Audiobooks

A few years ago I was approached by the same company who produced the audiobook of The Martian. They expressed interest in producing an audio version of The Cleansing. Sadly, I could not take the matter any further because I was at the time contracted to a small press publisher. But I’ve remained curious as to whether there would be any interest in my work from audiobook listeners—there’s only one way to find out, right?

It wasn’t until this summer, after I’d parted company with the publisher and all rights to my works had reverted back to me, that I was able to turn my attention to audio.

There seems a bewildering number of audiobook producers out there. Long story short, after browsing various sites and discussion forums, I eventually decided to go through Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). And there is quite a range of options within ACX. I toyed with the idea of narrating the book myself to limit cost, but discounted it almost immediately. I don’t have professional recording equipment and I’m hopeless at doing accents. No, it would sound like an amateur production and I wanted the opposite.

I decided to offer the book for audition on a royalty-share basis. This involves making available an extract of the book of 2 or 3 pages (around 5 minutes of recording time). The royalty share would mean I wouldn’t have to pay the narrator up front, but we would share equally a percentage of each sale. Again, my prime motivation was to cut down on up-front costs. What seemed a woefully pitiful percentage share of sales would be the trade-off.

I was aware that it was highly unlikely I would attract any experienced narrators—why would they risk their time and effort for no guaranteed return on a novel written by a virtual unknown? Not only did I not attract any experienced narrators, I didn’t attract any at all. The book extract remained available for audition for a 30-day period, but I didn’t receive a single audition.

Time for a little soul searching. It boiled down to how much did I want to have an audiobook version of The Cleansing. Turned out the answer was I wanted it a great deal. Enough to bite the bullet and offer the extract for audition in return for a fee. This way, the narrator wouldn’t have to bear any risk of the book not selling and I would benefit in the long run if the book continued to sell after I’d recouped my initial outlay. I opted for exclusivity, meaning the audiobook would only be made available in three outlets—Audible, Amazon and iTunes—but I would receive a higher percentage of each sale.

I mentioned ‘recouping my initial outlay’. Here’s the thing: I don’t know how many sales it will take to do that and start to make a profit.

Firstly, I have no say whatsoever in how much the three retailers charge for the audiobook. Being accustomed to the freedom independent publishing allows me over the prices of my books, to have no say in the price asked for the audio version is a little strange to say the least. (I suppose it has to do with protecting the market for audiobooks and ensuring the price doesn’t spiral downwards like it has with e-books.)

Secondly, I understand audiobooks may be purchased in one of three different ways: directly in the normal sense; directly by members of a subscription service at a discounted price; indirectly by members of the subscripton service by using one of their monthly credits. In each case, the amount the author receives will vary.

So, bizarrely, it’s impossible to say how many sales I need to break even. I’m guessing it’s going to take at least a few hundred, but I’m stumbling about in the dark. The Cleansing is the first in a trilogy and I’d like to have the sequels also produced as audiobooks. Before I can think of making The Beacon available for audition, I have to at least recoup my outlay on the first book. It’s mildly frustrating that I have no way of estimating how long that might take.

Anyway, I offered The Cleansing for audition on a pay-for-production basis. You can set the price range of what you’re prepared to pay and I opted for one of the lower ranges. Not the lowest, because I wanted to attract narrators with some experience, but not high enough that I would bankrupt myself in the process.

Within a few hours, I had received three auditions. Within a week, I had received eight. I had been concerned that I might have priced myself out of attracting any good narrators, but I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the auditions I received. I narrowed it down to three—two men, one woman—and from there picked my favourite. That wasn’t easy; all three were excellent.

Before I made the chosen narrator an offer, I checked him out online. Not to be nosy, but to make sure he was someone I was happy to do business with. Here’s one of life’s little coincidences. He is an actor and musician, and had appeared in a stage musical I had been to see in Cardiff for my birthday last year. I’m not normally one for musicals, but I love sixties music and had thoroughly enjoyed Cilla – The Musical.

I made him an offer, which he accepted. I could now finalise the audiobook cover by including his name and upload that to ACX. The narrator recorded the first 15-minute segment for my approval, which I didn’t hesitate to give. He then recorded the whole book. It was my job to listen to the completed recording and feedback any mistakes.

It felt weird and wonderful listening to one of my novels being narrated. It made it sound like it had been written by someone else and I found myself getting caught up in the tale. I made a note of the errors—there were remarkably few, perhaps a dozen out a 90,000-word novel—and sent them to the narrator. He fixed the errors promptly, I paid him and we were done. A relatively painless operation—the narrator was excellent, easy to work with and earned every penny of his fee.

It was then down to ACX to make the book available on the three retail channels. That happened this week. I received notification on Wednesday, 14th November that it had gone on sale on Audible and would be available on Amazon and iTunes within the next few days.

The whole process was much quicker than I’d anticipated. I made the book available for audition the second time (on the pay-up-front basis) on 2nd August. I had chosen my favourite narrator and entered into an agreement with him by 10th August. From there, it has taken marginally over three months to complete the recording and make the book available for sale.

Now all I need to do is learn how to market it. If you’ve read any of my posts on marketing, you’ll understand what a challenge that presents.

A word of warning for any writers reading this who are considering taking the plunge into audiobooks themselves. I read an online discussion in which authors who know more about the audiobook market than me (which isn’t difficult) stated that the wider audiobook market is set to explode with lots of potentially lucrative markets becoming available through various new players about to enter the audiobook game, and cautioned against entering into an exclusive deal with anyone.

I can’t recall details, but if you’re about to embark on a new audiobook project, read up on it. If you decide, like me, to go exclusive with someone like ACX, make sure it’s an informed decision that you won’t quickly come to regret.

To finish on a high note, I noticed yesterday that the audiobook was available on Amazon and that it already had a ranking in both the US and UK. That normally only happens when a book has achieved some sales, yet my ACX dashboard wasn’t showing any. Until I looked again, a little later, and discovered to my delight that the audio version of The Cleansing has already been purchased several times. I still get a buzz from the thought of a complete stranger reading, or in this case listening, to something I’ve written.

(For a peek at the book, and to listen to the opening scene, follow one of the links to the audiobook on the Earth Haven page from the ‘Books’ dropdown menu above.)

Marketing for Muppets – Part 4

Subtitle: the ongoing chronicle of one muppet’s struggle with promoting. Yes, it’s still a struggle. Yes, I’m still a muppet when it comes to marketing.

In earlier instalments, I said I was going to try giving away one of my books as a means of building my mailing list. Well, this is what happened.

On 7th November 2017, I submitted my short dark fantasy novel The Elevator to Instafreebie. I had intended to make joining my mailing list mandatory in return for downloading the book, but Instafreebie cautioned against doing so and I listened. Readers could download the book and had the option, not requirement, of subscribing to my list. I mentioned the availability of the freebie on social media and sat back to see what happened.

You can probably guess. By 17th November, 16 people had taken advantage of the free book, but only two of them elected to join my mailing list (and one of them was already on it).

Hmm. My mailing list numbers, already pitifully low (as in, fewer than 20 subscribers—bless each and every one), had swollen by a grand total of one. I know that I hadn’t given it long, but clearly I already needed to rethink.

I changed the terms of the giveaway on Instafreebie to make it mandatory for readers to subscribe to my mailing list. This meant upgrading my account to the paid version. $20 a month was $20 more than I wanted to spend on building my mailing list, but I figured that it would be worth it, provided the tactic worked—I was still hung up on the idea that an independent author needs a large mailing list to stand any chance of being successful. Then I looked out for cross-promotions I could join.

When readers join my mailing list, I promise that I won’t share their e-mail addresses with anybody else; by the same token, I’m not interested in receiving e-mail addresses of people who haven’t specifically opted to subscribe to my list. So any promotion that involved authors exchanging lists was out.

I applied to join a promotion that ran in December. It consisted of a landing page containing details of all contributing authors’ books and links to where readers could obtain a free copy. I offered The Elevator and included the Instafreebie link. It worked quite well—I gained over 200 new subscribers.

Then I hit a slight snag. One of the conditions of taking part in the promotion was to send an e-mail to my list with details of the promotion. Fair enough, but I didn’t send the e-mail until quite a few days into the promotion, by which time my list had grown appreciably. So I sent an e-mail to readers who, in the main, had joined my list through a giveaway, to tell them about that giveaway. No wonder some readers promptly unsubscribed. Yeah, I’m a muppet with a capital M.

In January, I was ready to publish Jack’s Tale, the sequel to The Elevator. Seemed like a good time to test the value of having a mailing list. I uploaded the book for preorder and discounted the preorder price to $0.99. Then I sent an e-mail to my list with a link to the preorder. My list by then had 272 subscribers, of which 13 promptly unsubscribed. By the time Jack’s Tale was published a week later, it had a total of 17 preorders.

A month later, I was ready to publish the final book in The Elevator trilogy, The Lord of the Dance. I again discounted the preorder to $0.99 and e-mailed my list. The number of subscribers had by that point crept back up to 274. A week or so later, when the book was published, it had a grand total of 7 preorders.

Hmmm (once more with feeling). Quite honestly, I would have been disappointed with those numbers without a mailing list.

I persevered and joined a few more cross-promotions. As of now (early November 2018), my list has 589 subscribers. That’s a massive improvement on a year ago, but I’m nevertheless a little despondent. I can’t help but wonder whether giving away all those books and paying those monthly fees were worth it. The last promotion I joined was in September and I’ve resolved, for now, not to take part in another.

Around 750 copies of The Elevator were downloaded through these cross-promotions, but I have grown heartily fed up of giving the book away. Although the promotions have been useful in swelling the numbers on my list, which was the main reason for taking part, they seem to have done nothing at all for the book or sequels, which was the secondary reason. No reviews, little sell-through, no messages on Facebook or elsewhere from excited readers.

Of course, as I fully recognise, this could be because the first book isn’t grabbing readers sufficiently that they want to read the sequels. It’s certainly an unusual tale, not exactly mainstream, not a lot like anything else that’s out there. While some might view that as a book’s strength, perhaps it’s more likely to be its downfall.

It could also mean that since they acquired it for nothing, the book is sitting lost amidst hundreds of other books these readers acquired through other giveaways. Many of them might never get around to reading it. Gifting books as a promotional tactic, it seems to me, has reached saturation point.

This leads me to a proposition, an extremely subjective one, it has to be acknowledged:

Proposition 4: In my experience, the value of giving away books has diminished to the point where its worth as a marketing tool is, at best, doubtful.

I haven’t mailed my list about a new release since February. Mainly because I parted company with my publisher in March and spent the next few months revising and producing and releasing my own versions of my e-books and paperbacks, writing new stuff was forced to take a back seat. I’m also in the process of producing my first audiobook and starting up a proofreading business. It might be another few months before I’m ready to release something new.

It’s unlikely that much interest will be generated by my e-mail notifying subscribers of the new release. If anything, the unsubscribe rate will probably rocket since many subscribers will have forgotten they signed up and will have no idea who this strange person is e-mailing them. The experts say that it’s a good thing to have people unsubscribe if they were only there in the first place in expectation of receiving further free books. They say a list should be nurtured, meaning informative e-mails should be sent regularly so that you remain, if not at the forefront of your subscribers’ thoughts, at least visible to them. This comes back to the sort of person you are. If, like me, you can’t stand the thought of sending people e-mails unless it’s to tell them about a promotion or new release, not a lot of nurturing is likely to occur.

I’m well aware the vast majority of subscribers to my list are there because I offered them a free book. Most will have little or no knowledge of my work; most will be, at best, indifferent to my work because they’ve never read anything I’ve written. I’ve given them the expectation of receiving free books from me. Why the heck should I now expect them to part with a dollar to preorder my new release?

Okay, that question was largely rhetorical, but I’ll answer it anyway. I don’t expect them to buy my work. If most of them remain on my list on receiving my next e-mail, I’ll be grateful. Of course, that won’t stop me from hoping they’ll head on over to Amazon and put in their preorder, but I shan’t hold my breath. And that’s not a criticism of the subscribers who joined up through the promotions. I’m glad to have them on my list—it would remain pitifully small without them. It’s merely a recognition of the reality of the situation. And confirms my constant assertion.

When it comes to marketing, I’m a complete muppet.

That’s enough about mailing lists. Next time, I’ll talk about some other area of marketing I’m hopeless at. Or, who knows, there might be mention of something that actually seems to be working. Till Part 5…