Audiobook Etiquette: How Not To Piss Off Your Narrator

In case it wasn’t clear long before now, when it comes to anything other than actually writing the book, I’m a planner, not a pantser. I like to know things ahead of time and be prepared going into something. While I did as much research as I could going into audiobook production, the information available from my platform barely scratched the surface of what I really needed to know. As a result, I might have made some people very upset with me, solely because I did something I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do. And I couldn’t even apologize because, well, you’ll see why in a bit.

So I did the Me-thing. I asked around. I made an anonymous survey (which, admittedly, didn’t get a statistically significant number of responses) and I pieced things together into a larger picture that made me cringe remembering the things I did during my first couple of audiobook productions.

In the interest of hopefully preventing  such awkwardness and frustration happening in your current or future projects, I now share my screw-ups and some other important information you’ll want to know about proper etiquette during audiobook production.

PRODUCER VS. NARRATOR

One of the questions I asked on my survey was, “Do you prefer the title producer or narrator?” and I discovered there actually is a difference. A narrator narrates the content, then sends it off to someone else to process the tracks and complete the production. A producer does all or most of that on their own. Kind of like self-published authors do most of the work themselves. If you contract for your audiobook production through a service like Amazon’s ACX or Findaway Voices (the one I use), odds are the person you choose will be a producer, and they may be referred to as such in your communications. It may be a small difference to us authors, but a point of important distinction to the person creating your audiobook. Just sayin’, be respectful of that.

KNOW THE PRODUCTION PROCESS

Here is how Findaway Voices works:

  1. Author submits notes
  2. Producer records an extended sample
  3. Author approves and production begins
  4. Once the producer uploads completed tracks, the author is notified
  5. Author provides correction notes where needed
  6. Producer makes corrections
  7. Author approves when finalized, pays for services, and moves to distribution.

This is where I screwed up (a lot) with mine. I freaked out because I knew that, once the audiobook came to me for proofing, I would only have a week to get it done. It was a long audiobook, and I didn’t want to fall behind, so I was checking the site daily. It just so happens that my producer uploaded tracks as she finished with them, not all at once, which made me think they were ready for feedback, so I gave feedback right away. This likely drove my producer crazy, because she hadn’t even finished recording the rest of the book and I kept telling her to go back and fix stuff. I had no idea at the time how bad this actually was. You’re supposed to wait until they notify you that your book is ready for proofing, and then go in and comment.

I think that was a vicious cycle of miscommunication. I also wasn’t fully clear on what I could ask to have corrected. Mostly the issues were pronunciation or technical errors, which can and should be corrected. But there was a time or two I may have asked for a redo on a character’s voice, which you’re not supposed to do. *cringe* I know better now, but it’s too late to make a difference to that first audiobook project.

HOW TO COMMUNICATE

This is one of the most important points that some platforms make unnecessarily complicated. Findaway Voices won’t put you directly in touch with your producer/narrator except to provide notes on submitted audio tracks. From my survey, I discovered that authors rarely if ever have any contact at all with their producers/narrators. They might not even know who it is, and might not have a chance to offer notes or feedback. This is especially true for authors whose publishers contract for the audiobook on their behalf. There’s a long game of telephone going on behind the scenes, which I find ridiculous, to be honest. We’re talking about projects with price tags in the thousands of dollars. At the very least you should be able to talk to the person on the other end to get aligned on the vision for the project.

So… if/when you do get to communicate with your producer/narrator, take advantage and communicate everything clearly. If I had been able to reach out to mine, I would have asked them exactly what they needed. I would have been able to communicate my vision for the project and we could have collaborated much easier. I’m not an unreasonable person. I usually work well with people–when I can work with them. But Findaway Voices insists on all communication going through them, which means a lot gets missed, and a lot might get lost in the translation. This, in my opinion, is not a good way to do business. On the other hand, though, I understand that they’re trying to protect the artist creating the audiobook. It can’t be comfortable trying to flex your skills when you have a possessive author tugging on a leash around your neck all the time.

WHAT MATERIALS TO PROVIDE

Things your producer/narrator will want to know:

  • Is this a series? And if so, are there previous audiobooks for reference?
  • Are there specific accents you will need?
  • Are there recordings of proper pronunciation you can provide?
  • Are there recordings of characters from previous books you can provide?

Something that wasn’t clear to me was what I could/should provide. I received a document to give things like pronunciation and character notes. So, of course, I gave character personalities, because I’m a writer. Three books in, I now realize they meant notes on how the character is supposed to sound. Yes, I am that oblivious at times.

Another issue was that my book had a lot of characters that needed notes. That can get really hairy and, naturally,  things got overlooked. Producers are human, after all. This was a sore point for me, though, because one of the things I asked to have redone was something I’d clearly stated in the notes and the producer had overlooked it. I wouldn’t have bothered, except it was a character integral to the series so their voice was important to me. Note for future projects: Keep it short, and focus on the main characters in order of importance.

I also didn’t know I could/should provide recordings until another producer on another project told me I should have provided them beforehand. I’d had no clue, and probably upset her a lot when I asked her to redo something to be more consistent with a previous book. Huge no-no. But, again. I’m new at this, and no one told me. If I knew this was an option, of course I would have sent her everything beforehand. Just as I like to be prepared, I like to make sure I give people everything I can to prepare them for whatever they’re doing for me. 

BE SPECIFIC BUT NOT UNREASONABLE

When you’re providing directions for your audiobook, you want to be as specific as possible. By all means, provide audio files where you can, because they’re easier to process than pages of notes. Things get missed in notes. Audio files can be referenced quicker.

With that said, keep in mind that your producer/narrator is also an artist in their own right. At some point, you need to let go of your book and allow your producer/narrator to utilize their own creativity with it. It’s as much their project as it is yours, and they, too, want to be proud of their accomplishment at the end.

UNDERSTAND THE TIMELINE

Your producer may have projects lined up before yours. You’ll need to know not only when they can deliver your finished audiobook, but also how long it will take for your platform to make it available for sale. You’ll need to know which retailers allow pre-orders, which don’t, and how those pre-orders will be reflected in your sales report. You should not set a release date before you know you can honor it. I like to wait until all the chapters are ready for me to proof, because I know that I will only have a week to go over them, and the corrections will likely take another week, so I can estimate how far in the future I need to set the date.

A special note on Findaway Voices and Amazon: If you want to distribute your audiobook to Amazon from Findaway Voices, they require that there is another format of the book (print or digital) currently available on Amazon so they can link the audiobook to it. If you don’t have this, you won’t be able to distribute the audiobook to Amazon. I don’t really  understand why, but there you go.

SOME SHAMELESS PROMOTION

I say that, but really, it’s for the producers as much as for me. I wanted to include a sampling of audiobooks I’ve commissioned, because each one was done by a different producer. I was very particular about how I wanted my books to be voiced, so each producer was a researched and considered choice on my part. Audiobook production is a pricey proposition. It’s not something you should jump into without planning or forethought. A good narrator can turn your book into magic. An unsuitable one can make the process sheer hell (I’ve heard horror stories). I can personally vouch for every single one of these narrators so, if you’re looking for a talented voice for one of your books, don’t hesitate to look for them and request them.

Also, if after you have heard the samples below you want to check out the full audiobooks, or even read the eBooks, click on the book title to see the full detail book page with links to major online stores. I humbly thank you in advance for your support.

The Royal Wizard (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 1)

Narrated by Rachel Hine, who was a true wizard in the making of this audiobook. Her voice is fresh and bright, but with a warm quality, and her British accent gives the story the feel of an ageless classic. That’s exactly what I wanted for this fantasy novel.

Dragonblood (Dawn of Ragnarok, book 2)

Narrated by Charlotte Sanderson, who was incredibly patient with all the foreign accents and made up language in this book. Her voice is a little higher and younger, more spirited, which fits the heroine of this story so well.

Function:L1VE (Stand-alone)

Narrated by Kristin James. This was the third audiobook I commissioned, and I got hooked on female voices, but science fiction is a different animal than fantasy and, in my mind, sounds American, rather than British. Kristin did a fantastic job on this novella. I couldn’t have asked for better.

Virtual (Stand-alone)

Narrated by Steve Campbell. This is my most recent audiobook, scheduled to release on November 23, 2020. It’s another science fiction, which means American accent, but this time I wanted to hear a male voice. Steve did so well, listening to the audiobook in proofs made me giddy excited to share it with the world.

Continue Reading Audiobook Etiquette: How Not To Piss Off Your Narrator

Hybrid Royalty Share with Findaway Voices

An unplanned BREAKING NEWS type post for anyone looking at audiobook production.

Two days ago, I got a notification from Findaway Voices that they have started a new program for hybrid royalty sharing.

For those who don’t know, Findaway Voices is an audiobook production and distribution platform. Prior to this announcement, their program was strictly pay-in-full. Meaning, once your audiobook was completed, part of the author’s approval process was paying the full amount of production costs before the audiobook could be distributed. It was (and still is) a pricey proposition which not many authors can afford.

But it’s important to look at what you actually get for that price: Full and unlimited ownership of all rights.

That means, once you pay for your audiobook, you can do whatever you want with it. You can use Findaway Voices to distribute your audiobook to their partner stores and libraries, or to do it yourself. You can also do both: distribute through Findaway Voices and sell it yourself on the side. No restrictions. You set the price. You call the shots. You get what you pay for.

Now, they have a program they call Voice Share and you can click the link to read the announcement. The basic gist of it is this:

You get the option of paying in full at the conclusion of your production, or using Voice Share. If you use Voice Share, you pay only 50% of the full production cost and agree to have a share of your royalties go to your narrator. Narrators have to sign up for this program, and authors have to prove some past sales trends to qualify.

Once the agreement is made, the book is distributed to all the same Findaway Voices partners with the only restriction being that the author cannot publish it on his/her own elsewhere. If, somewhere down the line, the author decides they want to stop sharing royalties, there is a buy out option to pay 2 times the original payment (for a total of 1.5 times the full production cost) and they can reclaim their full rights. Narrators get to keep any royalties earned up to that date.

It’s still a pricey proposition, I will say that right off the bat. But it’s an option, and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about it.  Now, let’s compare with a direct competitor, shall we?

 

Findaway Voices Amazon ACX
Distribution Channels iTunes, Audible, Amazon,
Google Play, Scribd, Bibliotheca,
Audiobooks, Chirp, Walmart,
Hibooks, Hoopla, Storytel,
Rakuten (Kobo), Overdrive, Playster,
Nook Audio, Audiobooks NZ, Baker & Taylor,
Beek, Downpour, EBSCO, eStories,
Follett, Hummingbird, InstaRead,
Libro.fm, MLOL, Nextory,
3 Leaf Group, 24 Symbols,
Odilo, PermaBound, Wheelers
Amazon, Audible, iTunes
Author/Publisher Sets Retail Price* YES NO
Standard Royalty Rate 80% 40% (Exclusive)
25% (Non-Exclusive)
Royalty Share Options Voice Share Royalty Share
Royalty Share Plus
Royalty Share Upfront Cost 50% total production cost 0 (Royalty Share)
Negotiable PFH rate (Royalty Share Plus)
Royalty Share Rate to Author 60% 20%
Royalty Share Restrictions Distribution exclusive through FW to all partners Distribution exclusive through ACX to all partners
Contract term Indefinite 7 years, automatically renewed in 1 year increments
Cancellation option Any time At end of contract term
Cancellation fee 2 x original payment (100% production cost) N/A

*Findaway Voices allows authors/publishers to set the retail price for their audiobook and it can be changed at any time. This pricing does not carry over to retail partners who set prices automatically based on audiobook length, such as Audible, and those who pay out of a royalty pool, such as Scribd. When publishing through ACX, authors/publishers have no control over the retail price at any of its retail partners.

Certainly puts things into perspective, no?

With this move, Findaway Voices will appeal to authors/publishers who like a little flexibility in payment options. The terms of their hybrid royalty share program are a great deal friendlier to authors than those of ACX, and with a worldwide distribution network and their partnership with Smashwords, they are in an excellent position to level the playing field a little bit and loosen Amazon’s monopolistic hold on the book industry. Little by little, in 7-year increments. (ACX launched in 2011, some of those early projects have their contracts fulfilled, and Findaway Voices does give you the option of uploading a completed audiobook *hint hint*)

And now I return to my August #AuthorTips.

Continue Reading Hybrid Royalty Share with Findaway Voices

August #AuthorTip: Stay in The Know

Continuing this post series with a tip for keeping in the loop:


Keep informed about the state of the industry.

Just writing and publishing blindly is like throwing marbles against the wall. Knowing what’s happening in the book, eBook, and audiobook markets and their biggest players will help you form your pricing, distribution, and marketing strategy. Any time a publisher or bookstore goes under, it has a huge impact. The Barnes & Noble buyout is definitely something that should be on your radar. Also because they’re such a huge player, anything Amazon does is always a big deal. For example, did you hear about the new Audible Caption feature? If your books are out on audio, you should have. If this actually goes live, it might be a determining factor to whether or not you distribute your audiobook to Amazon. It will definitely be for me.

Remember, regardless of whether you publish alone or through a publishing house, you are now a small business owner. The more you know, the harder it’ll be for others to take advantage of you and the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Continue Reading August #AuthorTip: Stay in The Know

Findaway Voices: Part 2

I am back with more! I’m sure you’re very excited. 😉 If you missed the previous post in this series, Findaway Voices: Part 1 talks about how to start the process of getting an audiobook into production. Here, I’ll go into more detail about how the proofing and approving works.

So, at this point, you’ve crossed all the Ts, dotted all the Is, submitted all the forms and contracts, and now your producer has the book as well as your notes. And off we go!

FIRST 15 MINUTES SAMPLE

Once you submit your notes, the producer records the first 15 minutes of your book for proofing. This is where those notes come in handy. You’ll have a chance to listen to the sample and make comments, corrections, and requests on it before live production begins. Here is where you check that your character voices sound the way you want them to, that the tone and pacing are good, that there are no dead spots, missing words/sentences, etc. Whatever notes you provide here is what will guide production going forward, so be clear, address everything that needs to be changed, and be specific, down to the time stamp.

Also, the comments you make go directly to the producer, so you can discuss issues if necessary. If corrections are needed, the producer will re-record the first 15 minutes so you can proof again, until you are satisfied with the sample and ready to move forward.

No matter what you say in the comments on this recording, you’ll need to give your final approval directly to Findaway Voices, not the producer. Production will not and should not move forward until they get an email from you saying you approved.

PRODUCTION AND PROOFING

Here, I have to confess something: I think I did this step wrong. At least, I’m not sure I didn’t get ahead of myself, but it was less stressful for me this way, so I’m going to say it was fine. The contract stipulates that once your book is fully recorded, you have one week to give your final notes/approval. If they don’t hear from you, they assume you approve and move on to send you the production bill. This was terrifying to me, because I knew my book would be long and, with a full time job, I was worried I wouldn’t make that 1-week deadline.

My producer ended up uploading the chapters in batches. Each chapter is its own separate file, so it’s not all one big massive audio. I wasn’t notified of the uploads, but I was checking my account almost every day so I was able to see them and proof them along the way. I though that was how it worked.

Here, the proofing works the same as with the 15-minute sample. You’ll want to be specific about your notes, and those notes go directly to your producer. They also disappear when a revised recording is uploaded.

Note: Only certain things can be changed at this point. If it’s something that should have been addressed in the first 15-minute sample, your producer is under no obligation to comply with your editing request.

My producer was amazing about making any necessary corrections, and as we got to the end, she asked me if it was okay to “Approve” on her end. Apparently, that’s what triggers the system to let authors know the book is ready for proofing in the first place.

I got the email notification within seconds, telling me I now had 10 days to proof the book. But since I’d already done all that, I just had to go in and submit the final recording. I then received a confirmation that the recordings were accepted and being processed for production.

FINALIZING AND PAYMENT

That second email notification also directed me to the next step, which was filling out and/or updating the metadata. All of this is available to complete before and during production, but I’m always hesitant to slap on a firm release date when I don’t know how long it’ll be before it’s all finalized, so I saved this step for last. There were required fields for author names, narrator names, ISBNs, release dates, pricing… the usual. The pricing is all up to you, so you can set it, or change it at any time, and they do provide some rough guidelines for people (like me) who have no clue how to price an audiobook. It’s generally based on the length, but it gives you some overlap and wiggle room to determine your own price.

On the next page, you approve the distribution channels. Here, you can choose where you want your audiobook to be sold. You can choose all of them, some of them, or none of them (as far as I know). I chose all of them and confirmed my selection, which then sent me to the final step: Payment.

The payment screen is pretty much the same as it would be on any online store. You choose your payment method, enter your information, and submit. Be forewarned, it will be a hefty sum, so make sure you’re using a card or account that won’t overdraw. And check to make sure the payment went through, as well. My bank flagged the transaction and I had to manually approve it before the funds were released. I kind of expected that to happen, though, so I was able to do it right away, and this entire process of finalizing and payment took maybe 15 minutes total.

Just to be doubly sure, I set my release date a couple of weeks in the future so I would have time to make corrections if any were necessary, but  everything seems to be in order now, so I’m just going to sit back and watch it go live. 🙂

So there you have it. This is how you get your book narrated through Findaway Voices. 🙂

3-1-trw-postcardIf you found this post helpful, I hope you’ll take a moment to check out the book this series of posts was about. The Royal Wizard is now available as an eBook and paperback world wide and will be officially released as an audiobook narrated by Rachel Hine on August 30, 2018!

Continue Reading Findaway Voices: Part 2

Findaway Voices: Part 1

Hello again!

I’ve been working hard on all things book-related lately, but wanted to do another step-by-step post for Findaway Voices the way I did for IngramSpark to outline the process for anyone interested to see how it works in action. I chose Findaway Voices for a few reasons:

They’re not Amazon. I know that sounds petty, but it’s something I’ve thought about a great deal. Don’t get me wrong, Amazon has been a pioneer of self-publishing, and they deserve credit and praise for that, but I have big issues with their business model and royalty structures in certain areas. Their ACX program might still work for you, and is a perfectly legitimate option. I just made a personal decision to go with a different company.

They let you control production and distribution. This should be a given, but it’s still nice that you can choose where to distribute, where not to, whether to distribute at all, and still have the option of selling the audiobooks yourself. You also have full pricing control (as opposed to ACX, which sets prices for you, based on length), and you can even upload your own ready-made audiobook, bypassing the production stage to go directly to distribution.

They have a working relationship with Smashwords. Logistically, this makes sense for me, since my eBooks are distributed through Smashwords already. The process of transferring over to Findaway Voices is literally a couple of clicks, and the usual setup fee is waived, which is always nice.

I went with my fantasy book as my first audiobook experiment, because it felt like the most natural choice. The setup process was fairly simple, since all the metadata got transferred over automatically from Smashwords, and all I had to add was the square cover image and ISBN number. Findaway Voices has an option to let them assign the ISBN number for you, but since I have a whole bunch of my own, I just used mine.

Here’s what happened next…

BOOK QUESTIONNAIRE

The first thing you do when starting from scratch is fill out the first questionnaire. This was the most difficult part for me, because it’s not just about providing a synopsis. They ask very specific questions about how you want your audiobook to sound. Do you want a male or female narrator? British or American accent? What is the general tone and feel of the book? What are your characters like? The more detail you provide in this stage, the better they’ll  be able to match you to the right narrator, so it’s important that you actually know what you want your audiobook to sound like. This may be easier for those who already listen to and are familiar with audiobooks. I wasn’t. While I could hear in my head how my characters sounded, I found it difficult to put into words on paper.

AUDITIONS

Once you submit your questionnaire, it takes about a week for Findaway Voices to collect a variety of producer files for you to listen to. I got about 10 producers to choose from, and each one had 3-4 previews from various books in different genres. This is where you listen for what you want to hear. Not every voice will appeal. Not every tone and style will fit your narrative. Take your time and listen to all of them before you start the elimination process. If none of the voices appeal to you, there is a handy button you can click to request more samples. If you find one or more that you like, you can move on to the next step: requesting an audition. I found two in the very first batch of producers that sounded like they’d fit the book I had chosen, and I requested an audition from both of them.

An audition is a 5-10 minute excerpt narrated from your own book, so you can hear how it’ll sound. It takes about another week or so for the producers to record the audition, and there is no obligation during this process to contract with anyone–yet. That’ll come later. The main purpose of all this is to find the right producer for your book. If you don’t, no problem. You can cancel at any time. You’re also not interfacing with the producers directly until the actual production begins, so there’s no hard feelings on either side.

BOOKING

The next step is the actual booking. Each audition is accompanied with a “book for production” button that lets you indicate the producer of your choice. Until you click that button, you still have access to all the samples from the producers you hadn’t chosen, as well as the option to request more. You still haven’t committed to anything yet. Once you click that button, Findaway Voices takes over. They contact the producer, confirm their rates (if you see a lower rate in auditions than what ends up on the contract, the producer will honor the lower rate), and draft the contract. The contract will spell out the terms and tell you the per-finished-hour rate, the estimated completion date, and all the other things you’ll want to read carefully before signing. It basically says the audiobook will be created in the stated time frame, barring an act of God event like illness or injury that prevents the producer from completing the project. It also tells you when you’ll be billed for production, and what rights and options you’ll have at the very end, in terms of ownership and distribution.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Now it gets interesting. While the entire process up to this point was easy and enjoyable, this may be the thing I loved best about it. Once all the contracts are signed and dated, Findaway Voices sends you a more in-depth questionnaire about your book. Here, you go into details about the book to give the producer directions on how it should sound. It covers everything from the tone and pacing, to pronunciation guides, character descriptions, and any other notes not covered. It’s very in-depth and addresses every detail I was worried about from the start. This one document put my mind completely at ease. Again, you’re still not interfacing with the producer directly. All of this is going through Findaway Voices first, and they pass it on to the producer.

The form is also accompanied by additional documents that give you an overview of the process of production and proofing. It tells you how to use the commenting section, what things to listen for, and what things will and will not be fixed once production begins. It’s a great preparation for the next step.

Once this is submitted, the ball gets rolling and the hard work begins. My next post will outline how the proofing/approval process works. 🙂 Stay tuned!

3-1-trw-postcardIf this is your first time on my blog, and you’d like to know more about this book being narrated on audio, check out more information and listen to a small sample of the audiobook on the book’s page at my author website:  The Royal WizardIt’s now available as an eBook and paperback world wide!

 

Continue Reading Findaway Voices: Part 1

Smashwords Partners With Findaway Voices

On March 21st, Smashwords announced it was partnering with Findaway Voices to help their Indie authors with the beginning stages of audiobook production. In the blog post, Mark Coker shared the basics of the partnership and his observations on how audiobooks are a growing market and a new opportunity for a wider audience for Indie authors.

It was all great news. What the blog post didn’t share, however, were some additional details I later found in this Forbes article where Mark Coker contributed an interview.

Here’s the deets:

Continue Reading Smashwords Partners With Findaway Voices