Monday, June 24, 2013

I Travel On This Train Regularly!

Yes, I should be writing. Instead...rambling thoughts on audio books, ACX, and the changing face of publishing.


Just finished listening to the first fifteen minutes of In From the Cold, narrated by Alexander Masters. I’m loving what I’ve heard so far. Masters’ voice is deep and dreamy, which perfectly suits the opening pages of I Spy Something Bloody  with Mark mostly zonked out of his skull, thanks to pain killers, PTS, and exhaustion. Anyway, I think this is going to go over well with readers. Listeners. Listening readers.
 

I stumbled across a blog Neil Gaiman did about audio books back in 2011 and he made two excellent points -- excellent then and probably more excellent now. Pay attention to your audio book rights. Don't hand them over without a second thought (as we all used to do for years and years). And if you hold your audio book rights, think about doing something with them. Like ACX. Not that I haven't had my issues with ACX, but so far they seem to be the best solution to the problem of the humble rest of us affordably getting audio books produced and distributed.
 

Last week I spent a couple of days listening to auditions and picking narrators -- four of them -- for In Sunshine or In Shadow. Brick Shop Audio is producing this project (they also handle the Holmes & Moriarity books) so I’m confident it’s going to be a completely professional production from start to finish. Is anyone going to want to listen to a book of short stories? I just don’t know. It’s going to be a very expensive project and in some ways it’s the riskiest one yet. I'm excited to hear the final results though. (In case, you hadn't noticed, I am very pleased with the way that short story antho turned out.)

 

Because the narrators are also the producers, I definitely check their backlist when I’m picking narrators. I also listen to their other sample clips on ACX and I check out their website. I want to know what I’m getting. Not just as far as the voice, though the voice is paramount, but I want a feel for how this person conducts themselves. Lately -- I guess this is a sign of the publishing times -- I’ve had problems with indie contractors not meeting commitments, not coming through. So I look for a known quantity, but I’m also not afraid to take a chance on a narrator without a long backlist to their credit. I’ve found some wonderful, fresh talent that way.

 

In fact, I’ve been really happy with each of my narrators and with the final audio books. It’s hard to know how well the books are doing. I haven’t been able to find any “average” figures for indie audio sales. So far I’ve got nine projects out there and I’ve sold just under 3500 books in total. Is that good or bad? I have no idea. It’s relative anyway, because all that really matters is whether I am making money.

 

And, despite concerns with Amazon/Audible’s high-handed promotional pricing tactics, I seem to be. Making money, I mean. Certainly the projects are, slowly but surely, paying for themselves. Which is a huge relief -- and the reason I’ve resumed commissioning audio productions.


The other thing that softened my stance was hearing from readers for whom English is a second language. And readers who have physical challenges reading. For both these sets of readers, audio books are more than an indulgence. In some cases they're a godsend. Not that I have ever been anything less than enthusiastic about audio books. Both as an author and a reader. In fact, I've started buying more audio books than ever.

 
I've read blogs where authors chose two narrators to do a book together -- splitting up male and female parts, for example. I wonder how that would work...
 

One thing Audible has abandoned, as of the end of this month, is the dollar honorarium paid for each unit sold. So now charging $1.99 for an audio book really is asking the rights holder to take a leap of faith. I don’t disagree with discontinuing the honorarium. It more than served it’s purpose, given that ACX can’t keep up with processing all the titles coming through the pipeline now. I will be sorry to lose that extra dollar per book, though!  It was a nice little perk.


BUT they've started giving authors more promo copies, so that's pretty neat. You readers will definitely benefit from that. And so will I, I do not doubt.  

 

I read a blog by Bob Mayer where he mentioned paying about $175 per finished hour, which I suppose would make it easier to recoup costs and start making a profit. I pay between $200. and $350. depending on the narrator’s experience, the commerciality of the project, etc.  A lot of authors seem to gravitate to the split royalties option. I’ve done that once (ACX was offering a stipend to sweeten the deal) and we seem to have done all right out of it. I’m not generally comfortable with it because I hate having to be in the position of asking someone to take that kind of a risk on me. And, realistically, sharing rights to the project for the next seven years seems precarious given how much every aspect of the publishing industry has changed in the past two years since I went indie.  

 

I’ve seen a few comments from narrator/producers on blogs where they talk about royalty share and how the narrator is taking all the risk. That’s mostly true though not completely true. Obviously the narrator is investing time and talent on a project that may never pay off. But the narrator is a huge, huge part of the success of any audio book, so the author is also taking a risk. I’ve loved every one of my narrators, but I hear different things from listeners. Especially the listeners who don’t know me, don’t know my work except through the audio books, and aren’t hesitant to offend my delicate sensibilities and slam my carefully chosen narrator.  

 

I listen to a lot of audio books (and sample a lot more) and sometimes I just cannot believe the voice over choices some authors make. I don't necessarily mean the narrator him or herself (though, yeah, sometimes). I mean the crazy, tinny, or hollow background sound. How can nobody not hear that?! Is this because it's a share and this is the best for the bucks? This is where the risk comes in for the author. What if you ultimately decided you wanted a different narrator/production? What’s the process there? If you’re sharing royalties, you’re most certainly locked in for the next seven years. That’s going to be a risk for all concerned. Especially if decisions were made to cut corners.

 

I’m guessing that some narrators, the ones who’ve been doing this professionally for years and years, find the developments in voice over as unsettling as mainstream authors found developments in self-publishing. I get a sudden vision of that scene in Hard Day's Night. I fought the war for your sort! But there really is a lot of wonderful talent out there and I can't see that making audio books so much more affordable is going to be a bad thing. Assuming everyone makes their investment back.
 
 

29 comments:

  1. I always appreciate your honest thoughts on the publishing industry and audiobook production. Thank you!

    And the short story audiobook sounds like a lot of fun. Different narrators for each short, I wonder?

    --Christine

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    1. There are 13 stories so I just divvied the stories between them with http://www.justinbadger.com/ taking the extra story.

      Each narrator has a different style and mood, all of them very effective. At least I hope so! I really do love these audio books.

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  2. Two very diverse comments, Josh.

    First, the very worst (not counting you, of course, because you haven't committed this sin) narrators I have heard in 30 years of listening to audio books are several done by the authors! Most are so bad that I don't waste my pennies on author narrated books anymore.

    An audiobook narration is a performance, IMO, and requires a certain amount of acting to pull off a good story. Most authors just don't have that talent. I've thought, "Why don't you stick to something you know? Write. Let others read."

    Oddly, I love to hear an author read excerpts in person - at a reading/signing event for example. But I have yet to hear an author do a credible job of reading.

    My other comment is just for fun. The mother of my closest friend (who is also a wonderful friend), has suffered two TIAs in the past couple of years. She has always been a voracious reader but she can't read anymore. The letters get mixed up, much like dyslexia, which, I guess it is.

    My friend, Francine, decided to purchase an IPod for her mom. Both her husband and I had much trepidation, but, okay, we'll try it. So, Francine bought the pod and had it delivered to my house. I downloaded a bunch of books on it (including 3 of yours - 2 Adrien E's and GWYS). Worry not, I purchased them separately on Fran's account. Now, I didn't have any idea how Lorna would receive M/M romance. She's 88 years of age and I remember the day Francine and I explained to both our moms just what "gay" meant.

    She LOVED them and, like me is not so patiently awaiting THE HELL YOU SAY. I did warn her that there was some explicit content. With her usual aplomb she says, "Heck, at my age, I skip ALL sex scenes anyway. I'll just zip past what I don't like." Knowing her, she listened to every word. She's a hoot!

    I made her a gift of a docking station, so she isn't chained to earphones.

    Josh, you have a brand new fan!

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    1. Robert Crais did the reading for his own book The First Rule. It was exceptional. But he said it was really hard, and he'll never do it again. LOL

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    2. Ha! That's great. Give my new fan my best regards. :-D

      Even if I had the voice, which I don't, I would be too self-conscious to read my own work. Plus I would be thinking the whole time how I should have rewritten this or that bit. And I would skip over all the erotic scenes!

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    3. I bet it was hard, M! I'm guessing it's one of those talents everyone imagines they're qualified to do if they have a voice and can read.

      A notion that probably makes voice over talent want to shoot themselves. Or the wannabe narrator. :-D

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    4. The very, very worst I heard was Rita Mae Brown. I used to enjoy her books before she got too political (and, her politics are the exact opposite of mine). However, the one book I listened too exposed her reading voice as YANKEE! All her books are "old Virginia." What was she thinking? Plus she read too fast.

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    5. Oh jeez. That's actually kind of funny, Penelope. ;-D

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    6. There are three people (that i can think of right now) that i('d) like to listen to read their own work, and they are Stephen Fry, David Sedaris, and Ellen Degeneres. I'm sure there are others that do it well, but generally somebody who is a narrator will probably do a much better job.

      Very cool about Josh's new fan :-) And what a great idea!
      (besides, i've discovered that older people are not half as shockable as one might imagine)
      I wish i could have done something similar for my grandmother when she couldn't read much anymore. There were no ipods then, so i just read to her myself, but not enough, what with school and work.

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    7. Same here, KC. My grandmother did listen to books on tape, but I don't think we understood the resources that existed even back then.

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  3. ** I mean the crazy, tinny, or hollow background sound. How can nobody not hear that?!**

    THIS!! So much this. The quality of your audio books has made an addict out of me. With that in mind, I went looking for additional titles, and was THRILLED to see Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series was available. The narrator for Luck in the Shadows was great, but the quality of the recording itself? It sounded like someone speaking into a tin can in the other room. It was so disappointing, given what a great book it is, and how engaging the narrator was. The poor sound quality proved to be quite a distraction.

    I've come to listen to quite a few audio books in the past months since you started releasing them, and I'm often finding that the narrators themselves are fine, but it's the overall quality of the production that cane make or break a great audio book. Kudos to you for paying attention to that. I've never had a problem with any of your audio books, and your attention to details shows.

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    1. Background noise is an automatic disqualifier when I'm listening to auditions. It's a shame because I've heard some terrific voices, but I have to base my choice on what I hear, not what I *hope* to hear in the finished version.

      It's amazing to me how many final audio books sound like they were recorded in someone's laundry room -- with the washer still going.

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  4. I'm glad that the audio book thing is working out for you. I love audio books. It's nice to have something to listen to in the car when I go to visit family or make a long trek. I also use them when I have a headache and can't focus on the print books. I can turn the lights out and put my headphones on and just listen. From the ones I've listened to so far, your choice of narrators has just been spot on. As always, good job!

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    1. So far so good. My greatest -- actually, my only complaint -- about the process is the fact that ACX/Audible/Amazon does not allow the author a say in which titles get promo pricing. When the author is the person financing the project, it's only reasonable to allow them a say -- whether the author is right or wrong. None of us turned to indie publishing so that we could once again have someone making all our important decisions for us.

      That said, I will own that the promo pricing did not turn out to be the catastrophe I feared. At least not so far. I'm always waiting for that other house to drop. ;-)

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  5. I've never purchased an audio book. For me, I just can't afford it. I love to read so its a nonissue. On the flip side I can no longer read in the car without getting carsick. So on my 6 hour drive to our vaca this summer I'm thinking of grabbing one of Josh's audiobooks. I have an iPhone I would put it on, what's the best website to get it from? Also, I can't decide which one to go with :) but that's just cause I love all your work! Any suggestions? Not a series.

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    1. You might enjoy Fair Game. I didn't commission that one, but most people seem to like it a lot. The other standalone contemporary titles I have out are The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks with Max Miller narrating or Come Unto These Yellow Sands with Paul Fleschner narrating. They both do a great job.

      The two fantasy titles I have are The Darkling Thrush and Strange Fortune. I think both of these turned out brilliantly, but not all my readers love fantasy (as I have heard in some detail)
      ;-D

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    2. Josh, aside from Petite Morts and Strange Fortune I've read all your work and enjoyed it all too. I know I can buy anything and love it! Fair Game is one of my all time fav stories along with The Ghost Who Wore Yelliw Socks. I think I may go with Come Unto These Yellow Sands because I nook borrowed the ebook so it'd be nice to own it in some form, or Strange Fortune because it would be brand new for me. Am I best to go thru amazon or audible or does it not matter, or another site altogether?

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    3. Technically I earn more through Audible, but really I'm just happy when people buy the books period.

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  6. I will admit (guiltily) that I don't only read your books, so I don't only listen to your books. The audiobooks I find most enjoyable are the ones where the voice actor gives different voices for each character. I agree that it's a performance and what you put into it is what we take away from it. I do listen to books that are just read to me, and to be honest, I don't enjoy them as much.

    I'm glad it's working out for you. Which, of course, means I will be getting more audiobooks in the future... so Win Win!!! (I even promise not to use my audible credits and pay if you keep going... really!!!)

    In any case, I will be waiting impatiently for the short stories (I mean one of my favorite audio book is Jeffrey Deaver's Twisted Tales, short stories read by multiple authors, it was really enjoyable so it should work well for you too) as well as any other items you deign to send our way.

    Keep healthy and thanks!!!

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    1. I forgive you for two-timing me with other authors and narrators. :-D

      I think maybe the fun of the short story collection is hearing the stories narrated makes them seem like little movies or something. Especially with the switching off of voices.

      I really, really do love this whole audio book development. Maybe because it's creative without any of the creative pressure on me. I just have to choose the right people. That makes it fun in so many ways.

      I'm definitely trying to make healthy choices.

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  7. I'm so glad that audio books are working out for you and that we will have more of yours in the future! I'm addicted. I can't drive 5 minutes in my car without putting on a story :D

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    1. Thanks, Sylvia. I think audio is filling a need we never even knew we had!

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  8. I would love to have your short stories on audio! and hurray for the idea of having four narrators for them! I'm sure it will be as awesome as all your other audiobooks :) I'm also very happy that the audiobooks are doing well! I cannot imagine now not having them! though i only really got into audiobooks after listening to TGWYS, and now they've become such an integral part of things.

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    1. Good! That makes me happy. I'm probably the most eager to see how this project turns out of all of them now. It's the most experimental (for me).

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  9. The READER is (almost) everything in an audiobook.

    I've just finished an audiobook that is a delightful romp about two young men who get married and kind of realize just how much they love each other. It's a rather long audiobook - over 10 hours. It's funny and dramatic.

    But, the narration is uneven, which diminishes the book in some ways. He does the voices well, but he reads too fast. So, when I rated it on Audible, I gave the book five stars and the narration four stars. It really deserved, maybe three, but I have a hard time downgrading anything done by others.

    However, I wish I could tell the author and/or producer that if this narrator is used again, to slow him down.

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    1. Yes, I have to agree. A great narrator can make a mediocre book sound important and wise. :-D And a bad narrator can make a good book flat and confusing.

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