David Wolf – How to record and produce your own audiobook or hire it out

Nonfiction Authors Association Podcast | December 14, 2022

“…here’s sort of a theory that you may lose some of your audience [if choosing to release an audiobook]. One in eight books sold is an audiobook now, and it’s actually outgrowing the ebook market, which actually surprised me when I first heard those numbers. So it’s a growing market.”
-David Wolf

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David Wolf Record and Produce

About David Wolf

David Wolf is the founder and CEO of Audivita Studios, an audiobook, podcasting, production service provider that helps companies, publishers, entrepreneurs, influencers, and thought leaders grow their brands and businesses. David has a long history as a creative professional and media entrepreneur, serving as a music composer and producer of audio content for radio, TV, film, podcasts, audiobooks and multimedia. His previous company, Crywolf Productions, Inc. provided music, sound design and production services for advertising and also studios including Amblin, Discovery Channel, NBC Universal and Disney, and for many well-known brands including Southwest Airlines, Miller Brewing, Embassy Suites, Procter & Gamble, Texas Instruments, Brock Hotel Corporation.

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Show Notes

Links

In this episode…

  • The definition of an audiobook production company and publisher,
  • The services Audivita provides for authors.
  • How to get ROI with audiobooks.
  • Tips for authors who want to record an audiobook, but might be exhausted with their voice and are more of a beginner.
  • How you can record your audiobook remotely.
  • Recommended products for recording audiobooks.
  • How to find voice talent for your audiobook.
  • How you can have a hybrid model audiobook.
  • How much you can expect to pay if hiring out an audiobook recording.
  • How Audivita can help you sell on over 52 sites.
  • How Audivita can help you with social media promotion materials.

Transcript

Hello and welcome to the interview series for the Nonfiction Authors Association. Today’s session is with David Wolf and we will be talking about how to record and produce your own audiobook or hire it out. I’m Carla King, your host, and I’m happy to have you with us today. This interview will last only 30 minutes and you can find the replay on our Nonfiction Authors Association website and social media platforms including YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

And now I’d like to introduce our guest.

David Wolf is the founder and CEO of Audivita Studios, an audiobook, podcasting, production service provider that helps companies, publishers, entrepreneurs, influencers, and thought leaders grow their brands and businesses. David has a long history as a creative professional and media entrepreneur, serving as a music composer and producer of audio content for radio, TV, film, podcasts, audiobooks and multimedia. His previous company, Crywolf Productions, Inc. provided music, sound design and production services for advertising and also studios including Amblin, Discovery Channel, NBC Universal and Disney, and for many well-known brands including Southwest Airlines, Miller Brewing, Embassy Suites, Procter & Gamble, Texas Instruments, Brock Hotel Corporation.

Welcome. And wow, it’s been quite a journey for the past couple of decades, right?

David Wolf  0:30

Yes, yes, yes. Years ago, before I had Audivita, I was soloing. I had done some things outside of the music and production industry for a number of years–did a turnaround that was outside of the industry, and came back around and started attending trade shows where publishers and authors would gather. And there wasn’t a lot of this out yet–it was 2007/2008. And as mentioned, we’re involved with podcasting too. So it was all things audio and this shift in consumer behavior–moving into consuming audio when you’re walking, and driving, and doing errands, and walking the dog, and riding your bicycle, or whatever else you’re doing–that shift over the last 10-15 years has been extraordinary. So I would say that yeah, I was kind of early to it. Although I’ve had a long career in audio, the specific audio-on-demand is, you know, only about 20 some years old.

Carla King 1:29

And I just read a stat that says something like–73% over 12 years old listened to online audio in just the past month–and that’s about 209 million people.

David Wolf 2:40

It’s been growing year over year on the audiobook side–something like 28% year over year. It’s a couple billion dollar market now. And by the way, folks that are listening can go to Edison Research and Good Reads, and there’s a lot of research. Just research audiobook stats–Google it–and you’ll find a lot of stats and numbers. And they’re gonna vary slightly, depending on the source. But the bottom line is–it’s been really growing. And I’m a happy entrepreneur, because  we’ve been growing along with that trend, as have other companies that do what we do.

Carla King  3:15

Well, I do think that authors know, if we’re not doing audio, we’re missing out. The audio book market size is huge. Even if it might not be a year long ROI. You might not make your money back. If you’re hiring this out in one year, you’re going to accrue readers or listeners over the time. So it’s definitely worth looking at it, whether you do it yourself or hire it out. Now you’re an audiobook production company and publisher. Can you just define what that means, to start with?

David Wolf  3:46

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for that. So we’re not actually a publisher. Publishers participate in the royalty stream with their authors most often. What we do is–we’re a work for hire service provider. So authors and publishers work with us to help produce the audiobook version of the manuscripts that are either about to be published, or have been published, or a back catalog, or what have you. So they’re already on Amazon with an ebook and a print. And many other places–they may be at Barnes and Noble, etc. IngramSpark all of those places, and they now they want to participate in the audio. So they either add audio to it, or they’re just coming out of the gate out of a publishers pipeline, and they want to simultaneously produce audio with their manuscripts. So that’s what we do in addition to our podcast side.

And I mentioned the podcast side only because it’s also audio and listening. And many of our authors actually turn into clients that are doing podcasts with us, because it helps promote their platform as an author. And also, I want to just fold back to something you said just before this question, and that was just about the idea of making your money back with audiobooks. It’s not an inexpensive endeavor. It’s rather difficult to do DIY, only because the specs required on the distribution side, which is centered by ACX. And Amazon companies are very, very–how shall I say–demanding. You need to know what you’re doing in order to do what’s called audio mastering to spec–which is things like sample rate, and levels, and bit rates, and the format of the files themselves–it all has to be in compliance. Otherwise you’ll be a very frustrated author trying to do it on your own. So that’s where we come in.

But what I wanted to say–about the ROI equation, that you sort of telegraphed that question–is that particularly for your audience–the nonfiction authors–oftentimes, the audio book is not the end product. It’s designed to help promote a business, or a practice, or a consultancy. The book they wrote–the print version of the book–it’s designed to do something beyond the sale of unit sales of the books. We find, across the spectrum, some are business owners that just want it to be a calling card, and they monetize it in other ways. You know, ‘monetize it.’ Others are more concerned about the unit sales and making their money back. It does take time. You have to be patient. Like as in podcasting, or any production endeavor, or any content marketing, it takes time to make your money back. So I just wanted to get that out there. There’s more than one way to think of monetization–it isn’t necessarily only the sales.

Carla King  6:25

Thank you so much for that. That’s a great explanation. And I just want to mention that the publisher–I’m a publisher, because I’m a self published or independently published author with my own publishing company. So I can hire a company like yours to do everything, or I can speak it. And sometimes it’s nice to hear the author of a book speaking the book. I mean, I know it’s hard work. I can’t get past–personally–the first chapter of my own book. I just can’t–I just don’t have the voice strength for it. So I’m happy to hire it out, really. Although I’d like to narrate my own book. Do you have any tips for somebody like me, who’s exhausted with their voice and not a pro?

David Wolf  7:15

Absolutely. More than suggestions. Most of our business with nonfiction authors is indeed producing authors reading their own as the narrator. We do this remotely through something that feels like a zoom call, but it’s designed for studio quality recording–all remotely controlled by us and our producer. So in our environment, you’re actually booking a series, or scheduling a series of 90 minute recording sessions, to avoid that fatigue that you’re talking about.

Some authors who have had the experience of having to book a studio for eight hours at a time. That is not the way we do it, and for good reason–because it requires a certain level of focus. And if you’re not a professional voiceover, you’re not going to have the endurance for it. So we do 90 minute sessions or less, with a producer there to help coach the performance–not to train you how to speak differently, or be a professional voiceover, but to tease the best performance out of you so that you’re connecting as the author with your audience–that’s the objective. So just to get a good clean recording.

And so we do that, and we work with authors that maybe–like you’ve described a little bit–it’s hard to tug that line alone without another set of ears on it coaching you. Like if you flub a word, you may not hear it, and then it would end up in the final book. But in our case, they’ll stop and say, ‘Okay. Carla, start at the previous sentence, and then we’ll pick it up there.’ So while they’re doing that, they’re actually notating on an iPad the PDF of the script for our editors, you’ll end up with a completely seamless performance by virtue of our editing the outtakes out of the source recordings, if that makes sense. So our whole idea is to make it a lot easier. But I’m very much in favor–if you’re up for it, whether you’re working with us or not–to be the voice of your brand. Well I’ll say it like this–if you’re the voice of your brand, it makes sense for you to deliver the audio book yourself.

Carla King  9:08

Thank you. And so how does that work? Really. It’s just like–we’re here on Zoom right now. I can see you. I’m recording. I do have an approved microphone, which costs, I think, about $75 on Amazon.

David Wolf  9:23

Yeah, you’ve got an AT–I think it’s a 2100. We like that microphone. We have another one we like to recommend. And when we work with authors, we send you the links and all the procedural stuff in an email, and we have a pre-production call. So all of this is covered, including the environment you’re sitting in, because that’s very important. You want to be in a room–it doesn’t need to be a recording studio, but it needs to be what’s called, on a relative basis, acoustically dry. So you’re eliminating echo in the room, because that makes it impossible to edit. So it needs to be generally quiet and free of echo. So we help our authors get set up. An extreme case would be–go in the closet with your life up top and connect with us. There’s video there, so we can see what you’re doing as we’re directing you, and so forth. But in other cases, there are rooms that have enough carpet and enough furniture, enough bookcases around them so that there’s enough absorption and diffusion of the sound, so that it sounds good acoustically and it’s acceptable. So our producers work with you to make sure it’s within spec. But back to microphones. So we also like the Samson QU2. These are both very directional, and it helps us keep that room echo out of the sound of the microphone. They’re very directional mics.

Carla King  10:38

So it’s not hearing the dog barking out on the street, or the UPS guy or anything.

David Wolf  10:43

That’s exactly right. And by the way,  when those things happen, our producers are all trained. And we know this, we’re listening. If a plane goes by–if you live close proximity to an airport, or if you do have a truck that has a low frequency that the mic is picking up–they’ll stop you and say, ‘Hey, let’s just wait until that truck goes by. Okay, let’s pick it up from that paragraph.’ So we do those sorts of things during the course of a recording session to make sure that we don’t have any extraneous noises ,which are not acceptable to the distributors of audiobooks.

Carla King  11:15

So does the producer stay with you on Zoom the whole time? I mean that could be hours and hours. Or audio.

David Wolf  11:24

So it’s not Zoom. And again, to reiterate, it’s 90 minutes at a time. So short, 90 minute sessions–they’re with you the whole time. Yes. And we use different platforms–not Zoom, because Zoom doesn’t produce good enough audio quality for the specs required. So we use other platforms. There are several of them out there, and we use them all interchangeably. But for anyone who’s interested–Squadcast is kind of our primary. Riverside is another one. Iris is another one. Zencastr is another one. These were all actually designed for remote podcast production, but we’ve used them for audiobooks since I’ve been doing this. It’s been probably 10 or 12 years.

Carla King  12:02

Right. Awesome. So the marketing idea for the podcasts–I mean, we’re the Nonfiction Authors Association, and so we sponsor our own podcast–The Nonfiction Authors Podcast. And if you’re an entrepreneur, you should probably have a podcast about your subject of expertise. There’s so many out there. I want to talk about getting professional voice talent, though. Say I just say, ‘I cannot do this,’ or, ‘I don’t have time.’ Or maybe I’m a woman and my audience is mostly men, so I want a male voice. Or I’m a Brit, and I want an American audience. How much more is it to just hire it out? Is it simpler? Tell us about that.

David Wolf  12:54

So our process is slightly different. We have a casting team–Matt, and Bo–they’re in New York and Boston, and they’re an extension of our team. We do a lot of fiction books. Most of our casting work is in fiction. But we do have some authors–like you’ve described–that, they don’t have the time, they’re a CEO of a company they don’t feel like they’ve got it in them to do it for whatever their reasons are. So it’s just a slight bit higher, about 10% higher.

And what we do is we build in the talent costs. We buy out the talent, so there’s no royalties or residuals. There’s a whole casting process at the beginning. We do an intake from the author, so that we do dial in that perfect voice, considering the audience–like you just telegraphed. If it’s a male voice, maybe they want a female, or who knows what. You’re gonna know your audience, you’re gonna know something about them.

We’ve also had cases where the author will read certain chapters, but then there’s dramatization that we hire actors for. So you can do what’s called a hybrid model, where you’re enacting things, business books, and so forth. We had one extreme case–we had nine characters that were dogs talking to each other about business and how to get along in a company. And these were characters that were talking to each other. So we produced all the actors. That was strictly actors. But in some cases, the author will read the narrative and then other things will happen like that. I’ve had cases where a married couple co-wrote a business book, and they would alternate chapters. So we were doing separate recording sessions, and then stitching it all together in post production. So all of those are possible.

Anyway, we do a deep dive, we figure out what the needs are, we go out to our casting pool of talent, we come back with somewhere between three and seven possibilities based on the input. We work with the author, and or the publisher, to dial it in. Make sure we’ve got the right voice. This is all done from an audition script. Same script for all the people we bring in. And then we make a decision with you, or sometimes the author or publisher just knows who’s right and they just tell us, ‘We want number three.’ Other times they’ll ask us for our opinion, we’ll give it. And then we produce and work with the talent outside of the author, but the author is a participant all the way. We’ll send you a sample, ‘How’s this doing? How’s the pace? How’s the tone? Is the attitude right? Are they pronouncing everything correctly?’ We will request, if it’s a technical book, we’ll get a glossary of pronunciation, so that we’re sure that the actor we’re working with is correct in those things. And anything else technical, we’ll also talk about. And this is true whether we’re working with the author narrating or not.

There are certain sections of the book that don’t translate to audio–things like graphic content, which can be handled a few different ways. And we can talk about that in a moment. But those are considerations. Also bibliographies, long lists of things, tables of contents, they’re not typically part of an audio product. So we take those out. And the economics that we use–and we were talking about this before we started rolling today–is based on the word count. So when we work with an author or a publisher, the price is the price. There’s no mission creep, there’s no budget creep, unless it’s an extraordinary circumstance. We had one case where someone accidentally sent us the wrong manuscript–it was three revisions earlier. And in that case, she understood the situation–we had to re-record the whole book. Multiple actors, by the way. That was a fiction work. It was a nightmare. But that’s the worst case. But chances are, you’re gonna give us the latest and greatest revision, and that wouldn’t happen. But the price that we give you is the price that you pay. That’s the way we work.

Carla King  16:32

Okay, so can you tell us what the industry standard and your prices are?

David Wolf  16:38

So our prices–direct to market or for an author recording with a producer there, we charge 10 cents a word. For most cases, non-celebrity talent with casting and production of a voice talent is 11 cents a word. So again, it’s roughly 10% more. And that covers our casting cost and our cost for the talent. So we bake all that in. And that’s all in. It actually includes setting up the book for distribution on the author’s account. So we actually do the heavy lifting to get all the metadata, all the files in order and up for distribution. We can talk about distribution in a moment, because it’s a big subject.

Carla King  17:24

But you’ll also need your square book cover.

David Wolf  17:27

Yes, very good. Yes. So we do have freelancers on our team that we send out the layered files so that they can conform the existing rectangular cover to a square, which is required. It’s not a rule that we make. You asked about standard pricing. So that’s our pricing for production. Now, on the retail side–this is where we’ll get into distribution, if this is a good time to do so.

Carla King  17:49

Yeah, this is great.

David Wolf  17:50

So, the structure of the market is–ACX, which is an Amazon company, is the throughput. The platform that you create an account on that links to your Amazon account from which you get paid–they require an ebook version already be up. So we match your royalty rights as an author to the ebook. That’s the way Amazon and ACX think about this.

So we go in and claim the rights for you, we help you get it set up. And Amazon is the throughput to Amazon Audible and iTunes or Apple Books. So that’s about 45 to 48% of the market. So it’s a big part of the market. There are ways to work that game. And I’m not an expert in the marketing side. But there are ways to work with Amazon to really promote your book within that ecosystem. They set their own retail pricing. So this is kind of to your point about what’s the price of the book that a consumer pays. So they set the pricing based on tiers. 1-3 hours is X dollars, 4-6 hours is Y dollars, so there’s a tiered pricing. If anyone’s interested in that, Carla knows how to find me, and I can provide that. You can search for it and find it. You’d look for Audible pricing. There’s a tiered schedule. But they set the retail price.

Carla King  19:07

Wow, I didn’t realize that.

David Wolf  19:08

Yes, it’s a bummer actually.

Carla King  19:10

You can’t even set your own price–which is an argument for selling directly to your own website, right?

David Wolf  19:21

It’s a great point, because we work with a really cool app called Awsound. And we set up our authors and publishers to use it. You can basically have a graphic linked to a shopping cart, and price and sell your audiobook. And it’s a terrific deal. It’s an 80/20. 80% to the author, 20% to Awsound, and they take the credit card, and they’ll sell any audio product from that platform from a link or your website. So it’s a really cool way to to sell direct. And we do recommend that for authors that want to do non-exclusive with ACX–which you have to do, which lowers your royalty there. Let me back up a little bit. Sorry, folks. This is kind of a firehose. But people can reach out to me if they want. We’ve got documentation, and we can talk you through it if you need to. But the exclusive royalty rate–as published by ACX for Amazon, Audible, and iTunes–is 40% of net sales. If you go non-exclusive–so now you can sell it on your own website, you can sell it on about 52 other places, which we haven’t mentioned yet. There’s a lot of apps that sell audiobooks. It lowers your royalty rate to 25% of net sales. But then you can sell it. and you’ve got the freedom to do whatever you want. You’ve got more control. And many of those sites outside of the ecosystem and ACX, you can set your own pricing. So that’s my firehose.

Carla King  20:36

Thank you. Okay, that’s the model which we recommend at the NFAA. And I have long recommended to have your book everywhere–including your own website, because if Amazon wants you exclusively, you can’t even sell it from your own website. So you’re losing a lot of potential sales. And if you’re also doing courses and things like that, you may be losing way too much.

David Wolf  21:01

Absolutely. And so there are about 52+ sites that we set our authors up on, using Authors Republic or Findaway. Those are two sources you can go to. So similarly to setting you up on ACX as an author, we would set you up on a parallel path to get those other 52 or so.

Carla King  21:21

And Findaway voices was purchased by Spotify last year.

David Wolf  21:26

Yes, indeed.

Carla King  21:27

People are listening to music, and they’re listening to podcasts, and they’re listening to audiobooks. It’s all becoming the same ecosystem. So those are some of the other opportunities for audio and video that authors can consider, right?

David Wolf  21:44

Absolutely.

Carla King  21:46

And then you also do–do you do book trailers?

David Wolf  21:49

We have done a few in the past. So trailers are not something we’re producing right now. But, that said, we have had cases where we’ve produced assets for social media promotion of a book or an audio book, which are actually video files. They’re called audiograms–these are MP4’s that are created from a snippet from the audiobook, and then we add a graphic to it. So those we’ve done. So we have one author, for example, who did 52 weeks worth of chapters from his. Each chapter–he had about 50 chapters–so each week was a new chapter quote, and the link to go by the book–a little promotional thing. So  it’s not exactly a trailer in the narrative sense, but it does promote on social. So are some of the things we do for our own authors.

Carla King  22:37

And I do want to mention, too, that these distribution options include libraries. I mean, I have to say–during COVID, in 2020, I started purchasing–or borrowing, really–more audio books, so that I could do multitasking. Housework, or shopping, or driving, or whatever. And for independent authors, the library market is pretty huge, right? And that you can get via Findaway–or what was the other one that you mentioned?

David Wolf  23:11

Authors Republic. Those are the two that are sort of the feeder platforms for all of those. And you just can click through all the different apps. There are several apps that serve as university libraries and public libraries. So it’s wonderful. So if your book is a little bit more academic in nature, or you want to reach those audiences–which I know you’d like to recommend. A lot of the nonfiction stuff is great content for the younger folks. So I think it’s a great way to go.

Carla King  23:36

Yes. And I think I have Overdrive’s Libby, and I have Hoopla on my iPhone. And a lot of people are–sort of organically–they’re purchasing the whole ecosystem of the book. They’re reading it on their Kindle, and it keeps their spot. And so if they’re in line somewhere, they can listen to it, or if they’re driving at the same time, which is amazing technology. I just love it.

David Wolf  24:02

It’s good stuff. I think they call it Whispersync. They used to call it Whispersync–I think it might be something different now. I don’t have a lot of expertise with whispersync. But that’s exactly what it does. It’s designed to keep your place as you go from device to device between audio in and ebook.

Carla King  24:22

Right. Well, is there any last point, or advice, that you have for authors maybe considering audiobooks in their ecosystem?

David Wolf  24:32

So you know, again, it is an investment. And there is a trend to simultaneously release audio with the other versions of your book so that consumers have a choice about how they want to consume your content. And there’s sort of a theory that you may lose some of your audience. One in eight books sold is an audio book now, and it’s actually outgrowing the ebook market, which actually surprised me when I first heard those numbers. So it’s a growing market. If you can afford to do it, I do recommend doing it. And, of course, I’m slightly self-serving since we’re in the business of producing this work, but the audio is not going away. It’s really been exploding on all levels–the podcast and the audio book. But behind   that recommendation, I would say, if you do have any questions about either the process of doing it yourself, the process of casting, reach out to Carla–she knows where to find me. And we can talk to you about it, because what I like to do is always make sure someone’s extremely comfortable with the process and the economics, so they really understand what they’re legging into.

Carla King  25:38

Thanks. And we’re gonna put all this in the show notes on the nonfictionauthorsassociation.com website, so they can reach you directly.

David Wolf  25:46

Wonderful.

Carla King  25:47

Yea. So where can they reach you?

David Wolf  25:51

So our website is audivita.com. And then my email is simply dwolf@audivita.com. And that’s also a great way to reach me.

Carla King  26:12

And I see that you’re on LinkedIn very often. Is that your number one social media portal?

David Wolf  26:17

Yes, we’re mostly b2b in our world. So I tend to focus a lot on LinkedIn.

Carla King  26:24

Great. And I also do want to mention that there are goodies for Nonfiction Authors Association Members behind the Member Portal from Audivita. Thank you and other partners. Appreciate that very much.

David Wolf  26:41

Absolutely. Great to be with you today, Carla, thanks so much for having me.

Carla King  26:44

Thank you so much. And thank you to our listeners for joining us today and every week. For a list of guests and topics just check our schedule on the site, use your favorite search engine, or better yet, sign up for our mailing list at NonfictionAuthorsAssociation.com.

Quotes from our guest

“But I’m very much in favor–if you’re up for it, whether you’re working with us or not–to be the voice of your brand. Well I’ll say it like this–if you’re the voice of your brand, it makes sense for you to deliver the audio book yourself.”

“So you know, again, it is an investment. And there is a trend to simultaneously release audio with the other versions of your book so that consumers have a choice about how they want to consume your content.”

“And there’s sort of a theory that you may lose some of your audience [if choosing to release an audiobook]. One in eight books sold is an audiobook now, and it’s actually outgrowing the ebook market, which actually surprised me when I first heard those numbers. So it’s a growing market. If you can afford to do it, I do recommend doing it.”

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