This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss their experience with all things audio-related. From self-narrating to sourcing narrators, detailing the steps of publishing to deciding whether to publish, they cover it all.
Crys: Welcome to The Author Life Podcast. The name change is official.
J: It is. By the time you’re hearing this, the new website should be up, the slight name change will be on. I don’t know how interesting it is, if we want to talk a little bit about it, but yeah, we are now The Author Life Podcast with The Author Life Community.
And so you’ll see the name changes, the images changing soon, it may not all happen at once. J’s website will probably, like the authorlife.com will be all updated for sure by the time this goes out, I think. But everything else may take a minute.
Crys: I think I do want to talk about that as a topic, but I’m gonna make it our next week’s topic. I’m gonna make myself a note right now on kind of the reasonings behind it. We’ll chat after this and see if we have enough for a whole episode. I think we do.
J: I think we do. It’s the result of a branding exercise, so I do think it will be worth discussing.
Crys: And then we’ll have time to prepare a little bit brain wise because today’s not the best day for me.
It’s just been a life chaos week. One of the adventures of living abroad is having to renew passports and residency and all that. And Smalls US passport expired while we were in the States on our epic adventure. So right before we left, we were in a hurry chaos to get his Costa Rican passport so that he could fly back in case we didn’t have time while we were in the States to get his US passport, which we didn’t. But now we had to do it here, and it’s just all the little bitty bits of paperwork and getting both of his parents in the same place at once. It was just exhausting,
J: But good to check it off, right?
Crys: Yeah, it’s done. But like business and workwise, I’ve still managed to get like an astounding amount of random things done. Like last night, I woke up in the middle of the night — and we’re gonna be talking about audio in this episode — but I had recently seen something about authors starting to put their older audio books on YouTube and monetizing it once they have enough subscribers. And I was like, you know what, I’m gonna try that. So at two o’clock in the morning, I am figuring out how to stitch my audio book together and upload it to YouTube. Because what are we, if not workaholics.
J: This is related, a bit of a tangent, and I don’t know what the scientific name for this is, but we never used to sleep in one contiguous block of time. Like up until a few hundred years ago, literally right before the advent of electricity, the typical human sleeping pattern would be you go to sleep for like three or four hours and you would wake up in the middle of the night and people would do things, like they would talk to each other and other things that people do in bed.
Crys: See, I have heard this as well, and I love this theory, but other scientists contest that it’s not culturally widespread, that it only developed in certain cultures.
J: I know. So I’m fascinated by it because then they would go back to sleep and finish the night, but there would be this period time in the middle of the night where they would just do stuff.
Crys: First sleep and the second sleep. Yes.
J: Yes. And I never ever experienced that up until about four or five years ago, and now I’m to the point where I wake up almost every night at between two and three, almost every single night. And it’ll happen if I’m thinking about something I want to do, but it also just happened for no apparent reason.
Hearing you say that, and what I typically do when it happens to me is I just start reading on my Kindle because the reading helps me to go back to sleep, it doesn’t disturb my wife, it’s not technically like a blue light screen. But I don’t know what to do with that, and like long term, I don’t know if that’s something my body’s going to keep doing. I don’t know.
Crys: I have a sneaking suspicion, while we’re just on this tangent, that it might have developed in the areas away from the equator where the circadian rhythms changed so much, and so like we had those longer dark times. And then kind of went away or got screwed up with all of our blue light stuff, which we know is an issue that we face, but that’s just a theory.
But how was your writing and work week, sir?
J: Good. It’s gonna tie into our conversation today. I recorded an audio book. It’s gonna be the next Three-Story Method book called Writing Scenes. And yeah, I sat down and recorded that this week. So that felt like a big accomplishment because it’s a lot like when you start to write a book, it feels overwhelming, like you’re starting on page one and you have to write this entire book. And recording an audio book is the same way. Like you’re starting with chapter one, and you look at the 300 pages ahead of you, and it just feels impossible. So, that’s what I was doing this week.
Crys: Yeah. So let’s just jump right into the question since we’re already on the audio track. What has your experience with audio been, in general?
J: My experience is a bit odd. So people can take this for what it’s worth. I say it’s odd because I don’t listen to audiobooks. And that’s even stranger because I love podcasts, but I don’t like audiobooks.
And I think my rationale for that is that when I’m listening to a podcast, it’s more of an organic conversation, and I can be doing other things, I can be moving around the house. I can sort of be tuning in, but I don’t have to be like hyper focused. But when I’m listening to an audio book, especially non-fiction, I feel like I have to be paying attention.
And the other side of that is, I really enjoy the process of reading with my eyes because I have to be focused, it has to be quiet, I’m usually alone. All things that I love. And so I’m not an audiobook listener. And I think that puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to being a publisher because I just have to go with what the prevailing wisdom is, and here’s a perfect example.
Generally speaking, unless you have some type of voice training or actor experience, most of the recommendations suggest you hire someone to narrate your fiction. Nonfiction is kind of the opposite. In nonfiction, the prevailing wisdom is if you can narrate it, readers prefer that. Like I said, take it for what it’s worth, but that’s been my experience. It has been almost entirely a producer and almost zero as a consumer.
Crys: But I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative because so often we’ve talked about this in so many ways. What our readers, what our purchasers want, is not necessarily what we want. And knowing straight off the bat that the entire population of people who are going to buy audio books are not like you, lets you lean on just what is the wisdom right now?
J: That is true. And it’s interesting too, in that it changes. Some of this I can’t talk about yet, but the point I was gonna make was like when I recorded the first Three-Story Method book in 2020, what I discovered was like, it needs to be sort of like a measured pace, not like conversational, and so that’s how I recorded it. And it sounds fine. There’s nothing wrong with it.
And just two years later now, I get the feeling from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve had some professionals tell me, that it needs to feel more conversational. It shouldn’t be as slow. There should be more inflection, sort of more emotion in it. And I wonder if that has something to do with like the AI component, and as a human narrator, that’s gonna stand out versus AI. Or if it has to do with the fact that people are bumping their listening speeds up on all the devices, and so if it’s already slow, that’s gonna be problematic.
I don’t know, but it’s just really interesting to me how in just two years, I’ve felt sort of a slight change in what the recommendations are for producing a nonfiction audio book.
Crys: Yeah. That’s fascinating. I don’t know how many audios I have out. It’s between 20 and 30, I would say. All fiction. I know that it’s all of the one world my co-writer and I have together, which is 20 plus books. And then I have six of my solo books done. And then the box sets or the bundles of each of these. So it’s somewhere over 20 titles.
And I’ve worked with, I want to say at least five different narrators, probably more. And the reason we changed narrators was for a lot of reasons. Some just no longer had time for us in their schedule. Some weren’t a good fit for the content. Some rarely, but sometimes they just weren’t of a professional level enough. We had one narrator who had to excuse himself because of mental health. We’ve let a narrator finish out a series and then chosen not to go with them anymore because of professional issues. I think that’s only happened like once or twice.
One narrator passed away on me, which was really sad. He was my first narrator and he was a really lovely fella. And we knew his health was bad, but his passing away was more unexpected than not. So that was a thing.
So I have hired a bunch of narrators, and I actually was having a conversation with a fella who’s a voice actor, but he’s looking at getting into audiobook narration. And I should have pulled the list of comments up that I gave him. But there’s so many different best practices that they’re not necessarily things I need, but things I like the way a narrator interacts. So I’ve had narrators who upload everything to audible, and we just do all of the work on Audible. So they upload the audio files, we do the work there.
I’ve had narrators have a Dropbox, and we do all of the work there, where we’re checking and we’re doing the proofing there, and they don’t upload it until it’s final. The thing that I have loved most, and I’ve only had I think one or two narrators do this, is when we do voice checks beforehand. And I’ll go say, okay, here are the characters who are going to be the main characters throughout the series. These are the ones that will appear in book one. These are the ones that you need to have the voice down in book one, so let’s take some time on that because you don’t want to be stuck with a voice that you can’t carry for an entire book down the road.
And that I think, especially with like indie audio publishing, doesn’t happen often enough. That’s a step that tends to be cut, especially when a narrator is new. Once they get down the line and they’ve had a little bit more experience, they realize how much time that saves them.
So with Findaway being an option now, a lot of people will go straight to Findaway, and they’ll do all their work on Findaway, and have it distributed to ACX through Findaway. That’s not my preferred method.
For one, my co-writer and I, our books go exclusive to audible for the first year. After that you can request to get out. We haven’t yet, it’s on the list of things to do. Because you get 40% of the list price versus 25% of the list price at that time, like when you’re exclusive. And most of our sales come in that first year. So it’s made sense to us financially to be exclusive with audible for the first year.
With my personal stuff however, I started that wide from the get go. I wanted to experiment with it. I just had that flexibility in my thinking of what I wanted. But what I did, is I upload directly to ACX, I work with all my narrators directly on ACX. I think their contract for nonexclusive is pretty standard and good, and I don’t have to F with it. And then I go and I upload everything to Findaway. It saves me something like 5%. And on some books that matters a lot, like that’s a few hundred dollars a year.
J: As opposed to doing what, what would be the other option?
Crys: As opposed to only doing Findaway and letting Findaway distribute to ACX. So I take the time to move it over to Findaway.
I think one question that comes up a lot is: how do you find narrators? What I have done is mostly word of mouth within the community. But the other thing I do, right now I follow some narrators on TikTok. I haven’t reached out to any of them because I don’t have work for any of them yet. But I listen to books in my genre, like the little samples, I really don’t listen much further than that, and listen to narrators and see, okay, what does their voice sound like when they’re reading?
And I particularly look at indie books cause I’m looking for somebody who is working with indie books. They’re not working through Tantor or Black House or any of the trad groups because they tend to be more or less exclusive to those houses. And then I search for their site and I message them. And we kind of agree on everything ahead of time, before we even hit ACX.
I don’t like doing auditions on ACX. I don’t feel as if I’ve gotten to know who the narrators are. It feels very stressful for me. I’ve done it once or twice when we were first starting. I much prefer to review, pick out the narrators I’d really like to work with, and then search them out, see if they have availability, see what their pricing is, see if it fits in my budget and calendar and all that.
J: So this would be a good question for you. I’m pretty sure this is true. It’s been true in my experience. Good audiobook sales does not necessarily translate to good eBook or paperback sales and vice versa. Those are two different people, right?
Crys: Yes. But I have seen correlation, for myself. And I think that might be more of a romance thing. Because I have seen some like sci-fi and fantasy authors actually break out on audio before. Not many, like that’s rare because most people aren’t just gonna dump a bunch of money into audio until they’ve proven themselves over an eBook or print. But I’ve seen some folks break out in audio before they really broke out and their eBooks followed. And I think for the most part, it is just name recognition at some point, like with anything else.
There’s a conversation I had with Don, who is a member in our community and he runs or owns a marketing company. And one of the things he said, you know, we’re used to the adage, you need like seven touch points before someone will move forward and buy your thing or check it out. He says it’s more like 20 these days. And so I didn’t invest in audio until I had the proof that my books would sell in eBook. And I do think that I recommend that for the majority of authors, simply because it’s a really big expense if you’re wrong about the quality of your books.
J: That was my question, right? Like I’m listening, and let’s say I have two or maybe three books published. I’m working on the fourth, I’m not a full-time writer, so I do this when I get around to it. At what point do I start thinking about an audio book?
Crys: One, you can save up money, just like you would a normal book for all of your edits and your covers and everything. You could save up for it. And you’re like, you know what, the sales aren’t there, but the reviews are. The quality is there, even if it’s never hit the zeitgeist for whatever reason. So I’m gonna save up because I think that this is a worthwhile investment over the 10 or 20 years that it might take for this to pay out.
Hopefully it doesn’t take 20 years. That’d be really sad, but you know, we’re gonna look at like worst case scenarios. And just trust like, hey, my book earned out its costs in X amount of time, I think the audio book will take longer. But I believe in it, so I’m gonna save up to release that book.
The challenge there though is when you’re writing a series because most people, just like eBook, really want to read series and they don’t have to wait forever between books. So you might be saving up quite a bit, and that may be just a chance you have to take.
One of the benefits to not limiting yourself to ACX with that and going through Findaway, is that you are spreading yourself out. You are going to be in places where readers don’t expect a book every three months, every year. And the books will just live there forever. That’s the thing about intellectual property and passive income, as long as we have it for sale, the potential to make money is there. If we put attention on it, if we put out a new book in that series, or we point a new book back to that series, it can bring the sales up.
Another thing I did in our community this week is I shared a screenshot of just my back list, and I haven’t published since August and we just published this week, and I shared a screenshot of just my back list. And you could see the bump when that new book came out on the back list, and you could see that more books were being bought outside of the new book. And that’s gonna work the same way with audio.
J: Brilliant. Congrats on that, by the way. That was a nice screenshot.
Crys: I was very happy with that. You see the little steadiness and then ba-doom.
And because I mentioned the YouTube thing earlier, I just want to give a description of what that is. And I don’t know if it’ll pay out. Lindsay Broker tried it a year ago, and it did well for at least the couple of months that she had monetization enabled, but then they removed her capabilities. And you have to have at least 1000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of viewed video to qualify for monetization.
Because my books are romance, I don’t know if they’ll ever qualify for monetization. So what I’ve done is I put up one book. I put a couple of audio snippets in there. It’s like, “Hey listeners, thanks so much for listening to this book. If you enjoy it, please subscribe. When I get to a thousand subscribers, then I will go ahead and put up the second book.”
And I don’t promise beyond that. But I give them incentive to hit that subscribe button so that I can attempt at monetization. And then we can just see where it goes from there. It took maybe two hours of my time, probably three because I’m a terrible underestimater. And it’s a new experiment and I love new experiments. So we’ll just let it sit there and see what happens.
J: Great. You’ll have to give us updates on it.
Crys: My question for our listeners is: what are your fears about audio publishing? And I’d love to answer those either in the comments on the site or in the community.
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