Advice for Narrators/Producers (Voice Actors) from an Author about Publishing & How to Choose the Most Profitable Royalty Share Deals
(So you can earn money while you sleep too, without writing the book.)
Do you want to learn how to make money from royalties like authors do, basically earning money in your sleep?
Understand how royalties in the book industry work.
While producing audiobooks is a production, produced and acted out by one actor, it’s also book publishing. And to be successful at narrating audiobooks, you should also understand that industry so you can make better choices on royalty share deals. You need to understand what authors understand and why you might actually want more royalty shares in your list.
Writers can earn royalties on work they did years ago. Hard work they’ve already done can earn them money while they sleep. This is why pretty much everyone wants to publish a book. There is a huge difference between the royalty of independent authors verses traditionally published authors, though. Most traditionally published authors only get 15% of the sale of their books in any format. With audiobooks done through ACX, this basically means only 15% of the 40%. Granted, if they happen to be selling millions of books, that can add up to be a lot, but very few authors are selling that much. Independent authors get the entire 40%, or 20% if it’s a royalty share, which is still more than a traditionally published author gets. With eBooks they can actually earn up to 70% of the sale. The more formats an independent author gets their books into the more money they’ll make.
Understand the affect of digital shelf space on sales.
Most authors know that the more titles they have out, the more royalties they’ll make. And they know that royalties don’t pay off overnight or even in a year most of the time. They also know that if they just have one book out sales are not going to be very good, if at all. In my experience, producers assume if book one doesn’t sell hundreds of copies within the first month or two it will never pay off and so they drop the rest of the series, or ask for more money. I understand their fear, but there are a few things they just don’t realize. When they drop book one, they actually hurt sales of that book because listeners will either drop or not even bother with a series that changes narrators. The audience doesn’t care why that has happened, they hate it anyway. Digital shelf space sells books and audiobooks.
The funny thing is that many authors keep doing the same thing. They have one book produced into audio, sales are slow, and so they don’t produce any more. It’s like they forgot what sells books in the first place, or they’re assuming the audiobooks will sell just as much as the eBooks are. I’ve discovered, however, that the audiobook market and the eBook market don’t always overlap, so it’s actually a different audience. So then you have a new audience who only sees one book listed. Why would they buy? They won’t just like they wouldn’t likely buy just one eBook. But with each audiobook you publish, the sales will start to snowball and increase with each new release.
To me it seems that many producers, or at least the best-qualified ones, have stopped taking any royalty share deals because they never seem to pay off. But it’s this digital shelf space that is the problem. It’s not that audiobooks don’t sell…it’s that the author and the narrator don’t know how to sell books.
Understand why ACX is giving actors a chance to earn royalties they never would have had before.
In this industry, narrators are typically hired to do the work, paid an hourly rate and nothing more. Even Jim Dale was paid for his time and didn’t get any royalties from sales of the extremely popular Harry Potter series. I don’t know for certain, but I’d wager Zachary Webber didn’t get any royalties for his work on Grey either. Any narrator hired to work on a popular book is only going to get paid by the hour because there isn’t enough profit in the formula to give them royalties, even if their name on the book as the narrator will add to the number of sales. So they have to keep doing the same work to keep earning the money. They have nothing to show for the work already done except more recognition. However, it they choose to work with independent authors, they can actually earn half of the royalties on the sales, or 20% of the total sale. As mentioned above, 20% is even more royalty than traditionally published authors get. It’s like being able to write several books on your own in a short period of time. You get to benefit off other people’s work—that took months and maybe even years to do—when you never could have done that before.
There are tons of very successful indie authors, and believe it or not, but most of them are actually making more money than traditionally published authors. They typically understand how to market themselves better too, which means they do most of the marketing for you. All you have to do it balance your time between paid per finished hour jobs and royalty share jobs as you build your list of books earning royalties. Imagine if you had 10 titles that were getting good royalty sales. Even if each book was only selling 20 copies a month, earning about 6 dollars per sale, that comes out to be about 1200 a month just in royalties. So imagine if you had 20 royalty shares or 40… If you’re doing paid per finished hour work at the same time, then you’d be doing pretty well for yourself and earning money while you sleep just like authors get to do. But you didn’t have to write those books to do it.
Understand marketing so you can choose the most profitable royalty shares.
This is very important. If you don’t choose the right royalty shares, then you won’t be making as much as you could be.
Look for authors doing these things because they understand marketing: (I’ll be posting a more detailed post about marketing soon.)
- Do they think commercially, meaning do they know what their audience wants and do they give it to them?
- Do they have or are they building a lot of digital shelf space? Do they have or are they working on more than one series of books?
- Do they use social media, paid advertising, and have a professional-looking blog/website? (Most of this should be listed in the comments section for the book on ACX.)
- Have they moved their marketing efforts into video, which includes YouTube? (You might want to read my “Stop Marketing like Your Grandma” post to understand what I’m talking about here.)
- Look for series of books in a variety of the most popular genres.
- Look for mostly good reviews and good sales rank.
- Just because they’ve become a USA today bestselling author doesn’t mean they know how to market.
- Be wary of authors who are complacent, meaning they have a lot of books out so they don’t think they need to market because they’re content with book sales. These authors won’t go to the trouble of marketing the audiobook either and that will affect your royalties.
- Know that both traditionally published and independent authors have to do all of their own marketing. The only authors big publishers do marketing for are the biggest selling authors, like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. So if you can do royalty share work for authors who understand how to market themselves, you pretty much get to go along for the ride, not needing to do as much as the author does. Although, you’ll only help yourself if you do jump in on that.
Understand that royalty shares don’t always have to be done for free.
If you’re choosing the right royalty shares, then you’re probably choosing books that qualify for a stipend, and many authors who understand marketing also understand that to get a quality producer they need to be willing to pay something for production. Which means even if there is a stipend, they’ll probably pay you more on top of that, bringing the compensation for your work almost up to what it would have been for a paid per finished hour job. But you need to be willing to ask for it. If they value your time and skill, they will say yes. Let’s be honest, authors who just want you to do the work for free don’t understand the need for a more experienced professional and don’t understand how poor quality will affect future sales.
This is why I feel like ACX needs to add a third payment option of Paid Royalty Shares. Authors want to get a stipend because it means less money out of their pocket, but to use the stipend it has to be a royalty share deal. As it is now, if an author wants a quality producer, they have to pay the hourly rate because the best ones won’t do royalty share deals for free. Is this dichotomy with how ACX is set up making sense? Can you see how this is causing problems for both narrators/producers and authors? Authors can’t afford to quit their day job while they build their list enough to quit, so how can anyone expect audiobook producers to do the same thing? They need to be compensated for their very specific talent and time while they build the list of audiobooks earning royalties.
Please, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. ACX is providing a great opportunity for producers/actors to make money on royalties that no one else is. That’s seriously awesome in my opinion. But since authors don’t understand what actors need and actors don’t understand the book publishing industry we’re not all benefiting from this set up like we should be, or could be.
To see an author who is doing well as a narrator because he’s choosing the right royalty share deals, read this blog post on ACX: https://blog.acx.com/2016/02/03/picking-the-right-royalty-share-projects/
(Except, I give you even more suggestions than he does…)