This blog was featured on 12/10/2017
My Audiobook Trifecta
Written by
Ellen Notbohm
December 2017
Written by
Ellen Notbohm
December 2017

Smart phones and tablets and She Writes, oh my!

My path to audio editions of my books began long before any of these existed. In the mid-2000s I published, through a traditional publisher, three nonfiction books that became an author’s dream—books that “grew legs,” that is, sold well year after year. My contracts contained either no reference to audio rights, or gave the publisher audio rights if exercised within a year of the book’s publication. That didn’t happen, and there lay my audio rights, Sleeping Beauties, until 2015.

When an audiobook publisher approached me about licensing one of my books, I referred him to the agent who handles my foreign and ancillary rights. She pitched a second publisher, who also submitted an offer.

I signed a three-book deal with Recorded Books that included generous advance on each book, bonus for sales over a certain number of copies per book, royalties for hard goods (CDs) and digital downloads, plus per-download rental royalty on library copies, choice of narrator, and approval of cover art and copy.

In addition to the attractiveness of the terms of the offer, there were several other compelling reasons to sign with Recorded Books: they offered the best terms with Audible, and have dominant access to the library market (50% share), which is where my agent judged my books would do best. They distribute directly into the entire English-speaking market, through ownership of large audiobook publishers in the UK and Australia. And they offered the possibility of licensing direct-to-audio books from me in the future.

My three books were released over a period of seven months beginning in mid-2016. With very little active promotion from me (“do better” is my plan for next year), the first book completed its debut year with sales of over 1,100 units, a number my agent termed “happy-making,” though with much room for “we can do better.”

I’m asked, don’t you have to pay your agent a cut? Isn’t the royalty a lot less than if you published your own audiobook? Yes, and yes—and it’s unquestionably worth it to me. I didn’t have the funds to self-publish an audiobook. Hard to get around that. Without my agent’s expertise, I wouldn’t have known what I could ask for in an audio deal, and wouldn’t have gotten such generous terms with such a well-established publisher who was, not incidentally, great to work with. I see it as a three-way win.

Learning to promote my audiobooks won’t be the first steep learning curve I’ve ascended in publishing. But I’m looking forward to enjoying the view on the way up.


Ellen Notbohm is the author of four award-winning nonfiction books. Her debut novel, The River by Starlight, publishes with She Writes Press on May 8, 2018.


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