how FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT became an audiobook

A few people have asked how I made FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT into an audiobook.

Short answer: I didn’t do any of the work. 🙂

Much longer answer:

Back in 2016, I was looking seriously at turning some of the FROSTBORN books into audiobooks, so I researched the process thoroughly. Amazon has a website called ACX designed to link up writers with audiobook narrators, and many indie writers who have audiobooks find narrators through ACX. The idea is that you post a sample of your book, and narrators record auditions for it, and you choose a narrator from the auditions.

It’s a good idea, but the difficulty is that audiobook narrators cost a lot of money. Audiobooks are measured in terms of “finished hours”, which is how many hours the final recording turns out to be. (FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT was just under 11 hours.) Narrators are paid per finished hour, and a good narrator starts, at minimum, at $200 per finished hour. $300 to $350 is more likely, and really well-known actors can charge more.

You can see how this would quickly become expensive.

There are cheaper options, but in terms of audiobook narrators, the old maxim “you get what you pay for” is especially true. ACX offers an option called “royalty split”, where the writer doesn’t pay the narrator anything upfront, but the writer and the narrator split all the royalties on the audiobook for the next seven years. I didn’t want to do that, partly because I didn’t want to split the royalties, and partly because a lot of beginning narrators use royalty split to build up a portfolio, which means some of them don’t actually know what they’re doing yet.

Additionally, I couldn’t do just one audiobook, because all my books are series, and if I was going to make a go of audiobooks, I would need to have a bunch of them recorded. Recording just one would be useless, so I needed several. The trouble is that would get expensive really fast. FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT was 11 finished hours long, and since that would be about average for the series, getting all 14 books recorded at a rate of $300 per finished hour would cost $46,200 dollars. Even doing the first five at $300 per hour would come to $16,500.

That’s entering the neighborhood of a Small Business Loan, which is risky territory. I had read accounts of indie writers who had sunk tens of thousands of dollars into making audiobooks, and were not at all sure if they would ever recoup that money.

Some writers record their own audiobooks. I really liked that idea, because whenever possible I prefer to do things myself rather than hiring someone to do them for me. That said, self-recording an audiobook wasn’t an option for me because, to be blunt, I don’t have a voice for radio. My voice at its best is both somewhat nasal and raspy, and my diction is terrible because I have a tendency to talk way too fast. I wouldn’t pay money to listen to someone with my voice read a book for 11 hours, and no else should have to either. Also, there was the technical side – I would have to level and master the audio files myself to meet ACX technical requirements, to say nothing of editing out the inevitable coughs, etc.

So, after all this research, I realized I had four options.

1.) Do nothing with the audio rights. This would make no money, but I wouldn’t lose any money.

2.) Hire an established narrator on ACX and record some audiobooks, and risk spending tens of thousands of dollars without turning a profit.

3.) Find a narrator willing to do a royalty split on ACX, and spend a lot of writing time sorting through them.

4.) Record the audiobooks myself, which would mean spending a week of writing time, minimum, to record the book and probably another week to get the files ready until I learned the process.

Needless to say, I concluded my time was better spent writing more books, and at the end of July I settled on Option One and that was that.

Then in November out of the blue I got an email from a company called Tantor, asking if the audio rights for FROSTBORN were available. I get a lot of writing business-esque email that I just delete unread (“Format Your Ebook,  Starting At Just $599.99!”) but this one caught my attention because I knew the name from the bookstore. If you walk through the audiobook section of a Barnes & Noble, you’ll see a lot of CD cases with the Tantor logo on the side.

I also read this post from Lindsay Buroker detailing how a couple of different companies have been approaching indie writers and licensing the audio rights to their books. This meant that I now suddenly could add Option Five to the list of four options previously:

5.) Accept some advance money upfront for audio rights. Someone else does all the work and expense of hiring a narrator and getting the files uploaded. Possibility of royalties later if the audiobooks do well enough to earn out the upfront money.

Option Five was, by far, the most attractive of the five. So Tantor got the rights to do the first five FROSTBORN books as audiobooks.

They sent me a list of narrators. The narrators were all good, but Steven Crossley was the best of them. (If you look for him on Amazon, he’s done like a billion audiobooks.) Also, he had done the audiobooks for CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake Tudor historical mysteries, which are some of my favorite books. Read those even before the Kindle came along!

I think it turned out pretty well. The first five FROSTBORN books will be available in audio before the end of the year. So if you have a long car, plane, or train trip coming up this summer, I know how you can pass the time. 🙂

The audiobook is available at at Amazon, Amazon UK, iTunes, and Audible.


2 thoughts on “how FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT became an audiobook

  • March 21, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    This is amazing! I’m really pleased for you! And as an Audible customer I can never get enough of good books that are turned into audiobook.
    It is fascinating to read the process that this takes as it isn’t something that many people think about when they listen to audiobook. The work involved is an interesting thing to consider while listening.

    Just the film making rights to go and you’ll have the triple crown! 😉

    • March 21, 2017 at 5:30 pm

      Thanks! I should have the preorder link for the second one tomorrow.

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