INTERVIEW WITH KAREN COMMINS
Karen, can you tell us about the process of producing an audiobook?
Audiobook production is such a detailed, technical, and time-consuming process that I’m probably going to write an article to describe it all!
Authors can choose from an increasing number of ways to produce audiobooks of their titles. I’ll use the ACX.com model in this interview since I’m most familiar with it.
A general industry rule of thumb is that about 6 hours are needed to produce 1 finished hour of an audiobook. This time doesn’t include the narrator’s preparation before recording.
Basically, the steps are:
1) I pre-read and prepare the book ahead of recording it.
- I create a notebook in Evernote to keep all of my notes for the audiobook. I take copious notes about each character so that I can make believable acting choices when recording. Every time the author offers any sort of description about the character, I copy that info to a note for the character. I end with a complete profile for each character, like this page for your character Tess Tremaine.
- I also look up pronunciations of words I don’t know.
3) Once I’ve recorded the entire book, I send all of my audio files to my editor. He listens to every second, removes mouth noises like clicks and gaspy breaths, and adjusts the pacing where needed. He also proof listens and notifies me of any mistakes that I need to re-record.
4) I re-record the corrections identified by my editor. You and your readers might be interested to see this 2:25 video I created to show how my editor communicates the corrections to me and my recording of them:
5) The editor seamlessly inserts my corrections into the original audio files.
6) He masters the files so they all sound pleasing and have consistent volume.
7) The editor sends the final audio files back to me. I upload them to ACX so the author can review the entire audiobook.
8) Occasionally, the author will request a small change or find we missed something. She will send me the list of her corrections, and we repeat steps 5-7.
9) Once the author approves the audiobook, ACX runs it through a QC process.
10) When the audiobook passes QC, ACX distributes it to Amazon, Audible, and iTunes for retail sale.
From an author posting an audition script to the book becoming available for sale, what’s the time frame?
- The author’s speed in choosing a narrator
- The narrator’s availability to start and record the project
- The editor’s availability to edit and master the audio
- The ACX team’s schedule for QC and retail release.
What interested you in reading Murder & Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction?
I particularly look for cozy mysteries and sweet romances, stories set in the South and/or with Southern characters, and humor. I actually bought your book in December 2014 and had thought about approaching you about narrating it because it included everything on my wish list! Obviously, our wonderful partnership was meant to be!
Wow! That’s amazing. Thank you! Who was your favorite character to "be" in Murder & Mayhem?
She’s good people. Did you have a favorite scene to read?
Let me say first that I LOVED the chapter titles! Usually, I only get to say “chapter number.” I had to laugh at some of your lines! I can’t pick a single scene. I had the most fun in the booth any time I got to give voice to Lou, Earl, or Clive!
Your Earl and Clive make me laugh out loud. How did you get started producing audiobooks?
Becoming an audiobook narrator has been an evolutionary process and is a dream come true! When I was in 5th grade, I decided to do voiceover work, and in 1996, I knew I wanted to specialize in audiobooks.
While working full-time in information technology positions, I volunteered for 5 years as a reader at the Georgia Radio Reading Service. I then took a voiceover workshop, produced a demo, and started marketing myself as a voice talent in 1999.
Even though I had a home studio in early 2001, the audiobook publishers were unwilling to trust producers at home. With the advent of ACX.com in 2011 and the proliferation of devices that can play audiobooks, the demand for audiobooks has risen dramatically. The playing field has changed. Now, a home studio is a necessity!
I continued working in my demanding day job until the end of 2011. I’ve been immersed in audiobooks since 2012 and could not be happier!
What's your favorite thing about the process?
I am joyful and grateful to live my dream life of narrating wonderful stories! In addition, I am thrilled and blessed that Drew, the hero of my life story, directs me on every book! We record audiobooks together 3-4 days a week in our stunning soundproof studio. I’m in the studio almost every day and am still giddy to spend my days absorbed in books in my Parisian-themed room.
Okay, let’s talk money. One of the things that kept me from doing an audiobook before now was fear of the cost. Can you talk a little about payment options open to authors?
On ACX, you have 2 main ways of paying for the production: Pay now, or pay later.
In the Pay Now plan, you're paying Per Finished Hour (PFH). For example, a 10-hour audiobook (that required 60 or more hours in real time to produce) would cost some hourly rate you specify times 10.
On the Per Finished Hour option, you'll see several ranges of payments: $0-50, $50-100, $100-200, $200-400, and $400 and above. Again, these costs are not for the whole project but per finished hour.
Narrators with some experience will charge at least $100 PFH, and more experienced narrators are generally in the $200-400 PFH range. The union minimum is $225 per finished hour, just to give you a comparison.
If you decide to pay $200 PFH for that 10-hour audiobook, your total cost would be $2000 up-front before the audiobook can be made available for sale.
If you choose Exclusive Distribution, ACX offers an option to Pay Later with a Royalty Share (RS) contract. This option allows the author and narrator to split the 40% in royalties that are paid by Audible, with each receiving 20% for the contract term. The narrator recoups her fee and production costs over time through the royalties.
Because of the tremendous risk that the audiobook will not sell enough copies over time to pay the costs of production, a lot of narrators do not want to do a royalty share book. We've invested our time and energy that could have been used on projects that paid up-front, and we often have paid editors and proofers up-front. With no guarantee of reimbursement, it's truly a gamble for a narrator to undertake a royalty share project
Two common approaches to payment options help to mitigate that risk.
On some RS books of their choosing, ACX offers a $100 PFH stipend. Nobody knows the exact algorithm for determining the stipend availability, but all books posted are reviewed for inclusion in the program.
If ACX doesn't add the coveted stipend to your title, you can always add a stipend yourself! You might offer a PFH amount that you will pay up-front and then split the royalties with the narrator to help make up their fee. This option is known in narrator circles as a Hybrid Deal and helps you afford a more experienced narrator and helps the narrator pay her team.
If you choose to offer a hybrid deal, you need to know that ACX doesn't have that option on their site. You would need to work out the deal and the payment logistics with the narrator to pay the up-front fee and click the ACX option for a royalty share contract.
Do you have any tips for authors for their audition script? Is there anything that attracts your attention?
Some authors upload the whole book as the audition text. Narrators don't have time to read your whole book. We don't know what's important from that book.
I suggest that authors pick out about 2 to 4 pages, or about 750 words, which will equate to around 5 minutes of audio. In those few pages, include 1 part of narrative and 1 part of dialogue between 2 to 3 of the main characters. It's helpful if you can give character descriptions because that will put us in the right playing field of realizing your vision for the book.
Every narrator would agree with this next suggestion -- totally eliminate the words “grasped”, “clasped”, and “gasped” from your book! They're just hard words to say, and invariably, whatever follows them, makes them even harder to say! These 3 words always seem to trip us up.
Oops! I counted "gasped" five times and "clasped" three times in Murder & Mayhem. I'm sorry! Thank you so much, Karen. I think this is a lot of great information for both authors and readers.
ABOUT KARENKaren Commins is a professional audiobook narrator who has given voice to over 50 audiobooks. She is an Audible Approved Producer who specializes in performing cozy mysteries and sweet romances. She especially shines in books containing humor and/or Southern voices. Karen also has excelled in narrating biography, history, self-development, and other non-fiction titles. In addition to earning a BA in broadcast journalism, Karen has completed extensive specialized training in voiceover and audiobook narration technique, as well as digital audio production. Visit her web site KarenCommins.com to hear demos, see a list of her titles, and watch a video demonstration of her stunning soundproof studio. She writes articles about audiobooks for DigitalBookWorld.com and curates and maintains information for authors seeking to create audiobooks at this link.
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