Audio Books for Idiots Part 1: What You Should Know About ACX (+ A Giveaway)

My Experience Using Royalty Share and Paid Options on ACX

The Wolf and the Highlander - AudioIn the past couple of days, I’ve learned a ton about marketing audio books. I’ll share what I’m learning about marketing in a future post. But it seemed weird to jump into a discussion of marketing audio books before first talking about the process of producing audio books.

There was a lot I would like to have known before starting the process of turning my indie Highlander e books into audio books. I plan to share those things here for those of you thinking about producing audio books.

If you already have an audio book, and you’re looking for marketing tips, subscribe to my blog and you won’t miss that post when it comes along.

Why you should turn your indie e book into an audio book

In my opinion, it’s never a bad thing to have your book available in as many formats as possible.

Audio books are the only reading option for some people. They’re also a fun way for people who love books to squish in reading time while they do other things, like driving, working out, or gardening. It’s a growing market, and you should be in it if you possibly can be.

Think you can’t be? Think again.

Amazon’s ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) platform makes audio book production accessible to all. By accessible, I mean it is POSSIBLE for you to find a producer for your audio book regardless of your financial situation. You have ACCESS to the process for free. That said, you are not GUARANTEED success.

I’m living proof of that. I have had two audio books produced in two different ways, and I have failed to have a third produced. I’ll explain and use myself as an example as I share what I’ve learned.

Producing an audio book with ACX

If you’re thinking about turning your book into an audio book, you will probably use ACX . That’s what I did, so what follows is a user’s perspective.

When you approach ACX, think of it as approaching someone to do something for you that you can’t do for yourself. Yes. I said it. You CAN’T do this yourself. Think I don’t know what I’m talking about?

I have degrees in Broadcasting Communications & Speech and Hearing Sciences. I know a thing or two about sounding good on the radio and in any number of public speaking situations. But I’m not a trained voice actor or a narrator. I don’t have a sound studio and mixing board at my disposal. I don’t have professional- grade sound-editing software on my computer. I am not the BEST choice for bringing my story to life for listeners.

If you have all those things going for you and you firmly believe you ARE the best choice for narrator and producer, knock yourself out. Produce your own audio book. But know you’re looking at 40+ hours of studio time (for a full-length book) plus many hours of trial and error as you ride out the learning curve. Personally, I would rather be writing new stuff.

I’m going to make one last plea for you to reconsider if you want to do your own audio book production. I’m going to advise you to listen to a sample on Audible’s website for an audio book with poor production quality. I’m not going to name the author or book in this post, but you’ll see that info when you listen.

I apologize to the author for calling attention to what I consider to be poor production value, and I don’t do it lightly or with any kind of mean-girl intent. I do it because I think it’s an important consideration for anyone considering producing audio books.

Click here for the poorly-produced book’s Audible page then click on the little “Sample” triangle. Make sure your sound is on. Just listen for a few seconds. (Note 1: You don’t need an Audible account to listen to samples. Note 2: This is an erotica, but the sample does not contain anything explicit.)

What I hear from the sample is someone with no professional voice training. I can tell because every phrase ends with vocal fry. The sibilant sounds are peaking. The narration is rushed. The male character voice is laughably bad.

You don’t want this to be you. And it doesn’t have to be! There are lots of narrators out there who will do justice to your story. Give them a chance! It doesn’t cost you a thing.

So, you’ve decided to turn your indie e book into an audio book. Awesome! Now you have to decide how you want to produce it. ACX gives you two options.

One option is to pay your narrator/producer a set rate per finished hour. ACX estimates how many hours your finished book will be based on your word count. They provide guidelines for deciding on a price. Hint: the more you’re willing to pay, the more talent you’re likely to attract.

I used this option to produce my second audio book, The Wolf and the Highlander, and it cost me a little over $2000. My narrator is amazing, and considering what she gets paid on a royalty-share deal with a stipend, she gave me a bargain! (More on royalty share below).

The expense of the paid option is a big con, but the pro is that you get to keep all 40% of royalties earned.

For those who don’t want to drop a huge chunk of change on narration, there is another option, which I used to produce my first audio book, Wishing for a Highlander.

Wishing for a Highlander - AudioRoyalty Share (aka The Free Option)

When you place your book on ACX for auditions under the royalty share option, you are agreeing that you will split your royalties 50/50 with your narrator/producer.

Let me break this down for you in general terms and then using my first audio book as a real-life example of sales versus royalties.

Here is how it works:

  1. ACX helps you find a narrator/producer (this is considered one entity on Audible, though there may be two or more individuals involved in the process).
  2. You and your narrator produce the book.
    1. Production costs you the author nothing.
    2. It costs the narrator dearly. Remember that 40+ hours of studio time I mentioned above? That doesn’t include reading your book for note-taking purposes, developing voices, and editing what they recorded.
  3. Once finished, and at no cost to the author, the audio book goes up for sale on Audible, iTunes, and their affiliates (you have the option to sell to a broader market, but you sacrifice royalties).
  4. When your audio book sells through any of these venues, ACX and the retailer get 60% (how they split that is a complete mystery to me and probably individually negotiated between ACX and each retailer). You the author get 40% of the audio book’s price. With a royalty share agreement, you split your 40% with your narrator. In other words, you get 20% and your narrator gets 20%. ACX does the split for you.

When I entered into a royalty share deal for my book Wishing For a Highlander I had no idea what my 20% portion of the royalties would look like. The price direct through Audible was $24.95 or 1 credit. The price on Amazon’s Audible button was $17.47 or 1 credit. One credit on my Audible plan (I’m a customer as well) is $14.95. But people on other plans pay different amounts per credit. Would I as an author get a different royalty depending on what Audible plan a customer has or which vendor sold the audio book?

I still don’t know the answer in as much detail as I would like, but I’ll share with you what I can glean from my royalty reports. Here is a screenshot of my first full-month royalty report from ACX:

ACX Royalty Report

Click to make the image bigger if you need to. I made it as big as I could by trimming out the title of my audio book, which appears on the left-hand side of the report.

The top white row shows UK sales for the month of January 2015. Next is US sales. The light gray row is a per-book summary. If I had more than one book, there would be more white rows and another light gray row for each book. The dark gray row is the overall summary, which is the same as the light gray row since I had only one audio book at the time of this report.

You’ll notice the second column says “Royalty Share” and 20%. That means this report is specific to me AFTER the royalty split. My narrator gets a similar report. In other words, this report only shows my portion of the royalty breakdown. If I had paid for production of this audio book, I would be seeing double this amount. Make sense?

Okay. Now, notice there are three sets of columns with abbreviations ALC, AL and ALOP. Here’s what each of those means:

ALC: audiobook units bought by customers not in an AudibleListener membership

AL: audiobook units bought by AudibleListener members using their membership credits

ALOP: audiobook units bought by AudibleListener members but not using their membership credits

Looking at the ALC column, I had 36 US sales netting $629.66. That works out to $17.49 per sale for audio books sold to individuals not holding an Audible membership. What I don’t know is what percentage of these sales are from different retailers, like Apple, for example. My 20% per book was $3.50.

Looking at the AL column, I had 249 US sales netting $3230.53. That works out to $12.97 per sale for audio books bought by Audible members using their monthly credit(s). My 20% per book was $2.59.

In other words, Audible members pay a monthly fee and get 1 or 2 monthly credits depending on that fee. They use their credits to buy audio books, and Audible pays ACX out of their membership fund.

Currently, $14.95 per month gets a listener 1 credit per month. One credit will buy you one full-length book. This is a pretty good deal since audio book prices typically range from $20 to $30+. Recently, I upgraded my Audible account so I pay around $22 a month for 2 credits (I listen to a lot of audio books, so this plan suits me better). This means I pay an average of $11 per audio book.

For the month of this royalty report and for the particular Audible listeners who bought my audio book, the average ACX net per Audible “credit” sale was $12.97. I assume this average will change slightly depending on the plans of the listeners making the purchases. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

Looking at the ALOP column, I had 97 US sales netting $901.61. That works out to $9.29 per sale for audio books bought at Audible by listeners who have already used their monthly credit(s) and want to buy even more glorious audio books. My 20% per book was $1.86.

Regardless of how much ACX nets, the math shows me that I always got 20%. What I didn’t know when I signed on with ACX was that the amount they net is far more variable than the amount retailers net on a $3.99 e-book (that’s what my Highlander e books go for).

There’s another way an audio book can be purchased, and I have no idea if it falls into one of these three categories. Anyone who owns aKindle e book with Whispersync can add the Audible narration for $1.99. If anyone knows what ACX nets from this arrangement, I’d love to know.

In summary on royalty share: you can expect to earn 20% of what ACX nets, but you should know that the amount varies depending on where and how your listener purchases your audio book.

Stipends: Making royalty share especially attractive to narrators/producers

Alert! More info I wish I had known earlier!

I’ve mentioned how much producing an audio book costs a narrator. It’s not cheap for them. When you hire a narrator to produce your book, they are looking at two working weeks devoted to nothing but your book.

If you selected the royalty share option, that means the narrator gets nothing up front. Zilch. Nada.

And if your audio book doesn’t sell well, they get very little for their efforts, and so do you. In other words, it’s a risky proposition…

Unless ACX awards your book a stipend.

What is a stipend?

It’s a significant bonus ACX attaches to your royalty-share audio book to encourage narrators to audition.

It ensures narrators receive compensation for a royalty-share audio book.

What kinds of books receive a stipend?

Well, Wishing For a Highlander was awarded a stipend before I even knew what a stipend was. I credit the stipend with my finding the narrator of my dreams, the uber talented Marian Hussey.

But when I posted book 2 The Wolf and the Highlander for auditions, weeks passed, and I heard no news of a stipend. Because I am not afraid to ask for what I want (and I REALLY wanted to keep my narrator, who only does royalty shares with stipends), I contacted ACX. The gist of my email was, Dear ACX, I’m sure you didn’t mean to, but you seem to have overlooked my book The Wolf and the Highlander for a stipend. I’m sure you want to award it a stipend. So here’s your chance. Thanks much.

I learned the hard way that if your book isn’t awarded a stipend, you’re not supposed to contact ACX and ask for one. How do I know this?

Because I received this polite but clear response from ACX:

All ACX marketplace titles are automatically reviewed for stipend eligibility on two occasions during the first two weeks that they are open for auditions. Going forward, you will not need to contact ACX to request stipend consideration.  Your book must be open for audition for a minimum of two weeks for them to review it for the stipend program. If your book is accepted, you will see a green banner on your title in the ACX system.

The algorithm ACX employs to determine stipend eligibility looks at factors including past print and eBook sales of a title, recent sales velocity, user reviews, date of first publication, genre, and estimated running time (on ACX, longer is better).  We also review sales of your previously released audiobooks to ensure they are in line with similar titles. Titles that have not qualified for inclusion in the Stipend Program did not meet the requirements in one or more of these categories.

I hope this helps and wish you the best with your productions.

Yeah. So, they didn’t make a mistake. Wishing had been promising enough for them to risk a stipend. Wolf wasn’t.

Did you read that second paragraph of ACX’s response carefully? They look at your rankings, reviews, and the length of your book. What I took away from the letter was this:

  1. Post your e book to ACX for royalty share WHEN YOU HAVE AN EXCELLENT SALES RANK.
  2. Don’t post for audio book production when your book is newly released unless you have a ton of great reviews already up.

Do you need to have a stipend to land a quality narrator?

Honestly, I don’t know. If any narrators want to weigh in on that question, please do. I only have experience with my narrator, and as of our latest communication, she only accepts royalty share projects with a stipend.

I’m waiting to submit my third Highland Wishes book, Choosing the Highlander to ACX until it has enough reviews to be competitive for a stipend. Even then, that third book doesn’t have the sales traction of Wishing. It might not get picked. If it doesn’t, I’ll have to switch narrators.

If I were a narrator, I would check out a few things before thinking about submitting an audition. Does the book sell in e book? Does it have a compelling, error-free blurb? A gorgeous cover? Does the author do a good job of promoting themselves?

What about your book makes it a smart business decision for a narrator? Remember, for them to make any money on your book, it has to sell, sell, sell!

I would love to know what percentage of books on ACX actually receive auditions. This would be super helpful information to help authors make their books as attractive as possible to narrators.

Bounties: Free Money in Addition to Royalties

In addition to earning royalties, you can also earn a bounty on your Audible sales. Audible pays a bounty of $50 to the author every time their audio book is the first purchase of a new customer. With royalty share, you split the bounty as well as the royalties.

I have earned a total of 15 bounties on Wishing For a Highlander. This means my narrator and I have both been paid $375 for Wishing being someone’s first audio book.

Do audio books sell? Will my audio book sell?

In my limited experience, I’m selling in audio book about one quarter what I sell in e book.

Anyone with more experience, feel free to comment.

Are you an author considering producing audio books? A reader in love with listening to audio books? A narrator with experience producing audio books?

I would love to hear from you!

Anyone who comments will get their name in a hat for a free review copy of my latest audio book The Wolf and the Highlander. I’ll give out three copies.

The contest will remain open for one week.

I’ll choose winners on Saturday 11/21.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share using the nifty buttons below!

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About Jessi Gage

Jessi lives with her husband and children in the Seattle area. She’s a passionate reader of all genres of romance, especially anything involving the paranormal. Ghosts, demons, vampires, witches, weres, faeries...you name it, she’ll read it. As for writing, she's sticking to Highlanders and contemporaries with a paranormal twist (for now). A career student (aka indecisive and inquisitive bookworm), Jessi brings her love of research to her worlds and characters. Her guiding tenet in her writing is that good always trumps evil, but not before evil gives good one heck of a run for its money. The last time she imagined a world without romance novels, her husband found her crouched in the corner, rocking.
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12 Responses to Audio Books for Idiots Part 1: What You Should Know About ACX (+ A Giveaway)

  1. I’m interested in this book!!!! I didn’t realize the first book was Time Travel. Looking forward to listening to that one too. ♥

  2. darkchiibsb says:

    I’m listening Outlander right know and this book seems to have the same style *o*

  3. Liz Kelly says:

    Jessi, thanks for sharing all of that. I’m planning on having all my books done in 2016. This was a brilliant explanation of what is what. Questions: How long do you split royalties? Forever? What are your royalties like on the second book that you paid out the narrator? Similar to the first book royalties? Twice as much? Curious if you’d recommend doing the entire series of books at this point. Thanks, Kelly

    • Jessi Gage says:

      Hi Liz,
      Royalty sharing lasts for 7 years. I anticipate double the royalty per book on the second book, but it’s only been up a month, so no roylaties yet.–ha, I spelled that wrong and it made me think of Roy-lattes. I would consider working for coffee…anyway, back to the point. Oh yes, I’ll report on what I get from Wolf once it gets some reviews up and gets some traction.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I’ve produced 28 titles through ACX since April 2013. To produce an audio book from my home studio as professionally as possible requires 1 week per finished hour on the average, depending on the complexity of the story. My initial start-up involved a very steep learning curve, patience, perseverance and a lot of sweat. After the first year my finished audio books began to pass through the ACX rigid Audio Book Requirements without the notification of “audio issues” with no specific explanation as to the problem.

    Some audio titles sell better than others. There is one author of whom I’ve turned several of his titles into audio books that are consistent sellers. some sell a few copies in the beginning and that’s it.

    The difference is marketing. The one author mentioned is very aggressive with marketing his titles with paid advertising. I help with marketing to the free social media sites. As I mentioned above; this one author’s audio books represent over have my audio book sales. Be sure to ask the author, how aggressive she/he is before agreeing to spend weeks of your life producing their title. Do your homework on the author’s success. And how aggressively they advertise.

    The advantage of the Royalty Share is as Jessi mentioned, you have 7 years to earn royalties from your labor. At the end of 7 years you may, according to the ACX agreement, re-negotiate the contract.

    These things I have learned producing audio books through ACX:
    1. Be as professional as possible.
    2. Study your scripts before plowing into recording.
    3. Take care of your voice if you narrate
    4. Don’t drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages when you narrate.
    5. Find a comfortable rhythm, don’t rush it. And don’t narrate when your tired.
    6. Keep marketing. Like fishing. You can’t catch fish with your line of water.
    7. Don’t quit because of negative reviews. Learn from them.

    Hope this helps someone. Thanks for reading 🙂

    • Jessi Gage says:

      Thank you so much for your comments, Dickie! Wow, one week per finished hour! That’s a lot of work for you! I can definitely see how a producer would want to do research on an author before committing to royalty share. Why do all that work if you’re not likely to move many copies?

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. Pingback: Audio Books for Idiots Part 2: Can I Afford to Make an Audio Book? | Jessi Gage…A Time to Love

  6. Pingback: Audio Books: Are They Worth The Fuss? | Darla G. Denton

  7. Pingback: The Verbal Pornographer: Tales from an Naughty Book Narrator | Anywhere The Needle Drops

  8. Cheryl says:

    How do you determine who will narrate your audio books?

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