How to self-publish an audiobook on Audible.com

Last week I announced the release of the audiobook edition of Your First 1000 Copies.  I also promised that I would share the behind-the-scenes look at getting my book into audio format and live on Audible.com.

I originally had no plans to make an audio edition of Your First 1000 Copies, but my good friend and fellow author Josh Kaufman insisted on it.  Last year he self-published the audio edition of his first book The Personal MBA and has been completely overwhelmed by the success.  And since I do whatever Josh tells me to, I decided to go for it.

Who, how and where to record?

The first decision I made was to record it myself.  I listen to a lot of non-fiction audiobooks and my favorites are always the ones that are read by the book’s author.  While they aren’t always as polished as a professional narrator, I appreciate hearing the author’s voice.  A few of my favorites are Jon Ronson, Malcolm Gladwell and Stephen King.  I wanted listeners to hear my voice and how I talk about the subject.  Sure, I made mistakes and wasn’t as eloquent as someone who does this for a living, but it was something I enjoy as a reader so wanted to do it for my readers.

The next decision was how and where to record.  I read several places how self-published authors were doing it by recording straight through their desktop computer with a microphone, but I know the quality of these final recordings are often lacking.  Plus, the idea of doing all of the editing myself seemed very overwhelming.  In the end I decided to reach out to a friend I have locally who works at local radio stations and has a professional recording studio in his basement.  It took two sessions that started after 9pm at night so his kids were asleep and the house was quiet, but I was extremely happy with the final result.  It’s well edited and lacks the unpolished feel that would have come from doing it myself.  I’ll admit here that I also got it done for less than $400 which is significantly less than what you’ll spend with a typical studio.  It’s nice to have friends with the right equipment.

The actual recording wasn’t too bad.  I printed the entire book out in large font and practiced turning the pages silently before heading to the studio.  I also practiced my volume and tempo a few times into my own computer to make sure I wasn’t going to fast or slow.  Again, while the final product isn’t as polished as it would be by a professional narrator, I’m very happy with how it turned out.

Just like self-publishing your digital and print books, quality matters.  People that listen to audiobooks are used to a certain level of quality and I wanted to make sure my audiobook met those standards.  I’m happy with the decision to go with a recording studio whose job it was to make sure it was done right.

The ACX Platform

Audible.com is owned by Amazon.  ACX is Audible’s audiobook self-publishing platform.  So in this way, just as CreateSpace is Amazon’s print self-publishing platform and KDP is Amazon’s digital self-publishing platform, ACX is Amazon’s audiobook self-publishing platform.

The process also works very similar.  It’s as simple as signing up, claiming your book, filling out the details and uploading the files.  I did press the wrong button early on in the process that put me on the path to hiring a narrator which became frustrating, but the ACX support helped me work it out and everything was smooth sailing from there.  If you’ve already navigated other self-publishing platforms, ACX will feel at home to you.

The Money

Here’s where things get really interesting.  The royalty model is unbelievable.  You start at 50% but then start ratcheting up based on sales numbers.  You can get as high as 90% which is unheard of anywhere else and in any other format.  Sure, you have to sell over 20,000 units to hit 90%, but the fact that it’s even an option is pretty amazing.

On top of the royalties, Audible pays a $25 “bounty” if your book is one of the first three books purchased when someone signs up for Audible.  Again, pretty unbelievable.

So if your audiobook costs $10, you immediately start making $5 per unit sold.  However, if you’ve broken into 20,000 units sold and your audiobook is one of the first ones purchased by a new member, you’ll make $34 off of your $10 book.

Which leads me into one caveat you need to be aware of with the ACX platform.  You don’t choose your pricing.  The price is automatically decided based on the length of the audiobook.  You can see the details on this page under “Common Questions”.

For my book, I really wanted it to cost at least $10.  I felt like any less would hurt my chances of current Audible subscribers using their credits to purchase my book.  The problem is, Your First 1000 Copies is a relatively short book.  In fact, the total run time of the book was only 2.5 hours.  So in order to make up the difference in time, I added bonus content to the audiobook that wasn’t in the original book.  I pulled from case studies and reader questions that had come up since I published the book and put together content I thought would be helpful to readers.  With this additional content, it put me over that 3 hour mark and, sure enough, my book is priced at $10.46.

I’m traditionally published, should I retain audiobook rights?

My definite answer is “yes!”.  In talking to other authors, the audiobook rights are often sold for very cheap — a couple thousand dollars — or never sold at all.  In the example of Josh Kaufman above, his rights were never sold so he bought them back from his publisher.  In the first week after self-publishing his audiobook, he made back the money he spent buying back the rights.

In fact, if you are still shopping your proposal and haven’t signed yet, I recommend holding back the audiobook rights (most publishers won’t fight you on this) and self-publish it.  There’s all kind of upsides to this, not least of which is all of the promotion for the print/digital sales will sell the audiobook edition as well.

Promotion and Sales

Apart from last week’s email that you received, I have done zero promotion of the audiobook.  I have a few things I’m rolling out to try and create ongoing sales of the audiobook along with researching what has worked for other authors.  In the future, once I have a bigger data set, I’ll share with you more details.
In my experience, most authors have very little understanding or interest in the audiobook edition of their book and I hope this helped give you some information and insight that you didn’t have before.

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