Everything you wanted to know about audiobooks but didn’t know who to ask
By Jan Yager
Romance audiobooks are experiencing a tremendous growth in popularity. According to the Audio Publishers Association, in 2021, in addition to overall audiobook production and sales having “double-digit growth” for the tenth straight year, the romance genre rose a whopping 75 percent.
If you haven’t gotten aboard the audiobooks bandwagon, what are you waiting for?
Turning your romance novels into audiobooks may sound daunting—it’s not. This article is going to show you how, along with tips and resources on how and where to promote it.
In addition to print and e-book versions, twenty-two of Sheri Cobb South’s thirty romance novels are also audiobooks with cumulative sales of 26,672 “last time I checked.” Her first audiobook was her romance novel The Weaver Takes a Wife, narrated by Noah Michael Levine. Her top audiobook seller is her romantic mystery In Milady’s Chamber, narrated by Joel Froomkin, with current total audiobook sales of 4,005.
Interestingly, it is not the sales that make South so enthusiastic about audiobooks. It is what these audiobooks mean to her listeners. She said, “A woman veteran with PTSD shared in an email that she used to be an avid reader, but since this happened and caused all this trauma, she hasn’t been able to focus on anything to read more than a magazine article until she tried an audiobook. She told me, ‘I could listen to that. Thank you for giving me back a part of my life I thought I had lost forever.’”
Illinois-based Marilyn Brant has turned five of her twenty romance novels into audiobooks, including On Any Given Sundae, narrated by Erica McKendrick and published by Post Hypnotic Press Inc. Brant said, “So many readers have expressed that they love having the option of audiobooks for their fiction experience, and whatever helps readers is, in my opinion, an unequivocally positive thing.”
Audiobooks are created by the rights holder, so the first step is to know who controls your novel’s audio rights. If you have a traditional publisher, check your contract if you are uncertain. If you have a literary agent, your agent might have negotiated that you “kept” audiobook rights.
If your publisher controls your novel’s audiobook rights, they will decide if they want to create one and, if they do, they will oversee all the details.
If you control your novel’s audiobook rights, deciding who will narrate, produce, and distribute it is up to you. If you have a literary agent, these audio publishers are open to submissions; if accepted, they might offer an advance in addition to royalty earnings based on sales.
Simon & Schuster Audio
- Penguin Random House audio
- Harper Audio
- Hachette Audio
- Macmillan Audio
- Blackstone Audio
- Brilliance Publishing
- Recorded Books.
Fortunately, here are several audiobook publishers who are open to submissions directly from authors even if they are self-published.
Podium Audio: Romance is one of their three specialties – along with science fiction and fantasy. Please note this statement at their website: “We do not take unsolicited submissions of unpublished manuscripts, and we do not offer production-for-hire services. However, if you have already published your book on Amazon (or another publishing platform), we will take a look at your listing and be in touch if we are interested in partnering.”
- Tantor Audio Books, a division of Recorded Books: they produce more than 100 titles a month.
- Scribd: subscription service founded in 2007.
- Novel Audio: since 2012; puts its titles on thirty platforms.
How Much Will It Cost to Turn Your Novel into an Audiobook?
If an audio publisher licenses your audiobook rights, they cover the costs. If you create the audiobook, you could avoid upfront costs if you use Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX.com), described below, or you could pay a production company with costs ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand, depending upon the company and what narrator/producer you hire. Most audiobooks resize the same cover as for the e-book or print versions, so you can avoid a second cover design fee.
Royalty Share Option from ACX.com
ACX, which is part of Amazon, offers a popular royalty share option, whereby you do not pay any production costs and you and the producer split earnings on sales. The finished audiobook, which ACX distributes through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes, is usually 40 percent to the rights holder and narrator (so each gets 20 percent) based on the retail list price that ACX sets. Payment is monthly through your Amazon account. Amazon pays the producer directly.
Alternatively, you could pay the producer what is referred to as a per finished hour (PFH) rate, so you receive the entire 40 percent share of royalties. Rates vary based on a narrator’s experience and popularity, ranging from $100 to $350 PFH or more.
At ACX, you create a listing describing basics including the word count of the finished novel and what you are looking for in a narrator (such as gender, age, or accent). You also post a sample from the novel that potential narrators will use for their audition.
Once you decide on a narrator, you will send them an ACX-generated contract including the date for the extended sample and a date for completion of the entire audiobook. The invited narrator has 24 to 72 hours to review and accept or reject the contract.
You are expected to review the audiobook files. Once you approve the completed audiobook, ACX will review it, accepting it or returning it for specific revisions. How long this process takes will vary based on how busy ACX is with other reviews.
ACX offers a seven-year exclusive, which means your audiobook can only be on the three platforms ACX uses (Audible, Amazon, and iTunes). For a lower royalty rate, you can choose their non-exclusive option, which enables you to take the completed file and put it up for distribution at as many retailers as you wish.
When your audiobook is accepted, ACX will provide you with codes that you can email to potential reviewers or fans to get a free audiobook for review consideration.
Will You Narrate Your Own Book?
It might be tempting to try to save money by narrating your own book, but should you? Sheri Cobb South said, “I have very strong feelings about that.” She now lives in Colorado but pointed out that since she is from Alabama and has a distinctive Southern accent, “I have the wrong voice for doing British-set historical romances.”
South continued, “Many of the best-known or up-and-coming narrators have fans of their own, which can bring new listeners to your work. Narrating your own book cuts you off from this potential source of new readers.”
Anna J. Stewart, who has seven audiobooks self-published through Scribd.com, agrees. “No, no,” she said. “I took drama as a kid, but I would never presume to be a narrator. Way too big a talent for me!”
However, you should be involved in the choice of a narrator. Stewart said, “Producing a book is a collaborative effort, and that includes making sure that the narrator chosen is the appropriate fit for the character depicted.”
Audiobook Production Companies
All of Sheri Cobb South’s audiobooks have been produced by ACX, but California-based Lisa Becker has chosen a different production path for the seven audiobooks she has produced, including Starfish: A Rock Star Romance
, narrated by Erin Mallon and Sebastian York. Her process is to hire a narrator, who is also the audiobook’s producer, and to pay a PFH that can range from $250 to $450. Most books take three to eight finished hours. One of her audiobooks is available exclusively through Audible with the rest being distributed through Findaway Voices and Authors Direct. Becker is satisfied with her approach and says she sells as many audiobooks as print editions.
If you decide to handle the production of your audiobook, you could find a professional narrator through word-of-mouth with other romance novelists or through the narrator directories through Tantor Audio Books or audiofilemagazine.com. Here are some audiobook production companies and studios; they all have professional narrators that they work with and can recommend:
- If and Only If Productions
- Findaway Voices
- Scribe Audiobooks
- Deyan Audio
- Mosaic Audio
- John Marshall Media
- StolenDress entertainment
Distribution Outlets for Your Audiobook
If you go the non-exclusive route with ACX or get a finished audiobook from one of the audiobook production studios, you will now have to distribute it. You can sell the audiobook through your website, but you need enough traffic to generate big sales. Here are audiobook distribution options to consider exploring:
- Storytel (leading subscription service in Europe)
- Chirpbooks.com (offers audiobook freebies and deals; parent company is BookBub)
- Author’s Republic (sells through audiobookstore.com)
- Apple Store
Authors Direct (Authors get a storefront to directly sell)
Marketing and Publicity Opportunities
Do for your audiobook the same promotional activities you are (hopefully) doing for your print or e-book versions: getting advance blurbs or endorsements; writing a press release or hiring someone to write one for you; creating sales sheets; developing a master promotion plan that you will follow or hiring a publicist to promote your audiobook. If possible, hire a publicist with audiobook experience and contacts.
Use social media, including Facebook (Meta), Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and TikTok, to announce your audiobook. Join online groups to help generate interest in your audiobook. However, avoid only dwelling on your audiobook’s availability. Instead, provide information or even links to useful articles or resources, so you are someone fellow romance writers or fans want to support.
Get your audiobook to reviewers. If a commercial audio publisher is handling your audiobook, hopefully they are sending it to Publishers Weekly
, and Library Journal
for trade journal audiobook review consideration. If you are doing everything yourself, here are audiobook review or promotional options:
- Audio File: the leading audiobook magazine, started in 1992. They bestow the Earphones Award to outstanding audiobooks
- Audiogals: founded in 2012 by Lea Hensley, Brenda Lee, and Melinda Parmer, with several more reviewers added on. Their focus is the romance genre including contemporary, romantic suspense, historical, paranormal, and urban fantasy.
- Audiobook Reviewer: a premiere site for audiobook reviews; its free reviews are “sold out,” but you can purchase an expedited one for $35 with a four- to five-week completion time. Reviews are posted to Amazon, Audible, and audiobookreviewer.com
- AudioBook Radio: A 24/7 internet radio station.
- Audio Publishers Association: sponsors the annual Audie Award
- HARO (Help a Reporter Out): this three-times-a-day free e-newsletter announces publicity opportunities from broadcast and print media.
- Reader reviews
- Search LinkedIn for audiobook reviewers, reach out, and build a connection.
Any negatives related to audiobooks to consider? Marilyn Brant thought of two: “Sometimes it happens that the vocal or dramatic style of a given narrator doesn’t resonate well with a particular listener. If that’s the case, the reader/listener might be turned off. It’s also important for the sound quality to be clear.“
Fortunately, that kind of narrator/listener disconnect is rare. And, luckily, there are enough quality audio production companies available that excellent sound quality of the finished product is the standard.
Let me add another caveat: You might invest a lot of time and energy into the development of an audiobook, and it might not result in the sales you had dreamed about. So, convert your romance novels into audiobooks for the benefit of growing your followers. If sales are not through the roof, you will still be pleased you created an audiobook. Remember, the sales will be a result of a great product marketed well to the right audience.
As Lisa Becker said, “Audiobooks expand your audience, your reach. There are people, for whatever reason, who can’t access traditional books or e-books, or choose not to. People can multitask while they’re enjoying a book. They can commute while they’re enjoying the book. An audiobook takes your story and expands the number of people who can experience it.”
Jan Yager, Ph.D., Founder of Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc., has published 50+ fiction and nonfiction audiobooks through ACX.com. Her own award-wining books include four novels (Untimely Death and The Pretty One), her Simon & Schuster title, When Friendship Hurts, translated into twenty-nine languages, and these books on publishing: Foreign Rights and Wrongs, How to Self-Publish Your Books, and How to Promote Your Book (Square One, February 15, 2023). For more on Jan, go to: https://www.drjanyager.com