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Audiobook edition of To Carry the Horn

Posted in Audiobook, Distribution, Just for Writers, Publishing, Release, and To Carry the Horn

ToCarryTheHorn - Audio - Trimmed - 800x800More than two years ago I decided to experiment with producing an audiobook edition of To Carry the Horn, the first book of The Hounds of Annwn. Many new authors were having success with audiobook editions, and I wanted to get some experience with the market and the process.

I looked at the primary partner at the time (and still), ACX, where most people went for this service. The process was well-laid out and very thorough. They offer voice actors who charge by the finished-hour of recording. There are ways of having some of that cost subsidized. It's a very clean, seductive marketplace, bringing authors and voice performers together and distributing the results.

I went through the audition process and located a couple of promising voice actors but then I… stopped. You see, the costs to produce an audiobook are quite high.

Excluding your own labor to write a book (by far the largest expense), the out-of-pocket costs for producing ebook and print editions can be very moderate indeed. If you can do much of it yourself, you can keep the costs of a new book's combined ebook and print expense to well under $400, maybe under $200 if you can do your own covers. That includes distribution costs (worldwide).

Audiobooks, however, have a cost-per-finished hour. For good voice actors, who do their own studio work, that can run $100-$400/finished-hour, and To Carry the Horn is 14.5 hours long. Worse, ACX makes the assumption that this is much too difficult for people to figure out on their own, and charged (at the time — terms may now be different) a large royalty for the privilege, and required a 7-year exclusive contract. I am allergic to exclusive contracts, but they were right about the laziness factor.

My finger was literally hovering over the go-ahead button when ACX made a new announcement that cut the rates for the publisher even further, and that was the last straw for me. I spent the next couple of months learning how to do this myself.

I found a local music recording studio in my rural area, bought some scripting software to help turn my laptop into a teleprompter, and studied up on my Welsh pronunciation. All of my readers who complained about unpronounceable Welsh names should feel pleased with their revenge, as I was obliged to render into pleasing sounds all those unspellable nouns.

In a prior life I'd done a stint as a public radio folk music show host, so with my mellow announcer's voice I spent much of a week in studio, reading my book into unforgiving microphones. It was hard work, but lots of fun! The producer was good, I corrected a few typos that showed up even at that late date (read your books out loud when proofreading!) and — presto — I had an audiobook in CD and MP3 form. Terrific!

My ultimate cost worked out to about $100/finished-hour, and I owned the result free and clear.

So why am I only making this announcement now?

Distribution. GACK — that was a nightmare. I worked with a couple of firms that promised to be worldwide distributors (in audiobooks, that means they distribute to the handful of audiobook distribution channels, the way Ingram distributes to print channels), but they weren't ready for prime time. As in: hobby businesses, no staff, no technology, no infrastructure. I even toyed with the notion of trying to take over one of them and create competition for ACX but I don't have deep enough pockets. (I used to do that sort of thing with software businesses.)

So it languished. Every now and then I would glance up on my shelves and see the CD-box for the originals, think about what I paid for them, and wince.

And then I discovered AuthorsRepublic. That's exactly what I was looking for. They cover all the obvious audiobook channels, they deliver an acceptable royalty (similar to print yields once you price the audiobooks higher than print, which is why everyone's prices are so high), and there's none of this 7-years-of-exclusivity nonsense. The process of working with them was straightforward.

This only covers the MP3 (streaming) edition for now. My assumption that everyone also needs CDs seems to be wrong — that's a minority position associated with physical product costs (like print vs ebooks) — but if it looks as if there's a demand, AuthorsRepublic can also handle CD distribution.

I don't have huge expectations for sales, though my beta listeners are pleased with the quality. We'll see. At least this edition is out there now to support my ebook and print editions. And there's plenty of time for it to build an audience.

I chalk this up to professional education — the knowledge of how to do this, how to maximize the return, and so forth — that was what I wanted to achieve. Mission accomplished.

If you're interested in listening to samples, follow the retailer links here, or just listen to the first five minutes of the opening:

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  1. Thanks for the interesting post, Karen. I too was thinking about trying an audio book next summer.

    June 22, 2016
  2. There’s a wealth of information here, and I’ve bookmarked the post.

    Like you, I intend to do the ‘as read by author’ version when I have the time – you’d be surprised how many people who think they’re experts reject that as even possible.

    I’m sure narrator versions with good actors are wonderful, but listened to Larry Deaver reading part of the beginning of Dexter, and found it better to hear his enthusiasm. Of course that was first person – which lends itself – but I’d love to hear Tolkien read The Hobbit, or Frank Herbert Dune.

    I’m surprised the cost was as high as $100 an hour – unless it includes microphones, etc., all of which I think one book priced out at at least $1000 for equipment and software. After which you own it, so the next book would be less expensive.

    If money need to be spent for the cleaning up by a pro after you record, that would add a lot of cost. Maybe better quality, certainly faster if the pro is any good, but expensive.

    I have big dreams, defiant intentions, and no energy. We’ll see!

    October 10, 2016
    • Thanks, Alicia. The recording was made professionally (local music studio) and cleaned up professionally. We cured mis-speaks on the spot, then the pro cleaned up any pops and other noises, and spliced all the good parts together. There was no after-the-fact re-recording. So the only thing that was not professional was the narrator herself, and I did my best (used to do radio announcement spots for local stations with my deep voice).

      It’s not enough to buy the equipment. You need a room for it, and the experience and skills of doing the recording and the sound editing. Of course, you can do all that yourself, but the voice artists who do that know their gear well and keep their skills up to date, while I would be looking at only occasional amateur uses. So that’s why I made the hybrid decision I did. I’m very happy with the recording quality.

      October 10, 2016
      • I’m slow – I finally got to listening to the sample (and figured out why I wasn’t getting notified of replies – my bad, wrong email address for WordPress).

        You have a lovely, deep voice, and sound quite polished. There is energy there – and I didn’t have any trouble with you as the narrator. Kudos. Even with help, that’s no small effort.

        Alas – no radio training. Lots and lots of singing, though, and no fear of public speaking (she says rashly).

        Now to decide how to do the slight Irish lilt and phrasing I’d need for Andrew.

        I do have pitch control; possibly read the book in all the Kary scenes first, and then Andrew, and finally Bianca, would give me slight but consistent differences. With a thought to marking the internal monologue (italics in the book versions) with some small pause, though I hear it differently in my head, and have already used first person and present for these, while the remaining internal monologue is in third and past.

        I take it you haven’t done more yet – too much work? You said the book was 14.5 hours, I believe – that’s not cheap. And without the rest of the series also in audio, you will lose the long distance truckers and other people who can’t switch to print conveniently. So many things to think of!

        Thanks for the sample. Well done.

        January 16, 2017
      • Not too much work, it’s just a few days each. But too much money, at over $1000 a pop. I have to get sales for the first one at least into triple digit units before I can talk myself into the next one.

        There’s also the question of series uptake — each volume in a series sells fewer units than the previous, in any format.

        I’d have to sell at least 500 each to reach a positive ROI, though I believe it does have a boost on the other format sales that is impossible to measure. I’d like to do them all, but it’s going to be a while.

        January 16, 2017
        • Aha! A wealth of detail. Thanks.

          So, say $1500 to produce the audiobook, and AuthorsRepublic to distribute so you have decent royalties.

          It occurs to me that this is where people buy their own equipment, and make a bit of an investment in the next stage, if they have a lot of books they could be making audioboos out of – since you say it was just a couple of days.

          And it reminds me I was going to investigate my local community college, which has the equipment (they have a radio station), and probably a supply of students who could be persuaded to learn on my material (even for credit in a course and a credit in the book?), and possibly talking to their people in charge in the department (could go either way). They’re 5 minutes away.

          My time amd energy are what’s in short supply; and Audible and ACX are crazy for someone like me; but it might be worth exploring.

          But I will do a book every couple of years, and you have that nice backlist…

          January 16, 2017

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