The Cost To Create An Audiobook Edition Of Your Book

Releasing an audiobook edition of your novel or other book is one way to earn more income from a manuscript you’ve already written. Those of you who know the story of how The Martian sold know that’s a big part of its success. 

One question I get a lot is how much it costs to have an audiobook edition of your book produced. 

Just as there are traditional publishers for print and ebooks, there are companies who will produce your audiobook. Podium is the one that produced The Martian. Just as with traditional print publishing, the publisher, not the author, pays the up front cost.

You can also create and release your novel as an audiobook yourself, in partnership with a narrator/producer. That what I did.

Doing It Yourself

So far, I’ve used ACX for my audiobooks. ACX is an Amazon company. It operates as an exchange where authors and audiobook narrators/producers connect with one another. The author supplies the manuscript and the narrator/producer records and produces the audio and uploads it to ACX.

Shiromi Arserio produced the second and third books in my Awakening series, and is currently working on the fourth. Here is her recording studio modeled after the Tardis on Dr. Who:

Different narrators have different sounds and styles. For a good example of two different professional narrators in the same genre, you can listen to Shiromi in the sample for The Unbelievers and to Jewel Greenberg, who narrated The Awakening.

Your audiobook, once finished, will be available through Amazon and iTunes. (And any other platform ACX publishes on. As with other terms, this can change, so you need to check the terms on ACX when you’re ready.)

ACX pays a percentage of the sale price as a royalty. This, too, can change, and it has gone down since ACX began. This is part of why some authors are now using Author Republic. I haven’t tried that platform, so for now I can only tell you my experience with ACX.

Paying Your Narrator/Producer

There are three ways to pay your narrator. The first is to pay per finished hour (PFH) of audio. The second is a royalty-share deal. The third is a hybrid option.

Paying up front means that once you as the author pay the narrator/producer PFH, the royalties you get through ACX are all yours. 

To give you an idea what the cost might be, my second novel (a supernatural thriller), The Unbelievers, was 84,400 words, which resulted in 9.1 finished hours of audiobook. If a narrator charged $300 PFH, that would be $2,730. Some narrators charge less than that, and some more.

With the royalty-share deal, you pay nothing up front as the author. But when the audiobook sells, ACX pays you half the royalty and the narrator half the royalty.

A hybrid deal is where the author pays less–usually around $100 PFH–toward editing, proofing and mastering costs, but royalties are still shared. It’s a great way to attract good narrators if you can’t afford their usual PFH rate.

Which Way Is Best?

Deciding which to do depends on your budget, your long-terms goals, and on what terms the narrator you want is willing to work.

Pluses to paying full price up front include:

  • Long-term, if your book sells well, you will earn more because you won’t need to split the royalties.
  • It may be easier to find a good producer/narrator because you won’t be asking that person to bet a lot of time and expertise on your novel, you’ll be paying up front. For royalty-share, you need to sell the potential narrator on the value of your work, usually by showing a track record of good print or ebook sales, or best seller rankings.

The minuses are what you’d expect:

  • Not everyone has the funds to pay up front for an audiobook, and even if you do, you might want to invest those dollars some other way.
  • You don’t know how long it will take to earn that money back.

The positives for authors of royalty-share deals:

  • No up front money to invest.
  • The narrator/producer has a lot of incentive to help promote the audiobook so she or he gets paid.
  • You may be more motivated to promote knowing someone else has taken a chance on your work.

Minuses of royalty-share for authors:

  • If the book really takes off, you will be splitting the royalties with your narrator for a long time, so you may spend much more than you would have had you paid up front.
  • The narrator you most want to work with may not be willing to do a royalty-share deal.
  • To do royalty-share, you’ll need to agree to keep the book with ACX and that narrator for a number of years (check ACX for exact terms). 

The hybrid deal threads the needle. You’ll still need to pay some up front costs, but it’s a lower investment. For my 9.1-hour book, that would be $910 instead of $2,730. While you’ll still be sharing royalties, a good narrator/producer makes a tremendous difference. Poor sound quality or an unprofessional narrator can mean that no one buys your book at all, as most people listen to the sample before buying. In my view, better to have a good narrator with whom you share royalties than no royalties at all.

Other Costs

In addition to the dollars you spend, whether up front or through splitting royalties, you’ll also need to invest time. Your narrator will spend the most time producing each hour of audio, but you’ll need to listen to it and check to see if it is accurate and sounds good.

Though I didn’t track the hours, my best guess is I spent at least 15 hours listening, taking notes, and corresponding with the narrator on the 9.1-hour Unbelievers recording. And I had a fantastic, super-competent narrator who rarely made errors and whose production quality was excellent. In the long run, that is not a lot of time, but I mention it so you know it’s not as simple as just handing over your manuscript and watching royalties roll in. 

You’ll also need an audiobook cover. You can start with your ebook or paperback images, but the covers on Audible are square, so at the very least, you’ll need to resize your current book cover. It’s best to pay a designer to do this, because she or he can make sure the quality of the image remains and rearrange the elements so they are balanced for the square size.

Other Benefits

Not only will you have another edition of your book to sell, you’ll learn a lot by hearing your book read aloud by a professional. With my first supernatural thriller, The Awakening, I discovered there were words I overused in my writing. Despite that I’d read much of it aloud to myself when proofreading, I simply didn’t hear that until I heard a narrator read it. Other people tell me they don’t notice, but it jumped out at me.

With The Unbelievers, the second in my Awakening Series, I discovered nuances in the characters that helped me as I was writing the third.

The Tough Question — Profits

How much you’ll earn on an audiobook through ACX is hard to say. First, while you are paid a percentage of the sale price, the sale price varies, and it’s set by Audible, not you.

For example, right now, the regular price of The Unbelievers on Audible is $19.95. But an Audible member can buy the book using a credit, and typically members pay $14.95 a month to belong and get 1 credit per month (though sometimes Audible gives you extra credits).

A member also can buy the book for the purchase price, which might be $19.95, but other times is less. People who already own the Kindle version of the book can buy the audiobook on Amazon for $1.99. Also, sometimes the book is just priced at a sale price of $1.99.

You do get a bonus if a person signs up to Audible for the first time and chooses your book as a free download. That’s only happened three times with The Awakening.

As the author, you have limited ways of promoting the audiobook beyond telling your own email list about it and including it on your website and social media. Because you don’t set the sale price or know when it’ll be on sale, you can’t purchase listings anywhere featuring a sale.

Sometimes Audible includes your book in its own sales email. Once I saw The Unbelievers for $1.99 in an email with five other books. I was happy about that, but I had no control over it.

Sales of the ebook edition can help sell the audiobook, because of the low price for people who own the Kindle version. Lately, I’ve had a lot of audiobook sales of The Awakening because I’ve made the ebook version free to generate sales for the rest of the series. That means the buyers are likely getting the audiobook for $1.99.

That’s a worthwhile strategy when you have a series, as it usually prompts sales of the later books. But if you are selling only one audiobook, it will take a lot of those sales to generate much income.

The Bottom Line

An audiobook edition can definitely be a nice added source of income for a book you’ve already written. On a royalty-share deal, you’re investing only your time up front, but there are caveats, including that  you are tied to the narrator. If you like working with that person, as I do, that’s fantastic. If not, you will be less happy.

On the other hand, if you are paying up front, it might be quite a while before you recover the cost of your audiobook edition, so you’ll need to weigh whether you believe your book will sell well enough and for long enough to justify that.

I’ve been happy so far with my audiobooks and I think it’s been worthwhile. If you decide to do one, or if you have experiences to share or other questions, please post in the comments.

Until Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. 9/15/17 Update: KOBO is now offering audiobooks. If you’re interested, check out Listening To Jim and Bryan Talk About KOBO And Audiobooks.

The Prosperous Writer’s Guide

This Friday, I’m recommending The Prosperous Writers Guide To Making More Money: Habits, Tactics, And Strategies For Making A Living As A Writer by Brian D. Meeks and Honorée Corder.

This book covers in a fun way why it’s important to understand the numbers involved in selling books. Also, and more importantly, the authors show you how to use those numbers to increase your sales. Focusing mainly on Amazon, the book helps you figure out whether the cost of an ad is worth it, whether your book description and cover are helping you sell your novel or hurting your chances, and how to choose keywords that can get your novel in front of the new readers.

Even if you are not yet publishing, or if your novels are published by a publishing company, it’s worth reading this book to better understand the factors that affect sales and how visible your novel will be on Amazon.

Much of the The Prosperous Writer’s Guide is helpful for other publishing platforms, too. The authors include tips on improving your book description and how to evaluate whether and how much overall sales have improved based on different ads or changes to your book description or cover.

I hope that’s helpful.

Until Sunday, when I’ll talk about the cost involved in creating an audiobook edition of your novel–


L.M. Lilly

If At First You Don’t Succeed: Iterate and Optimize

This Friday I’m recommending a book that’s a quick read with a mix of inspiration and business advice for writers: Iterate and Optimize: Optimize Your Creative Business for Profit by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, and David Wright of the Self Publishing Podcast.

What I like most about it is that it encourages writers to get started or to grow their business rather than being frozen by indecision and concern about doing the “wrong” thing.

Under this philosophy, let’s say you finished a novel you’re pretty happy with. You spent the last two years writing and revising in the early mornings and a few weekends carved out of your other job or profession. Rather than spending two more years tweaking it for fear of rejection or bad reviews, the Iterate and Optimize approach encourages you to start querying agents or to publish it yourself and to get on with your next novel. If you get rejections on the first, or it isn’t as well-received as you hoped, or you discover six months from now that the cover you got fairly cheaply doesn’t match your target market, you can both improve and update the first novel and use what you learned in your second.

The book also provides a lot of solid information not only about self-publishing but about growing a business. Even if you’re planning to stay focused on your current career and write on the side, and so feel you don’t need to worry about the business, this is worth a read. It’s quick and interesting and will give you context for the ever-changing publishing world where your books will live.

The Amazon blurb and the book itself suggest reading the authors’ Write. Publish. Repeat. first. I haven’t read it, so I can only say I got a lot out of Iterate and Optimize without having done so, though it’s possible I missed something in the process.

Until Sunday —


L. M. Lilly

Money, Business, The Rich, And The Poor

This Friday I’m recommending a book that’s not new, and it’s not about writing. Telling you that up front probably is a bad idea, as everyone wants what’s new, and this is a blog about writing. All the same, if you haven’t yet read it (and even if you have, you might want to reread it), Richard Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money – That The Poor And Middle Class Do Not! is one of the best books you can read if you’re pursuing writing.

Why? Because it causes you to think differently about your time and effort. I read it when I’d nearly finished law school. I had a high-paying job lined up at a large firm, and I actually wondered whether if I’d read this book first, I would have skipped law school and focused right off on how to generate income through creating assets rather than entering a profession where I would be selling my time. At a high price, yes, but my time is still a limited quantity. And because I’d been writing on the side since college, I wished I’d looked into ways to earn money that would free up hours rather than fill them.

The next time I read the book was on a long plane flight to a personal writing retreat I created for myself. For ten days in a warm climate, I focused on writing and where I wanted to be five years down the road. At that time, I was running my own law firm. It was going well–so well that I rarely had time to write. Rereading Rich Dad Poor Dad wasn’t part of my retreat plan, but I had my Kindle and had finished the book I was reading on the plane. I downloaded Rich Dad because I remembered it being inspiring.

It was. During that retreat I started sketching out what I’d need to do to get  to where I could write full time. It was the first time I believed I could do it and seriously contemplated leaving a busy law practice behind.

Regardless whether you want to ultimately leave your current profession or career, Rich Dad Poor Dad can help you start thinking creatively about how to maximize your time. It also provides inspiration for those long hours when you’ll be writing a novel, uncertain if you’ll ever sell it.

What books have most inspired you over the years? Drop me a note at [email protected] or click on the Comment button in the upper left corner and share.

Until Sunday….


L. M. Lilly

P.S. If you’d like to see which articles, podcasts, and books I’ve suggested on previous Fridays, click Recommendations in the category list to the right.

Author Earnings On Amazon

Sunday’s post (Do You Need A Publisher, Part 3: Money) addressed how the  publishing path you take might affect how much you earn. This week’s recommendation is a report from tallying author earnings based on over one million titles available on Amazon.

The data is presented in income brackets, such as $10,000 in Amazon sales per year and seven figures in Amazon sales per year. The report includes graphs showing how many authors fit in each bracket by type of publication, so you can see the number of self-published authors versus Big 5 published authors who, for instance, earned six figures per year from Amazon sales.

The report also compares long-established authors with newbies. For example, the report shows “1,340 authors are earning $100,000/year or more from Amazon sales. But half of them are indies and Amazon-imprint authors. The majority of the remainder? They come from traditional publishing’s longest-tenured ‘old guard.'”

You can read the AuthorEarnings report here:

Have a great weekend!

L. M. Lilly

Why And How Self-Published Authors Offer Free Books

This Friday’s recommendation is an episode from the website that I find most useful on writing and publishing, The Creative Penn. (The double-n comes from host Joanna Penn’s last name.) Joanna interviews Damon Courtney, the founder of BookFunnel is one way authors can offer a free book for various purposes, such as providing review copies or giving readers a free book to sign up for an email list. He and Joanna also discuss the rise of indie publishing.

Joanna generally spends the first part of each show updating listeners on her publishing journey and commenting on tweets and emails. If you want to skip to the interview, click this link, hit play, and move to 19:30.

Have a good weekend! Stop back on Sunday for a new post.

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Joanna always includes bullet points from and a transcript of the interview on the page with the episode, so scroll down if you’d rather read it or prefer to skim the content before listening.