Dale T. Phillips on Producing Your Own Audio Books

Hello again, everyone. Thanks for having me back on the Maine Crime Writers site for a chat. I’m here today to tell you how to make more money.

Hope that got your attention!

In the wonderful new world of writing opportunity, we have yet another means to get our stories to a wider audience– with audio books. I listen to an average of one book a week on audio, and it lets me sample authors I would never have time for otherwise. My to-be-read pile is stacked rather high, so being able to access stories while commuting is a blessing.

In the past, audio books were expensive to produce, and so if a book was commercially sold as audio, it was almost always through the publisher. Who also took most of the profit. Has anyone here made a pile of money from selling audio rights?

But now there are affordable ways to get books done and put up for sale without large sums for upfront costs. I’m talking about a solid commercial venture, not a cottage-industry at-home production– although even that’s feasible nowadays. With a headset mic (roughly $80 for minimum good quality) and downloadable software (Audacity, for example, all free, and easy to run), you can create respectable sound files at home, without a studio. I’ve done it for sample novel chapters for myself and other writers, and have recorded a few short stories. It’s even possible to narrate a whole book yourself, and create the packaging, and do all the promotion– although most writers would rather spend their time, you know, writing.

Here’s an example.Shadow_1

But now we have the ACX program, an Amazon platform. Through this program, you can produce audio books of professional quality, and have them available through Amazon sales channels. Yeah, pretty cool.

The catch, if you want to call it that, is that you must have the rights to do audio for that book. Your publisher will likely not want to give these up, even if they have no plans to do an audio version (expensive for them). So you’ll have to look at backlist books for which you’ve got the rights reverted, or projects where you haven’t signed away the audio rights. For active writers, there’s usually some work available.

The other up-front consideration is the cover art– ACX likes a square image, and so has some requirements different from the usual thumbnail version. You can do it yourself with the right tools and patience, or you can outsource it for a reasonable fee. I use Melinda Phillips of www.snapichic.com, although in the interests of full disclosure, I get a good break on price, being married to her.   🙂

ACX requires a user name and password, and you can use your existing Amazon account name and email address. Then you search for an Amazon-listed book you have the rights to, and get started on your project. After agreeing to the terms of service and confirming you are the rights holder, you post a sample of around five minutes of text, describe what the sample and book are about, and add any notes for the potential narrator as to voice and character and special considerations.

Interested narrators will record the sample and send a message through the program. You listen to it, and decide if that’s the voice you want for your book. You then make an Offer, setting a completion date deadline for the first 15 minutes (a longer sample, essentially, to make sure they’re on the right track), and for the whole project. Each of these steps is approved by you when it comes in.

What I like about the program is that you have choice– you can sample narrators and find one you like, or you can put your book project out for bid. And you have a choice about royalties– you can pay for a narrator (roughly $75-100 an hour) or offer to split royalties, which means no up-front money from you– the narrator works on spec. If you’ve got a title you know is going to sell thousands of audio versions over its lifetime, then you may want to pay to play. But if you’re short of cash or confidence of return, split the future earnings. Something is better than nothing, right?

ACX sets the price based on the length. I cannot yet offer any data on fiction sales, but that’s coming soon. My first fiction title, Fables and Fantasies, is a collection of 5 tales, coming in at 1.9 hours. It looks like even a split royalty of 25% per book sold will average out to be a couple of dollars or more– not bad for short work, and a higher percentage than for a hardcover!

I put up my non-fiction title, How to Improve Your Interviewing Skills, back in August as a test case. It’s only an hour long, narrated, but it has useful tips for job seekers. The talented Judy Hoctor did a fantastic job, but even so, I had no expectations, and didn’t do a lot of promotion, as I’ve been busy with edits on my latest novel. Weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised by a mailed sales report. People were finding and buying the book, and have continued to do so. Triple-digit sales earnings in less than 90 days on a short test project is pretty sweet to me.

And it’s another way for potential fans to discover your other works. Soon I’ll have 3 fiction titles out, all earning and cross-promoting the brand.

So give it some thought, and explore the possibilities, if you’ve got some available books. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far, and have worked with three narrators, and been pleased with all. The work truly comes alive, and it’s magic hearing a talented person voice your story.

Dale T. Phillips is the author of the Zack Taylor mysteries. More info and a sample of Chapter 1 of A Shadow on the Wall is on:


About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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5 Responses to Dale T. Phillips on Producing Your Own Audio Books

  1. Barb Ross says:

    Welcome Dale and thanks for the lesson!

  2. Brenda says:

    Thanks for this!

  3. Thanks for having me here. There’s so much new information, and changes are coming every day. With these changes, there are so many new opportunities.

  4. Very interesting, Dale. I took two classes to see about doing commercials or making audio books. So when I read your intro I immediately thought of myself reading. How cool to go through an audition process to find the right person to read your words. Love that. Now, I’ve got to go see if my publisher has the audio rights to my first two books. Shame on me, probably should know that without looking. I’ve seen emails from other of my publishers authors who’ve got an audio book coming out. Next time I’ll ask them how that came about. Maybe based on how many books they sold. Definitely a keeper post. Thanks.

  5. Marsha, glad to help. Yes, even though I’ve done a great deal of voice work, including TV, radio, theater, and Recording for the Blind, I just don’t have the skill and range to do a full-length professional production. That’s why this program is such a boon, and then your book goes out with nice packaging and Amazon’s marketing muscle, linked to your print/Kindle version.

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