Do you hear what I hear? Audio Books and ACX

acxI’ve recently started poking my nose into the world of audio books. Now that I have a bona fide series out there, the investment of time seems more than worth it. Why not have another product on the line to meet readers’ wants and needs? 🙂

Many of you have heard of ACX (, the Amazon division that functions as the audio arm in much the same way CreateSpace is the print arm for self-publishers. I took the plunge about a week ago and have started the process of “claiming” my book, getting ready to hear voice talent auditions, and taking the steps necessary to get the thing out in the wild.

Here are some tips on my experience so far:

Paying for it
While ACX handles all of the distribution aspects of your audio project, much like CreateSpace handles it for print, the heart of the endeavor is the voice narration of your book. ACX acts as a match maker, putting voice talent in contact with open jobs like your book project. The voice talent ranges from totally green to Hollywood actors. Naturally, they want to be paid for their work and that’s been, so far, the thing that’s slowed me down in the process.

cashThe reason? There are two options when it comes to getting your novel produced as an audio book: the first is paying the voice talent outright. Fees range from $100-200 per finished hour at the low end of talent, $200-400 at the mid- to good-, and “negotiable” for the very high end (the averaged “finished hour” is about 9300 words, so A Reason to Live–at 90,000 words–comes in just under 10 hours long).

If you do the math for a semi-talented individual, you can see we’re talking $2,000+ for a project with completely unknown returns. While I’m in-it-to-win-it, as they say, and hope and even expect my audio books to sell well, I blanched at the idea of sinking this much into the book (the first book, I might add…I could go broke financing the rest of the series).

ACX knows this and has set up the second alternative, a Royalty Share option whereby the narrator takes a chance on you and does the work on spec (i.e., free) in return for a 50/50 split of profits (after ACX’s cut from an escalating royalty scale). Not all narrators are willing to do work this way, of course, since they’re ponying up a ton of work on the chance that you’ll be worth it. But enough narrators are working this way that there are some great voices out there. Not to mention…

The ACX Production Stipend

…prove your book is heading for great things (awards, sales numbers, Amazon rank, etc.) and you could be eligible for an ACX Production Stipend, a $100 per finished hour, payable to the narrator, that ACX invests in your project to attract the best voice talent. If you get picked for the stipend your project web page gets tagged with a stipend icon (and I imagine is searchable) that narrators trawling for work will see. A colleague whose book was recently deemed stipend-worthy reported to me that the voice talent after the tag was markedly better than before.

To try and get the stipend, I was told point blank by ACX support to send a “brag” email to telling them why my book deserved to be funded, what kind of promise it had as an audio book, etc. You can learn more about the stipend on its ACX page.

I’m only just starting the process myself, but I’ve already found out a few things about it that I wished I’d known ahead of time.

Your Book
After you create an ACX account, you’re going to want to “claim” your book. If you have an Amazon account, you can use this to greatly facilitate the process: just login and ACX will scour the Amazon database for your titles.

However, I found to my dismay that the search engine is less than perfect–it returned a mish-mash of my print and Kindle titles, but I had no way of knowing which was which, as the ACX results screen has no information on what’s a print title and what’s a Kindle title. Nada. Zip.

I naturally clicked on the first A Reason to Live cover I saw. Mistake. Turns out it was the print version. Now, I’ve had some recent success with the Kindle version–it’s been as high as #1 overall in Free and has been in the Top 100 for Hard Boiled mysteries since early March–but my print version is something like #1,300,000.  So…I’m trying to attract great voice talent by proving that my book has legs, that’s it’s going to sell. How does having a rank of #1,300,000 look? Pretty shitty.

What's in a name?

What’s in a name?

Long story short, if you make this mistake, you have to contact and request its manual removal, which can take up to 5 days, then claim your Kindle version. Awesome. Don’t make this mistake. Search for your book by its ASIN (searching by ISBN will likely bring up your print version). (I should also point out that searching my name Matthew Iden yielded different results than Iden, Matthew [see image at right]. Watch out and stick with your ASIN to be sure!).

Your Description
Your book project will have a display page for narrators to peruse when they’re looking for work. This is not only your description, it’s your (only) opportunity to sell your project to great voice talent, so ACX recommends that

you include marketing information, selling points, best-seller status, awards, foreign language translations and reviews. Additionally, please include information about the Author’s reach and fan-base (i.e. 5,000 followers on Twitter, 8,000 fans on Facebook).

This description can be up to 5,000 characters and might be what’s going to make or break your project. Had I known this up front, I would’ve taken my time and written it before starting the claiming process. You can save your project and come back to it, of course, but I think most would find it more comfortable to have the 5,000 character description in hand, then copy and paste it into the box.

Not surprisingly, you have to provide a short excerpt of your novel for the narrators who are interested in your book to read and submit to you for review. This is a script that can be uploaded, typed/pasted directly into the form, or pointed to via URL. It’s suggested to be about a page or two and encompass an interesting scene, dialogue, drama, and so forth. Much like the Description, it would be handy to have this thoughtfully prepared ahead of time rather than cobbled together while the web form is open.

Hats off to Amazon and ACX: a cool way to expand your reach, introduce more readers to your work,  and get another product on the shelf to make self-publishing a viable career. I’ll report back as I learn and experience more! Please share your own experiences in the comments.

Bonus Tip
All of the voice talent registered with ACX have put up samples of their work on the site. It’s a hoot just to listen to some of the samples. You can filter and search by nearly any imaginable criteria: gender, accent, age, outlook…even “male acting as female” or an English language sample with a Swedish accent. Check it out here.


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Tip Tuesday, Tips for eAuthors
15 comments on “Do you hear what I hear? Audio Books and ACX
  1. Hi Matt – Good recap. I’m in the middle of this process now for FIRST TIME KILLER (in fact, today I got the 15 minute sample to approve). I’ll let you know how it goes. So far, I’m impressed!

  2. Tuan Ho says:

    Brilliant post Matt! Never knew about ACX until I read this.

    Definitely sharing this. 🙂

  3. philipparees says:

    Very clear options, analysis, do’s and dont’s. Great information, carefully saved for the future of a book imminently to be audio-ed. Thank you

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Thanks, Phillippa. I’m getting some interesting info about the process from other writers. I sense a second post on ACX and the world of audio books coming soon…

  4. […] you read this blog, you probably know I’m in the process of making my first book, A Reason to Live, into an audio book through […]

  5. karenavivi says:

    Thank you for sharing your ACX experience. I keep hearing about DIY audible, and your explanations are clarifying how it works without hype.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Thanks, Karen, I’m glad it helped. So far, it’s gone swimmingly for me and I hope my next post will be about all the success I’ve had with Audible. 🙂

  6. great info matthew, didn’t know about the stipend or benefit of searching via ASIN, thanks so much, be very interested in your follow-up

  7. […] Part I of this mini-series, I talked about my debut foray into audio book creation–with the redoubtable Lloyd Sherr of […]

  8. Amy says:

    Just stumbled upon your post, as I’m helping my husband navigate the process. As a 30 year radio voice in the Orlando market, he’s looking to break into the audio book voice-over business. Thanks for your insight.

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hi Amy – You’re very welcome. Best of luck to your husband. If I could offer a few tips (from the client/partner side):

      • Remember that the “narrator” is also assumed to be the producer of the audio book. Your husband will be expected to be able to engineer the final product or hand it off to someone who can.
      • When I did initial cut-offs for auditions, the first narrators to get scratched were the ones who submitted samples with poor sound quality. I know it seems like a no-brainer, but I’d say 20% or so who submitted were of terrible quality, never mind their voice or style. Make sure you listen to other narrator’s samples and make sure you’re posting samples and auditions of similar quality.
      • There’s a difference between reading a book and acting a book, and I was looking for someone who acted as well as they read. Other writers aren’t looking for that, so make sure you know which one they want.
      • Along those same lines, I found many men couldn’t do women’s voices. They did them in falsetto or held their nose or something equally obnoxious. Your husband might find it worthwhile practicing kid, women, and elderly voices.
      • I was leery of narrators with little audio book experience who didn’t want to take a chance with royalty split, or who listed their fee as “Call for details.”
      • One numbnuts asked how much I was paying for the job, when I had specifically listed my title as “royalty share only.” Make sure you understand how ACX works–YOU can list yourself as available for both straight payment and royalty, but a BOOK can’t…it’s either one or the other.

      Good luck!

  9. […] What I Hear soon, for those of you interested in getting your own stories made into audibles *(read Part I and Part […]

  10. […] You can read other tips about the process (and mistakes made) on my blog post from my first foray into audio books, Do You Hear What I Hear? […]

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