ACX vs. Findaway ~ My Audiobook Creation Experience


“I evangelize for audiobooks,” ~Terry Maggert, author, this past weekend at Hypericon.

This man, super nice and super supportive, is the reason I started doing audiobooks in the first place. You can find his testimony for why he thinks authors should do them here. And because I’m the type of person who wants to test all the possibilities, I’ve gone through both major audiobook distributors—ACX and Findaway Voices and done it three different ways. Below follows my experience and a handy comparison chart.

ACX: The Basics ~ For those not aware, ACX is Amazon’s audiobook production arm. Like the KDP platform and it’s KDP Select program, ACX offers exclusivity with perks but also a price. More on that later. To start, you can use your Amazon login (just like you can do with KDP) to create an ACX account. From there, you will need to start a new project and fill in all the pertinent details for your audiobook.

Branch Number One ~ To hire a narrator/producer (the titles are used somewhat synonymously on ACX) or not to hire a narrator? My short answer, hire someone else. I’ll get into all the reasons why later. Basically, and maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but recording and engineering an audiobook is a massive undertaking that requires time, skill, and specific tools.

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So, now that I’ve made that possibly divisive statement, allow me to say ACX has some great help pages here for how to fill in some of the more complex fields so that narrators will want to work on your project. For instance, how to make your audiobook attractive to potential narrators. Once the basic information is in, you can start looking for narrators. This is where some of ACX’s exclusivity starts to play in. Essentially, you can create an audiobook with no money up front (wait for the but). Some narrators are willing to do what’s called a royalty share option, which means they get a portion of the royalties every time a copy of that audiobook is sold. Here’s the but, 1) This is risky for narrators, because it means they’re taking a risk on your book selling. So not nearly as many do this, which limits your narrator options. And this is not, not, not an area where you want to skimp. The narrator can make or break an audiobook. 2) Choosing this option locks you into ACX’s exclusivity program, wherein you can only distribute your book through them, and they in turn only distribute through Amazon/Audible and iTunes. And you’re locked into the contract for seven years*.

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*I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Always, always read the terms and conditions carefully. You are entering into a legally binding contract. And if you don’t understand, don’t sign until you do. You might need to do more research or ask a legal professional, but never sign something unless you know what you’re committing to.

You can also choose to pay your narrator straight out. This is based on Cost Per Finished Hour (CPFH). In other words, you pay the narrator the entire cost based on how long the book is. There’s also an option for Royalty Share Plus, wherein you offer to pay a narrator a royalty share rate plus something else. This one is essentially a negotiation. It’s a pretty new option from ACX and not one I’ve used, so I can’t speak to it, but it might be an option worth exploring.

So you can contact a narrator to ask them if they’d like to narrate your book for you or you can put it up for auditions. Again, read the aforementioned guides ACX provides for tips on how to make your project attractive to potential narrators. Once you and a narrator agree to work together, sort of the terms of your contract, etc., you will make an Offer to that narrator in ACX, they accept, and will begin to work on your audiobook based on the terms of your contract with them**.

**Something else to remember, like editors, narrators often have multiple projects lined up, so if you want to release the audiobook around a certain timeframe***, then you need to get started well before then.

***There’s really no way to set the release date through ACX. More on that later.

ACX: My Experience ~ Funny enough, I met my ACX narrator at the same event not hours after I met Terry Maggert and heard him preach the audiobook gospel. The world works in funny ways sometimes. The incredibly talented Katherine Billings came by my table, we got to chatting, I learned about her work as a narrator, and she bought a copy of Raven’s Cry. Fast forward a few weeks. I’d done some research and had been in contact with Katherine. We agreed to do a royalty share agreement (not an option she offers anymore, so I was very fortunate). We talked about Calandra’s voice since the story is told through her POV and some of the technical aspects.

Communication with your narrator is essential! They’re translating your art into another medium, so you need to communicate your expectations up front. Before you even make them an Offer to narrate your book, because your narrator may not be able to do what you want. It’s possible you’re asking something that’s not possible for any narrator. Likewise, your narrator may have processes you need to be aware of. Being a total audiobook noob, I had a lot of questions and was very up front with Katherine about my lack of experience. She was super helpful and patient with me. And she explained that, in accordance with her process, I would need to listen to each chapter and give her approval before she moved onto recording the next one. This was just in case she took the narration in a direction that didn’t work for the book. Remember, everyone interprets books differently, so your narrator might imagine a character who pops up in chapter three differently than you. I do not recommend micromanaging your narrator, however. That’s a fast way to lose them, but if a narration choice they make in chapter three will cause plot confusion later, it’s better to catch that on the front end so your narrator doesn’t record ten more chapters with the same issue and then have to do a bunch of re-recording. Likewise, it helps if you send over any mistakes or issues using a timestamp so your narrator knows at precisely which part the issue took place.

Wanna buy Raven’s Cry on audiobook? Click    here    for US,    here    for UK,    here    for France, and    here    for Germany.

Wanna buy Raven’s Cry on audiobook? Click here for US, here for UK, here for France, and here for Germany.

So Katherine and I went back and forth as each chapter was recorded. She, as all ACX narrators will do, handled all the engineering and uploading. Finally, after about a month or two, it was finished. It just fell to me to press the big shiny “Go!” button. Such excitement! All leading up to... waiting. ACX has a pretty comprehensive quality check, so your audiobook will be in that step for anywhere between two weeks to a month. After that, it’s up!

Beyond that, my only complaint is that I find the ACX site a little confusing to navigate. For instance, I can never seem to find the link for the royalty page and so just always use one of the automated royalty payment notes I get in my Messages section to find that page. They have a bounty program, though, which provides you with affiliate links (more info here), so that’s a nice little extra. And at least, getting your free giveaway codes from ACX (you get fifty US codes and fifty UK codes) is done right on the website now, so they are working on improving.

There’s ACX in a nutshell. Again, there will be a handy pros and cons chart below.

Findaway Voices: The Basics ~ Findaway is sort of a production platform meets aggregator. They distribute to tons of audiobook sellers including Amazon and libraries. You can find narrators on there, just like on Amazon, or, if you didn’t choose an ACX option that locked you into a seven-year exclusivity contract, you can upload the files your ACX narrator created to Findaway. Again, read the terms of all your agreements carefully.

Branch Number Two ~ To use Findaway by itself or go through Draft2Digital? You see, Findaway has an initial setup fee of $49 for each audiobook, but D2D has a partnership with them wherein, if you go through D2D, the fee gets waived. A few weeks back I did a blog post here on my experience going “wide” with D2D, and I happily used this little workaround. Now, if the matching ebook for the audiobook you’re creating is enrolled in KDP Select (Amazon’s ebook exclusivity program), you can’t set up that ebook through D2D anyway, so that will probably be the main decision-maker for this branch. If your ebook isn’t enrolled in KDP Select, though, why not get the discount and set up said ebook through D2D and then choose the “Create an Audiobook” option?

The downside to using Findaway is that it lacks an option like the royalty share one that ACX has. That’s quite a barrier for a lot of authors. But Findaway’s blog has stated they’re coming out with one, Voices Share, soon. And there’s not a way to browse narrators before setting up a new project. Beyond that, the setup process is pretty similar to ACX.

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Findaway: My Experience ~ For Out of the Shadows, I hired a vocalist friend of mine to be the narrator. The hubs has a recording studio set up in our basement, so she came over once a week to record. Reason number one I’m reticent to recommend people do it themselves: it takes a long, long, loooooooooong time. Between schedules clashing and only doing recording once a week, it took months to get just the recording done. And that doesn’t include the engineering, which the hubs also did. Because he has a degree in audio engineering. Reason number two I don’t recommend that just anyone try to record an audiobook themselves. If you don’t know what you’re doing in audio software, your finished product can end up sounding choppy with inconsistent volume levels and just generally really poor quality. Anyway, as I was saying, the engineering takes a really long time. A single chapter can take longer to edit than just recording it did. In the end, Out of the Shadows took over a year to produce. Yeesh.

Once the hubs was done with engineering, I listened through the whole thing for mistakes, more edits were made (just like with books), and then it finally went up on Findaway. After that, Findaway took care of distributing it to all the different places, and there’s a lot. Here’s the entire offering from their website:

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That is an impressive catalogue of sellers! Overall, I actually prefer Findaway, but they lack some major options that ACX offers. I also find their website slightly difficult to navigate too, so at least they both have that in common. Just today I discovered the Republish button, which (surprise!) I have to click in order to publish any changes to the audiobook’s metadata, which includes little things like the description. I never got a notification about it, nor was there anything on the website that said this is the next step.

Doing It Yourself ~ I’ve already mentioned a couple of reasons why I don’t think most people should record audiobooks themselves. But that’s not all. Besides the time it takes and the audio engineering expertise needed, you also need a space for recording. A space that won’t pick up ambient sounds like the lawnmower going this very second in the next yard over. Or rain. Or pet tags jangling. All of that will disrupt the listener’s experience. You also need equipment, which means a good quality microphone with a pop filter. Plus audio engineering software. And a computer powerful enough to handle the software and files—audio files can get really big, you guys. For my Patreon, Limestone level subscribers get audio versions of my VIP newsletter short stories every other month. I record these myself because, while I don’t have an audio engineering degree, I have experience doing it because I was one of only two people in the entire theatre program in college who could do sound design. And even with that, I had to ask the hubs for help with the final steps of the engineering process. And I just outright let him choose my microphone for me because he knows way better than I do.

As promised, here’s that handy little comparison tool:

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Do you have any thoughts on audiobooks? Tips for those looking to convert to the way of audio? Other questions about my experience? Go ahead and leave a comment below. And thanks for reading!

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