Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Listen Up! The Ins and Outs of Audiobook Production by L. A. Kelley

The first step in audiobook production is choosing a producer. You can use a boutique company, narrate yourself (a really bad idea unless you’re a professional voice actor), or use ACX. ACX is owned by Amazon and is the big dog on campus for audiobooks. To use ACX, the book must be on Amazon in either print or ebook. The website brags the production process is painless. It isn’t. Web pages are weird to navigate and it’s challenging to find specific information. A few muttered curses worked nicely for me to ease frustration, along with several emails to tech support.

Production Steps
After creating the account, claim the audio rights, no sweat if you’re self-published. Otherwise it may take a little back and forth with your publisher. If you have an outside narrator, great. ACX doesn’t care. If not, ACX has thousands to choose from. You need a short audition script. One section of the ACX website says it should be 1 or 2 pages; another says 2 or 3. (Did I mention information was sometimes a challenge?) I say longer is better, so use 3 pages. For fiction, make sure to select passages with different emotional content to get a feel for the actor’s range.

The producer can put numerous qualifiers on the audition reading, such as tone, range, or emotion, and also select the narrator’s gender. Listing genre information is important since some narrators have preferences, but putting too many qualifiers may decrease the narrator pool. ACX puts your Amazon book description on the audition request, but authors can add additional information such as character ages or required accents.  

Payment to narrators comes in two way; split royalty or flat rate. Split royalty requires no front money, royalties are divided between producer (you) and narrator.  Flat rate can be anywhere from $50 on up per finished book hour.  This means an 8 hour book at a $100 finished rate will cost $800 to produce. Voice actors want to eat, too, and you’ll get a much better response by offering flat rate. With split royalties you’re likely to hear only from narrators with little experience trying to break into the business. This doesn’t mean they’re awful. Everyone has to start somewhere, but you may be in auditions for a long time before you find someone suitable. The cap on auditions is 30 days. If you don’t find a narrator by then, the project is terminated and you need to resubmit the book.

The Book Begins
Once you find a narrator, it’s time to submit the offer through the ACX site with the deadline for the first fifteen minutes check. It nice to add a little note along with it telling the narrator how much you enjoyed the performance. If the offer is accepted, ACX deletes all the other auditions, so be sure you’ve picked the right narrator, otherwise back to square one. Next, the author sends the complete book manuscript, otherwise known as the script. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. I used the final Word version of the ebook minus the front and back matter. If you do edits, make sure they’re finished before hitting Send.

The first file you receive from the narrator is the 15 minute check. When will you get it? Well that depends. The deadline is something you and the narrator agreed upon in the offer. Make sure to give the narrator enough time to put together a stellar read. I decided on one week and my narrator had no problem with that. The phrase, 15 minute check, is actually a misnomer as the narrator begins at the first page of the book and stops at a logical point roughly fifteen minutes later. For most books, mine included, this is the first chapter. It took her a little over sixteen minutes.

Listen carefully to the audio file. Make sure you and the narrator are on track with
pacing and flow. If you think the reading is too fast or slow, or doesn’t quite capture the mood of the book, say so now. Once the fifteen minute check is approved the narrator starts on the rest of audiobook. Depending on the size you may receive one chunk of audio files or several chapters at a time. My narrator divided the book roughly in half and sent each separately (chapters 1-15 and then chapters 16-24).

Note any errors such as mispronunciations, skipped words, or lines that need work. Is any part confusing? If you have dialog with two or more characters can you tell which person is speaking? Is the tone correct? Did a character who's supposed to be lightly teasing sound snarky and sarcastic instead? A few missed words in the script is no biggie. Simply jot them down and the narrator will make corrections in the audio file. Make sure to note the chapter and time code so the narrator can find it easily. You’re not Steven Spielberg, so don’t pick apart each sentence. Remember, an audiobook is a collaborative process between two professionals. You want the narrator to bring his or her interpretation to your words. That’s why you hired a pro. But if a scene doesn’t work for you, state the reason clearly. Telling a narrator, “I need you to make this, you know, like sound better, you know, cause it’s like, you know, not right.” isn’t helpful.

If you chose the correct narrator, corrections will be minor. I listened to each chapter file twice and noted changes. Once completed, she posted the final master file on ACX. I went through it one more time, found less than a handful of changes to be made and then bam the book was done. I approved the file and made payment to the narrator. The last step is ACX’s final audio check. It takes from 10 days to 2 weeks and then the audiobook is live. From start to finish, the whole process for Rimrider took less than 2 months.

Thinking of starting an audiobook? Keep these things in mind.
When I write, I have very clear character voices in my head, but a talented narrator will bring her own skill and interpretation. Give the narrator a chance. You may even like her interpretation better. Shut up, voices in my head.

The worst part of the whole process is ACX. The site needs serious work. Amazon owns the world. Can’t they spend a few extra bucks to hire some techs to get bugs out of the system? An author can’t even make changes to the audiobook description that appears on Amazon and Audible. Mine came out all jumbled up and looked like it was banged out by a drunken monkey on a keyboard. Use your favorite curse words and don’t get frustrated. When all else fails, email tech support because you won’t be able to fix problems yourself.  

   Offer a narrator both flat fee and split royalty for payment, but be prepared to pay. Voice actors like to eat, too, and I believe most want money up front. If I only offered split royalty, I’d still be waiting for a narrator. 

Now, check out my new audiobook on Amazon and listen to a free sample.

Orphan, pirate, spy.

Awakened by her father, teenager Jane Benedict is ordered to memorize a mysterious code. Hours later, Mathias Benedict is dead and Jane and her brother, Will, are wards of United Earth Corporation. To evade the company's murderous clutches and uncover the meaning of her father’s last message, Jane leads Will on a desperate escape across the galaxy aboard the Freetrader smuggler ship, Solar Vortex. Tangled in the crew’s fight for freedom, Jane saves the life of a young smuggler, Mac Sawyer, and learns her father’s code identifies a secret cargo shipment. The trail leads to the planet Rimrock and the massive prison complex of Golgotha. Undercover as a spy, Jane stumbles into a conspiracy that can spell doom for the entire Freetrader cause and the extinction of an alien race. Can she escape the prison confines and deliver a warning before it’s too late?

Piracy, intrigue, romance, space battles, and a daring rebellion from Earth wait on the galactic rim. Will Jane answer the call to adventure and find new purpose, or is death for high treason her fate?

L. A. Kelley writes fantasy and scify adventure stories with humor, romance, and a touch of sass. She does not narrate her audiobooks since her monotone delivery has been described as corpse-like.


Diane Burton said...

This post is so helpful, L.A. What an adventure you went on. You neatly pointed out why I (probably) didn't get any takers for the book I posted on ACX. I'll have to make some changes and try again. Thanks so much for the valuable information.

Francesca Quarto said...

Thanks for sharing insights. very interesting and informative. Since I sound like Mini Mouse on recordings, I would definitely benefit from professional. Something to keep in mind.
Francesca Q.

Maureen said...

Great tips! Thank you so much- some great info to save.

CJ Burright said...

Thanks for spelling out how the audio process works - some really great things to keep in mind!