Why Audiobooks Are the Next Big Thing in Self-Publishing

    by Laura Caldwell
    April 9, 2014
    The author, Laura Caldwell, in the recording booth.

    I’m listening to the audio version my first book, “Burning the Map.” Which means, I’m listening to a talented actor, Piper Goodeve, inhabit the voice and the soul of Casey Evers, a character I wrote long ago, a character I wasn’t sure I’d see (or hear) from again. It’s even more gratifying because I produced the audiobook. After 14 books out, I have self-published for the first time.

    Burning The Map Narrator Piper Goodeve

    ‘Burning The Map’ narrator Piper Goodeve

    "When I asked some of the exuberant e-pubbing authors about self-publishing your work on audio, very few were tapping into their own rights on that front."

    When self-publishing began being discussed in earnest five or six years ago, I wasn’t much interested. I had been published the old-school way — write a book for five years, shop it for a decade, find elation upon agent-landing and publisher-wrangling. Then, of course, experience an inevitable evening of expectations, and keep writing, thankful that someone prints your stuff, distributes it, gets it into Borders for gosh sake — until that didn’t entirely matter anymore once Borders closed, as did many Barnes & Noble stores and even more independent bookstores.


    So I started paying attention when author friends discussed self-publishing. I read the blogs by exuberant writers intent on sharing every financial detail of their lives down to their bank statements to show what they’d been paid by traditional publisher versus e-publisher. The evidence seemed to mount in the favor of self-publishing, but still I wasn’t swayed. I had an agent who I adored, and who had taken me on even though my original agent would get paid on books we sold for years before she could sell anything. E-publishing, I figured, would cut my agent out of the deal, wouldn’t it? And what of my publishers who had believed in me?

    When I heard a little about self-publishing audiobooks, though, that’s when I really perked up.

    Why audio?

    My mother was a pioneer reader of “books on tape.” She would wait months for the library to get one in, which she would then listen to while walking the neighborhood. Later, when she moved to the Northeast, she hiked around forests and rivers, earphones in place. There was always a book going in her car. And she had passed on her love of books on tape to me.


    The same reasons that brought my mom and I to audiobooks — adding depth and distraction to a long walk or a routine commute — has been part of the growth of the audio market. Either the listener is entertained after an audiobook, or if you’re a listener like me, you get a lot of self-help and spiritual assistance via Eckart or Deepak or Hicks.

    Whole web communities, hosted by places like Lululemon and Runner’s World, have bloomed and bonded over listening to audiobooks while running. But many audiobook listeners, according to the many audiobook forums, do so to make the mundane — washing dishes, folding laundry — more palatable and even educational.

    Yet when I asked some of the exuberant e-pubbing authors about self-publishing your work on audio, very few were tapping into their own rights on that front. Some still had deals and relationships with audiobook companies they sold to years ago. Others just thought it sounded like way to much work to produce an audiobook. And how would they even go about doing it?

    ‘Traditional’ audio publishing

    I’ve had experience with the somewhat traditional audio road. My six Izzy McNeil novels were made by Audible in a program with my publisher. While they were in production, I’d gotten to listen to some auditions, and was able to green light the actor they hired. And when I happened to be on the East Coast when they were in the booth, Audible asked me to interview the actor for a bonus track for listeners.

    Since my character, Izzy, was a brash, curvaceous redhead, I expected something similar of the actor playing her. Jennifer, the woman we’d casted, certainly sounded like a sassy lawyer who lived in Chicago. When I arrived at the book, I was shocked to find a teensy Taiwanese woman.

    “Look at me,” she said. “I’d never get cast in the Izzy McNeil TV show. But I can be cast as her for audio. I love this business.”

    She told me how the rise of the audiobook had produced a whole new career for her. With her voice she could be a character in Chicago or in Mumbai or in London. Audiobooks, it turns out, haven’t just provided more opportunity for authors, but for actors as well.

    An Author’s turn in the booth with ACX

    My own audio debut came on the birth of ACX, an Audible self-publishing program, providing an answer to those authors who assumed producing their own audio would be too challenging. ACX is an Internet exchange for authors who own their audio rights and want to connect with talent and producers. As a result of the exchange, I was told, a writer living in Maine could produce a book with an actor from Philadelphia and even an editor in L.A. As an author, you become the casting agent, and you could choose from a plethora of voices to give new wings to a character you spent years creating.

    But because I had a memoir out, “Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him,” and because I was partly the narrator of that book, I could be my own talent for that book. (In general, fiction writers are not encouraged to read their own work.)

    Audible offered use of their booth if I wanted to do “Long Way Home,” and so off to New Jersey I went. Every day. For 10 hours a day. For five full days.

    The author, Laura Caldwell.

    The author, Laura Caldwell.

    Before, narrating a book sounded so genteel to me, sort of like reading to a room full of rapt, small children. The reality is that you sit in a dark editing booth, the only light in the room shining on the print of the book in front of you. Read one word off — say, “She walked in the store,” as opposed to “She walked into the store,” and the buzzer sounds from the attached booth. “Let’s try it again,” you’ll hear from the engineer in there. When you have to start over and over because you seem to be mumbling, the engineer sends you down the hallway for some Throat Coat tea. But that’s about all the break you’ll get. Time in the booth is money. Male or female, the engineer’s voice becomes the one you fear. (You hear it in your dreams after. Really).

    The process of narrating “Long Way Home” was not just exhausting. It was injurious of throat and the brain. But I was glad for it. It gave me a whole new set of information for actually producing my own books in the future.

    How self-publishing audio works

    I’m only recently getting into the digital e-publishing (the “traditional” e-pubbing if you will). But even then, it’s with a novel that never quite got off the ground. Because of this, my agent and publisher have already had their own whack at it. In the minimal amount I’ve learned so far, self-publishing is a bit of labyrinth of formats and choices. Even within the Amazon self-publishing experience (ACX is an Amazon-owned company), they tend to have programs that criss-cross over each other, leading to some redundancy (an issue they readily admit to and say they’re working on addressing that). But ACX is pretty darn simple. And that’s from someone who’s been in from the beginning.

    Go to ACX.com and log in with your Amazon email address. Let them know if you’re reading the book yourself or want to cast a narrator. Input information about your book and the type of voice you’re looking for to augment your Amazon listing, which ACX pulls over for you.  Assert you’re the copyright owner, and you’re ready to start listening to audition tapes.

    The process of completion of an audiobook can take as little or as much time as you want.

    With “Long Way Home” and “Burning the Map” now out in audio, both having been self-produced in different manners, I’m now a card-carrying member of both the old and new schools of publishing. “Burning the Map” is letting me blaze of trail of creativity and control I’ve not experienced before in this business.

    For “Burning the Map” I casted a fantastic narrator named Piper Goodeve. Piper is younger than me, but very much a veteran of the business. As opposed to when I had read and produced my own book (and inched toward releasing it whenever the other parts of my life parted for a few moments), Piper became not only the voice of my character, Casey Evers, but also the project’s manager. This probably came, in part, from the fact that we’d chosen the profit-sharing option that ACX provides, rather than paying Piper up front. Since the book’s release in January, I realize I’ve gained a narrator and also a partner for bringing “Burning the Map” to the new audiobook masses.

    But I won’t necessarily forgo traditional publishing. That’s the best thing I found about this process — self-publishing one’s work, in one manner or another, doesn’t mean you turn your back on traditional (or any other ways) of publishing.

    Laura Caldwell is a former civil trial attorney, now Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Director of Life After Innocence, published author of 13 novels and one non-fiction book.

    Tagged: acx amazon audiobooks authors burning the map laura caldwell self-publishing
    • William Ash

      Unfortunately, with ACX’s royalty increase–they now take 60% and control pricing–the incentive to use that service is questionable. Audiobooks are a great idea for the self publisher, but it also needs to make financial sense for the person making it, not just the distributor.

      • great point. my press has made more than 100 audiobooks through ACX and some have done very well, but in general the program generates more revenue for Amazon — the owner — than for the content creators and performers. now Amazon has slashed the royalty to narrators;also i believe Amazon is moving closer to a time when audiobooks become part of its planned streaming subscription services, with virtually no money going to authors/narrators.

    • Riley

      This was kind of sad to read. Ms. Caldwell is a published author of 13 novels and one memoir, yet she makes basic grammatical errors like saying “that brought my mom and I to audiobooks” (instead of “my mom and me”); using casted instead of cast (for the past tense of cast); adding unnecessary commas (e.g., “Which means, I’m listening to…”), etc.

      • B

        It is not the 1900s anymore, so nobody cares about “grammatical errors.” We have better things to focus on now, and besides, adding your own personality into your writing in that way is refreshing.

        • juanelsabio

          Using simply B as your screen name reveals “your own personality,” cowering in the shadowy corners fearful of being identified because you know before writing that your brief comments are of the ill-considered variety that drives the rest of us mad. Without knowing every human being on the planet how can you assert that NOBODY cares about grammar? You must mean you and others in your (young) age group, (limited) educational level, (diminished) level of common sense, (video game, comic book, porn, hook-up, text, tweet laden) social sphere, and (hampered) comprehension and communicative abilities. Communication is what sets us apart from the lower species; communication is conveyed through language; language is constructed on grammar (and other stuff); grammar consists of rules of usage so that the one receiving the communication understands exactly what the creator of the communication intended. If you don’t care about grammatical errors then why not disregard errors in other areas like math, medicine, science? Consider not caring about errors in airplane, car, bridge, skyscraper construction. No wonder you revel in your dystopian worlds fabricated in works of fiction, invariably blaming the current generation for all the ills and chaos in the lives of the young. But we won’t bring about the collapse; you will. That’s exactly what we’ll have when you are of age to take over and abiding by your foolish premise of “nobody cares about (whatever) rules” you bring about your own demise–otherwise known as “you reap what you sow.”

          • B2

            Adherence to grammatical standards is less important than telling the truth.

            So long as what has been written is honest and from the heart, you can misspell all the words, break all the grammatical rules, and express yourself in any manner you see fit.

            You are comparing misspelling words and using improper grammar to disregarding standards for erecting bridges and practicing science.

            You are a judgmental, exaggerating pedant. Incidentally, do you know what a paragraph is? It’s intended to break up sentences into digestible chunks. Learn how to use them and spare our eyes from your walls of text.

            • juanelsabio

              The “truth” you refer to won’t be conveyed adequately if the spelling and grammar are very poor. Again, it depends on the media where the language is used–a tweet or a professional publication.
              Yes, my analogy was exaggerated–intentionally so. Rules for medical practice are much more serious and necessary than those for language. But give it a few years. Don’t we witness other forms of disregarding rules/laws–texting while driving, for example? And aren’t there more and more young adults, especially but not exclusively, who display the attitude “the rules don’t apply to me”?
              “Judgmental,” no, pointing out facts. Those who call someone judgmental are usually guilty of whatever is being pointed out. “Exaggerating,” yes, analogies usually are. “Pedant,” only in the eyes of some.
              Yes, I know what a paragraph is; apparently you don’t. In most of your “paragraphs” there is only one sentence. Those aren’t paragraphs, they are sentences. Paragraphs require two or more sentences.

            • B2

              If what is said is understood, it has been adequately conveyed.

              Your comparison between disregarding laws and disregarding rules for grammar is only fair if we assume that disregarding rules for grammar directly leads to disregarding laws. It doesn’t.

              Paragraphs may be a single sentence.

              Not a single generation has passed by where old people complain of the young something like the following: “These whippersnappers don’t follow the rules, they think they’re so special!” This has been said, consistently, throughout every society, in our human history.

            • juanelsabio

              NO! Paragraphs are two sentences or more. If there is only one sentence then it is a sentence, not a paragraph. Why is that hard to understand? Don’t take my word for it. Consult reference works of grammar and style. Oh, that’s right, you don’t have to because you make your own rules. Your 1st “paragraph” or sentence as some would say–nope, not necessarily. Sentence/paragraph 2: I didn’t write “directly leads to.” The prevailing attitude (I ain’t gonna foller yer stinkin rules) eventually permeates many aspects of society. Sentence 3: I already said that other experts in the field of language say you’re wrong about what constitutes a paragraph but what do they know? What do I know? Your last paragraph (it IS a paragraph!)–How do you know I’m old? How do you know your quote has been said in every society in human history? Have you lived in (or even read about) every society? Have you lived through or read about all of human history? I didn’t post this as one-sentence paragraphs because this has already made me miss “The Big Bang Theory.” I believe our chat should end now but if you want the last word, have at it.

      • juanelsabio

        Riley, I noticed the same and agree with you. You missed one of the most egregious errors that was even highlighted in the sidebar: “I asked some of the exuberant e-pubbing authors about self-publishing your work on audio,” rather than “their.” Further, e-pubbing, pub, pubbed don’t appear in any dictionary. OMG It’s no more difficult to type publish, published, publishing than the text/tweet shortened versions, WTF. Those conventions merely serve to interfere with communication since the brain automatically hesitates when encountering unfamiliar terms. And there was not even consistency with both e-pubbing (jargon) and self-publishing (standard) used in the same sentence.

        • B2

          “OMG” and “WTF” are non-standard English. Someone unfamiliar with those terms would hesitate and not know what you are trying to convey. Why is that jargon acceptable, but “pubbing” is not?

          I believe the average reader is capable of inferring from the body of the text that “pubbed” means “published” and “pubbing” means “publishing”.

          “Self-publishing” can mean anything; “e-pubbing” refers specifically and strictly to publishing via the Internet and other electronic methods.

          • juanelsabio

            Who says jargon (OMG & WTF) is acceptable? There is standard English and colloquial English. Standard or “proper” English is used in formal speech, nonfiction books, newspapers, magazines, etc. The current article appears in a serious, professional publication (part of PBS, no less), not a blog, and should reflect that language level (standard) of usage.
            Colloquial English is not standard, in other words, “sub-standard.” It is everyday speech acceptable for informal conversations, TV shows, fiction books, comic books, and so forth.
            The internet age of communication has introduced a third level of usage that could be considered “sub substandard” with its plethora of abbreviations and made-up short versions of words. These are fine for personal email, texting, and twits tweeting.
            A good rule of thumb would be to check a dictionary. If a word/abbreviation is not listed it should not be used in formal writing. If it is given, one should ascertain if it is listed as standard or colloquial. Most good dictionaries provide this information.

            • B2

              All language which conveys information and meaning is acceptable language. My point is that by paying more attention to the grammar than to the substance of the conversation, you are missing the point. You have been distracted by the colloquialism; you have been interrupted by a misspelled word. The more salient point is to absorb information. To this end, I can agree that a certain set of standards is necessary. However, jumping on small, trifling, quibbling mistakes such as what you pointed out, is unnecessary.

              Would you be unable to understand a sentence if it is ended in a preposition? That’s an old rule of grammar. Is it still a good one? Does ending a sentence in a preposition obliterate your ability to comprehend what was intended? No. So, criticizing a piece of writing for trifling mistakes is missing the point of what was written.

              “Aha!” you might say. “But doesn’t that bolster my argument? It was written poorly, I was distracted by it, and thus, the meaning was not properly conveyed!”

              If you had not been taught specifically that the rule was violated, you would have ignored it, you would have listened to the substance, and the meaning would be retained. In writing it is more important to consider the substance of a conversation than how it is communicated. Only if the errors are so grievous as to obscure meaning do they become relevant to the conversation. Nowhere in this article was such an error committed.

            • juanelsabio

              “All language which conveys information and meaning is acceptable language.” Your first sentence is so far off I don’t know where to begin. For starters, it’s not a good idea to use “all/always/none/never” because those terms exclude the possibility of exceptions and there are always exceptions. If I write this with information and meaning but include about 50 crude expletives, would that be acceptable language? Apparently not since my post would be deleted. So, not a good idea to say, “all language.” Language does a lot more than convey information and meaning. But your sentence may be correct on one point. I’ve conveyed a lot of information but it seems that it is not being read or understood.
              You switch back and forth between “writing” and “conversation.” To which are you referring to about.
              My comprehension, retention, or absorption of information contained in the above magazine article was not impaired by any language usage errors, as slight and trifling as they may be, contained within the aforementioned magazine article therein. Some of us can read and understand a piece of writing’s “point, substance, information, etc.” while at the same time taking note of errors. Because we WERE taught when a rule is violated, and some of us went on to teach the rules to others. Apparently in vain.
              You’re confusing/mixing conversation and writing. Language applies to both but the article is written and these comments are written. So let’s just go with what we have, shall we? Please read this this time.
              Let me put it in a separate paragraph. I pointed out above the difference between colloquial and standard language. All of us making comments can have plenty of spelling and grammar errors because this is colloquial. The article above is not colloquial commenting; it is a professional piece, written by a professional author, and appearing in a professional (online) magazine. As such, the writing should be standard; the standard that is used in professional publications. That means free of spelling, grammar, and syntax errors. And it means free of jargon. These errors might not interfere with comprehension but they say a lot about professional standards–those of the magazine and those of the writer.

            • Michael Spotts

              “…there are always exceptions.” Except, apparently, to your rule that there are always exceptions. Cheers. ;)

    • Bob Mayer

      I was in on ACX early on and now have 34 titles produced. I paid up front. I look at it as a long term investment. The ACX model is a smart one and very useful. Kind of interesting to see all the newcomers to the self-publishing world.

    • Maria Schneider

      I just can’t get excited about spending the money to do an audio book. I talked to an audio company about what makes an audio book really work and sell well. One of the key ingredients is to have a book that sells well already. I think it’s nice that authors have the ability to create an audio book, but because I don’t enjoy listening to audio books very much, it will be a while before I truly consider this option.

    • For an audiobook, does the author rewrite the book so it is short enough to be an audio book? My novel is 110k words which would seem to be way too long to just record straight to audio.

      • TariAkpodiete

        that depends: you can go with an abridged or an unabridged version. and 110k words is not too much at all.

    • Richard Davison

      I found your article to be very good and helpful. Many thanks. I appreciate that you share so well to benefit other authors and writers.

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