The Newest and Loudest Dog on the Block
Today at Interstellar Flight Magazine, we’re featuring an article by William Ledbetter, the Nebula Award-winning author of Level Five — an Audible Originals bestselling audiobook. We asked Ledbetter to give us a behind-the-scenes view of the unique process of working with Audible Originals.
Nobody can deny publishing is changing radically. First came eBooks, then independently published books, both of which were accompanied by doomsayer prophesies that they would be the death of print books. Such an outcome looks increasingly unlikely; instead, it seems to have opened up new avenues for both readers and writers. Case in point — nowhere is that more true than the growth of audiobooks. A February 2019 article in Forbes reports that while e-books have been in a slow decline, hardback books saw a rise of 6.9%, paperback and mass-market books rose 1.1%, but audiobooks especially downloaded versions like those available through Audible.com, jumped 37.1% since 2017.
Personally, I’ve benefited a great deal from this audiobook growth, both as a reader and a writer. Due to a forty-five minute commute to my day job, my book consumption has spiked tremendously. I now purchase, and listen to, around eight or ten audiobooks for every one paper book. Not only do I get the new releases in speculative fiction, but many older books now have audio editions, and I also listen to quite a few non-fiction books too.
Audiobooks are narrated in different ways. Some companies make them almost a theatrical production, with multiple narrators, reading the parts or dialog of the various characters. Other productions use a single narrator who reads the entire novel in the same unobtrusive tone. So for me, when I’m listening to an audiobook, just like reading a regular paper book, I’m easily transported to a different world.
I and quite a few other novelists have benefited recently even more from what might not be a well-known segment of the audiobooks market. Audible.com is undeniably the big dog in the yard of audiobooks and publishes original fiction under its imprint Audible Originals. I know this because Audible Originals published my debut novel, Level Five, last year.
When my agent first presented Audible’s offer, I was hesitant. It was something totally new to me. But it was a difficult offer to turn down. If I had sold my novel to one of the industry’s bigger presses, I would likely have received an advance in exchange for print, electronic AND audio rights. Audible Originals only wanted my novel’s audio rights and the advance was three times what I would have likely received as a first-time author with a traditional press. So just like the print houses, Audible Originals paid me an advance, paid for a very experienced and talented voice actor, and paid for cover art.
But wait! It gets better.
Due to the high price of audiobooks, and Audible’s extra effort to promote its own products, Level Five earned out (sold enough books to cover its advance) in less than six months and I started getting royalties. However, my Audible contract did have an exclusivity period. I couldn’t publish Level Five in other formats for six months. But that period has now passed and my agent is looking for a traditional publisher.
Upon agreeing to the deal and signing the contract, Audible sent me half of the advance, minus my agent’s cut, of course. My acquiring editor at Audible was also my developmental editor. We kicked off editing Level Five with a long telephone conversation about the novel’s weak parts. I spent the following month fixing most areas of concern. Then, we went back and forth three or four more times before declaring Level Five finished. A couple of weeks later I received the balance of my advance.
Next, I was given several narrators to listen to and agreed that the one my editor suggested was the best. Then they sent me about a dozen cover art drafts to pick from, and I eventually selected a version of the one that now graces the book. A few weeks later the narrator contacted me with a list of words he had pronunciation questions about, which I clarified with an audio file of me saying the words. The narrator was a professional actor from TV and movies, who also is a very talented voice actor. He read the characters with individual voices and did an amazing job. I especially like how he portrayed the artificial intelligence characters. After that, I heard very little for several months.
During that period we did also change the title twice, once because the marketing folks at Audible thought my original title was too vague and confusing. Then the second time because another independently published audiobook came out with the same title we planned to use. But still, with all of that going on, the entire process, from the initial phone call with the Audible editor to the release date of July 17, 2018, was almost exactly eleven months. I’ve waited longer periods of time for short stories to be published after the contract was signed.
I won’t go into earnings and copies sold, but at least in my case this has been a very positive experience and has far surpassed my expectations. Not only has it sold well, but Level Five was one of Audible’s top five science fiction audiobooks of 2018. During a recent sale, it hit number one in Amazon’s audiobooks bestseller list for July 26 and 27, 2019.
From my perspective, evolution in the publishing industry might be confusing and a little spooky, but perhaps not all bad. In the words of Dalilah Dawson, your mileage may vary. But if you’re a writer with a novel to sell, Audible Originals’ “audio first” method is worth looking into. Oh, and if you happen to have a road trip or a long commute in your future, I can recommend some great audiobooks:
William Ledbetter is a Nebula Award-winning author with more than seventy speculative fiction stories and non-fiction articles published in four languages, in markets such as Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Escape Pod, Baen.com, the SFWA blog, and Ad Astra.
He’s been a space and technology geek since childhood and spent most of his non-writing career in the aerospace and defense industry. He administers the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award contest for Baen Books and the National Space Society and is a member of SFWA. He lives near Dallas with his wife, a needy dog and two spoiled cats. Find him online at www.williamledbetter.com.
Interstellar Flight Magazine publishes essays on what’s new in the world of speculative genres. In the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, we need “writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope.” We use affiliate links and Patreon to pay our writers a fair wage. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.