Episode Notes

Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing segments of the book business. So how do you turn your book into an audiobook? 

Our guest today is an indie author of the popular Fall of Man Series. He writes epic, imaginative, biblical fiction with heart-pounding plots and lyrical prose for readers who like to think biblically and feel deeply.

Brennan McPherson, welcome to the Novel Marketing Podcast!

Audiobook Production

If you’re traditionally published, you can talk to your publisher about the potential of producing an audiobook version of your work. 

You can approach (or be approached by) audiobook production companies like Recorded Books. 

Additionally, you could pay for the production yourself. Or, if you’re a talented reader and tech-savvy, you could try your hand at producing the audiobook yourself (if you still have the rights). 

Because of my background in music production and the fact that I’m self-published, this is the route I’ve taken. But Brennan doesn’t recommend this strategy for the vast majority of people because it’s much more difficult than you think, and it’s also extremely time-consuming. I’m fairly experienced at recording and editing audio content, and it takes roughly three hours of labor for every finished hour of audio. That’s 30 hours of labor for a 10-hour audiobook, minimum. And that’s before proof-listening to it. 

You need to have a solid computer with good processing speed, a quality microphone, and isolation, so you don’t sound like you’re reading your book in a bathroom stall at Waffle House. You’ll need to buy an audio interface and quality software.

If none of that sounds like your cup of tea, be encouraged because there are several other ways to get an audiobook produced yourself, so long as you are the rights holder of the material.

ACX is an audiobook production and distribution platform that provides multiple ways to produce audiobooks. It connects audiobook makers with authors and publishers willing to pay for their services. It’s a hub, like a social network, for making audiobooks. You could enter into a royalty-share agreement with a producer who will make the audiobook version of your book or choose to pay a one-time fee to the producer. Normally, the latter is a per-finished-hour fee, so if your audiobook ends up being 10 hours long, you pay a set fee x 10.

If you don’t like ACX, you can also use a service like Findaway Voices, which is similar. 

If you’re going to pay to have your audiobook produced anywhere, Brennan encourages you to use Findaway Voices. Their contractual terms are better, and it offers significant advantages in the distribution stage. 

Audiobook Distribution

So, let’s talk distribution. Going back to what we said about audiobook production companies, a company like Recorded Books can get you distributed pretty much everywhere and at competitive rates. Traditional publishers, in general, will make your audiobook broadly available, but royalty rates will depend on your contract. 

Distribution places include Audiobooks.com (owned by Recorded Books), Apple, Google, Nook, Kobo, Overdrive (owned by Recorded Books), and Bibliotecha. 

ACX can get you published in most places. Or you could choose to go exclusively with Audible, meaning only Audible would sell your audiobook. You get a better royalty, along with some additional advantages if you go this route. 

However, Audible gives you zero control over pricing, and doesn’t allow you to discount or promote your audiobook effectively. This is why Brennan recommends not going exclusively with Audible.

If you’re producing it yourself or paying for the production, Brennan recommends Findaway Voices because they have wide distribution, promotional tools like discount deals they allow you to set up, and exclusive access to a platform called Chirp

Chirp is a new audiobook platform built by BookBub, the reigning king of e-book promotion. 

Brennan loves Chirp. It gives you control over your pricing and grants great royalty rate. And if you set up a promotion, it’s a month-long promo that they will push to their thousands of readers in an email like their Featured Deals emails. 

Brennan has one audiobook series published through ChristianAudio.com, which is owned by Tantor Media, which is owned by Recorded Books. Recorded Books is the largest independent audiobook company. Recorded Books just bought Overdrive. Having such a large company behind you gives you leverage and the ability to gain promotional opportunities you wouldn’t normally dream of. He successfully garnered some great promotion for this series because of having a direct distribution relationship, which likely will lead to 20,000-30,000 free downloads of one of the audiobooks in July. (One of the books will be the free audiobook of the month on Christianaudio.com, and that normally garners 30,000 downloads. That’s a lot of new listeners!)

To build this relationship, Brennan had his audiobooks ready to go. He then shot a message to Christianaudio.com through their contact form and said, “Hey, I have these audiobooks ready to go. They’re professionally produced. I own all the rights. All I need is someone to publish them. Will you publish them? I’d love for them to be available on your platform.” That request led to a distribution agreement, a personal relationship with the owner, and a phone call with the publisher that led to promotional opportunities he couldn’t have dreamed of snagging on his own through other distribution channels. 

Audiobook Marketing

There are lots of ways to market your audiobook. However, few are effective, repeatable, controllable, and therefore viable. 

Getting on Oprah is effective but not repeatable or controllable. Consequently, getting on Oprah should not be listed in your marketing plan. 

You should already have your own platform and be planning to promote any new audiobooks to your platform. I’m going to guess that no one listening to this podcast needs to be told to do that. 

There are five main other ways to sell copies of your audiobooks:

  1. Digital advertising
  2. Limited-time, retailer-specific price promotions
  3. Leveraging influencers’ platforms to promote your audiobooks on podcasts and YouTube videos
  4. Public speaking
  5. Marketing the e-book and paperback versions of the book you have in audiobook format

These are the only real, viable, self-serve, digital advertising platforms for audiobook promotion. And they work best when coupled with limited-time price promotions or low-priced audiobooks. Unless you’re already popular, you probably will not have great success advertising a full-priced audiobook. 

So, a great strategy is to write a series, have the whole series available, heavily discount the first audiobook in the series, and advertise away. Your goal should be to remove barriers for people to try out your audiobooks. If they like what they hear, they’ll buy more. If your revenue ends up exceeding your ad expense after a few weeks, voila! You just won the advertising lotto. Rinse and repeat. 

You cannot, at this time, promote audiobooks through KDP’s self-serve advertising platform. If you have an Amazon Advantage account, which is really annoying to set up, you can advertise audiobooks on Amazon; but it’s not effective. In fact, Amazon ads in general are way less effective than they used to be. It’s much more difficult now for them to pull a profit. 

Google ads are not a good idea for audiobooks. Brennan does not encourage you to try them. 

Digital Advertising

With digital advertising, you need to focus primarily on three things: 

  1. Targeting. You need to be able to target your ideal reader as closely as possible. Depending on what subgenre you write in, this may or may not be possible to do well on Facebook and BookBub’s advertising platforms.  
  2. Cost per sale. Most of the time, self-serve advertising platforms can’t let you know how much it costs to get a sale. What they can tell you is the cost per click or impression. And if you’re keeping track of how much you’re getting from sales, you can compare your expenses and income and come up with a good estimated cost per sale.
  3. Scalability. Can you continue to serve an ad that’s working well to more people for a long period of time? At this time, BookBub has too small of an audiobook audience to be scalable. Especially for Christian fiction or nonfiction. Facebook ads are the only viable, long-term option here. 

If you have a series, after running a test ad that seems successful, you can eventually begin to factor in the sell-through rate: What percentage of people who bought the first book then also bought the second, third, and fourth? If you can effectively estimate your sell-through rate, you can come up with an estimate of how much each sale of book #1 is worth and compare that with your cost per sale. If your cost per sale is $6, but your sell-through rate makes each sale worth $8, then you know your actual ROI is 33%. For every dollar you spend, you get $1.33 back. Every time you make that transaction, you then gain 33 cents in profit. 

Real life is never this clean. You need to be very careful because it’s easy to overestimate your ROI and underestimate your actual expenses. You also need to be careful to factor in the fact that you will waste money on bad ads to try to figure out how to make a good ad. 

If you start running ads, you will need to study good marketing copy, use a service like BookBrush to make quality images for the ads, and then learn how to run accurate A/B tests to make sure you know what elements help an ad to convert well to a sale. This will help you make little changes over and over to help the ads convert better to sales. 

But you won’t be able to use digital advertising effectively unless you have real-time sales data. And guess who doesn’t give you real-time data on audiobook sales? Nearly everyone.  

This is a problem. 

I don’t know about how frequently Audible’s sales figures are updated through ACX. However, through Findaway Voices, Audible’s sales are updated once a month. This makes digital advertising for sales on Audible nigh impossible, unless you’re willing to chuck $1,000 down the drain by advertising for a whole month until you see the return. 

One way you can attempt to keep some sort of tally is by watching the sales rank on Amazon for your Audible audiobook. But it’s difficult to tell how many sales that rank equates to. 

The good news is that Findaway Voices, Apple, Chirp, Nook, and the library service Bibliotecha, along with a number of smaller players, give you real-time sales data. And library sales add up to be quite significant. 

Limited-Time Promotions

Limited-time price promotions should be used in concert with digital self-serve advertising. A price promo is the best time to advertise because the new people you’ll be advertising to will be way more likely (think approximately 50 times more likely) to make a purchase on a limited-time deal than they would on a full-priced product. This is especially true if you are, to the person you’re advertising to, a new name. And that, after all, is the point of most advertising: to extend your reach to untapped populations who might be your fans (but who don’t know it yet). Still, even if they are totally your future fans, they won’t try your book unless you take away the barrier of a high price and the risk associated with that. 

Through Findaway Voices you can set up limited-time promotional pricing at Apple and Chirp. Findaway Voices is the only bulk audiobook distribution service in the marketplace that Brennan knows of that allows you to set up limited-time promotional pricing. Audible doesn’t even let you set the retail price. It’s automatically set for you. 

Furthermore, you could set (through Findaway Voices) the first book in a series to 99 cents or even free; and this can be a fantastic way to be visible and drive traffic to your other audiobooks. Most audiobook retailers give users the ability to filter by price; and the lower the price, the more visible your book will be on these lists (most of the time $2.99 and under). But some retailers won’t let you price an audiobook free (like Audible–are you detecting a trend here?) and won’t honor your price. 

Still, a free audiobook that’s the first in a series can be a fantastic way to funnel new, paying listeners into your universe. 

I ran a Chirp deal on a single book at 99 cents and sold more than 1,000 copies and have over 50 reviews on Chirp for that book now, with a 4.6 average rating. Because Chirp is new, it’s much less competitive than BookBub featured deals, which I’ve never managed to snag because I’m a poor peasant like everyone else. 

Influencer Platforms

This method involves leveraging influencer platforms on podcasts and YouTube videos to sell audiobooks. 

There are several ways to go about this. Get booked to be on podcasts that reach your target audience. If you do nonfiction theology, for example, you can reach out to podcast hosts who speak to an audience interested in theology and ask if they’d like to interview you about your area of expertise (related to the book). This is a great way to sell audiobooks. In addition, you could sponsor a podcast with a sizable following, paying to promote your audiobook/series. This is effective, but easy to overspend on, and probably should only be done by people advertising the first in a long series of audiobooks.

Same thing with YouTube videos. You can sponsor YouTube videos that reach a sizable portion of your targeted audience; and luckily a lot of YouTubers already promote Audible, so it can be a great match. 

When Brennan finally got his whole series done in audio format, he considered sponsoring a YouTube video to promote his audiobooks. He sponsored a Blimey Cow video in the past and had great results. It ended up being cheaper than if he would have used pay-per-click advertising through Facebook or other platforms. But the quality of the results depends on how well the video does. If the video gets hardly any views, the results will be subpar. It’s a risk/reward trade-off. 

Public Speaking

Public speaking can be great for certain people. If you are a talented speaker and have an expertise that allows you to get hired to speak at events, public speaking can be a great way to sell books. One way to capture a live audience’s attention and encourage purchases is to use a bulk text-message service. Some of these services are fairly affordable, and you can set up a number you can ask the audience to text a certain word to in order to receive a free download. In exchange, you can receive their email address or the permission to text them in the future about deals. The awareness your speaking brings to your work also can naturally increase sales as people look you up and try out your work. 

You can also print out bookmarks and business cards with links to purchase your audiobooks. Or sell your physical books at the event and have a flyer that says, “Buy the audiobooks at this website link!” and give the website URL (one that’s easy to type into their phones).  

E-book Cross Promotion

Market the e-book and paperback versions of the books you have in audiobook format. This is the one marketing tactic that’s most within your control. As you can probably tell, marketing audiobooks is tricky, and not that many options are currently being offered. However, you can always promote your e-book and paperback books; and when you do, a certain percentage of those sales will be audiobook sales. People will go buy your book on Amazon, see you have an audiobook version, and decide they want that instead. 

As with everything, to market effectively you need to take stock of what tools are available to you, put together a cohesive plan and budget, make wise projections that are conservative (have a plan for a worst-case scenario result), and execute the plan. 

Don’t commit a lot of money at the beginning. Test marketing options carefully, so you don’t impoverish yourself. But also don’t be afraid to use up $20 testing an ad. 

One of the best ways to be in control of your audiobook sales is to write a longer series of books. If you do so, you can afford to spend more to get someone to listen to the first audiobook in that series because a certain number of listeners will go on to purchase book 2, book 3, book 4, etc. This, in turn, opens up more advertising avenues because suddenly you can afford them. 

With a longer series, you can run effective price promotions, like a Chirp promo, for example. Say that you funnel 1,000 readers into book 1; and then 33% buy books 2, 3, and 4. If those 1,000 readers bought book 1 for 99 cents, but the other books are $9.99, you would end up with $4,500 in revenue. Instead, let’s assume that you only have one book. You can certainly promote that book! But if it costs you $2 to get one sale at 99 cents and you sell 1,000 copies, you are going to be over $1,000 in the negative. 

The best thing you can do to market your audiobooks is to make certain that the e-book and paperback versions of your books sell well. There are many more tools available to sell the e-book and paperback versions. A rolling stone is easier to push.