Hi folks, another ‘back catalogue’ interview. Originally published as http://thaddeusthesixth.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/how-to-make-audiobook-interview-with.html. Do check out this blog and the fantasy books of Thaddeus White – well worth the read.
How to Make an Audiobook – interview with Alexandra Butcher
Publishing has undergone something of a revolution in recent years, with the advent of e-books and e-readers making it easier than ever to self-publish. There’s also been a resurgence in the popularity of audiobooks. But how does one go about making an audiobook? To answer that (and other) questions, I’ve been joined by Alexandra Butcher, who has recently created the audiobook of The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles.
What’s the premise of The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles?
The book is set in the world of Erana where magic is outlawed and elves enslaved to the humans. The land is run by the Order of Witch-Hunters – a corrupt organisation who rule by fear and division. Magic still persists. It’s a case of either someone is magical or they aren’t, it’s something a person is born with. How well that person hides their skills can mean life or death. The slavers, too, have a lot of power. Slavery is not illegal – in fact the Witch-Hunters encourage it – the trade of flesh pays well and so the Order gets a cut. It also helps to instil fear in the population.
The book begins with Dii, an elven sorceress who had fled from her Keeper, or slave owner’s, home after years of terrible treatment. She knows next to nothing about the world outside – except it’s a very dangerous place and soon enough she encounters the Order.
We then meet Archos, another sorcerer, who is also a wealthy noble and more besides who, unbeknown to the Order, is working to help the elves and other mages escape from servitude or execution. When the slavers ravage a nearby elven village Archos and Dii set out to try and rescue the missing elves and avenge the village, whilst trying to avoid capture by the Order and other jealous enemies.
It’s been labelled ‘sex and sorcery’ as it’s definitely an adult book as there are elements of romance and erotica. It’s pretty steamy in places 😉 Foremost it’s fantasy/sword and sorcery.
It’s recently, as mentioned, been converted into an audiobook. How long did it take, from start to finish, to create and publish the audiobook version?
Oh gosh – in the end it was about a year – but part of that was because I was revising the book for a third edition and I had to wait for the editor to do her stuff. The narrator – Rob Goll – was the chap who narrated Tales of Erana: The Warrior’s Curse so I had the advantage I’d worked with him before. Rob had several other commitments – including a Shakespeare festival and narration for Heroika: Dragon Eaters which, as I’d recommended him for I couldn’t really complain. Once Rob had made a start it was actually fairly quick – probably about a month.
As I’d worked with Rob before and I liked his work and style I suggested he audition for Light Beyond so I’d pretty much made my choice of narrator already. With another title of mine Outside the Walls we had a couple of people audition and, as the book was a co-write, it had to be someone both myself and Diana liked. It’s possible to have several narrators audition or none. So it can take time to find the correct person.
It’s a lot more time consuming for the narrator – I understand it’s about two hours work per finished hour – and them they have to ensure there are no background noises, the pronunciation is alright, the gaps between the chapters are the right length etc. ACX has strict criteria about how long the silence is at the beginning or end of each chapter and if it’s too long or too short they won’t approve it. Honestly I can’t tell unless it’s really obvious so I have to trust my narrator on that.
I was lucky with Rob – he’s very professional and there was only one edit and that was my fault… That’s a risk, too, as the audio has to match the manuscript perfectly or the whispersync doesn’t work. If there is a difference, or a mistake then that has to be rectified. Also sometimes when listening the author discovers a particular scene or line doesn’t really work – so that needs to be changed in the MS. It’s a great way of finding those pesky typos that might have sneaked in under the radar. Whether Rob had to do multiple records I don’t know – he didn’t say.
Officially once the narrator has uploaded the files the author can request up to two rounds of editing – so the author needs to listen to the files carefully to decide on any changes. Some narrators will do more but as it’s so time consuming the author can’t send them notes on every little thing unless it really is an error/revision.
The cover art – that has to be square (think a CD case) so that has to be adapted. Then there’s a suitable sample…
Audiobooks seem to be enjoying a resurgence as MP3 players are so commonplace and they can be listened to on the commute to work, whilst walking or doing household chores. Excepting your own, do you have a favourite audiobook?
I have a few I haven’t listened to yet (no headphones for my phone and my old phone went into meltdown if I tried to install audible) but I have a version of Phantom of the Opera I love, and Les Miserable – although off hand I can’t remember who narrated. I’ve listened to Chris Morris narrate some work, and other books Rob has done.
I’ve just bought Count of Monte Christo, Dracula and Soul Music, so I need to get listening!
With the classics there are usually a few versions – so the samples are a good way to find a narrator you like.
Self-publishing has taken off in a major way for written books. Apart from (obviously) needing the written text, what else do you need to go down the audiobook route?
Patience! Each chapter which is uploaded has to be listened to, usually a couple of times, and cross referenced with the manuscript for revisions, background noise, dips in volume, odd sounds pronunciation issues – often the narrator will pick up any sound related issues – but some can slip through.
A book I have just bought on audible is over 50 listening hours so you can imagine the work that went into that!
As I said the cover art has to be reproduced – it’s a bit fiddly – especially if the author has purchased a cover and needs to go back to the cover artist and ask them to do it.
How does a writer go about hiring a narrator, and how does the pricing work (is it a fixed fee or does the narrator get a royalty per copy sold)?
There are two payment options available for author/narrators price per finished hour or royalty share. From what I’ve seen quite a few narrators will only offer price per hour – after all the book may not sell many copies so they may not ever a great deal of money for all the work. I can see their point. I’ve not worked with anyone who has only asked for pay per finished hour but I understand the fees vary – so it is up to the narrator and author to negotiate. If the author opts for pay per hour the royalties from the sales belong solely to the author – after all the narrator has already been paid. I think it works out at about 40% royalty rate.
Royalty share is what it says on the tin. The narrator isn’t paid up front – they get a share of any royalties for the audio book sales. It works out at 20% for the author and 20% for the narrator.
This is for the exclusive production on ACX – there are other sites which produce audio so if the book is sold elsewhere then I think the royalty rate is dropped. I can’t recall exactly but I think it’s a seven-year contract.
Once the book is submitted to ACX the author fills in the required info – genre, preferred narrating style, royalty options etc. An author can request a specific type of narrator – British, male, middle aged, West Country for example – of course that limits the potential narrators but it is possible. I’d say it was better to be a bit more flexible. Narrators can then audition by reading the uploaded audition script – usually a five minute chunk of the MS. Sometime the narrators can approach the author with questions. ACX will contact the author/rightsholder and say there is an audition waiting for approval. In theory the author could wait until there are a few or take the first one that comes in if he or she likes it.
If the author likes the audition then he/she can make an offer to the narrator – so royalty share, time scale etc. If the narrator has a lot of other work on, and many of them are actors so may be working on shows, then obviously time scales are important. A 30 hour book would take 60 or more hours to produce and so that is unlikely to be done in a week.
Once both parties are happy the narrator accepts the offer and off you go. There is a lot of legal contract stuff to be considered – it is a contract between the narrator and author and ACX – If the narrator doesn’t turn up with the goods, or the quality is awful then the offer can be rescinded. If the author doesn’t pay up – or there are issues there, then the contract can be rescinded. It’s hard to do – and I think ACX have to mediate but it can be done. There is a 15-minute sample produced by the narrator – and this can be refused by the author, but that’s the only early get out. It’s worth the author reading these rules carefully as it IS a contract with all that entails. So make sure you find the right person for your project.
There are bounty payments too – basically if someone joins the audible members club with the subscription and your book is the first book they buy then the author (or author and narrator for royalty share) get a $50 bonus ($25) for royalty share. I think it’s an incentive to try and persuade people to get fans to sign up.
How long does the process take, and what level of direction to the narrator is needed? Did you provide a style guide for unusual fantasy terms?
The initial set up is pretty quick – sign up with the ACX account and claim the relevant book, produce the ‘audition script’ and upload it and wait for narrators to audition.
How do you like to listen to audiobooks?
I tend to listen on my laptop, but recently we were listening to Good Omens, Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and Dune played on a tablet via a speaker before bed. My partner tends to listen to them more than I do at the moment. That’s the beauty – audio books are pretty versatile and one can dip in and out, just picking up where one left off.
Are there any pitfalls newcomers to making audiobooks should know about?
Make sure you read the FAQ and the contract carefully. ACX actually has a good set of FAQ but their contact customer service is a bit lousy. I’ve had to deal with them a few times – mostly regarding payment of the bounty payments – and once when we discovered an issue that had got past both author, narrator and the quality control. They told me it would be fixed in a week – more like six and with questions regarding the bounty payments the person I spoke to seemed clueless and I ended up having to take screen shots of the issue – namely bounty payments were listed which I hadn’t received and apparently they couldn’t see them on the invoice… no because I hadn’t received them. That took a couple of months going back and forth before it was sorted. It pays to be polite but persistent.
AL: Audible Listener – purchases made by members with membership credits.
ALOP: Audible Listener Over Plan – purchases made by members with cash (not with membership credits).
ALC: A la carte – purchases made by customers not in an Audible Listener membership.
There are royalties for books bought outright by people not in the membership plan, books bought by members using their membership credits, books bought by members NOT using their credits and so the author has to work out what that relates to in actual payments – I get 68c for a ALC sale and a 55c for an AL sale on the same short story. But honestly it’s not always that clear. But they do pay monthly and the royalties usually do turn up on time…. Well except the bounty payments…
The reporting of sales is a bit flaky – it’s supposed to update daily but often doesn’t.
What’s nice is the author gets promotional codes to give out – usually for home store (Audible.co.uk OR Audible.com but can ask for the ones from the other store. It’s a useful way of getting reviews or being able to offer the books as prizes in events.
The email system they have is a bit rubbish – it doesn’t always work – and I’ve been told that by several narrators as well BUT it is useful to have and means you don’t have to give out a personal email if you don’t want to, and any issues you can email direct to ACX support. Oh and they have phone support. KDP doesn’t and that drives a lot of authors mad.
There are a lot of good marketing tips on the blog and ACX have a twitter account. The author needs to do their own marketing – same as KDP – so don’t expect ACX to market your book for you.
Make sure you have the time to put in to it. It’s not easy listening carefully to each chapter. You’re the author – it’s your book being produced and you need to know that it’s correct and done according to what you want. Keep in mind though that a narrator doesn’t know what’s going on in your head – he or she doesn’t know that you want Bob the Postman to speak with a Geordie accent unless it’s made clear in the MS or you tell them. You may not get the book exactly as you’ve imagined it.
Make sure you keep a good relationship with your narrator – especially if you want them to do subsequent books.
What are your plans for the future?
The Shining Citadel has been revised for a second edition and will appear in audio – hopefully by the end of 2016. (UPDATED ALB)
The Stolen Tower will eventually get produced as well but that will wait until the second edition as well, depending on how well Light Beyond sells.
I have just produced a short fantasy story set entitled The Kitchen Imps and Other Dark Tales and that’s also just been produced in audio by J Scott Bennett, an American narrator.
Book IV of the series is being written and I’m also working on a Tales of Erana novella so that may well appear in audio in the next year or so.
Links and info
- L. Butcher is the British author of the Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles fantasy series, and several short stories in the fantasy and fantasy romance genres. She is an avid reader and creator of worlds, a poet and a dreamer. When she is grounded in the real world she likes science, natural history, history and monkeys. Her work has been described as ‘dark and gritty’ and her poetry as evocative.
The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles series – an adult fantasy/fantasy romance series, with a touch of erotica.