In case you missed me screaming it into the black void of internet despair that is Twitter, Orconomics is now an audiobook. I’m really excited about the results, but I also wanted to share some about the journey as well.
If you’re uninitiated, I got my book turned into an audiobook using ACX — the audiobook creation exchange. It’s a collaboration between Audible and its parent company, Amazon, which also runs Kindle Direct Publishing. Authors can post opportunities to secure the production rights to their books, and then producers can opt in to produce the book for either a flat fee or a share of the royalties. The finished book is posted on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
ACX is a great system, if you use it right. If you don’t, it can be frustrating and clunky. Fortunately for you, I’ve done both.
The First Attempt
In the middle of 2015, Orconomics had been bouncing around the depths of Amazon’s rankings for several months. I was selling books, but not enough to cover the cost of advertising, and I was looking for ways to generate some “buzz,” as the cool kids were no longer saying. I read online that audiobooks could help give books a boost, and another author friend of mine was producing one of his own on ACX. He encouraged me to give it a try.
I decided immediately that I can’t read my own work—I stutter and flub words when my brain gets ahead of my mouth, which is more often that I care to admit. (Honestly, I constantly mess up reading Dr. Suess to my toddlers.) That was a good decision— and probably the only one I made on this attempt.
After I posted the rights to my book, I got a few auditions here and there, but they were infrequent and… lacking. Some of the folks I heard were clearly very talented, but didn’t sound right for my project. A few others didn’t sound right for any project. Either way, I wasn’t hearing the level of professionalism I wanted for my book. So I decided to change the offer to from royalty sharing (in which the producer takes half of the audiobook royalties) to flat fee (in which the author pays for the audiobook recording, and then keeps all the royalties.) This was, in hindsight, mistake number one.
The Problem With Hourly-Rates
Set aside the fact that producing the audiobook would have cost me more nearly all of the gross royalties I’d earned from Orconomics at that point. Even if that wasn’t the case, paying by the finished hour would have been a terrible idea.
Unless you have a ton of cash lying about, you cannot possibly pay someone a decent rate for their time to produce an audiobook. Each finished hour of audiobook represents several hours of work. Even offering several hundred dollars that I had saved up, I was still essentially advertising a difficult, technical job that takes a lot of artistic talent, and offering to pay McDonald’s hourly rates for it.
It’s almost surprising that I got anyone with talent to respond at all, and most of the responses I received bore that out. Eventually, however, I did find a wonderful actor in the British Isles who I’ll be calling Stu for the purpose of this story. (Obviously, that’s not his real name.) His voice was great, he performed well, and he could do a wide variety of characters. Stu was a one-man show, producing the audiobook on his own in his spare time. I thought that would suit me, as I am also a one-man show writing in my spare time.
But two people collaborating across an ocean in their spare time is like a long distance relationship without the sexual tension. (No offense, Stu.) We got a good start, but things slowed fast. I was eager and he was busy elsewhere, then he knuckled down and sent some stuff for feedback when I was busy elsewhere. Then we were both busy, then I redoubled my efforts, but he had commitments, and then he pushed over a ton of files when my day job was picking up. And so on and so forth.
Total Party Wipe
I remain convinced that somebody has to be in the driver’s seat for a project like this, and as I have my aforementioned day job and a pair of lovely children, it’s probably not going to be me. But working with a picky author for a small paycheck isn’t terribly motivating, and when every hour spent cuts your hourly rate, it’s hard to see the incentive to drive a project.
As far as I can imagine it, the incentive couldn’t have been there for Stu after a while. He was always kind and professional, but the project drifted into a slow oblivion. I don’t blame him—Stu was great, but the way I chose to fund and run my project set it up for failure, and he was just there as the work ground itself towards an unavoidable, unhappy conclusion.
The lesson of all this is that when you’re partnering with someone, you need to set them up for success, either with proper incentives, all the attention you can give them, or (preferably) both.
The audiobook sat untouched for over a year, and when I finally reached out to Stu many months later, he had overwritten all of his project files.
But that’s bleeding into a happier tale.