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 & Noble, Amazon, and you can check out their website at http://amleibowitz.com/