If you read Mark Coker’s predictions back to back with Written Word Media’s, you’ll see they have two very different ideas about what audio is going to do this year for us indies. According to Mark Coker, audio for indies has come and gone. According to Written Word Media, audio will continue to grow and more indie authors will invest.
Which is it?
I guess the more important question is, do you have the money to care?
Audiobook creation is expensive, and there are a couple of things you need to weigh before choosing to spend thousands on an audiobook.
- Where? Amazons ACX will trap you in a seven-year contract, and you do not have control of your own pricing. Seven years is a long time. You can create an audiobook through ACX and opt out of exclusivity to Amazon, but your royalties are lower through Audible. Findaway Voices is another place for audiobook creation, but once again, if your audiobook is wide, you’re looking at lower royalties from Audible, though there are more places to sell audio than ever before.
- How much will it cost? Lots to consider here. How long is your book? I’ve heard you want to give listeners their bang for their buck. Credits on Audible will buy any book, so listeners are more inclined to spend their credits on longer books. But for indies, these are more expensive to produce. It makes no sense to pay a narrator to narrate your novella because production will be cheaper for you. Audible subscribers won’t waste a credit on it.
- Distribution and marketing. You decide to go wide with your audiobook and opt out of exclusivity with ACX (Audible). That’s cool, but if you’re strapped for cash and you were searching couch cushions to pay for your voice actor, you won’t have money to market your audiobook. If you can’t market it, no one will know about it. Kind a like your ebooks, huh?
Written Word Media predicts the audio market will grow. Mark Coker says the audio market will become saturated and indies just starting out have already missed the boat. What does that mean? Audio will likely remain out of your reach until you start making money on your e-books. If an average indie can’t make a regular income until they have 20+ books published, audio in the near future isn’t likely.
Finding a narrator who will do a royalty split with you instead of being paid upfront is getting harder and harder. As Bryan Cohen, on a recent episode of the Sell More Books
Show says, voice actors are becoming savvy. They know they won’t earn their time/money back if they do a royalty share and will only do work paid upfront. Voice actors have their own wallets and reputations to look out for. If your e-books aren’t selling, you’ll have a difficult time finding a reputable narrator to work with you.
What does this mean for an indie starting out? For audio, at least for now, we feel rushed because we are. If the audiobook industry is saturated now, what will it look like in 2025? There’s no way to know, but you’d be better off writing than worrying about trying to find a foothold you can’t afford.
What if you really want to get in on the action? You don’t have to be completely left out, but even if it doesn’t cost money, it will cost you some time. As an emerging author, you have to decide if it’s worth it, or if you’d be better off writing.
- Do live recordings. Go on Facebook or YouTube. Save the recordings and post to your social media and blog. True, you’re not going to make money with free recordings, but at this point you’re building your back list and audience and/or hoping for a newsletter subscribers. My son is listening to free Witcher readings on YouTube. Sometimes it’s not all about sales but exposure, which at this point is what you want.
- Create your own. Joanna Penn used to narrate her non-fiction in a closet. Winter jackets can create a soundproof room. But you’ll still have to figure out some kind of editing software because a listener isn’t going to want to hear you flubbing every other line. (By the way, ACX and other platforms have quality control. Even if you happen to have the patience to read your whole book aloud, that doesn’t mean it’s good enough for sale.) Narrate your book in chapters and put it on Patreon, or hope for traffic on your blog. You don’t have to be left out of the audio loop, but you’ll be going about it in a different way.
- Explore AI. Audiobook distributors don’t accept text to audio files right now, but that’s not to say you still can’t create an AI file. Be careful using text to voice software because sometimes they aren’t available for commercial use unless you pay their fee. I tried to find something to link up to this blog, but the voices sounded bad, or the fee was too much to bother with, usually both. Maybe you’ll find something if you decide to go this route.
- If you want to offer different mediums, publish your books in Large Print and hardcover. Find someone with Vellum; Large Print is a formatting option with that software. Adjust your cover to a larger spine, and you’re done. KDP has a Large Print box you can select when publishing, and your book will be labeled that way on your book’s product page. Pretty simple to offer your book in a different way. If you buy your ISBN numbers, you can publish your book with a hardcover on IngramSpark. Not necessarily a HARDCOVER that requires you also design a jacket, though that is an option, but you can publish your books with a harder cover like a children’s book. You don’t have to offer audio to sell your books in different ways.
I haven’t done anything with audio yet. Anyone who knows me knows my favorite part of all this is the actual writing and anything that takes my attention away from it I have no use for. The pragmatic side of me knows I need to explore more ways to sell books, but my stubborn side says screw it. I can’t afford audio, and even if I could, my books aren’t selling well enough to warrant it. Maybe in my case, Mark Coker is right – I missed the audiobook opportunity. Or maybe something else will come along. At some point AI text to audio will be acceptable. Us poor indies can wait for that day.
In the meantime, keep writing. You can only have an audiobook if you have a book in the first place. When it comes to this prediction, keep your eyes on your own paper and don’t worry what other indies are doing. As an emerging author, you can only do what your situation allows you to do.
As for me, I don’t care. I can’t afford audio. I listen to my book through Word’s text to voice during my editing process so I know how it will sound spoken aloud if I can ever afford it. At least lay the groundwork for a successful audiobook in case the opportunity ever presents itself.
For more resources on audiobooks, Joanna Penn is coming out with Audio for Authors, it’s on preorder right now, and you can take a look at it here.
She is also interviewed by Lindsay, Jo, and Andrea on the 6 Figure Author podcast, and you can listen to it here.
If you’re interested in tips on how to vlog, or do live videos, in the past I’ve recommend Amy Schmittauer’s book, Vlog Like a Boss. She gives you lots of practical tips for looking and sounding good on camera.
Next we will explore Written Word Media’s second prediction – indie authors and organic reach.
See you then!
I have tried a couple times to get narrators to do a royalty split on ACX. In each case, they backed out as soon as they got a real paying gig from someone else. As for AI, yeah, the state of the art isn’t good enough yet. But two things are going to change that: 1. The quality will improve (Google and Apple are working really hard on this), 2. Expectations will come down. As people spend more time talking with their phones, their tolerance for funny pacing (which is the #1 problem with computer generated audio) will increase. Also, if it’s included *free* with the ebook, then people will be more tolerant. I’ve tested all the AI speech platforms, and I think we’re still about 4 years from it becoming mainstream.
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That’s too bad to hear about your narrators. Thanks for bringing that up! I’ve never tried for audio, like I said in my post, and I’m not interested. But thank you for telling us your experience! Maybe one day audio will work for you. 🙂