For the uninitiated, ACX (short for Audiobook Creation eXchange) is a site where authors (called Rights Holders) can put up their books as candidates as audiobooks. Narrators (called Producers) can audition for the book and the Rights Holder can choose from the available candidates and work gets underway on the audiobook. When it’s done, it’s available for sale on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. It’s a pretty sweet setup. When it works.
Occasionally, there are books that get few or no auditions and authors are left scratching their heads as to why. I’ve compiled a list of my own observations, plus others that I have heard from my fellow ACX narrators.
Your Book Sucks
Sorry to be blunt right off the bat, but there it is. This is probably the number one reason books are passed over for narration auditions. It’s nothing personal, not everyone can write. It’s talent plus training plus hard work. If you really feel that the story, at its core, is good, here are some things to try.
Edit Your Book
Give your book a thorough re-reading and fix anything that is amiss. Clean up dialogue, plot threads, and setting descriptions. You may not think punctuation is important, but it is every part as important to the sentence syntax as nouns and verbs. Especially for audiobook narrators. Quotes tell us when to start and stop character voices. Commas and periods are pauses and clause breaks. Italics tell us where emphasis is needed. And don’t just look for red and green underlines in Word or Google Docs. Actually read the material to make sure you’ve got it right. To, two, and too are all correctly spelled, but they are not the same word and are not interchangeable.
Seriously, Edit the Book
I’m not joking. You know what J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and everyone else on the New York Times Bestseller List have in common? A good, professional editor. Even if you have a Masters in English, you should have someone else read your work to edit it. They will catch the stuff you can’t or won’t see. They’ll also catch plot holes and other missing elements.
Read It Aloud
Want a quick way to find out how good or bad your dialogue is? Read it aloud to yourself. Do it. Because you’re asking a narrator to do just that. For possibly several hours. Stilted, mechanical dialogue is no fun to read and even less so to listen to.
Have Someone Else Read It
This goes along with having a professional editor read it. Have someone whose opinion you trust about books read it. Someone who will give you the unvarnished truth about what they think. A spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend is a good start, but they may want to save your feelings more than they want to give you their honest opinion of your work.
Your ACX Entry is Bad
This can happen if you’re a first timer or you’re just not paying attention. There are some tricks to give your book a better chance of getting an audition.
A Better Summary of the Book
Include a full description of the story. Do not worry about giving away spoilers. We’re not reading your book for entertainment, it’s for work. Include anything out of the ordinary about your book. Accents, specific character voices, and the like are good to know about. Is there any questionable material in the book? We’re not prudes, but some people have issues with certain things and it’s good to know them up front. Graphic violence, rape, sex scenes (straight or gay) are good to know so it doesn’t hit us out of the blue.
A Better Audition Piece
While it’s nice that you’ve uploaded the entirety of your book onto ACX, that doesn’t tell us what you want for the audition. This tells us you’re lazy and/or don’t know what you’re doing. Both red flags.
Find a good part of your book (from anywhere in it) that we can give you five minutes of good narration and character. And five minutes is all you should expect. Any less isn’t going to give you a good idea and any more is just eating up our time.
Additionally, ACX says auditions should be no longer than five minutes. Trust me, if we don’t “wow” you in the first minute or two, we aren’t what you’re looking for. If you want something additional, it’s not out of the ordinary to ask for a second audition to narrow it down from your top couple of picks. Use something else as the second audition piece and let us know you’re working on winnowing down your finalists.
Wrong or Missing Audition
I swear this happens far too often. I go in to pull down the audition piece and it’s for another work of the author or it’s blank or it’s missing. If I’m really interested, I’ll contact the Rights Holder, but honestly, I’m probably going to move on to one of the hundred other books available.
Bad or Sloppy Cover
It’s shallow, I know, but there it is. It’s not just our opinion that matters. Odds are, if a narrator thinks the cover looks cheap or amateurish, so will the customer. Put up some money to get a nice cover. Skimping here shows that you’re not serious about marketing your book.
Asking For More Than One Narrator
ACX has no mechanism for handling more than one narrator. Please do not ask for two or more people to work on your audiobook. It makes the project exponentially harder to do.
If you absolutely, positively must have more than one narrator. You will need to work directly with the narrators outside of the ACX ecosystem and you will have to pay them out of your own pocket. You cannot, cannot, cannot do this with Royalty Share.
It’s Not Worth Our While
There are several authors in the self-published world that just feel this is a lark. It was fun to write the book and I just want to see it on Amazon. For us, it’s a business and our livelihood. For every hour of finished audio, we’re looking at 6-8 hours of work. Please bear that in mind before you go into the process.
I know there are some of the more prolific narrators out there that simply won’t touch these. I do, but I am very selective about them. If you go this route, be prepared to answer some questions:
- How well is the book selling on Amazon (Kindle and/or print)?
- Do you have an existing fan base?
- Do you have a website?
- Do you have a marketing plan for the audiobook?
Royalty Share means we’re taking a big risk on your work. Please understand this before you go this route. If you’re asking for Royalty Share and your work has gotten poor reviews on Amazon already, seriously consider switching to Per-Finished-Hour or pulling the book and reworking it (see first section). There is nothing worse for a narrator than to spend over forty hours reading, recording, editing, and mastering an audiobook, only to have it sit neglected by the author and sell a couple of copies. Or worse, sell none at all. It happens. A lot.
Also, you need to market the audiobook. Marketing the print version is fine and dandy. But unless you specifically plan on marketing the audio version, please do not waste our time. There is a different audience for audiobooks and they have different venues they frequent.
Royalty Share Plus (RS+)
Now, you can sweeten your Royalty Share offer by going to Royalty Share Plus. This means, you’re willing to put up something to offset the narrator’s risk.
This comes in the form of a payment “per finished hour” or PFH. Basically, you’re paying a little down to attract more/better narrators. To figure out how long your book will be, take the word count and divide by 9300 (average words per hour in English). For example, a 70,000 world novel would be about 7.5 hours. Therefore, if you’re offering a “plus” of $100 PFH, you’ll pay the narrator $750 after the audiobook is completed.
I cannot overstate how important this is for attracting top-notch talent for your project.
If you do a Royalty Share, you should know something of your market and genre (if you don’t go find out). Some genres are just too overloaded to allow an unknown author to break in. Vampires and teen post-apocalypse are two that come to mind. Know that if you get into a genre that’s overloaded, your book will vanish off the “New Releases” page in mere days, losing any chance to get Audible listeners’ attention. That “New Releases” page is the only marketing help you’ll get from ACX or Audible. Do not squander it.
This is a mixed bag. Assuming the minimum rate is $50/hr , it works out to about $7.14 an hour on average. That is 11 cents an hour BELOW the federal minimum wage and most states mandate a higher minimum wage than that. You’re hiring a professional, pay them accordingly. The more you are willing to pay, the more auditions you will get and the quality of narrator will also improve. Remember, some of the more prolific “big name” narrators carry their own fan base and Audible will cross-link from other works done by them to your audiobook. The PFH payout could be quite an investment in marketing as well as quality.
Note: Stipends do not appear to be awarded anymore. The application is still there, but no one has seen a stipend in the wild for several years. The Royalty Share Plus seems to fill this same niche, with the RH taking on the financial burden. See above for more info on RS+.
“But think of the exposure…”
Don’t ever, ever, EVER use this phrase or anything like it to get professional work done for free. EVER. Photographers, graphic artists, narrators, and the like are professionals. That means we’re paid to do what we do. Amateurs do things for free. Seriously, that’s the very definition of professional and amateur.
Try this with your auto mechanic or plumber and see how well it works out for you.
But Money Should Flow Toward the Author…
There’s an old maxim that “money should flow toward the author.” That applies when you’re dealing with a publisher. Shady publishers charge authors a “reading fee” or a “marketing fee” or some other fee. This is a scam and you should back away from any deal like that.
That is is not the case here. You are no longer an author when you engage ACX and a narrator. You are a producer. And producers pay money to get a project out the door.
Look, narrators want to work but they also want to get paid. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. The more appealing your book is from a sales/revenue perspective, the more likely narrators are to come auditioning. I know for a lot of self-published authors, writing is a hobby. Narrating is not a hobby for us. It’s our profession.
[Originally published August 28, 2014. Last revised February 24, 2020]
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