Lauren, fans of audiobooks are excited to discover that your best-selling mysteries are finally coming out in audio. What took you so long?
Thirteen years ago, my first book, A Small Case of Murder, came out. That wasn’t so long ago. Believe me! Thirteen years is not that long ago—not when you compare it to when the dinosaurs were lazily grazing in Yellowstone National Park.
Anyway, back to what we want to talk about …
At that time, one of my friends instantly asked when my book would be available in audio. My eyes glazed over and I stammered out, “Eventually.”
This friend only listened to her books in audio. She had a long commute to work and that was when she would listen to her books. She would go through a couple books a week.
Not long after that, I discovered that another friend only did audiobooks. She loved to read, but couldn’t due to extremely bad eyesight. While she wasn’t legally blind, her eyesight was so poor that the only way she could enjoy a book was if it was available in audio.
Yet, back then, audiobooks were available on cassette or compact discs. I considered myself lucky when a traditional audiobook publisher picked up my first three books to be produced in audio (compact disc and digital download)—until I started receiving my royalty checks. I was lucky if I made over two hundred dollars a year! I would take a few copies of the compact discs to book events—only to have them gather dust. Eventually, I tossed them into the back of my closet, where they still rest and decided that that market was not really worth the effort.
What changed your mind?
Occasionally, readers would request that I make my books available in audio and I did notice that the requests were coming with increasing frequency.
Then, Amazon suggested I make my books available through their company ACX. They also pointed out that Audible, a very successful audiobook dealer fell under their umbrella. Audible is lie the leading seller of audiobooks.
By going through ACX, I would essentially be self-publishing my own books—thus, keeping all of my rights. Over the years, I had seen on my royalty statements how many thousands of dollars my audio publisher was making annually on the sales of my books. So, this was quite appealing to me.
How did you select your audio producers?
When I opened my books for auditions to find a narrator, I immediately found Dan Lawson—first audition, first day! His audition was exactly what I was looking for to set the tone for the Mac Faraday mysteries. He was an Audible Approved Narrator, which means Audible endorsed his work! Within a matter of days, we had struck a deal for royalty share for two books: The Murders at Astaire Castle and Blast from the Past.
I found out later that his agent (I had no idea he had an agent!) had thrown a fit upon learning about our deal for royalty share.
What’s royalty share?
With ACX, authors have a choice of options for having their books produced:
Share your royalties with the narrator/audio producer. This costs the author nothing, because the audio producer invests the time and expense into producing the book. In exchange, the author agrees to split their royalties for the book’s sales fifty-fifty with the producer. If the book ends up being a flop, then the producer loses out on their investment in the project. However, if the book ends up making thousands of dollars a month in audiobook sales, then the author could end up wondering about what could have been.
Hire an audio producer to produce your book. This option means the author hires the narrator/producer on contract (and pay!) to produce the book. With this option, the author gets to keep all of the royalties for their audio sales. So, if your book makes a million bucks in royalties, it’s all yours! The downside of this option is that you have to pay out a lot of money up front—money that it could take a while to earn back. We are talking thousands of dollars. A friend of mine found a narrator she liked, who refused to work for shared royalties. He would only work on contract with the cost starting at $5000.
Narrate and Produce the Book Yourself. This is not as easy as it sounds. The author has to make sure there is no background noise and the final product does have to pass ACX’s quality control regulations. As the author, I have proofed some of my audio books, thinking they were perfect—only to have ACX pick up a flaw that I had not noticed. Once I read an interview with John Grisham in which he said one of his biggest regrets was narrating one of his books for audio. He though the end product was awful. As with anything—I prefer to leave it up to the pros. (Since I hate my voice, that was not an option!)
I opted to share the royalties and let the producers take the financial risk.
Why would Dan Lawson’s agent be upset about him accepting the royalty-share agreement?
Many high-quality narrators refuse to work for royalty share. The reason: most narrators and audio producers don’t make back the money invested in producing audiobooks through royalties. After a few months, sales will level out and the narrator will only make a few dollars a month.
Having worked as a book publisher, I can see exactly what Dan’s agent was talking about. Many authors have difficulty in promoting their own books. Authors who don’t invest time or money in promoting their books in print and e-book, are not likely to invest it for the audiobook version.
I guess that means that any writers reading this who aren’t selling books in print or ebook, should not be expecting to hit it big in audio?
Exactly. As with book sales in print and ebook, the author needs to work their tail off to promote their book in order to enjoy good sales—in any format.
How do you see the market in audiobooks now?
I believe that the audiobook market is where the e-book market was about seven years ago. When my books first came out in e-book, it was a big deal for me to sell any. Now, the lion’s book of my books sales are in e-book, but I see a gradual increase in sales in audiobooks. Currently, I make more in monthly royalties for my audiobook sales than I do for my print books. Note, that is after splitting my royalties with the producers!
Here’s the way I look at it: If it weren’t for my readers, I would not be living my dream of being a mystery writer. My readers want my mysteries to be in all formats: e-book, print, and audiobooks. Even if fans of one format are a smaller number than another—they are still my fans and deserve the reading experience they enjoy the most!
Do you have any upcoming projects that your fans should be looking for?
Twofer Murder will be a treat for mystery lovers because it will be two mysteries in one novel. This book will contain all of the characters from the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose mysteries. The guys go fishing and get embroiled in a murder mystery. Meanwhile, the ladies go off to a murder mystery writers conference and end up wrapped up in their own mystery when an up and coming mystery writer ends up dead! Can’t beat that! Two mysteries for the price of one!