Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

Beyond the Wall Gets the Audiobook Treatment

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn't seriously considered audiobooks, either as a reader or as a writer, but then I was slow to move to Kindle too, at first. A few authors had suggested I have the Beyond the Wall series produced for Audible, Amazon's audiobook producer and distributor, but I wasn't convinced and forgot the idea. How little I knew! 

Once I completed and published A Shroud of Night and Tears, I decided to take a little break from writing and do some reading – some sci-fi classics (I wanted to blow through the Culture, and re-read Dan Simmons's Hyperion and Frank Herbert's Dune) as well as some work I'd never heard of, but which had been recommended to me. I missed hiking terribly, too – so much of this year has been consumed by the work I've been doing on Beyond the Wall, No Way Home and shorts for other anthologies that there has been little time for hills and mountains. So, I struck upon the idea of combining both – reading books I had been wanting to read for a long time, and hiking. That meant audiobooks.

I was pleasantly surprised, in truth. Some audiobooks are less well produced than others, even the classic stuff like Iain M. Banks's Culture series can be a little blandly done at times. Some are more lavish, like Hyperion, which has multiple narrators, and Dune, which not only has multiple narrators, but subtle sound effects in places too. There's nothing really wrong with the audiobook versions of the Culture series, I'm enjoying them, but I was certainly taken by some of the narrators I found in Hyperion in particular – Marc Vietor and Victor Bevine were fantastic.

I had thought my attention would wander, and perhaps once or twice it did, but in general I found the books very easy to follow – at least as easy as reading, sometimes (curiously) even easier in the right rhythm. And I was out hiking too, getting fit again and enjoying Denmark's rugged coastline. This is what I've found to be all important as an author – balancing writing and reading, balancing getting outside and remaining at my desk. Balancing work with pleasure. Or, more particularly, learning to combine where you cannot balance.

Intrigued by audio now, and I'll admit keen to hear someone else's take on reading my books, it wasn't long before I started looking at producing The Heretic and the rest of the Beyond the Wall series as audiobooks. But the audiobook world is complex and demands a little work to understand its nuances. It's different in many ways to self-publishing ebooks and print-on-demand paperbacks. As we have long-since grown accustomed to, Amazon also rules the world through Audible. Although, being exclusive with Audible also, at the moment, means distributing through the iTunes Store too. I'm glad of that.

Royalty rates are different as well. Simpler, in one sense – they're just 40%. A while ago, it was different, better for authors, but there's no point discussing that. It's 40% now, like it or lump it. Less, if you decide not to be exclusive – then it's 25%. Pricing is simpler too – you don't, they do. Period.

ACX is Audible's audiobook marketplace where authors, agents, publishers, and other 'Rights Holders' can post available audiobook rights. At ACX, those audio rights will be matched with narrators, engineers, recording studios, and other producers capable of producing a finished audiobook, as well as with audiobook publishers. In truth, the reality is that the only engineers, recording studios and producers most authors will be paired with are the narrators themselves who do everything, or subcontract the work out. Authors won't have to do much more than get an audiobook cover arranged. Of course, you'll need to find a narrator, contract with them, tell them what you want, approve their work and ensure all along you're still getting what you want. More on that in a little while.

Joining ACX is not easy. You need to be a US or UK citizen, with an address in the relevant country and Tax Identification in the relevant country. Fortunately, I fulfil these criteria. If you do not, there are workarounds. Contact me and I'll explain. Once you are accepted, you claim your books from Amazon, then you put them out there, hoping for auditions. I could go into the ins and outs of this process, but Simon Whistler does it far better in his book, Audiobooks for Indies. The first thing I advise you to do, if you are interested in producing an audiobook and selling it on Audible, is to buy this and read it cover to cover. There is no simpler, clearer, and more comprehensive guide to the process that I am aware of.

The principal issue for me was whether to royalty share (i.e. share royalties with the narrator for a period of seven years, 50/50 split of that 40%) in return for no upfront costs at all, or front up the whole of the money Per Finished Hour (PFH). Good narrators charge around $200+ PFH, but I am sure you can find cheaper ones. Of course, the narrator takes care of everything, including the quality of the recording and so on. You get what you pay for in this world, unless you're lucky enough to stumble on a rare talent as yet undiscovered and looking to make a name for him or herself.

Only that isn't the principal issue anymore. What might happen is that the good narrators, the ones normally charging $200+, often don't want a royalty share without something more. I found it was royalty share + $100 PFH. But these were experienced, approved Audible narrators with great voices and tremendous vocal range and variety. That is to say, the people you want. I found a substantial difference in quality between most of the non-approved narrators and the approved narrators, the latter of whom inevitably seemed to charge more. Non-approved more often than not means fewer audiobooks under their belt. 

Remember, when you put your book up for audition, you've got to make it attractive to narrators, especially if you're going for the royalty share option. You got to sell it to them, make them think it's worth their time and investment. That box where you can add additional material and notes to your request for auditions needs to brimming with reasons for narrators to audition.

Audible offer stipends to books they think will sell well. As with all Amazon algorithms, the true ingredients are kept secret, but clearly whether an audiobook will sell well is a major consideration. Much weight will be placed on sales of the ebook version and reviews, I am sure. Fortunately for me, Audible offered The Heretic a stipend. So I went looking for a narrator.

Through Marc Vietor and Victor Bevine, by virtue of Marc's work on Douglas E. Richards's NY Times bestselling books, I eventually found Adam Verner. Adam narrated Brain Web and Mind's Eye (Marc Vietor narrated other books in the series). Adam has also narrated books for bestselling authors like Bobby Adair, Stephen R. Lawhead and Dee Henderson. His voice is perfect for Beyond the Wall, and his audition for The Heretic was virtually spot on. Almost exactly what I was looking for when I started searching for narrators. There's work for us to do, of course – working on the accents for the main characters, pronunciation of certain setting terms, and the tone of voice characters will take based on what I know about them. But the foundations are solid and his delivery is compelling and exciting. We start work this coming week and we both hope to be able to see the audiobook available in July at some point. Then we will start work on Defiance and A Shroud of Night and Tears.

I'll need to begin by giving Adam the manuscript from which he will work, but also any notes I want him to be aware of. As I said, that will include accents for the characters and any other material Adam, as an actor, will need to 'get in character'. Additionally, he'll need a pronunciation glossary. Simon Whistler suggests sending a recording of the words being pronounced rather than a sheet – this seems like good sense to me. There may be more, but that should get him in a position to do the first fifteen minutes. Once that's produced, I need to check it over, make sure he's on the right track. This is critical, because once that first fifteen minutes is approved, going back is tough and can be expensive (Audible/ACX allow two sets of revisions of the full material as of right – more revisions might cost additional sums and you can't expect to change things that you agreed in that first fifteen minutes). So, once that position is passed, you need to be relying on the narrator to do their job, liaising with them, approving their work as it comes out and ensuring it's what you want. But in truth, no narrator wants to be micro-managed.

Most narrators seem to be happy with reviewing each chapter as it comes, or reviewing the whole thing at the end. Adam and I will discuss this at the outset. I imagine, this being my first audiobook, I'll want to review each chapter at the outset. Then, with Defiance, Adam will know my style better, and I'll know his. No doubt the process will be easier. I'll want to look for errors (missed sentences and mispronunciations), background noise or clipping and microphone pops. Anything odd. ACX allows you two rounds of corrections. They check every recording once you submit it, and anything they find the narrator will need to fix.

To get a little bit more detail, I asked Adam to say a few words, so over to him...

 

First off, thanks to Lucas for choosing me to narrate his book!  I can only imagine how hard it is to turn over any modicum of creative power over your work of art, and I’ll endeavour to do him justice! 

Lucas has done such a great job of breaking down the process of working through ACX that there’s not much I can add. I can add my perspective and I do agree that the royalty-share model as featured through ACX is a very tricky pony.  Most full-time professional narrators such as myself rarely, if ever, work on a royalty-share model – it usually just does not make financial sense.  I’ve only done 3 royalty share books out of the 175+ I’ve narrated.  One of those is the excellent YA horror novel by Clive Barker The Thief of Always (you should buy it! Yummy royalties…)  Paying a regular per-finished-hour rate will open up your book to a whole new level of professional narrators.

The Heretic drew me, however, because of my love of space opera!  I grew up reading the Golden Age pulp greats, Clarke’s books, Asimov, Heinlein, Bester, Simak, etc. It’s funny Lucas should mention the books he did, I recently re-read the Hyperion series and I love all the Culture books.  There’s nothing like a great space yarn with vivid characters!  

The best thing authors can do for their narrators is provide good character descriptions and any pronunciations needed, then let them do their work! It’s a great collaboration like no other.  I’m looking forward to discovering the twists and turns of Lucas’s imagination! See you on the other side…

 

So that's it. This first stage of the process. I'll let you know how it goes. But before I do, here's the audiobook cover and check back next week when Deirdre Gould and Chris Fox will be giving you their perspective on Audiobooks:

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All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015