Fair warning: This is another posting about audiobooks. I think it’s pretty interesting (and you may, too), but if you don’t like the subject matter, I encourage you to plow ahead anyway because…
…Bigfoot & Frankenstein await you at the end. Promise.
I have a ritual that I perform every morning that sets the tone for the entire day.
Even before the coffee is ready, I stagger over to my computer, flip it on, dial up ACX.com and, with great trepidation and anxiety…
…I look up my audiobook sales from the previous day.
Depending on what I see, the number that pops up on the screen either puts me in an excellent mood or, sadly, Milo has to walk to school because I’m going back to bed with this bottle of whiskey, dammit.
Happily – most days anyway – the numbers look okay and Milo gets a ride to school.
When I first started out doing audiobook work back in March of this year, I was willing to do almost any kind of book just to build up my resume.
As I’ve made clear in previous posts, there is a great deal (more than you might think) of gay erotic fiction available for the willing narrator to tackle but….I just can’t. I’m no prude but…
…well, no. Maybe I am a little prudish. Anyway, I just can’t bring myself to do the hardcore gay fiction audiobook thing. Judge me as you will.
But apart from that self-imposed prohibition, when I first started out I desperately needed credits. I was, therefore, open to just about any type of book in order to get them. And very soon after setting up my home studio and embarking on my aspiring career as an audiobook narrator, I got educated. Fast.
My first surprise was getting paid work right away. In the early days of looking for books to record, I got five offers right off the bat – five, boom – that actually paid me an hourly rate for my work. True, it was only $100 per finished hour but…it was cash money for talking to myself in my basement so, hey, sign me up.
I recorded them, zapped them off the authors, got my payment and- almost as good- had my first few professional credits. But those paid-by-the-hour gigs have gotten harder and harder to get. (I have a theory as to why, but I’m saving it for later.)
However, if you’re willing to do audiobook work for a share of the royalties instead, the authors will fairly beat a path to your door.
(To be clear- and for those with no experience in this new industry- if you record a book for what they call a “Royalty Share,” you are agreeing to record and produce the book for free, after which you literally split, 50/50, all of the royalties with the author for any audiobooks that sell on Audible for the next seven years. Keep that in mind, as it becomes important later.)
Now, if you try and compare the success rate in getting booked to do an audiobook with, say, the chance of booking a voice-over commercial…well, there’s just no comparison. The odds of getting a VO job is roughly 100 to 1. (At least in my experience. Some do far better than that, of course.)
But with audiobook work? For a while there, I was averaging one or two offers for every five auditions I submitted. It was astonishing. I’d take an hour or so to sit in my basement and record some audition pieces, I’d then load them up to ACX and walk away.
Then, an hour or so later….blam, blam. A couple of emails would arrive:
“Congratulations, Kevin! You’ve received an offer to produce the audiobook ‘The Life and Times of Chris Farley’ or ‘Macrame: It Isn’t Just for Lonely Women in the 70’s Anymore!”
And I would happily accept the offer, take the time to record the book, shoot it off into the ether and hope that it would sell.
True, I wasn’t being very selective about what I auditioned for back then, but it still struck me as incredible that I could get so many offers from so few auditions.
I quickly discovered why: Because the books I was recording weren’t already selling on Amazon as actual books, thus there was an equal chance that they would sell equally poorly as audiobooks no matter what I did with them. (This soon proved – not always, but usually- to be the case.)
The other audiobook narrators clearly knew what I did not. So, they being educated and me being ignorant, not a lot of people were auditioning for them other than yours truly.
Thus, my success rate.
To give you evidence of my early, take-what-I’m-offered strategy, have a look at my listings on Audible.com (here is your link). You will quickly see that, despite a smattering of fiction work, most of the books that I’ve recorded have been of the how-to variety. A couple of cookbooks, a handful of gardening books, some biographies (because who doesn’t want a middle-aged white guy narrating the life stories of Muhammad Ali and Oprah Winfrey?) and a few “summary” books as well.
[Side note: I’ve done a few of these “summary” books and, frankly, I can’t believe they are sold legally. They are, essentially, Cliff’s Notes versions of popular books. So rather than pay for a full-sized copy of “The Devil in the White City,” for example, you can listen to my positively awful boiled-down summary of the book instead for just a couple of bucks and get all of the knowledge without any of the joy of reading! Side side note: These books tend to sell pretty well, actually. Go figure.]
But here’s the thing: You never know what is going to sell. I did a few “Minecraft” books, for instance, that I thought might be popular. They’re selling zip-ah-dee-do-dah. I thought the books on Parenting I recorded might sell well, too. They sold bupkis. Ditto the cookbooks I laid down. Nobody buys them.
On the other hand, one of the worst books I worked on – and I mean this was a real turdball, folks- is an audiobook called “Blockchain – The Simple Guide to Everything You Need to Know.”
Let me save you some time. Here is what you need to know:
Do not listen to this audiobook. It is just terrible.
But it has sold hundreds of copies. I’ve made more money off this dumb piece of garbage than almost all of the other books I’ve recorded put together. I cannot begin to fathom why.
Similarly, the gardening books sell reasonably well. And the books on haunted places in America (I’ve recorded two of those), also move at a pretty good clip, too.
I take particular pleasure in the fact that- thanks to the current Republican nominee for President- my audiobooks on narcissism and sociopathy are selling really well. (Thanks, Donald!)
So…you never know. You record them, you put them on the market…and you hope.
At the beginning of this month, I passed a personal milestone: I hit 1,000 in audiobook sales. By the end of this month, I should hit 1,500. For the past two months in a row, I’ve sold over 500 books a month, which is very nice indeed.
In April, I had one book for sale under the Royalty Share contract. By the end of May, I had twenty. I added twenty more in June and another twenty in July. By the end of this month, I should have roughly 80 books for sale, and hope to hit a hundred or more by the end of September.
Most of them- except for the real duds- will continue to generate money for months and months after I’ve finished recording them. Personally, I think of each of them as little commercials spitting back tiny residuals for me every month.
And remember, my contract with each author is for seven years. So, how should that work out?
******WARNING: NUMBERS ARE ABOUT TO HAPPEN*******
But remember: Bigfoot and Frankenstein await you
at the end of it. Not much further.
Okay: let’s say I record a book that is one hour long. To record it and prepare it takes me about two hours, all told (including recording it, editing it, cleaning it up, adding the titles and the music, and loading it up to the site. Assuming there are no corrections, of course).
So…in order for it to be worth my while, I’d need to make…what? Forty bucks for every hour I spent on it? So that’s about $80 worth of sales I need to generate for that one book. Over seven years.
If I get a about a buck for every book sold (it’s actually slightly less than that) and I sell only one book a month over the next seven years, then I’ll make my eighty bucks for this particular tome, but not a dime more (and that would be a pretty pathetic seller, admittedly).
But the truth is:
The books are averaging sales, each of them, of about 8 books a month. And if I can get the number of books sending money my way to…100? 150? More?
Then we’re talking about an actual income. Not “retire to the Caribbean and buy your own island” kind of money, but exactly the kind of monthly stipend that every working actor needs.
My first month, I made around $140. The month after that, it was about $280. Last month, it was about $375. This month? Who knows? As the number of books climb, the residuals, if you will, should follow apace.
Which means that, while I wait for my Hollywood ship to come in (still waiting for TV audition #2, folks!), I’ll be in safely ensconced in Ft. Raphael all day laying down digital tracks.
Which brings me to my latest project. And your reward for digesting all these numbers.
Earlier this week, scanning the ACX audition page, I saw a title fairly jump out at me:
“Bigfoot & Frankenstein.”
Really. You don’t say. Tell me more.
The description: “Bigfoot and Frankenstein team up to terrorize the Wild West.”
Well of course they do.
I did not, of course, automatically audition for this book because…well, I mean come on. Would you? (I don’t know. Maybe you would.)
But I did post the fact that it was available for auditions on my Facebook page, with the snide comment that I was sorely tempted to audition for it.
After which, the majority of my friends who responded on the post basically double-dared me to audition for it.
Now I am a grown-up, mature human being who does not succumb to peer pressure and so, naturally, I auditioned immediately because mine, mine, mine, MINE, MINE!!!
And, of course, because God is hilarious, I got it.
I have spent the last two days working almost solely on this book. I have put more time and effort into this audio production than I have into almost anything else I have ever done.
And it is an eighteen minute book. I should have been able to complete it in about a half an hour. Instead, I have slaved away on it for two days.
No kidding: The audiobook I recorded for my own novel, “Confessions of a Transylvanian” (which I assume you all have downloaded, yes?), at eleven-and-a-half hours, got slightly more attention than this one, but only slightly.
Because I have already decided that “Bigfoot & Frankenstein” is going to be my masterpiece. My Mona Lisa. My Sistine Chapel.
When I die, I want the headline of my obituary to read: “Narrator of Beloved Audiobook ‘Bigfoot & Frankenstein’ Dies Peacefully at 120.”
At the conclusion of this project, I will have created (and I am being completely and totally serious about this):
The Greatest Audiobook Ever Recorded.
Which will be, let me reiterate, the audiobook version of Jeffrey Dale Jeschke’s epic tale of the Wild West:
“Bigfoot & Frankenstein.”
And you can take that, my friends, to the bank.