Author Options for Creating an Audiobook

by Carla Douglas

Are you thinking about turning your book into a podcast or audiobook? There are lots of reasons to do so. As many book marketing specialists have pointed out, an audio version can be a marketing tool before your book is releasedIt can also be a free ongoing giveaway on your website, or it can be sold separately as a book in audio format.

Podcast or audiobook? 

We sometimes use the terms interchangeably, but there’s a difference, and Joanna Penn explains it well in this post. A podcast is usually used as a free marketing tool, and most often it’s made available in installments. An audiobook is a complete audio version of a book, distributed for sale. (Penn provides detailed information about audiobook production and distribution in the post and in the accompanying interview with J. Daniel Sawyer.)

Why choose a podcast?

For one thing, readers love getting something free, and a podcast might help generate interest in your book. It provides a low-risk way for readers to sample your book, and some writers have found real success by using this marketing method. Here are a couple of examples:

Mark Jeffrey* created a podcast of his YA book, Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendant, and distributed 2.4 million free copies. Then, he self-published it as a paperback on Lulu and created an iPhone app for it, which he sold on iTunes. The result? A traditional publishing deal.
Terry Fallis is a Canadian author who tried unsuccessfully to get a publisher for his first novel, The Best Laid Plans. Persevering, he recorded and released his book as a podcast and then as a print-on-demand paperback through iUniverse. And then in an unheard-of turn of fortune, it won an important award — the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Following this, he signed with a major publisher and is now about to release his fourth book. Oh, and The Best Laid Plans also won Canada Reads in 2011. Not bad for a self-pub.

Right now you might be thinking, “that sounds like a lot of work.” It is, and it’s not just work, but it requires vision and a tech-savvy, DIY attitude. Jeffrey was developing apps before anyone had really heard of them. Fallis reads for, records, edits and produces the podcasts that he still makes available free on his website.

Get help creating your podcast.

Podiobooks is an online library of free audiobooks, where authors can record and upload their books, and readers can download and listen to them. Support and instructions are provided, as well as a form of mentorship, but authors are warned that the learning curve is theirs to conquer, and that some equipment and persistence will be required. There’s an extensive help page, too.

There are thousands of books on this site, a few by some well-known writers — Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and Cory Doctorow, for example. I’ve been listening to Melanie Dugan’s Dead Beautiful. The sound quality is good, it’s a pleasant listening experience — and the writing is good, too. I like hearing an author read his or her own work.

If you want an audiobook. 

Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX, a division of Audible and Amazon) has been the main place authors (those who hold their own rights) have gone to produce professional quality audiobooks. ACX offers various structures for production, including partnerships and royalty sharing with agents, producers and voice actors. Alternatively, authors can produce a book on their own, too. The site is big and detailed, and offers marketing and promotion tips along with lots of how-to information. ACX is only available to US residents.

And from most accounts, authors have been pleased with this arrangement — until a couple of weeks ago when ACX drastically slashed author royalties. For details and discussion, see Porter Anderson’s A Most Audible Alarm: ACX Chops Royalties.

ACX seems to be structured for all levels of author participation and remuneration, promising a professional product, market ready. And there’s nothing to say that any of that has changed — except the take-home pay for authors.

How do audio versions of traditionally published books compare?

Audible is the major producer and seller of audiobooks, and it’s where you’ll find most traditionally published titles. Is getting a book on Audible the gold standard? Maybe, maybe not. In a blog post titled is Killing Me, author Mark Sinnett criticizes Audible’s choice of voice actors, writing, “Now it’s not like I was expecting Donald Sutherland to read the book.” Then Sinnett links to the audio version of The Carnivore, in which the name of a main Toronto thoroughfare is mangled splendidly.

So there’s no perfect method for turning your book into an audio product. You should know what you want to achieve with your recording beforehand — to sell it outright or to use for marketing — because some methods cost more than others and have more direct routes to distribution and discoverability. Remember, too, that a higher cost doesn’t determine the success or quality of the product. Lots of DIYs produce really high quality podcasts and recordings, and sometimes a “professional” production is less than satisfactory.

*In her 2011 O’Reilly Tools of Change conference presentation, The Publishing Pie: An Author’s View, Margaret Atwood details the steps Jeffrey took to realize this success. She also gives an account of self-publishing from an author’s perspective. Have a listen if you have 30 minutes to spare — it’s charming and informative, and Atwood is never short on humour.

Image by neinarson

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