Who are you? How many projects have you completed? Do you know what you're doing?
Creative Audiobook Productions, LLC was officially formed in October of 2016 as a business entity for audiobook producer Jem Matzan. (That's me! I do most of the work, but I've begun outsourcing some of it so that I can focus more on audiobooks and less on business and marketing. I've been producing audiobooks since January of 2015; it is a combination of two career paths I've been on since 2003: professional writing and acting.)
We know exactly what we're doing; we're creating immersive, high-quality audiobooks.
What's the difference between you and other audiobook producers?
The short answer: We produce audiobooks like they're movie voiceovers.
Maybe that's what you want, or maybe you just want someone to cheaply and quickly read your book in front of a mic. Maybe you want a full-cast production with celebrities and sound effects. There are all kinds of different ways to produce audiobooks.
The long answer: Remember Jerry Maguire's mission statement that got him fired from the big sports agency that he co-founded? Well, that's the same kind of sentiment we have here: fewer clients, higher quality, more personal attention. Every project is a swing for the fences. Most audiobook producers are desperately trying to finish as many projects in as short a time as possible, work at minimum quality standards, and hope that eventually one of them will be a hit. We know one production company that plows through more than 1000 audiobook productions per year with a staff of 12 (and a lot of outsourcing!). For most audiobooks, that's perfectly fine, but consider how those 1000 audiobooks are going to sound. We know one author who was forced to work through his big-name New York publisher's preferred big-name audio production company, and ended up with narration that he and his readers hated, and an audiobook producer who somehow cut off the last 15 seconds of each chapter. Big names don't translate to excellent quality.
Every now and then, there is an audiobook that's really special, that needs an emotionally-involved performance with no breath sounds or mouth clicks, and consistent energy and volume levels. An audiobook that needs the narrator to "do the voices" and not just read the book in a straight and unembellished manner. An audiobook that has a villain that you really want to sound like The Lich King, or a hero that is a ghost and needs to sound supernatural. An audiobook that demands an immersive listening experience that pulls people into the story and never lets them go. An audiobook that you direct yourself, review as it is produced, are empowered to make changes to... and that is exactly what we do.
You put a lot of effort into writing a book. Shouldn't your audiobook producer honor that effort with a great performance?
Who are your clients?
We work with independent authors and small/medium publishers, but we're open to any kind of business relationship or partnership if the conditions are right. If your book is published through a corporate publishing company, and you'd like us to produce the audiobook, you can either attempt to retain your audiobook rights and partner with us on the production, or you can request that the publisher engage us to produce your audiobook. We can work within any publisher's requirements in terms of production values and deliverables.
Our typical clients are authors who are serious about the art and practice of publishing, and that's why they self-publish. Most of them have had contracts/deals with big-name publishers, and are reclaiming the rights to their out-of-print books, then republishing them with new cover art and a few revisions. "Mid-list" authors can make a better living through self-publishing than through corporate publishing, but choosing the right partnerships for editing, cover art, marketing, and audiobook production is essential.
What is actually delivered to me when the production is finished?
Audio files in whatever formats are agreed upon. Usually we deliver 192kbps MP3s, but we can do WAV, AIFF or potentially some other formats upon request. Most of our projects are managed through Author's Republic or ACX, so we upload MP3s to the project site and it's all taken care of from there.
Do you have any restrictions on what kind of books you'll produce?
Unfortunately, yes. We won't do any of these:
- Books written in languages other than English (we might be able to find a narrator that can do this, but we couldn't guarantee our usual technical superiority or content accuracy)
- Self-help / alternative medicine
- Money management / investing
- Anything that glorifies non-consensual sex (in its many forms)
- Sometimes we refuse to produce books that grossly reinforce negative stereotypes
We have no problem with any kind of romance or erotica book, so long as those last two points are honored. We want to "just play the gig" and not get involved in political stuff, but we're not cool with content that seeks to harm people. Self-help and investment are subjects that expose us to too much legal risk.
Do I need new cover art?
Yes. Your print or ebook cover art is probably 6x9 or similar dimensions, and for audiobooks you need artwork in CD jewel case dimensions (4"x4"). ACX has a decent cover art guide in PDF format. The only change we suggest beyond the ACX requirements is that your finished image be at a resolution of 300 dpi. This is because print magazines like Audiofile and Publisher's Weekly require it.
Most authors and publishers we work with ask their cover artist to redesign the ebook cover to fit the audio format. This involves resizing and cropping the background image (and sometimes rearranging some of the graphics so that they aren't cropped out), changing the placement of the title and author text, and usually adding a narrator credit as well.
Here is an example of a print book cover and the audiobook cover that was created from it:
Who retains the audio publishing rights?
You do. We just produce the audio and hand off the files to you and/or your preferred distribution partner (Author's Republic, ACX/Audible, iTunes, CD Baby, etc.).
What are the terms of the production agreement?
That depends on how the project is published, but usually it's a pretty simple contract that says we do the work, you keep the rights (unless you're specifically selling them to us), and you either pay us in full or split the royalty earnings over a term of 7 years. ACX has a standard agreement that is both clear and equitable. If we work outside of that, we'll work together on the contract terms. Basically, you keep all rights, agree to pay us a certain amount, and whatever else you'd like to put in writing (deadlines, source file retention, etc.).
What if I want to back out of the agreement once we've begun?
This has never happened to us, and probably never will because you're a part of the process from the beginning, but the simple answer is: You pay for what's been produced, and we cancel the remainder of the project.
You'll hear and approve at least 15 minutes of audio before the contract is fully committed. In some cases, we'll provide character voice samples from later in the book so that you can approve them or ask for changes. In fact, at any point during production, you're not only free but encouraged to tell us that you don't like the way something sounds when each chapter or section is posted for review. What we don't want is for you to approve the first 9 chapters and then say: "I've changed my mind, I think we need to go back and make the main character's voice deeper." That will require a change fee because it's a lot of extra time. If the first 15 minutes doesn't sound right, speak up and we'll make changes. If you decide at that point that this just isn't the right narrator for your project, or you've decided to narrate it yourself, or something else, then that's as far as we go.
What equipment do you use for recording?
That depends. Currently, we work from a home studio with simple but effective equipment. We love technology, but this is business and we believe that the magic is in the human element -- the narration, editing, and engineering -- not the complexity of the hardware. This includes a Studio Projects B-1 microphone, a Focusrite Scarlett Solo ADC, and a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for recording. For editing, we use a custom-built Linux desktop computer. Both the XLR and USB cables are heavily shielded and as short as possible to prevent interference and reduce latency. Everything is powered through a line conditioner to ensure a clean power signal with no AM interference. We also have a couple of pairs of tragically expensive headphones that we rarely use, and some high-end PC speakers in lieu of studio monitors.
In instances where we work with off-site narrators, we don't know what equipment they use, and we don't really care -- all that matters is how it sounds.
What DAW software do you use?
Audacity. A lot of big-name studios use expensive proprietary software like Pro Tools. We're puzzled by that, since Pro Tools costs a lot of money and is made for extremely complex recording scenarios involving multiple instruments, tracks, and a live sound board. All we're recording is one human voice, and we don't need a huge EQ board because this is not 1991 and our software EQ works just as well, if not better for this purpose.
We record the raw audio, then develop a standard process for making each project sound its best. This involves de-clicking, eliminating the sound floor so that there is no background hiss at high volume, reducing sibilance and plosives, boosting certain EQ bands to enhance the narrator's voice, and compressing to provide consistent volume levels throughout the production.
Can I have the source files?
Sure! They're really big, though (several gigabytes). We can put them on a USB flash drive and send them to you. They are in Audacity format, which is a small index file and a directory full of WAV files. As long as you don't have really long chapters, we can export each chapter or section to a single lossless WAV file and send them instead. We can also send you the finished MP3s.
Can you produce a CD?
Sure! We recommend MP3 CDs instead of uncompressed audio CDs because of space and materials concerns. Each CD holds about 70 minutes of raw audio. So a 6.5 hour audiobook would require six CDs for raw audio, but only one for high-quality MP3s.
In terms of production and distribution, we can find a vendor that will do what you want. We can easily work with CD Baby to do print-on-demand MP3 CDs.
This option is not available under the standard ACX royalty share agreement due to distribution exclusivity with Audible and iTunes. However, we may still be able to work something out if you want a royalty share project in CD format.
Can you produce a Blu-Ray Pure Audio disc?
Potentially. We've opened a dialogue with the owners of the format, but we haven't been able to work out a process and cost structure because they want to have a deal in place first. We, on the other hand, want to test it out, know how much time, work, and money it will take, and then offer it as a product. So if you're interested, we can restart our dialogue with the German company that controls the format and processing scripts. Theoretically it isn't difficult; they run some scripts to transform the audio into the proper format for Blu-Ray. The tough part is quickly and reliably transferring several gigabytes of sound files from the US to Germany.
How do I figure out whether a flat-rate production or royalty share is better?
For some people, this is a matter of wanting the satisfaction of an ironclad commitment from a creative partner. Royalty share means that we are just as invested in the success of your audiobook as you are. Some authors see that as bringing with it a higher degree of trust and commitment, even though the entire production process is exactly the same -- you approve everything as each chapter or section is completed.
In terms of money, you can estimate royalty share earnings using these formulas:
40% of Sale Price divided by 2
Sale price is calculated based on length. These are the price ranges that Audible uses:
- 3 – 5 hours: $10 - $20
- 5–10 hours: $15 - $25
- 10–20 hours: $20 - $30
So if your audiobook's retail price is $19.95 (a very common price point), this is the calculation: (19.95 * .40) / 2 = $3.99
However, that assumes a retail purchase, which is not how most people buy an audiobook. Usually they use Audible credits, or they are Audible members who get a 30% discount on the retail price. Audible credits currently cost $15 each for Audible members, but a number of free credits are given to members each month based on their membership level. Audible does not disclose the exact value of a credit in terms of how it translates to a royalty payment, but we do know that it is much less than a retail or discounted purchase.
For Audible member cash purchases: ((19.95 - (19.95 * .30)) * .40) /2 = $2.79
Audible credit purchases on this title will be less than $2 each (approximately $1.50 to $1.80), but will be the largest percentage of overall sales.
Whispersync purchases are difficult to calculate because they don't have a separate sales category, but we've seen them result in abysmal royalties -- less than a dollar in a scenario like this one, and maybe as low as $0.30 or so, depending on the ebook sale price.
Our recommendation is to base your long-term earnings calculations on $2 per sale as an approximate average across all three sales methods.
We do have sales requirements for royalty share projects (see the rate schedule for details). If your book does not meet the sales requirements, we can still potentially produce it on a flat-rate basis.
How do I calculate potential audiobook sales?
The only reliable indicator of audiobook sales that we know of is ebook sales. This assumes that the book is already published in that format and has enough sales data to work with. If you're going for a simultaneous (or close to it) release of multiple formats, then there's no way of knowing for sure. You could use sales data from other books you've published, or other books in the same genre that you expect to compete directly with.
Basically, count on a baseline of one audiobook sale per 10 ebook sales, assuming the ebook price is $2.99 or less. For more expensive ebooks, the ratio will likely be much lower. If you are committed to a certain sales goal -- 10,000 book sales across all formats, for instance -- then the ratio will also be lower depending on how much you put into audiobook marketing. If you are serious about selling your audiobook, the ratio could be more like 1:5. If you do Whispersync deals between your ebook and audiobook and can use ads effectively to promote them, the ratio will improve even more, but the audiobook royalties will drop significantly because of the low purchase price.
What forms of payment do you accept?
If we're working through ACX on a royalty share deal, then Audible will pay both of us directly each month, based on last month's sales.
If we're working through a direct agreement, or through ACX on a pay-for-production agreement, then we can do a check, wire transfer, or credit card (via our payment processor). The payment must clear before we can release the finished audio files for distribution.
Can I get payment terms (pay a few weeks/months after the project is finished)?
We prefer not to do that, but the payment terms will be outlined in our agreement. Keep in mind the fact that your finished audiobook files will not be released to you (or to ACX, Audible, etc.) until the payment is received and cleared.
Will you help me market my audiobook?
Yes, to an extent, though that is not our core business and we only market audiobooks we produce. Refer to the Marketing Services section of our rate schedule page for details.
What should I do to market my audiobook?
The same things you do to market your print book and ebook.
Can you arrange for audiobook pre-orders or pre-sales?
Not at this time, but we're working on that. What we can do is produce the audiobook, approximate when it will work through the system at Audible, and help you work out a release date that should coincide with your ebook release.