Author Topic: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)  (Read 7829 times)  

Offline ElHawk

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Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« on: November 10, 2013, 07:37:09 AM »
Hey, guys.  I just finished listening to the "draft" version of The Sekhmet Bed in audiobook format.  It turned out amazingly well, because my narrator, Amanda C. Miller, is spectacular and smart and hard-working and I really can't say enough good things about her.  Now that the production is pretty much done (for the most part), I though I'd share a few things I learned in the process in case anybody else finds it useful.

It's a long post, so here's the Cliff's notes version:
  • There are some pros and cons to working with ACX...consider carefully before you jump in!
  • ACX's stipend-plus-royalty share program is a real draw for experienced, professional narrators and can hook you up with a very good actor to produce your book.
  • You can qualify your book for the stipend via a well-timed free run.
  • Even if you don't qualify right off the bat, you may be able to convince ACX to offer the stipend anyway, if your sales are good enough or if you have other things going for you (name recognition, etc.)
  • Visibility for an audiobook is a serious challenge and may require some very creative thinking when it comes to promo.

First of all, although there are some drawbacks to working with ACX, it has a lot of benefits, too.  I thought long and hard before I tried ACX.  The biggest drawback is that if you choose to split royalties with your narrator, your audiobook is tied to ACX's distribution for seven years.  Right now their distribution looks really good: Audible.com and iTunes, which are the biggest sources of audiobook purchases anyhow.  But in seven years I have no doubt that the way listeners buy (and listen to) audiobooks will change, and there's certainly no guarantee that ACX will keep pace with changes.  So it represents some risk to tie yourself to them for seven years, but with a book that sells fairly well, splitting royalties can also be a big draw to voice actors, who would then enjoy a little extra income for that duration.

You don't have to tie your book to their distribution, but then you must offer a payment up front to your narrator, and I didn't feel I had the budget to make an attractive enough offer compared to how much work it takes to produce a good audiobook.  And I wanted to attract the best narrator I could get.  I'm a huge consumer of audiobooks -- I probably listen to more books than I read -- and I know the importance of having an excellent narrator.

What I didn't know -- what I never found in all my research when I was beginning this process -- is that ACX will put an additional stipend on certain books as a way to tempt narrators to audition for projects which are likely to sell well, and which are using the royalty share/seven years of distribution option.  I found this out purely by chance, when I got a crazy flood of auditions for The Sekhmet Bed, and had to close the book to auditions sooner than I'd planned to just so I had the chance to give each audition a fair listen.

Apparently ACX uses a Super Secret Amazon Algorithm to determine which books qualify for the stipend.  And I happened to sign The  Sekhmet Bed up for ACX a couple of days before I did a free run on BookBub which resulted in 25,000 downloads in 48 hours.  This obviously triggered the algorithm and flagged my book for the stipend, and the auditions went bonkers.  I was able to choose Amanda as my narrator (a difficult choice...there were so many excellent auditions!) and she earned almost $1000 for doing the production, and she'll split royalties with me.  It was a win-win situation, we had a great rapport as we worked together, and she's agreed to do the narration for the next two books in the series, provided I can get ACX to offer a stipend for those, too.

She checked into how this is done, and apparently the algorithm isn't the only way to make it happen!  Authors can contact ACX directly and ask for the stipend to be applied.  ACX said that since the algorithm highlighted one of my books as qualified, it's likely they'll put the stipend on the rest in the series, too.  I'll find out for sure on Monday, when I contact them about it.

Why is the stipend so important to narrators?  Well, in addition to the fact that it's MONEY and we all like money, it gives them some security against the time they put into producing your audiobook.  It's a LOT of work.  Amanda was getting up in the middle of the night to record The Sekhmet Bed between 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., when her neighbors were asleep and therefore not yelling and creating distracting background noise!  She definitely deserves all the compensation she can get for that kind of commitment, and there's no guarantee this audiobook will sell well even though the ebook has been a really steady earner for me (more on problems of audiobook sales later).

In addition, though, ACX's stipend counts as qualified income for the members of certain actors' unions, and helps those actors keep their health insurance.   This was a big deal to Amanda -- I imagine it's a big deal to many other professional actors, too!

So by choosing to do the royalty-share/seven years of bondage option, you may actually be increasing your odds of getting an excellent actor to produce your book...maybe even an actor with some name recognition or a local following, which could really help your visibility.

Now, I had no clue about the stipend thing when I started.  It was purely happy coincidence that auditions for The Sekhmet Bed lined up with by BookBub free run.  But it shows that even free downloads count toward qualification for the stipend.  So it might be a good idea to time a book's audition period with a free run, especially in conjunction with a high-power promo site like BookBub.  (At least, free downloads counted as of June 2013...I don't know whether they still do.)

So about the problem of visibility.

Amanda has been very proactive in figuring out how we'll promote this series of audiobooks (which I appreciate greatly!)  She learned that Audible's recommendation algorithms leave much to be desired, categories are kind of limited, and the way Audible currently transports key info from the book's corresponding Amazon page (such as rating, ranking, reviews, etc.) leaves MUCH to be desired.  So you are really very much on your own when it comes to promoting an audiobook...you don't even have handy-dandy algorithms to help you out a little. 

We've been brainstorming some creative ways we can promote the book to try to maximize our royalties as quickly as possible, and as we begin actually implementing some of our ideas, I'll start a thread about that. Because right now, we really have no idea what will be effective, and it's all groping in the dark.

However, it leaves a lot of room to try some creative tactics neither of us has ever tried before, and that's kind of exciting!

Okay, I'll leave it there for now.  I'm happy to answer any questions people may have about the process from the author's end.  :)



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Offline jimkukral

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2013, 09:49:48 AM »
Thanks for the insights. I believe audio books "can" explode for self-published authors, but only if more affordable options exist for getting them read. That's a huge barrier. Most authors don't have the sales to get a good actor, so they have to pay for it up front, which of course, they can't do because they don't have the money.
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Offline Christa Wick

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #2 on: November 10, 2013, 10:16:56 AM »
It's very generous of you, El, to take the time and detail your experience and the insight you gained. I hit approve on my first audiobook last week and am waiting for ACX to do their review. It's the collected version of a serial, so I'm also finishing up on approving the three separate cuts.

I've had a really hard time finding voices I like, so I opened it to both flat fee and royalty share auditions. I received about 23 auditions in short order, I don't know if that means ACX flag it as eligible for a stipend. I also thought the stipends program ended sometime early October (i.e. no new enrollments). Do you know if they restarted the stipend program?

My narrator will be very familiar to most WC visitors -- it's Mike Dennis (http://mikedennisnoir.com).

Offline ElHawk

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2013, 11:18:40 AM »
Do you know if they restarted the stipend program?

I don't know for sure.  I'm going to find out when I talk to them tomorrow!


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Offline polecat

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2013, 12:16:52 PM »
Probably off topic but is the audiobook for The Sehhmet bed available yet? I am thinking of buying it and if the audiobook is available you can get it at a deep discount.

Offline Christa Wick

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2013, 03:28:05 PM »
Probably off topic but is the audiobook for The Sehhmet bed available yet? I am thinking of buying it and if the audiobook is available you can get it at a deep discount.

If El just finished listening to it before she's approved it (i.e. as she notes, "draft" version), it could be up to a month before it's live as I understand it.

Offline Gertie Kindle 'a/k/a Margaret Lake'

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2013, 03:46:25 PM »
If El just finished listening to it before she's approved it (i.e. as she notes, "draft" version), it could be up to a month before it's live as I understand it.

And then another few weeks before it becomes whispersync available. My audiobook went live on 10/22 and just got into whispersync yesterday. I'm hoping that will make a difference.

I chose to do a novella so I could pay my narrator up front. The drawback to that is that shorter works don't sell as well.



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Offline ElHawk

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2013, 04:41:30 PM »
And then another few weeks before it becomes whispersync available. My audiobook went live on 10/22 and just got into whispersync yesterday. I'm hoping that will make a difference.

I chose to do a novella so I could pay my narrator up front. The drawback to that is that shorter works don't sell as well.



Yep, I guess it will be a couple of weeks.  ACX has to approve the file and I hear it's taking about 14 days of late for them to get through all the various files to approve.

It sounds great, though!  I'm really happy with how it turned out.


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Offline minxmalone

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2013, 08:11:21 PM »
There's a big backlog right now. I had an audiobook go live last week and it took 40 days for them to approve it. I actually thought there's been some kind of glitch because it's never taken that long before.

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2013, 10:26:27 PM »
Thanks for your post, ElHawk. Very helpful!




Offline pauldude000

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2013, 10:29:12 PM »
There's a big backlog right now. I had an audiobook go live last week and it took 40 days for them to approve it. I actually thought there's been some kind of glitch because it's never taken that long before.

When the production for my first novel was complete, it required 30 days to approve. It even shocked my narrator, Kevin Pierce.

My new novel is in production, so I will get to see what the average is. It should be out of production by the 18th of Dec.

 
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Offline Christa Wick

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2013, 05:43:53 AM »
I submitted the collected version around November 3 and the 3 installment versions yesterday. Probably a race to get them all up (without whispersync) before mid December, but I started very late! There's too much negative noise (a lot for good reason, I think) to make the decision to jump in an easy one. It also doesn't seem to be a topic covered at the romance writers conferences (aside from some throwaway remarks by presenters, usually those have a good experience), so no easing the pain there.

Do any of the other genre conferences or overall industry conferences cover the topic of getting your audiobooks produced (or self-producing) and MARKETING them? I'm really surprised RWA doesn't, but they are still trad pub focused for the most part. I would think BEA or DBW conferences would, although they would be heavy on totally letting someone else take care of it for a fee at least 3x what I paid my excellent narrator to voice & produce it for me. In February, there was a DIY (mostly) conference online only that was pretty helpful. I hope they do it again for 2014 and add more meat about audiobooks.

Offline Gertie Kindle 'a/k/a Margaret Lake'

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2013, 06:05:08 AM »
ACX does touch on marketing but I didn't see any new advice.



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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #13 on: November 11, 2013, 08:01:37 AM »
ACX does touch on marketing but I didn't see any new advice.



Yeah, I read that page the other day and it was a bullet point of "Get on FB, Twitter, etc." and "Done that already? Start a blog"

herp derp ACX herp derp

Offline Jean E

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #14 on: November 11, 2013, 08:42:19 AM »
Thank you ElHawk.  This is a very informative post.  I am no where near getting an audiobook recorded, but I have made some notes in my How To Self Publish and Become a Famous Author notebook.  Best of luck with it.

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #15 on: November 11, 2013, 08:56:21 AM »
The stipend thing is a real mystery. It's not always tied to sales. At least, it didn't seem that way for my books. I put all four of my books up on ACX in January. Like the OP, I was suddenly flooded with auditions. I went to look, and two of my four books had stipends attached. I was thrilled, but the strange thing was, my bestseller, which had a good free run just prior, and had even reached the top 20 on Kindle previously, was not given a stipend.  ::) Instead, my third and fourth book in the series were. Not that they are poor sellers--both have sold well and have good reviews, but it puzzled me that they received stipends and my 'flagship' book hadn't.

I ran into some problems with my first narrator. Nice guy and all, but he just couldn't get the job done. In over two months, he had only finished two chapters. The stipend has a 60 day deadline for completing the book, and he exceeded it. I had to 'fire' him. I got another guy in June (it took almost 8 weeks to get the other narrator off the contract--through no fault of his--he was extremely cooperative and I felt so bad.  :'( )

By this time, my stipend was nearing expiration and I had to find a narrator quickly. I found one that had a good resume, sounded good, etc and signed him for the two books with stipends. He did the work in the required time--but he was not nearly as pleasant to work with as the first guy. We had some creative differences and he was quite arrogant.

I then went to bat for my book, No Good Deed, to get a stipend on that one as I really needed a new narrator. I had asked back in May and also in Feb, but never had answers. This time, I called and wrote again, had an ACX person give me her word she'd see it went up the chain to those who decided, and she did!  ;D NGD received a stipend and I got an awesome narrator (Daniel Penz) who has been wonderful to work with.

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Offline Anne Frasier

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #16 on: November 11, 2013, 09:05:35 AM »
oh, very informative!  

i've wondered how people get stipends. I actually had my entire book paid for through ACX, which was of course wonderful, but it also had some drawbacks. You only have a certain amount of time to approve a narrator or you lose the funding, and you can only use ACX approved narrators. i actually got some much better auditions for non-approved narrators but i was unable to accept them.  and because of the time element i had to make a choice even if i wasn't crazy about that choice. but i thought, well, i'm not paying for it... yes, and no.  here's something i didn't think aboutwhich was stupid of me. your book is rated by story and narrator. so... i have a book that used to get excellent ratings...now getting some not to great ratings and audio sales flatlined once the ratings started showing up. and with audio it's not like a cover. you can't pull it and replace it if it's doing poorly. i certainly don't regret going with ACX, but i wish i'd had more of a game plan going in. i'll certainly have a better idea of what to do next time if i decide to make another title available.
   

Offline JeffreyKafer

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #17 on: November 11, 2013, 09:25:02 AM »
As for promotion, make sure you and the narrator are clear up front as to how involved the narrator will be. I encourage narrators NOT to spend much time promoting the audiobook because unless they are a superstar in the industry, no one is going to buy it because they narrated it. The narrator's time is much better spent narrating their next book, than spending time promoting a royalty-share.

Just something to discuss early on.

Offline ElHawk

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #18 on: November 11, 2013, 10:07:05 AM »
Do any of the other genre conferences or overall industry conferences cover the topic of getting your audiobooks produced (or self-producing) and MARKETING them?

You know, I was wondering this, too.  Primarily because Amanda and I have found little in the way of articles, advice, or shared experience online or in podcasts (though Joanna Penn's podcast has some useful info on the topic.)  My assumption is that indie audiobooks are still a new enough thing that nobody has yet identified all the specific problems (i.e., how Audible's algorithms do and don't work) nor figured out fairly useful work-arounds or tactics.

If we're able to promote ours successfully, maybe I'll try pitching it as a topic at some conferences!  I love public speaking.  :)

As for promotion, make sure you and the narrator are clear up front as to how involved the narrator will be. I encourage narrators NOT to spend much time promoting the audiobook because unless they are a superstar in the industry, no one is going to buy it because they narrated it. The narrator's time is much better spent narrating their next book, than spending time promoting a royalty-share.

Just something to discuss early on.

Yes -- I agree.  That's a really great point.

In the case of my narrator, she does have a bit of name-recognition among anime fans and video gamers, so she could be useful in promoting it and helping the book reach some new audiences -- a lucky break for me.  But for the most part, listeners are going to focus more on the author than the narrator (when it comes to making a purchase decision, anyway.)  If you should end up with a mega-famous person in the audiobook world, like Davina Porter or Stefan Rudnicki, that changes, of course...but most of the folks on ACX are either new at this (though some are really excellent!) or are trying to expand their business from some other form of acting to audiobook narration.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2013, 10:12:26 AM by ElHawk »


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Offline Gertie Kindle 'a/k/a Margaret Lake'

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #19 on: November 11, 2013, 12:07:06 PM »
As for promotion, make sure you and the narrator are clear up front as to how involved the narrator will be. I encourage narrators NOT to spend much time promoting the audiobook because unless they are a superstar in the industry, no one is going to buy it because they narrated it. The narrator's time is much better spent narrating their next book, than spending time promoting a royalty-share.

Just something to discuss early on.

My narrator has offered to help even though she's not on royalty share. We've done two books together and we're going to do three more if the first two sell well enough. I really prefer to pay up front if I can, but I might try going the stipend route if it's possible.

If the narrator gets a stipend and royalty share, does that royalty share still run for seven years?


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Offline JeffreyKafer

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #20 on: November 11, 2013, 12:25:42 PM »
I really prefer to pay up front if I can, but I might try going the stipend route if it's possible.

The stipend is good, but keep in mind that a lot of us get very little of it. It's meant to cover expenses such as proofing and editing. We have out-of-pocket production costs that most authors are not aware of.

If the narrator gets a stipend and royalty share, does that royalty share still run for seven years?

Yep, thank goodness.

Offline ElHawk

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #21 on: December 21, 2013, 08:44:27 AM »
Okay -- I promised to update when I had news on whether I was able to convince ACX to put the stipend on another book.

I was able to do it, though it took a few weeks to get it all finalized.  I wrote to them asking about the possibility, and was then required to sell the idea to them by showing them sales stats and other data I've gathered about my book and other books in my genre, to compare how well The Crook and Flail can be projected to perform as an audiobook.  I also needed to present a promotional plan, and I think (but don't know for certain) that's what sold them on the idea more than anything, since promoting all my stuff, including audiobooks, in 2014 is going to be podcast-focused and is taking a tack that most other authors don't take (and should reach the desired audience efficiently and in a memorable way, if it works out as I'm thinking it will.  It's reasonable to assume that podcast listeners are likely to be audiobook listeners, too.)

So, after doing the most intimidating business presentation I've ever had to give, The Crook and Flail is going into production with the same awesome narrator who did The Sekhmet Bed.  And the stipend means that she still gets income that counts toward her Actor's Guild health insurance.  It's a Christmas miracle!

No idea whether I'll be able to get them to fund the next two books in the series, but I'm hoping to be able to pay for those out of pocket anyway, since I've got a few historical novels planned for the future that will sound best with multiple narrators, and it'll be easier to pay for their production myself than to convince ACX to back me.  ;)

On the whole, I found ACX to be very welcoming, helpful, and friendly during the "presentation," though they were certainly very clear about their stance that I needed to give them some darn good reasons to put money into my project.  They weren't willing to just throw it at me because I held out my cup and begged.  ;)  Awesome people to work with, though...very professional.


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Offline Christa Wick

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #22 on: December 21, 2013, 08:55:10 AM »
Thanks for the update, El!

Offline Gertie Kindle 'a/k/a Margaret Lake'

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #23 on: December 21, 2013, 08:57:22 AM »
Congratulations. What you had to do to get the stipend makes a lot of sense. I can't see them giving it out to just anybody for any book unless it sells fairly well in ebook.

You definitely earned it.



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Offline ElHawk

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Re: Some thoughts on audiobooks and ACX (stipends!)
« Reply #24 on: December 21, 2013, 09:02:32 AM »
Right -- of course!  Gotta prove I'm worth it.  :)  

I'm very impressed with ACX, on the whole.  I felt like they took my presentation as seriously as they would have taken any publisher's.  

And I'm suuuuuper excited to hear this audiobook!  This is my favorite one out of all four volumes in the series.


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