Episode 63 : Joanna Penn
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under the name J.F.Penn. She also writes non-fiction for authors and is an award-winning creative entrepreneur and international professional speaker. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com is regularly voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers and in this episode I talk to her about self-publishing audiobooks.
When should authors consider making audiobook versions of their books?
The first question to ask is if the book is already selling in eBooks and paperback format. If not then it makes sense to concentrate on them before creating an audiobook. She also recommends having more than one book written before creating an audiobook. If the first eBook is available on promo, people might buy later books in the series as audiobooks. They are unlikely to buy the same book again in an audio format. If you love audiobooks and want to create one where you have no sales in eBook then you will struggle to get a narrator on a royalty-split deal.
What is ACX and why should authors consider using it to find a narrator?
ACX is a platform owned by Amazon that allows narrators and book sellers to come together and produce audiobooks. ACX allows you to put your book up onto an exchange. On the exchange narrators will offer to produce the book as an audiobook and you can pick one to one of them to narrate your book. If you choose a royalty split deal (if any narrators offer this) then ACX will arrange the payment of the royalties to you and the narrator. If you commit to a seven-year exclusive term on a royalty-split deal with ACX you will get paid 20% of the royalties and the audiobook narrator will get paid 20%. It is hard to get your books into Audible and iTunes without going through ACX.
For some of her non-fiction books Joanna has narrated the book herself. She has taken to selling them the latest of these direct from her website because of her frustration with the low royalty rates and the lack of control of pricing that ACX gives authors for audiobooks. But she is generally happy to use the platform for her fiction books because of the royalty-share scheme. Profits have gone down for authors because of the way that Audible has introduced credits for subscribers which are cheaper than if they had purchased the book directly.
Given all this Joanna Penn still recommends ACX as at the moment the best option out there, though she hopes some more competition appears soon.
What advice would you give on whether authors should record their own audiobooks?
The first tip from Joanna Penn is that in general don’t narrate it yourself. Even with years of podcasting experience, Joanna found it very hard work to record her own audiobooks, and she went to a professional studio to record the book. It is extremely tiring and time-consuming to record an audiobook. Joanna recommends Simon Whistler’s great book Audiobooks for Indie Authors if you are intending to record your own audiobook, though it also contains quite a lot of great information about audiobooks in general. A very good narrator (especially for fiction books) can make a world of difference though, especially if the narrator themselves has a following for books they have already narrated. A great benefit of recording your own book is that you get twice the royalty rates.
How should authors go about marketing their audiobooks?
Promotions for your eBooks on services like Bookbub will also lead to sales of your audiobooks, as Amazon often lets people add on the audiobook more cheaply as part of an eBook sales. Joanna also uses clips from her audiobook using the service SoundCloud. There is one promo site audiobookboom which allows you to push out audio books for reviews. Marketing of audiobooks is not as developed as marketing eBooks however.
What kind of reporting do you get for audiobooks sold via ACX?
Joanna says that it is very similar to that from KDP, except you don’t get any indication of whether they sold via Audible or iTunes. She mentions a blog post on her blog about her relative earnings. Her audiobook earning are less than the previous year. Most of her audiobook income was from a few non-fiction books she had written. You can see the post here.
When looking for a narrator are there any common pitfalls to avoid?
The most important thing to look for is: what have they done before?
Joanna says that as she is not the typical US audible listener, she is less concerned about whether she personally likes the narrator’s voice. She says that if possible look for narrators who have already narrated books in your genre. Look for narrators who have a following because of people who like their voice. You need to appreciate that most of these narrators are professionals. They should be treated like that and not micro-managed with constant demands for changes. The narrators won’t work with you again if you over-manage them.
How can people find out about you?
Joanna Penn can be found at the Creative Penn website and podcast. She is @thecreativepenn on Twitter.
If you liked this interview you might like Selling Publishing Rights with Orna Ross, How to Sell Your Books Through Bookshops with Debbie Young (Episode 21) and Self-Publishing in India with Amar Vyas