Attracting the Right Narrator: Royalty Share vs. Per Finished Hour
You have written a book. Congratulations, that is no small accomplishment. You have put in a lot of time, effort and creativity to bring your project to the page, and now you want to give it “voice” so to speak. While there are many avenues through which this can be accomplished, a popular one for independent Authors is ACX (Audio Creative eXchange). On ACX you will find thousands of voices from which you can choose to narrate your work. This is a beautiful thing for you the author, also referred to as the Rights Holder (RH), or perhaps you are an independent Publisher, you too are the RH and have a choice to make. Whatever your role, finding the right narrator is a multi-faceted process that involves more than just finding the right sound. What? Let me explain...
First, I am a professional Narrator and Voice Talent. I say this because it is an important distinction that will become necessary to understand as you read this. I am also the brother of an Historian and Professor who has been writing a Historiography of Carolingian Catalonia for over a decade, so I am also somewhat versed in the process of writing a book.
When posting your book for auditions on ACX you are presented with options, Royalty Share (RS) or a Per Finished Hour (PFH) rate. Lets take a look at what these two choices entail.
Per Finished Hour: ACX will help you calculate roughly how long your book will be, based on the number of words in your manuscript. (I say roughly because each narrator has a different style and pace, as well as interpretation of moments in your book that will affect the actual time.) You then can choose a rate that runs from $1000pfh all the way down to $50pfh, and with basic math can calculate what it would cost to have a Narrator/Producer complete your project and bring it to market. This is a total buy out! No sharing of royalties, no worrying about usage...it is all yours lock, stock and barrel.
Royalty Share: RS is exactly what it sounds like. You and the Narrator/Producer, for the next 7 years, split 40% of the royalties of the sale of the audiobook through Audible and their exclusive distribution channels. Nothing comes out of your pocket and money goes in and the Narrator gets some cash too? RS sounds like a great deal, “Sign me up”!
Tap the brakes...here is what you need to consider, because we as narrators consider these in choosing whether or not to audition for your book.
1 hour is 1 hour
It is a common misconception that Narrators just sit down and read the book into a microphone and 1 hour of reading is 1 hour of audio. As much as we wish that were the case, it is not. ACX estimates that there is roughly 6 hours of work for every 1 hour of finished audio. While this will vary among narrators and between books, this is a good rough estimate.
I wrote the book all you have to do is read!
There is a lot of prep that goes into the book before we even begin the recording process. This includes, but is not limited to, pre-reading the book to get a feel for the tone and flow, find characterizations, look for odd words or names that need to be researched for pronunciation, and then the actual research to find said pronunciations. There are also other steps in this preparation process that differ depending on the narrator.
Any Mic will do!
The equipment we use has value. Again this varies widely, but it does have a tremendous impact on the final product. Ever wonder why those Best Sellers with big Hollywood talent narrating sound so good? Aside from the actors prowess, it is the equipment used to produce the audio. And believe it or not, some of us have that same equipment, or better! And it didn't come cheaply. There are also some narrators who have the bare minimum recording set up, and you can probably tell which ones they are.
You already have the stuff..
Knowing how to use that equipment has value. Once again we have a wide margin of variation with this. Some Narrators have paid a professional engineer to set up their recording space, others have spent years in audio production learning how to do it. Either way experience is involved and years of training were invested in, so there is return that needs to be considered.
Can't you just do it in your spare time?
The actual value of recording time. This is where things get a bit tricky and the Professionals and part-timers divide. As a professional myself, I have to think in terms ROI. The time I spend narrating your book is time I am not spending on another book or project that pays. A part-timer might be less concerned with ROI, because this is not how they make their living (pay their mortgage, put food on the table, kids in braces, etc), but this is how professionals earn their bread.
You just hit record and stop though...
Post Production has value. Again...variables. Post production is a big undertaking. It includes proof-listening, editing and mastering. Some narrators will take it upon themselves to do all of the above, while others may choose to use professional proofers and editors. Once again, this is an experience based process. Professional Editors do not work for free, nor do professional proofers so the compensation has to come from somewhere. If the Narrator chooses to do it themselves, there is still a time investment that must be compensated for at some point.
Are you still with me? Good!
That means that you care enough about making your audiobook the best it possibly can be. Now we are going to get into YOUR investment. And then you'll find out how this all goes into helping you find the RIGHT Narrator!
This book is your baby.
You worked hard on it and invested time, effort and possibly money to bring it to market. It might have taken you a year or two to write it. Or in the case of my brother over a decade that has included numerous trips to the catacombs in Barcelona Spain, various other University libraries and the years he spent gaining his PHD and becoming an authority on the subject. This can not and should not be discredited. You should get every penny of the royalties you agree to with your publisher. Those pages are yours.
But the voice is ours.
You have written the book and when it sells you get it all, as you should. When you decide to turn the written work into an audio version, your additional investment in the creation of this new work, which is what this is, is non-existent. The book already exists whether you turn it into an audiobook or not. It is still there and will continue to be in perpetuity. An audiobook, is a new product.
This is a lot of information, but how does this help you find the right Narrator?
Take a step back and look at your proposed project. Do you believe whole heartedly in your project? Do you truly believe, not hope, but believe in your bones that this audiobook version will sell well? Do you want a narrator who can produce a quality product that is on par or better than the majority of your competition? Is it important to you to have someone narrate your book who has experience in all of the subtleties in this art form?
If you said yes to any of these questions, then a PFH rate is the best way for you to go.
It will allow you to secure a professional who takes pride in their work, and is constantly striving to improve not only the quality of the audio, but of their craft as a whole. One who believes in elevating audiobook narration as an art form, not just a fun way to make a buck.
If you said no these questions, then a royalty share is the way to go.
A RS deal will allow you to dip your toe in the water and find out what all is involved in the creation of an Audiobook. You may luck out and find a skilled narrator/producer who also believes in your book and is willing to take a chance, but the odds are not in your favor. The majority of narrators who take RS, are new and inexperienced and looking for what is essentially practice. I am not suggesting that what you get will always be sub-par, even award winners had to start somewhere; nor am I suggesting that a PFH rate guarantees perfection, but the level narrator you are going to attract with a RS is of a different standard.
My book is great and I believe it will sell really well with the right narrator, but I cant afford to pay a PFH rate.
While the goal is to make a fortune through sales, is there a precedent set by you and any of your previous work that would lean toward a significant number of sales? If there is, then ACX is generally willing to help you out. They sometimes offer a Stipend Program that will help you attract professional narrators by paying a small PFH rate to off set the cost of production that you learned about earlier. If a Narrator does believe that your book will sell, and there is a stipend attached, then the risk of a negative ROI to the Narrator is significantly diminished. And your more seasoned professionals will take a look at your project.
There is still hope! You can do what many professionals have done in the past and enter into a Personal Stipend Agreement. You can contact a Narrator that you like, and ask them if they would consider a RS agreement with an outside contract where you agree to personally pay a small PFH stipend. It is less out of your pocket but you have a better chance as securing a professional.
I hope this has shed some light on how to find the best narrator for your project. Feel free to share this with anyone you think might get some use out of this information. Be sure to check out my demos and news sections to see what I am doing and how to get me to narrate your next audiobook.