“I’ve heard that audio rights are never given to the author in the contract because that is how the publisher makes more money. Is this true? And if you lose the audio rights, do you lose all control? Let’s say for instance, do you have any say in who reads your story or is that completely out of your hands? Do your writers hold onto their audio rights in your publishing negotiations?”
Thanks to Holly for the great question!
Audio rights are part of the subsidiary rights negotiated in every contract. In some cases we negotiate the author to retain audio rights, in other cases the publisher wants them to be included in the total deal. Each case is different. There are a number of great audio publishers who license the audio rights from the original publisher.
How Does it Work?
For example, let’s say your book My Soul Can’t Handle the Truth is contracted by Big Kahuna Publishing for a $25,000 advance. As part of the deal the publisher negotiates the rights to publish the book and in the subsidiary rights section controls audio, film, and foreign rights.
Because the publisher controls the audio rights they can create their own audio edition. They can hire the voice talent, the studio, and production themselves. Or they can license those rights to a third party. Along comes Big Audie Recording Company (BARC) who wants to license the audio. They pay an advance to Big Kahuna Publishing of $1,500. Then BARC pays for all the costs of creating and producing and selling the audio. Every copy sold earns a royalty that once the advance is earned out money is paid to Big Kahuna.
Big Kahuna takes the $1,500 and keeps $750. The other $750 is placed into your author royalty account to help offset the advance they paid you.
It is very rare for the author to have any say in who the voice talent will be to record the audio. There have been a couple isolated cases where the publisher asked the author to help select the voice.
I’ve also had a few clients who have on-air talent and we negotiated to have them do the audio recording. This is rare, and usually has to be the publisher’s option since not everyone is as talented on-air as they claim, so the publisher can be a little reluctant.
I heard of a situation where an author insisted on using their own hand-picked actor to do the audio edition. Unfortunately the actor had no experience doing audio recordings. The actor was not a good “sight reader” since he was trained to memorize short lines for scenes, which is a completely different skill set. It took a month to edit the final audio because of all the mistakes in the recording. Over 3,000 edits. Obviously creating a professional audio is not as easy as it sounds!
Back in my Bethany House days, on multiple occasions, I accompanied an author to a recording studio to oversee their audio recording. The author was to be the voice talent for their own book. It was grueling for them to be “on-stage” for so many hours at a time and keep the recording at a top level. One time, around 2:30pm the first day the sound engineer turned to me and said “Let’s call it a day.” The author’s voice had begun to change as the strain increased. The author could not hear it until we played back two sections for comparison. The difference sounded like two different people talking.
By the way, a good reader can record a little more than 9,000 words per hour. A 90,000 word book would take three hard working days to record and another few days to properly produce. This is not an inexpensive process. It can cost $200-$500 per finished hour of recording. (Your mileage may vary.)
The trouble for the author comes when no one wants to license the audio and the publisher doesn’t want to spend the money and time to create it themselves. But the audio rights were made part of the original contract. The audio languishes in Neverland. Now the author is frustrated because they have a reader who prefers audio, but no one wants to do it (meaning, pay for it). Then begins the struggle to get those rights back after they have been granted. Some publishers are agreeable to revert those rights after a period of time. Others remain reluctant.
If You Retain Audio Rights
If you keep the audio rights your agent can license them for you. We’ve done it a number of times. Or you can self-publish.
Amazon created the ACX (Audio Creation Exchange) to help Indie authors and small publishers create audio editions. It is a fine program worth investigation. Amazon owns Audible.com and is the largest online sales vehicle, which makes integration with ACX a snap. Jane Friedman wrote about alternatives to Amazon on her informative blog: https://janefriedman.com/acx-alternative-2/
One of our clients was a voice talent for years. You can find Kim de Blecourt’s “audition” over at Voices.com, a site for voice talent. ACX’s site has over 52,000 audio samples to choose from.
If any of you have had experience self-producing audio, let us know your story. And how easy or hard was it to sell the audio version once it was available?
I’ve been involved in auditioning talent for training film narration, and it’s surprising how hard it can be to find exactly the right voice.
One question – can a time-limited reversion of rights be built into the initial contract?
Yes, many things in a contract are negotiable. A term limit on the exploitation of subsidiary rights is something that can be negotiated.
Thank you for this valuable information, Steve. I will save it to a folder for future reference. God bless you.
Great information, Steve! Thank you.
This is fascinating! I LOVE audiobooks and listen to 3-4 a month usually. I hadn’t thought of it from the standpoint of publisher rights etc. but I do know that a good voice actor will make or break the experience.
This is a perfectly timed post. K. M. Weiland and Joel Friedlander both recently promoted guests talking about audiobooks and how to do them yourself. It sounds as if non-fiction audiobooks are much easier to do yourself than fiction ones. Since I write fiction and don’t have the vocal talent to properly read a novel, I guess I’ll have to miss this much-promoted revenue stream!
The audiobook expert guests were Derek Doepker and Becky Parker Geist, if anyone is interested in learning more about the topic.
K.M. Weiland is great. We host one of her online courses at The Christian Writers Institute. (http://learn.christianwritersinstitute.com/p/mastering-character-arcs)
Her audio piece was a webinar that ran last Tuesday: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/free-webinar-produce-professional-audio-book/
The webinar with Joel Friedlander ran last Thursday:
So video didn’t kill the [audio] radio star? Seriously, may I ask what advice
you give new authors you represent about these rights when signing a
contract with a publisher?
The issue rarely comes up with new authors since most are more focused on the thrill of getting a book deal in the first place!
Audio rights is part of the negotiation with a publisher. Some are adamant they control those rights because of it being a potential revenue stream.
Most authors are happy to let someone else deal with audio because of the costs involved. But then there are others who are happy to tackle it themselves.
There are many cases where we’ve retained the audio rights and have licensed those rights on behalf of the client. But these are usually established authors and the audio publisher feels they can get their investment (production costs) back when they publish it.
I’ve actually recorded audio versions for personal use only of several novels by an author my daughter loved. If you’ve done a lot of reading aloud to you kids, you’ve probably already developed the skill of reading a sentence ahead of what your mouth is pronouncing so you know what inflexion to use. What I recorded was usually only 3 to 3.5 hours long, and I’d stop for a drink (tea-not EtOH) between the chapters. I always made a few (2-10) small mistakes (which delighted her!).
I am considering making the “author’s voice” audio versions of my novels. My husband wants them for when we drive long distances. But reading for perfection for commercial release is a huge step up from reading for the family. The books will be 10-14 hours long. That’s a big chunk of change at $200-500/hour. I haven’t decided if I’m going to make my audio version available commercially.
Ooooh! Thanks, Rebekah!
As Rebekah mentions below, it is possible to do it yourself.
1) right voice training
2) top drawer equipment
3) good editing software
Just like any do-it-yourself project. Everything from remodeling your bathroom to publishing your book. Anything can be done by yourself. If you have the time, money, and skill to do it well.
A question I often ask myself is this: “It’s not can you, but should you?”
Thanks! I have no idea what prompted it. But when I wrote it I laughed too!
I often wondered how this works. Thank you for this informative post.
Very informative as always. I am curious to know how hard it is to buy the rights to reprint your own book after the publisher has taken it out of print. If you have already addressed this in another blog, please direct me. I love your blog and learn so much from it. Thank you.
Dealing with this right now. Great article as always.
James L. Rubart
I’ve voiced nine books at this point, seven of my own, and two for other authors and I just started another book, one of Randy Ingermanson’s, this week.
The reality is, narrating books can be compared to learning the necessary skills to write a novel or non-fiction book. It takes practice. A lot. And you need editing skills as well.
My background is in broadcast journalism and advertising, so I’d been doing voice work for years when I narrated my first novel Even then, I had to try out. My publisher wanted to hear the first chapter of my book before they would agree to let me voice it.
I get that. It’s not as simple as getting a decent mic ($$$$) editing software, a mixer, building a soundproof studio and starting in.
I’m not trying to discourage anyone, I’ve discovered I LOVE doing other author’s books as well as my own, but it’s like any art. To do it well, it requires years of dedication.