• Diana Y. Paul
  • [SWP: Behind the Book] The Audible Format: A "How-to" Guide
[SWP: Behind the Book] The Audible Format: A "How-to" Guide
Written by
Diana Y. Paul
August 2017
Written by
Diana Y. Paul
August 2017

Audible Seal

The Audible book format is the fastest growing segment in publishing, with commuters and other active book lovers preferring to listen more than to read. In March I decided to add the Audible format to the print and ebook versions on the 1 1/2 year anniversary of the release of my debut novel, Things Unsaid. So, the question I had to ask myself:  Should I spend the time away from writing to produce another form of my debut novel or spend the time structuring my next novel? 

Things Unsaid is now considered "backlisted" so bookstores have moved on to the next shiny new book, and that is as it should be. But developing my debut novel into an audiobook has both invigorated my writing and breathed new life into the old. Listening to another voice narrate has been spellbinding both for the acting involved as well as the interpretation of each character. The voices produced by my narrator were spot on or improved upon the voices I created in my head. The experience was thrilling for me!

I followed what another author had recommended: signing up for ACX, which is the acronym for "Audiobook Creation Exchange", an Amazon affiliate.  There are a number of other routes to take--narrating yourself in a studio, hiring a narrator (which can be very expensive), or completely do-it-yourself with your own equipment for recording, playback, and editing.  Since I had volunteered years ago to record books-on-tape for the visually impaired and for dyslexic readers, I knew how easy it was to read incorrectly, stumble, clear my throat, or "um".  So, that was out of the question for a long book (total: more than 8 hours of listening time).  I wanted a professional voice.

The Process

1. Sign up for ACX (http://www.acx.com)

An extremely user-friendly site, ACX provides a resource center for authors to connect with professional "Voices" (called "producers"). The book that is created is called an Audible (another Amazon affiliate).  What you will have is almost seamless vertical integration from production to distribution.

2. Read "About ACX" and Click on "Get Started"

The process of  using ACX is almost painless and ACX expertly guides you through step-by-step. After you get started, you'll provide basic information both about yourself and your book, including the tone of the book and the themes.  ACX will also ask you if you hold the audio rights.

3. "What's the Deal?" (Royalty Options)

This is perhaps the most important financial arrangement you need to make. There are three options. I chose option 1 (Royalty Share/ Exclusive) because there is no payment upfront.  It means less royalties. Options 2 and 3 require an upfront fee with corresponding higher royalties. Amazon takes more of the royalties with Option 1, because they are "fronting" the costs.  The royalty share for Option 1 is:  Amazon 60%; producer ("Voice") 20%; author 20%. For the other options you receive more of the royalty (or all if you are the Voice), but the cost per hour of finished recording can range up to $1000. Since my printed format is 232 pages, the final total recording time for the listener is over eight hours or $8000.

4. Choosing the Voice/Producer/Narrator

This is where the fun really begins. I had to describe the voices I was looking for: gender, age, language, accent and style--as well as tone (comic, dark, cynical, terrifying, romantic). For Things Unsaid, I needed five major voices, both female and male, old and young, for the primary characters with at least 10 minor characters.  The main character, Jules Foster, is a middle-aged psychologist with a neutral West Coast speaking style.  But Jules's transformation emotionally required a gifted actress.

A good "Voice" producer is a performer who has an impressive range of voices in order to differentiate the various characters in your book, so that the listener is not confused by who is talking.  This is not simply someone who reads the text aloud and records all the voices the same.

5. Setting Up  Your Account, and Uploading an Excerpt

Selecting the Excerpt is a crucial step in the process. This excerpt will be used for auditions by the Voice producer and will provide  most of the  information you will have to base your decision for selecting the best Voice.  That excerpt and your book information will be posted on the ACX website as a "title accepting auditions."  

I chose a scene that involved Jules and her mother (the principal antagonist), for its emotional crescendo. But in that same scene there was another more minor character (male) so I could listen to how each narrator handled various voices.

6. Auditions

If a "Voice" is interested in your work, he or she will contact you via your ACX email box (NOT your personal email address). If you have multiple auditions you will want them to record your excerpt and upload it for you to listen. I also listened to other samples on their websites from other books similar to mine, to see how I liked their interpretations and voices.

7.  Inviting a "Voice" Producer

Auditioners will  record the first fifteen minutes of the excerpt you have provided.  This recorded excerpt is the basis for identifying who comes the closest to nailing your characters' voices and personalities.

If you like what you hear, make an offer with the click of a button. I couldn't decide between two extraordinary Voices, so I had my beta readers vote on the auditions. This can be  a tough decision to make, especially if you have several characters, different ages, and both male and female voices. 

8. Narration Time and Listening

 The “Voice” you have selected will now record the entire book and upload it., chapter by chapter, for your comments.  Things Unsaid was  estimated to be about 10 hours listening time (for 232 pages), which meant a total of 50-60 hours of recording and editing on the part of the "voice".  This is the most time-consuming step in the process for both the Voice and the author.

You  should listen very carefully and take notes matched to the soundtrack (chapter, minute, and second), catching any glitches or changes you want. Sara Sheckells, my superb ”Voice”,  sent me a spreadsheet so we could both make comments and note any changes or questions we had.  That was so helpful and we were a great team. 

In producing an Audible version of Things Unsaid, I spent about 15 hours  listening to the entire book, once for precision (comparing with the text) and once with my eyes closed to really lock into the timbre of the voices for each character.  But it was so exciting to hear my book!

I also had a weekly phone call with Sara for four weeks, giving her more of a feel for each character and what I liked and didn't like about a specific vocal interpretation. This was a two-way process since Sara shared her views on each personality as well and contributed greatly to the overall quality of the Audible story.

9. Approval

When the recording is as good as it gets, and you are satisfied (I was thrilled), then the file is locked on ACX and no further changes are possible.  You upload your book cover according to the ACX size specifications (usually requiring just minor adjustments) and you're good to go.  It takes about 10-14 days before being available for sale.  ACX does not give you a heads-up on this.  You have to check daily (on your own ACX dashboard--see below).  The first day of the sale you will get an email notifying you that sales are now "live".

10. Payment of Royalties--Your Dashboard

ACX will provide you with a dashboard that gives you prompt reporting of sales and a summary report at the end of each month. The payment of royalties is about one month behind actual sales reports. 

The Audible book is great!  Nice income and fun to listen to. You do not have to wait for quarterly reports nor for payment only once or twice a year. Sales have slowed down since Things Unsaid first came out in March--but I still receive a review or two from  listeners who evaluate the performance as well as the story.


Good luck!  Enjoy listening to your Audible book while you watch your sales grow!  I recommend an Audible production for all fellow authors!  It is a rebirth!

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  • Joan Dempsey

    Diana, thanks so much for sharing your experience and this step-by-step process. Super helpful!

  • Vivienne Diane Neal

    Congratulations. You have written a great guide. I had my book, Deception in Plain Sight, done in an audio format at ACX. An author who had had stories done in auido format recommended a great narrator for my book. Continued success in your endeavors.

  • Betty Hafner

    This was so clearly set out, I'll look into it now. Thanks for sharing this info.

  • Antoinethe Martin

    Terrific information. Good luck!

  • Jenni Ogden Writing

    Great article Diana; very informative and seductive!