The Ultimate Author Dossier - Part 1: Working with a Narrator Through ACX
Hey HEY, dear reader friend (and an extra HEY to any authors out there)!
Not too long ago, I was asked to present a webinar to an indy authors group that talked about audiobook production from a narrator's standpoint. While I wrote it at the time with authors in mind, I realized quickly that it's a good resource for anyone working through ACX, be it an "RH" (Rights Holder) or a "Producer" (Narrator).
In that spirit - I'm sharing the presentation in three parts:
Part 1: Working With a Narrator through ACX (You are here, read on Padawan.)
Part 2: If You Wanna do it Yourself- Do it Right (Self-producing your self-published book into an audiobook narrated by.... yourself.)
Part 3: #Audiblegate, Additional Options, and Important Info (What's that hashtag and other options to produce your audiobook.)
First Thing is First - What is ACX?
According to... well, them- ACX.com says
" ACX is a marketplace where authors, literary agents, publishers, and other Rights Holders can connect with narrators, engineers, recording studios, and other Producers capable of producing a finished audiobook."
It's a subsidiary of Amazon and a build-out from their publishing kingdom from e-books and Audible. They offer exclusive and non-exclusive rights agreements that we will get into in another post and have space for narrators to post profiles, authors to create auditions, and contracts to oversee the entire audiobook production process.
Why you want to work with a Narrator
A professional narrator, or Producer in ACX speak, is the preferred way to get your book audio-fied. They’re trained for things like character accents, nuance, story arcs, and best practices in audiobook publishing. Narrating takes stamina and long hours as well as audio engineering and equipment knowledge. It’s fantastic, and not for everyone.
The audition script is usually a 3-5 minute section or combined sections of the book that allow you, the author, to get a feel for the producer's style. It should include the protagonist, some description, and dialogue.
If you get any auditions that don't read from the script you provided or simply send their random demo (commercial or otherwise), I wouldn't work with them. They are not aware of narration protocols and are probably very undertrained.
PRO TIP: If there are any unusual words or fantasy names that are included in the sample, put their pronunciations at the top of the audition and save your ears from hearing "Renesme" and "Hermione" get butchered 100 times. (B T Dubs I had no idea about either pronunciation till the movies, and I was grumpy about it!) Ask for any accents in the comments or at the top as well. Clarity is key.
Check the narrator's other samples (On ACX they will likely have a profile with other audio samples of their work.) You can also check their previous retail samples from Audible if they’ve narrated before, or their website. For Romance/Erotica titles, some narrators might produce under a pseudonym. In this case, messaging them asking if they have any additional samples or a website can help.
Depending on your book and price point, you could get upwards of 100 auditions. It is not necessary to message people declining their audition - ACX will do that for you automatically once your chosen narrator accepts your contract. However, If there are key auditions that you like, sending a note saying you will keep them in mind for future projects is an easy way to network and they will likely audition for you again.
For a narrator, they will either master their own tracks (i.e. get them up to ACX’s required specs for audio) or they will outsource the proofing and editing to a third party. That will be something they do separately from your contract and they will be the point person for. Those outsourced services and their fees are built into the total cost of the audiobook production and are why the narrator's fee can be $200-$400 per hour of finished audio.
Audiobooks pay for by the finished hour only. Not for the hours of behind-the-scenes work to complete it. For every finished hour of audio, 4-6 hours of prep, recording, re-recording, proofing, and mastering go in.
Start as early as you can. Some Narrators book out several months in advance so it's best to ask when they are available to begin recording as part of the negotiation. The longer the book, the longer it will take to produce. Also factored in will be the time available to the narrator to record, if they are not full time, for example, they might need some additional days to complete recording.
PRO TIP: ACX also takes anywhere from 14-30 days post-approval to get the book to retail, so make sure to add that into your timeline if you are scheduling a marketing blitz.
ACX offers PFH (Per Finished Hour) contracts beginning at 0-$50 all the way up to $1000. The union rate for a SAG/AFTRA talent is $250. There’s a lot of debate about the amount of money talent and experience can expect to negotiate, so I’ll just say the closer to union standard or higher you pay, the higher quality talent you will get, both in narration and post production as lower tier negotiations don't usually allow for things like outsourcing to proofers audio engineering pros.
Royalty Share contracts are also an option, but as a narrator, we look at amazon sales rankings, social media outreach, and previous work to determine whether we will reap back the cost benefits of not getting paid up-front. There are some lucrative RS contracts out there, but if you are a new author or you do not have a strong following and marketing strategy this option might cause potential talent to turn away.
Royalty Share PLUS is a relatively new option as of this writing. It's a hybrid deal where you pay a discounted rate per finished hour that is offset by offering the above-mentioned Royalty Share. The SAG/AFTRA union has quoted $100 PFH as the discounted rate available to its members.
When Sending the Manuscript:
When the manuscript is uploaded to ACX, I'm notified and can download and begin prepping. I usually also send out a message giving the author a contact email outside of ACX, in case the ACX site acts up (which it does, on occasion) so we always have a means of communication available.
I also request any accents or pronunciation notes, any physical descriptions that aren't in the book but are in the authors head, any needed context (Character A and B are related but we won’t know that until book 3 that isn’t out yet.. etc) so I can build the characters with the author's intent.
If the material has a foreign or fantasy language, I will make a list as I prep and ask for a voice recording of the words cited. If the fantasy language is based on any real language, that’s great to know also.
PRO TIP: ACX’s messaging system cuts off after too many words and does not allow for specific formatting (bulleted lists, for ex.) so that’s a great time to use the supplied email.
The 15 Minute Check:
Unless otherwise specified, the producer will submit the first 15 minutes of audio from the audiobook to you for approval prior to submitting the rest. I highly suggest you take this time to really clarify pace, tone, and any character voices that need to be reviewed and approved. You can request specific parts of the audiobook, an overview of specific character voices, or a particularly tricky part of the narrative.
Once this 15-minute section is approved, you will not have the opportunity to hear the audio again until it has been completed and uploaded. It is not industry standard to upload chapters one at a time for review or to get to "listen in" on recording sessions so now's the time to make sure you like what you hear.
You can request up to two revisions of this 15 minutes and most narrators will also be happy to get on an email chain to discuss character references or backstory.
PRO-TIP: I have a character sheet that I send my authors that allows for things like their age, who the ideal Hollywood casting would be, and three words to describe their personality.
Submitting Book for Approval
After I’ve recorded the book, I usually expect edits back from the author. I’ll do a check with my own proofer, but I highly recommend listening to the audio fully prior to approving it. Things to listen for are weird pronunciations, wrong words, missed sentences- etc. Now is not the time for requests of a change in tone, pacing, and character voicing. Those things should have been discussed and approved during the first 15-minute submission. Edits should back within two weeks from our submission date as we usually move on to a new project shortly after and things could get stale, not to mention
After the RH approves the book, it goes into ACX for quality control. They are not checking content, simply audio specs, and are only looking for the things below.
(This is straight off of their website)
Your submitted audiobook must:
include a retail sample that is between one and five minutes long
Each uploaded audio file must:
be a 192 kbps or higher MP3, constant bit rate (CBR) at 44.1 kHz
contain only one chapter/section that is shorter than 120 minutes
have room tone at the head and at the tail
be free of extraneous sounds
have-3dB peak values
have a maximum -60dB noise floor
If there is a problem with the QC, ACX will let you and the producer know and it’s on them to fix it. If you’re working with someone who has even a few books under their belt, they should be able to resolve quickly.
You've Got a Book! Now - Marketing
As a PFH book, most narrators will do a shout-out, but an active marketing campaign won’t really be their priority. It will be up to you to secure reviews and/or publicity for the book.
PRO-TIP: There are FB groups that can help with this.
Audio Bookfly (for romance only)
For RS contracts, it’s a little more motivating for the narrator to help promote but not every narrator is good at it.
If you have an exclusive contract with distribution through ACX, The RH and the Narrator will receive "free codes" from the ACX dashboard. You can use these for giveaways, reviews, and general promotions of the book.
PRO-TIP: There are a few sites that can help with this.
Audiobookboom.com (for reviews)
Audiobookcodes.com (for general distribution)
Audiobooksunleashed.com (for both!)
So, there you have it, folks! A lot of info in reference form that hopefully is a little help as we navigate this thing called life.
Look out for parts two and three, as well as other ramblings that I deem not too embarrassing to post.
Till then, sweet reader, stay awesome.