’s time to choose an audition script. You may decide to use the first few pages from your book, or you may decide to use a particular section from further into your book. You may even opt to put together an audition script containing two or three scenes, scenes involving a few different characters, or scenes requiring various performance tones (e.g. a suspenseful scene, a sad scene, and a romantic scene).
The choice is up to you, but the most important advice I can offer is to make sure your audition script is only 2–3 pages long; speaking for myself (but I suspect for a lot of other producers, too), exceedingly long audition scripts tend to put me off submitting anything, as it takes time to prepare, record the narration, then edit and produce an audition piece, and in the meantime, I may be aiming to get four or five auditions out in one day (it’s our job, after all, and we’ve got to get ourselves out there as widely as possible in our search for work!).
A concise and engaging audition piece, combined with an appealing title profile, is far more likely to whet a Producer’s interest in auditioning for your project.
Once you’ve created your title profile and put together your audition script, you just upload your word, pdf, or txt file. Your book, its title profile, and its audition script will now appear on ACX’s “Titles Accepting Auditions” page, where producers looking for projects to work on will be able to see your entry and, if they are interested, submit an audition to you.
You’ll be able to access these submissions via the “Open for Auditions” tab on your ACX dashboard. When you hear someone you like, you can click on their profile to hear their audio samples, learn more about their experience, etc., get in touch with them to discuss your project or ask any questions and, then, make them an offer.
“Make them an offer they can’t refuse”*
*Well, of course, they may refuse for any number of reasons — they’re no longer available, your offer doesn’t match their required rate, you’ve specified a delivery date that will be impossible for them to meet, etc- but that’s nowhere near as snappy as a sub-heading ;)
It is highly recommended to get in touch with the producer you’re interested in hiring before you click the “Make an Offer” button and start the process of making a deal. That way, you both have an opportunity to make sure you are on the same page before an offer is agreed between you. You are well-advised to make sure that that you are certain of the terms you are proposing because you are about to enter into a binding agreement. The offer process results in a legal contract.
When it comes to delivery dates for the project, please bear in mind that this process takes time, so don’t expect your audiobook to be finished the very next day. (Unless, of course, it is a very short book!)
ACX advise Rights Holders that it can take 3–8 weeks for their audiobook to be completed, however, this is very much dependent upon your producer’s schedule and their level of experience. Personally, I work to a rough estimate of 1–2 days per hour of finished audio as, despite what you may have thought, it takes many hours of narrating, editing, and mastering to create one finished hour of audio.
However, this depends on my availability that week/month and how many other projects I may be working on concurrently. The best rule of thumb when considering delivery dates is always to ask your producer about their schedule and availability.
Once you and your chosen producer have opened up a dialogue and discussed details (which may include but are not limited to; estimated time-scale for completing the project, whether they require part-payment either up-front or upon delivery of the 15-minute checkpoint, how to pay them upon completion of the project e.g. PayPal, direct bank transfer, etc.), you can go ahead and make it official via the “Make An Offer” button!
The producer will receive your offer in their ACX dash, peruse the agreement terms and all the legalese, and, hopefully, accept your offer. Then, just upload your full manuscript, and you’re well on the way to having an audiobook version of your work available for sale in the very near future!
Under Construction: What Happens Now That Your Audiobook Production is Underway?
From this point, you can pretty much put your feet up and relax while your producer does all the work (but please don’t disappear completely, as they may have important questions or updates for you, in addition to the first 15 minutes of the production, which you’ll need to review before they can carry on with the rest of the production!)
Upon downloading your manuscript, the producer will have a quick look through and plan their production strategy (if you’ve pulled out all the stops and hired one of the very top-end producers, this may involve them booking time in a recording studio, while other producers work from their own home studios).
They’ll record the narration, edit the recordings, polish them up to ensure they contain no extraneous sounds, master the final version, then upload all the files — including the opening and closing credits and the retail sample (a max. 5-minute excerpt cut from the audiobook) to the “In Production” tab, which both of you will be able to see from your respective dashboards.
Once your producer has completed everything they will submit the complete project for you to review. Log in and take a listen to the finished product (you can listen by streaming from the ACX site but, for security purposes, you can’t download the files directly).
If you find something that has to be corrected, you can reject the initial version and get in touch with the producer with the specific details. ACX’s advice in this regard is “Don’t be unreasonable, but don’t be shy. This is your audiobook, and sometimes corrections are necessary.”
If, however, you are happy with the final product, approve the production via the appropriate button, pay your producer, and lo and behold, your audiobook is now on the way to retail. It will undergo quality assurance processes to ensure that it meets all the necessary requirements (both you and your producer will be notified if there are any problems) and, once it clears QA, it will automatically be prepared for sale.
You don’t have to do anything else now except wait for notification from ACX that your audiobook has gone on sale, at which point, they’ll provide you with the necessary links, promotional codes, and tips on how to market your audiobook and start bringing in those royalties!
So, there you have it. Hopefully, this how-to has shown you that turning your books into audiobooks doesn’t have to be too complicated, too time-consuming, or too expensive. With so many people now choosing audiobooks over e-books, now is a great time to convert your written words into spoken ones, and start reaping the benefits of the audiobook boom.
Good luck! I can’t wait to hear your finished product!
Enquiries and comments are always welcome. You can also find me on Twitter @GrantJupiter.