Publishing platforms interview #6, featuring K. Jared Mayer

K Jared Mayer

Even though I’ve managed to get interviews from several writers at this point, there remains a tremendous number of unknowns as I march forward to releasing my first self-publication, The Dark Queen of Darkness, this fall. In an effort to bring more experiences into this series, I’ve reached out to another fellow Alaskan Writer – K. Jered Mayer (Though he’s recently transitioned out of state), to ask a few questions about his experiences self-publishing.

D: Hi K. Jered, thanks for taking the time to join me. Before I launch into my questions, I wonder if you could tell me about you and your writing?

KJM: Sure! I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. It provided an escape from a childhood I wasn’t particularly happy with, and as I’ve grown older it has provided a welcome break from the daily stresses of adult life, too. I’ve always been filled with a feeling of discontent and I’ve channeled that into traveling when I can and a number of jobs in customer service, something that allows me to get a peek into the lives of other people and sort of see[ing] what makes them work.

KJM: As far as my writing goes, I’ve always just wanted to tell fun stories. Maybe not the best ones, maybe not the most meticulously developed, but stories about characters that feel real in worlds that are often one step removed from reality. I’ve believed in creating compelling characters first, people you can root for or against, and that it helps drive the rest of the book–plot, setting, etc.– forward. I’ve self-published four novels so far (a steampunk-esque trilogy about revenge and ambition, and a standalone love story with a soundtrack), and I’m currently working on my fifth, a sci-fi adventure romp about three childhood friends turned intergalactic couriers, which should be out sometime this summer.

D: As an Alaskan writing non-Alaskana books, not to mention the distance between here and everywhere else, I feel like that puts writers like us at a bit of a disadvantage for marketing to a wider audience. It’s a lot of investment to try and set-up book signings or anything like that because there are few local venues and wider efforts like that mean out of state travel. Do you feel that this has put you at a disadvantage for marketing and selling your books?

KJM: Self-publishing has its advantages and disadvantages, of course. You get greater creative control, you get a higher percentage of your sales in profit, and you can get your product out immediately. But yes, the burden of marketing is entirely on you. You can pay for ad space on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, for example, and hopefully, that reaches a wider audience, but you’re banking on the hope that people will buy enough of your product to offset whatever it is you’re paying for advertisements. You can arrange a book signing, but again, you’ve got the cost of renting the space, the cost for additional advertisements in newspapers or online, the cost for ordering physical copies of your books if you have a printing option available. At that point, you’re hoping that whoever does show up MIGHT buy a book, MIGHT like it, and then MIGHT recommend it to others who will buy it down the line.

The biggest advantage of moving out of Alaska as a self-published author is genuinely that you have a higher chance of meeting people who know people, or that you just genuinely find a wider market of people to pitch to or who might be interested in arts or reading your books based off the concept and not because they know you or of you.

D: I noticed all of your work listed on Amazon is self-published, did you consider submitting to an agent or trying to go traditional?

KJM: I have! And it has sort of come and gone and come again.

D: Why, ultimately didn’t you?

KJM: Initially, I just wanted to get my book out as soon as possible. I was 22 when I wrote Waypoint, my first novel, and I was at a really rough point in my life. I was starting all over in a city where I didn’t really know anybody, and I had lost everything that meant anything to me. So I picked up a handful of chapters I had sort of been messing around with, knocked it out into a huge first novel, and just… put it out there into the wind to kind of see if anyone thought it was worth a damn.

Now, going back and rereading it nearly a decade later, there are several things I would change. The character’s good, the action beats are nice, the plot is pretty decent, but the writing could be tighter, some fat could be trimmed. I had a few advance readers help me edit it, but a professional editor would have done wonders. But, again, I was 22 years old and scraping by, trying to piece my life back together. Trying to find a publisher that accepted unsolicited manuscripts (that is to say, without a representing agent) or to write up a query letter to try and find an agent who would accept me as a client and then shop my book for me… it all seemed to be too much.

So. If I wasn’t going to do it for Waypoint, I wasn’t going to do it for the two sequels. Then Read in Denver rolled around, which is arguably my most marketable novel so far. That book was unplanned and came about after a pretty rough breakup of sorts. Again, marketing was the last thing on my mind when I wrote it. I didn’t even particularly like the book, though it has become my most popular since. In the last year or so, I have returned to trying to send out query letters to agents, but really? I’m just lazy. I don’t send out enough, and so I more or less have just been quietly writing, more or less, and just putting things out for whoever wants to take a chance on them.

D: I noticed at least two of your books available for print are printed through Amazon’s create space. Why did you choose this platform above others (thinking about platforms such as blurb.comlulu.com, or IngramSpark.com)?

KJM: In all honesty, convenience. At the time, they were partnered with Amazon, and since I was putting my books on the Kindle, it was a convenient way to tie the two (digital and paper copies) together. Amazon has since purchased CreateSpace and consolidated the whole process even more.

D: As I’ve been investigating various self-publishing platforms, one of the ones I looked at was ingramSpark, which has a great cost calculator that doesn’t require registration or anything. One of the things that struck me is that if I want to order a stock of books for direct sale, the shipping costs for Alaska run about that of the printing costs. Has this been your experience with CreateSpace, or is this sort of thing even possible with CreateSpace?

KJM: I haven’t looked too much into any alternatives (again: lazy), but I’ve found that ordering in bulk from CreateSpace tended to be pretty financially viable. I would get discounted rates on the books themselves and I would order multiple copies of multiple books at the same time to basically be time and cost efficient both. The books I would sell for around $10 a copy ($20 for Waypoint because of its size), and I’d still make my money back plus 50%.

D: Are your books available on any other platforms, besides Amazon?

KJM: You should also be able to find digital copies for the Nook.

D: Thinking again about being an Alaskan writer, are there local venues where you can market or promote your books?

KJM: Bosco’s Comics and Collectibles is usually pretty open to working with local talent, though they do charge a commission, last I checked. I know that the owner, John, is a pretty avid supporter of the community. You might also check places like Title Wave or whatever the new little book/cafe place is called that opened up last year or so.

D: Are your covers your own work, or did you hire someone?

KJM: Oh, no, I’m a terrible artist. The covers for my first few novels (the Convergence trilogy… in five parts!) were made pretty hastily and very basically with some stock images. Which should be pretty obvious, honestly, once you look at them. The cover for Read in Denver was a piece titled “As We Become One” by Pennsylvanian artist Kaitlyn Page. I actually stumbled across it on Tumblr about halfway through writing the book and thought it was perfect, so I worked out an arrangement with her to use the cover for the book, and just slapped my title and my name on the front. I also commissioned her for an original piece for my upcoming sixth novel, Lunargirl.

For Absolute Zeroes, the book I’m currently working on, I bought some premade cover and again slapped my title and name on it. There are better tools out there for people looking to publish work. I’m pretty ambivalent about my own stuff, so I go for something that works, is quick, is relatively affordable, and then I move on.

D: How do you promote your books?

KJM: Short answer: I don’t. Long answer: I really, really don’t. I’ll put excerpts and the cover on Instagram and Facebook, and when the things are published, I’ll put links on Facebook where you can buy it. I get uncomfortable discussing my own work at length, though, and it feels a little arrogant to just bring it up to strangers, so I mostly keep mum. It’s out there, I’ll point you at it, but that’s really it.

D: That’s the meat of the questions I have right now before we wrap this up if you had any one piece of advice for a writer looking to self-publishing, what would it be?

KJM: Well, I can only really go off of things that have held me up. 1. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t judge the merit of your work by the quality of other books that you enjoy or that you don’t but are popular anyway. Your style is your own, and it will resonate some people, but not with everyone. The sooner you embrace your own writing style, your own stories, your own characters, and what it is you bring to them that makes it work, the sooner you’ll feel more comfortable in completing the work and sharing it with others. 2. Try to write every day. It doesn’t have to be 2,000 words like Stephen King. A lot of self-published or aspiring writers are working full-time jobs or have families or both, and writing can be an emotionally exhaustive process. But writing 250, 500 words a day even will keep your mind working on your story. The minute you start putting it off, the easier it is to set the whole thing aside for days or even months at a time. 3. Keep reading. With books you like, study sentence structure or plot details or pacing, figure out what it is that makes it appealing and accessible to you, and find ways to take those.l processes and integrate them in a way that works for you. In books you don’t like, study the same things, figure out what it is that turns you off, and stay away from those things. Most importantly, enjoy yourself. 4. Remember why you’re writing. The process is work, and it can be daunting and tiring and stressful, but you have a story in your head that you think is worth telling to others. That’s exciting! You are creating lives and a world and a lot of little moments that make up a big whole, and that is thrilling. Keep that in mind whenever you feel discouraged.

D: Final question – and you can say no, your Amazon profile says you live in Anchorage with your characters and some whiskey, AND your blog is called wordwhiskey. I wonder, would you be interested in doing a guest whiskey-review blog post on my other site bakedgoodsandbourbon.com?

KJM: Of course! It might be a while, but I promise I’ll get around it. And thanks for reminding me I need to update my author profile: I’ve been living in Denver for nearly a year now.

Thank you K. Jered Mayer for taking the time. K. Jered Mayer is the author of the Convergence trilogy (beginning with Waypoint), Read in Denver, and the forthcoming Absolute Zeroes, which are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also check out his writing at https://wordwhiskey.wordpress.com/

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Publishing platforms interview #5, featuring Jennifer Foehner Wells

This is the second post on audiobooks with an additional perspective. As I continue to press on with self-publishing later this year I alternate between thinking ‘this is totally doable’ and ‘there is no way this is going to happen.’ For audiobooks, I’m oscillating between the two about as fast the words form in my brain. This time, I’ve been joined by Jennifer Foehner Wells!!!

D: Thank you so much for helping me out with this. Before I launch into my questions, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

JFW: I’m a science fiction novelist that specializes in space opera. While I’d written throughout my life for fun on various topics, I first started out as a hobby writer, writing fan fiction. When my ex-husband read my magnum opus (novel-length) fan fiction he asked me, “Why aren’t you writing for profit—this is great!” 

That was like a balm for my soul because I’d dreamed of being a writer since I was in elementary school. His enthusiasm gave me the confidence to do the research I needed to learn better techniques. I knew I could write scenes but the nuances of how to plot a novel had been like smoke between my fingers until then. 

After an extensive learning period, I plotted and wrote my first fully original novel. At the time I was a stay-at-home mother at a crossroads. My youngest had just begun preschool. In the coming years, I knew I’d be rejoining the workforce. I expected that I’d continue hobby writing on the side as I returned to my original career in biology, but to my utter shock and surprise my first indie novel went viral in 2014 and I was launched into a full-fledged career as an author with a substantial following right off the bat. This almost never happens. I got lucky in hitting the market at the right time with [what] book readers were hungry for.

D: Before I get going, I know I pitched this as asking about audiobooks, but you’re the first person I’ve been able to talk with who started indie and is now represented by an agent, I hope you forgive me for asking a couple questions about that first. How did you go from being indie to being represented?

JFW: As I mentioned in my answer above, my first novel was a runaway freight train. I expected to write in obscurity, building my craft (which was a realistic expectation), but I ended up reaching the top 100 overall on Amazon’  s charts (not just my category) for months, selling thousands and thousands of books. A friend watching my success suggested I connect with a specific agent who was known to sometimes take on indie authors if they sold enough books. I sent him an email outlining what my numbers looked like and asking if he was interested in representing me. He was.

D: What is the biggest advantage of having an agent?

JFW: The biggest advantage for me has been having someone to handle translation negotiations overseas for me. Currently, some of my books have been translated into German, Russian, and Japanese. It’s kind of amazing to have those translations prominently displayed on a bookshelf in my home and I’m very proud of that. In addition, he handles the queries I get from movie producers and television producers. There have been quite a few of these over the years, though I haven’t yet sold an option. Still, it’s nice to have someone who knows the industry better handling those talks for me. All of my books are indie published in English, and in translation, they are traditionally published. Technically, I’m a hybrid author.

D: On twitter you said that independently producing an audiobook for an indie author with a small audience just wouldn’t be worth it. This makes a lot of sense to me. What volume of books does the production of an audio-book start making sense?

JFW: My response to this question is a bit difficult to parse. Most of my audiobooks are sold on Audible (though I’m also on iTunes and Amazon) and the Audible payment procedure is based on how a consumer purchases the book. There are two basic tiers—the bounty, when someone new to Audible selects your book as their first download, is substantial. You can earn up to $75 per bounty plus your normal take (I believe). But those would be fairly rare. 

Then there is the purchase based on retail price. I believe this is the same whether the customer is an Audible subscriber or not. In my case, since I pay my narrators up-front for production, my take is 40% of the retail price for those purchases. That’s the “exclusive” contract with ACX/Audible—your audiobooks will be up on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. You can also choose the “non-exclusive” royalty contract which also allows you to upload the files yourself to other audio sites and get a 25% royalty share with ACX. Since those other sites are still very small, I choose exclusivity for now. That’s a 7-year contract. After the 7 years are up, you can reconsider your options.

There is an additional option. Some indie authors do a royalty split with their narrators—20/20% of the profit. Instead of paying fully for production up front, the narrator is taking a gamble on the book doing well over the long term and providing income over time for them. That reduces up-front costs obviously, as well as long-term income, but will also limit the narrators willing to work with you. The most experienced and sought-after narrators do not work like this. They expect payment on completion of the work. I produced my first book this way, but the subsequent four have been produced the traditional way and I pay them $400 per finished hour (PFH), which is on the high end because I hire top-notch narrators, some of whom also work for traditional publishers. My novels are typically 9 to 12 hours long, so that’s a hefty investment.

Authors are going to have to do some math and some gambling when they decide to turn their book into an audiobook. First of all, how well is the ebook selling? Adding an audiobook that is professionally produced will lend a veneer of professionalism to that product page that (along with a visible paperback option—and most importantly, the best cover art and editing you can afford) readers definitely respond to. How long is your book? Most narrators read a book at roughly 10,000 word PFH. Sometimes, with a lot of research, you can find a narrator that hasn’t cracked through to popularity that is extremely skilled and willing to work for less as they climb the ladder. That might be the best option if you don’t have a lot of money to invest. 

As you can see, there are a lot of factors involved. My recommendation is to start with ebook and print and see how that goes. If it seems promising, add an audiobook to the first book in a series. Do your research when choosing a narrator. Wait and see if readers are clamoring for book 2. I’m not even bringing advertising into this. That’s a whole ‘nother rodeo.

I’ve also been lucky enough to have my first book added to the Audible Romance Package which is a subscription service. While my book is definitely NOT a romance, it does have a romantic subplot. I consider myself lucky that they invited me to be included because it raised my book’s visibility on their site. Payment is significantly less per listen but has influenced sell-through in a positive manner. As you can see, there’s no hard and fast rule here. You’re going to have to make an educated guess and go with your gut depending on your own circumstances.

D: What does the process of hiring a narrator look like?

JFW: I’ve done this two ways. For my first book, I used the tools ACX (Audible’s funnel company) provided to listen to narrator samples and chose a narrator I thought was best for my book. 

You can do this two different ways. You can post your book and wait to see who auditions within a time frame you set. Or you can sift through [the] narrator’s samples yourself at various PFH levels, looking for the right one. Neither option is easy. It’s time-consuming. And you have to be able to apply what you’ve heard to your own style and make a good match. In my case, I enlisted friends and family to listen to my options with me and help me come to a decision.

Then I made an offer using the ACX system. There may be a negotiation for PFH. Assuming they accept, you then give them deadlines based on ACX suggested timelines. They produce some sample chapters which you are allowed to critique and ask for changes on. Then they produce the full book. You are allowed a listen through and an opportunity to ask for changes. Then the narrator or the narrator’s producer uploads the files to ACX for the ACX final quality control checks before the final files go live on the site. You will be responsible for obtaining and uploading a cover image file to ACX specifications and a blurb/description of the book. That’s a pretty easy process, though I’ve had some peers have trouble with narrators flaking and bailing. That is not fun. It hasn’t happened to me, though. And to my knowledge, there’s no place to vet potential narrators to find out their reputation in the industry.

Throughout this process, you may work closely with the narrator, especially if they require pronunciation guidelines. In my books, for example, with many alien species and languages, there are plenty of nonstandard words. Up front, a good narrator will ask you questions about their delivery—tone, accents, characterization, and other aspects of narration style.

I’ve also hired a narrator directly, by approaching a narrator I enjoyed in my own audiobook listening experience. I then queried them directly and we worked together within the ACX framework to produce a book in a similar manner. In that case, I generally receive the files directly from them, pay them directly, and upload the files to ACX myself, which is a tad more difficult, but doable.

D: If you’re doing the narration yourself, are you also finding the studio, booking time, and producing it yourself?

JFW: Yes. In my case, I happened to be going to a Science Fiction convention in the same city where my narrator lives. During that trip, I booked a session with her producer to produce an audiobook of one of my lengthier short stories (technically a novelette.) So I paid for the time in her studio, which was located in the basement of her home. This is generally done in chunks of time of 2-4 hours because the human vocal instrument can’t handle much more than that. 

I also paid for her to edit and produce the audio once the production was done. She sent me the final file and I uploaded it to ACX in the standard manner. I should note that this was a novelty and something I just wanted to try. I wouldn’t recommend it. Only long-form novels sell well on Audible due to their pricing structure. Unless you have a popular, lengthy short-story collection to sell, it wouldn’t be worth the investment. That said, my most enthusiastic fans have told me they’ve enjoyed hearing my voice. A more casual listener of my books wouldn’t bother with that piece in audio format since it’s free as an ebook.

D: (follow-up) Thinking about the production process in a broad sense, what does that look like?

JFW: That can vary quite a bit. Some narrators work out of a sound-proofed closet, room, or a tented area in their own home. Others go to a professional studio space that is tailor-made for this purpose. The most important part is having a soundproof studio to record in and having professional quality recording equipment. In my case, I read my manuscript from my laptop, but some narrators read from a Kindle or tablet or even from a paperback so they can make marks and notes in their own style. I had water ready to drink for breaks in narration. If I made a mistake or a noise or flubbed a word or wasn’t happy with my performance, we’d just go back a bit in the manuscript and the producer edited all of that out. She also managed the sound levels so they were consistent throughout if I got quieter or louder in my delivery. I have a background in theatre/radio/speech and it was a very tiring process. I was exhausted and parched afterward. It’s daunting even if you wrote the words and know them well. 

D: You said that you went into a professional studio to record a short story yourself. While I’ve been told I’ve got a pretty good speaking voice, I’m really terrible at reading aloud, I tend to get ahead of myself and stumble. It seems like a lot of prep could help that. How did you prep for your reading?

JFW: I practiced! I also had to do quite a bit of thinking about the characters’ voices and the narration between character voices. Many narrators make marks on a physical paper copy and then have to have the page turns edited out of the final track. Keep in mind this was a fairly short story with limited characters. A good producer can make the final product completely seamless, so you don’t have to get worked up about flubs.

D: Again, thinking about reading your work yourself, what’s the ratio of studio time to produced audio time?

JFW: At minimum, the studio recording time is double the PFH. Then there’s production time on top of that, which can easily be hired out. I imagine that’s a fairly lengthy process. Most narrators I work with subcontract with a producer and pay them out of my payment to them. Keep that in mind when you’re looking for a narrator. If they’re working alone in a closet at home, you may not be getting the professional quality audio you may be waiting for your customers. That can vary and some narrators are very skilled at their own production. Just keep that in mind. Ask questions. Don’t trust blindly.

D: When reading yourself, I’d imagine you’re in a sound booth with a sound-technician in another room, is that generally accurate? What does that process look like?

JFW: In my case, the producer was in the room with me and silently following along in her own copy of the manuscript as she watched sound levels. A sound booth can look very different in different locations. In this case, it was a small room in the producer’s basement with special sound baffles on the walls to mask outside sounds, though we did have to stop briefly when the garbage trucks rumbled through that morning. 

She would sometimes stop me and redirect me if I didn’t notice that I’d read a sentence incorrectly or ask me about [the] pronunciation of a word. We’d then stop recording and look up the word to see if my pronunciation was on the spectrum of correct. I have no idea if this is typical. This is just how we did it. My producer not only works on audiobooks, but also does commercial work, so I assume that’s how these things are done.

D: I see that your audiobooks are available on both Audible AND iTunes. The last author I interviewed suggested that it was difficult to work with both. Was that your experience?

JFW: Not at all. If you’re working through ACX, you just tick a box saying you want your book to be available on iTunes. It wasn’t difficult at all. But I have no experience with other audiobook uploading sites. Their rules and processes may be different. From what I’ve heard from other authors, ACX is still probably the best bet for most authors. Amazon/Audible holds the lion’s share of the marketplace. The iTunes contribution is negligible by comparison.

D: Your audiobooks are available on audible – how would you describe the process of getting listed on audible and how does the author compensation stack-up on that platform? Given the price we listeners pay for that service, I’d imagine you’d need to rely on volume there.

JFW: I won’t be deceptive—the ACX website is a bit unwieldy at times. It could use some tweaking. But it’s not terribly difficult to use. I’d just go slow and work with that system. Once the files are uploaded they handle pretty much everything. As I said above, it’s my personal opinion that ACX is still the best bet, though there are many indies shopping around and trying other options. But that may lead to difficulties like you mentioned, with getting a book up on iTunes. I don’t have any experience with that so I can only say what I’ve done and what other authors I know are telling me. Across genres, it seems as though ACX is still the best option even if other distributors give a better share of the profits. That’s going to be a marginal advantage if you don’t sell a large volume of audio books.

D: I could legitimately ask you questions all day, but to wrap it up, if there were just one thing, you’d like an author to take away from this brief set of questions on audiobooks, what would that be?

JFW: If you’re going to do an audiobook, it’s going to have to be an educated leap of faith. Like all things creative, there are no guarantees. Hope for the best, but don’t set your expectations too high. Realize that you’re serving what is now a small percentage (but growing!) of readers. Invest in audio to further your brand, show professionalism, commitment, and that you’re a serious producer, not necessarily for huge monetary gain. My audio sales (and my paperbacks) are just a small ratio of my overall sales. I’m happy to have that income, but it takes a while, even with my volume of sales, to break even. And until then ebooks are subsidizing the audio. It’s definitely a business decision. And I don’t regret it. Someone with a smaller footprint might need to hold off until their readership grows. Being analytical about, and treating it as a business decision, it is key.

Thank you again, Jennifer Foehner Wells, for taking the time to help me out. Jennifer Foehner Wells is the author of several titles, including the Confluence Series, which you can find in ebook, paperback, and audiobook including Amazon [links], iTunes [links] – [Others? Is there another set of work you’d prefer mentioned or added to the list?] You can follow Jennifer Foehner Wells on Twitter @jenthulhu, and find her website at jenthulhu.com

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Publishing platforms interview #4, featuring A.M. Leibowitz

AM Leibowitz

For this installment, I thought I’d take a slightly different direction. A few weeks ago, when I was asked to talk about writing to a middle school class one of the questions that came up was, are you going to do an audiobook? The honest truth is that yeah, I’d love to do one, but I seriously doubt I can afford it. I am so sure, I haven’t even looked into it. As part of trying to understand the various avenues for self-publishing, I thought I’d try to learn a bit more about this format. It is, after all, my favorite way to consume books. I can listen while I commute.

With that in mind, I reached out on Twitter to see if I could find any other indies out there who’ve done it and what their experience has been. Fortunately, a mutual connection got me in touch with A.M. Leibowitz, who has agreed to answer a few questions.

D: Before I launch into my questions, I wonder if you could tell us a bit about who you are, what you write, and maybe what you’re working on now?

A.M.: Sure. I wear many hats–social media manager, freelance editor, spouse, parent, and author. My life is kind of a patchwork of odd jobs in writing. I mostly write contemporary slice-of-life fiction for adults, but I’ve also written some YA. Most of my work has LGBTQ+ characters and themes. Currently, I’m wrapping up a manuscript for the last part of a series set in Boston. But after I send that off, I’ll be working on the sequel to my YA novella–the one I have in audiobook format.

D: Before I wrote up these questions, and I know I asked you here for audiobooks, especially, but I did some digging to learn more about you, and I found you’ve got quite a few titles out there, some through Supposed Crimes (Acquitted books) and Beaten Track Publishing with some independent (I think –you can correct me if I’m wrong there). Could you talk a little about how you decide to publish through imprint vs. independently?

A.M.: I wrote a novel, Lower Education, primarily taking shots at my state’s educational system. It was done for NaNoWriMo, and I had no intention of publishing it, pretty much like every other NaNoWriMo novel I’d done before then. But I was doing some beta/pre-reading for a friend, and she said, “I’ll pitch it to my publisher.” I absolutely love writing for Supposed Crimes because I think it’s the best of both worlds, indie and trad pub. I get covers, editing, and promotion, but I also maintain a lot of control of my work. I have to provide a cover for Beaten Track, but everything else comes with the territory there, too.

The indie thing…well, I had some old works. My spouse suggested putting them out there, low-cost, to get some nibbles before my first novel went live. It worked. Now I enjoy having a mix of methods. My shorter stuff, despite the lack of reviews, sells well and pays for itself, pretty much. And new short works do nicely to feed interest in the longer ones. Win-win.

D: So on to the audiobook questions. What title did you do this for?

A.M.: Year of the Guilty Soul, my YA coming of age novella. https://www.amazon.com/Year-of-the-Guilty-Soul/dp/B07K2J41ZB/

D: Was this a totally independent publication or did you work with a press, like Supposed Crimes?

A.M.: It’s published through Beaten Track, originally part of the Seasons of Love anthology. But I have all rights to the audio, which I produced on my own.

D: Where is it available, and why did you choose that platform?

A.M.: Amazon, via Audible. I chose it because it was the easiest for a newbie like myself. They walk you through the entire process. And if you put it exclusively through Audible, you get higher royalties.

D: There are a ton of companies where you can have a book printed with all levels of quality, is the same true for audio books – or is it more complex than that?

A.M.: There are fewer options for audiobooks, but most of the big companies have a sales platform for them. The issue is more whether you want to or are able to produce it on your own or whether you need more guidance.

D: As an author wanting to produce an audiobook, where might I start?

A.M.: ACX, which is Amazon’s audiobook production room. You can find a narrator there or provide the audio files from an independent narrator. They have step by step instructions.

One thing I would say is, start with a shorter work. I haven’t had any success finding a narrator for a whole novel. But I had five auditions for my novella within 3 days of putting it up. Also, I think it’s easier to find a female narrator than a male one and easier to get YA narrated than adult fiction.

D: Leading up to this interview, you said it went super well and loved the narrator.  That sounds pretty awesome. Did you get to work with the narrator on inflection, tone, and pacing to get the flavor of the work?

A.M.: Yes. We worked together every step of the way. I had to have some trust in her to get the voices right–it is, after all, partly her creative process. But I gave her some direction, such as name pronunciations and what I was looking for. She absolutely nailed my narrator’s tone and attitude. The story is set in my home city, and she even researched our local accent! I knew within three sentences of her audition that I wanted her because she just got it–understood what I was saying with the story and what it meant to me.

D: What responsibilities do you have, as an indie author, in getting a book produced and made available for purchase?

A.M.: It depends on where you produce it. Through ACX, it’s vital to have the book’s text match exactly with the narration so it syncs. That’s a lot of work. For a whole novel, it’s best to have an independent listener who can catch mistakes–a lot like how authors are best off not editing our own work. It takes hours, usually more than the actual audiobook duration. Both my narrator and I did the proofing since the work was short.

Besides that, you have to create the audition file, listen to the potential narrators, upload files, etc. ACX does the heavy lifting, fortunately, once it’s all finalized.

D: I think one of the biggest hurdles for indie authors in producing an audiobook is cost. What might an author expect to pay for an audiobook?

A.M.: So, mine was free. I chose royalty share with my narrator, so she and I will both continue to get royalties for as long as the title is listed. That’s another reason I chose exclusively Audible and the higher royalties.

It does make it harder to find a narrator for longer works. If I were looking for a narrator and paying for them up front, I’d probably already have one for a novel.

If you want to pay an independent narrator, it depends. Most will list their fees. I’m actually slowly saving up because I want a specific narrator for my series. It’ll cost me roughly $2k for all 4 books. I feel it’s worth it, both for this narrator’s gorgeous voice and because these are my best-selling novels. And for anyone reading this, please consider giving Vance your books! He’s not only incredibly talented, he’s super nice, and his rates are reasonable. http://www.vancebastian.com

D: What was the hardest part of making an audiobook?

A.M.: The proofing! It’s tedious.

D: The honest truth is that I know so little about audiobooks, aside from listening to them, that I’m not 100% sure what to even ask that might be helpful. What advice would you give to someone like me, who has yet to even start serious research?

A.M.: Start with the help section of ACX. That will at least help you know if it’s right for you. Do something small first. It’ll take up less of your time, and you’ll be able to see what the process is like and if it’s doable for a longer project.

If you want your own narrator, or want to pay up front rather than royalty share, then ask on social media who others like. Different narrators are good for different genres. I mentioned Vance Bastian above. I love him, but he has a warm, gentle tone that might be less good for an action-packed war novel. A person who would take that action-packed war novel to the next level is probably not a good pick for a romance set in a rural New England village. Ideally, you’ll ask people in your genre who they like.

D: That’s all of the questions I could think of. Do you have anything else to add?

A.M.: First, I want to give a big shout-out to my narrator, Finley Smith. She is absolutely a treasure. I believe she works independently as well as with ACX. Her voice is excellent for YA. Even though my next novella in the series has a male MC, I’m going to see if she wants to do it anyway so we can keep consistency.

And I think that’s the other thing. I’ve noticed that my other friends who have produced audiobooks tend to do this. They find a narrator, and they develop a working relationship. I think that’s probably the key to success, the human factor. Oh, and having fun with it. Making an audiobook was really a dream come true–my story is now accessible to many more people.

Thank you, A.M. Leibowitz, for taking the time to help me out! A.M. Leibowitz is the author of Year of the Guilty Soul and two series, Notes from Boston and Faithfully Yours, which are available on a variety of platforms, including Barnes & NobleAmazon, and you can check out their website at http://amleibowitz.com/