audibooks as a business venture

Brian Niemeier has an interesting post on the considerable difficulty of producing audiobooks. Central quote:

Let’s break this down. ACX pays 40% royalties on audiobooks. If you don’t want to hire a narrator at an one-time fee, ACX will help match you with a narrator. You and the narrator then split that 40% royalty 50/50. Forever.

If that doesn’t make you run screaming from ACX Royalty Share, you’re either innumerate or have no concept of time.

Here’s a concrete example. An audio version of my first book Nethereal would have a total running time of 30 hours. According to ACX’s suggested pricing schedule, I could reasonably charge $25.00 for a Nethereal audiobook.

H/t to my friend JimFear138, a pro audiobook narrator who’s wisely getting in on the audio bubble while the gettin’s good. More power to him!

I earn roughly $5.00 an hour from writing (no 5 day, 40 hour work weeks for me!), which in this market is actually pretty good.

Hiring a narrator at the lowest price I’ve found to record a 30 hour audiobook means paying over $60.00 an hour. Let’s factor in editing, mixing, outtakes, etc. and double the number of man-hours going into the finished audiobook to 60. That’s still more than $30.00 an hour.

Rod Walker has a bit of experience with audiobooks, so he’ll go into it here.

The difficulty of creating an audiobook is actually harder than Mr. Niemeier describes. Audiobooks come in terms of “finished hours” in the final recording – a 90,000 word novel would land at about 8 to 10 finished hours. Additionally, a finished hour has to be finished – the levels of the recording need to be adjusted and the recording has to be mastered.

Making an ebook that doesn’t suck in terms of formatting is relatively easy. Making an audiobook that doesn’t suck is much harder.

A good narrator (one whose voice doesn’t make you reach for the mute button) can come in at $300 per finished hour, and top-tier narrators can easily command $500 and higher for a finished hour. You can find narrators who charge less, but their quality can often be questionable.

There are many reasons for this. To put it bluntly, not everyone has a voice that other people want to listen to for 10+ hours, just as not everyone has the good looks to be an actor. Rod Walker’s own voice sounds like he just got punched in the throat while smoking a cigarette, so he would not attempt to narrate his own books as many authors do. For that matter, learning to narrate and enunciate properly is its own skill – a lot of would-be narrators sound like they either have a mouth full of marbles or they talk faster than the guy reading the disclaimers at the end of radio used-car ads. There is also the matter of editing and leveling the raw sound files, which again is not something everyone can do properly. (Occasionally you come across an ACX sample that, to judge from the echoes, sounds like it was recorded in the narrator’s bathtub.)

In the end, a good narrator can charge a lot because he possesses a skill set that is difficult to acquire. The author makes or breaks the ebook. The narrator makes or breaks the audiobook.

Because of this, producing audiobooks gets expensive. An indie author with the right skill set and the right software can create a high-quality ebook with nothing more than time and some money to buy the rights for a stock image for the cover. It’s much harder to do that with audiobooks.

Consequently, creating an audiobook is a risky financial decision for an indie author. Turning three long novels into ebooks could cost around $100, maybe less. Producing three long novels into audiobooks could easily cost around $10,000. That’s small business loan territory, and Rod Walker is acquainted with several bestselling indies who sunk tens of thousands of dollars into producing audiobooks and don’t expect to recoup the investment for several years, if ever. A lot of successful indies get approached by companies like Tantor and Podium to license their audio rights – some money from licensing the audio rights is better than no money from never doing anything with the rights, and it’s definitely better than sinking tens of thousands of dollars into producing a long series as audiobooks and never seeing the money again.

So producing an audiobook is like running a Kickstarter – if you’re going to do it, you’d better have a good business plan.

Because of the headache involved, Rod Walker is relieved his book doesn’t have an audiobook. 

a review of Alien Game

At the Castalia House blog, Josh Young has a nice review of Alien Game. (He previously reviewed Mutiny In Space as well.) Central quote:

Alien Game, like Mutiny in Space, is a Heinlein juvenile-esque adventure. Sam Hammond is an orphan living and working on his uncle Morgan’s farm on New Princeton, a planet that seems to have been a former capitalist paradise, now gone to government seed. His farm work– one of the last privately owned farms on the planet– nicely positions him to rescue Mr. Royale,  a successful-but-stranded-by-a-broken-down-car entrepreneur, from a ravening pack of fangwolves. Impressed both by Sam’s skill with a hunting rifle (Used to make the fangwolves less ravening and more dead) and Sam’s knowledge, to say nothing of his work ethic, he offers Sam a job.

If you happened to love Mutiny in Space the way I did, you’re going to have a lot going on for you here in Alien Game. Walker’s very skilled at hitting the right notes here, and everything that worked in Mutiny in Space works in Alien Game. Adventure? Check. Likable protagonists? Check. Loathsome villains? Check.  Slightly tongue in cheek extrapolations of current political trends? Check.

Alien Game is available at Amazon America, Amazon Britain, and Amazon Australia.


Robert E Howard does horror

Rod Walker hasn’t read any of Robert E Howard’s horror stories, but this post makes him want to correct this deficiency. Central quote:

Howard’s characters are not your usual pansies that populate modern horror. No, these guys are tough motherfuckers that when presented with tentacled horrors from the stygian depths they go a killing with sword and pistol. In one of my favorite stories, The Horror from the Mound, when our cowboy protagonist accidentally digs up a 17th-century Spanish Vampire buried by Conquistadores who begins murdering the local Mexicans, he doesn’t run away. Hell no, he breaks its spine and sets the moldy motherfucker on fire.

RW always appreciated Conan’s and Solomon Kane’s muscular approach to dealing with supernatural horror.

Rod Walker wrote a book. 

books for men, books for women, books for both

Jon Mollison has some interesting advice for writers. Central quote:

For reasons too byzantine and varied to go into in depth here, Madison Avenue has decided to follow the false narrative that ignoring male markets is the path to financial success.  Long story short: It’s a combination of women having more disposable income than they used to and an irrational belief that making your product more ‘female friendly’ doubles your consumer base.  Smart people assume the latter will double your income, not recognizing the truth of The Anti-Gnostic’s observation that what women enter, men leave.

You may gain some short term success, but changing your product to explicitly appeal to women the strategy of eating your seed corn.  The female focus will drive off the men-folk, and all of the women that flocked to your product specifically because it represented a chance to enter a male space will follow the men to whatever space they find to replace it.

The problem is that “writing for women” often in practice translates to “deciding women need patronizing” and no one, male or female, really likes being condescended to.

Rod Walker’s book isn’t condescending. 

action girls

Rawle Nyanzi has a good post on the idea of the “action girl” at Castalia House. Central quote:

They seem to be a kind of pre-emptive crouch, a token used to avoid accusations of sexism. Of course, it doesn’t work — feminists will happily brand you and your work as “sexist” even if your females wield weapons just as effectively as men, simply because you didn’t acquiesce to one piece of propaganda or another. After all nothing other than total submission will satisfy a feminist.

Note how creators try to describe their lady characters as “strong” almost reflexively. Every woman, especially love interests, must do karate and spit snark — virtually anything else is dismissed as insulting to women. “Toughness” is taken to be the measure of how a female should be protrayed, as if women are supposed to be in some unconscious war with the male sex. While feminine women in modern fiction do exist, there’s always a compulsion to put in a butt-kicking babe to balance it out, or to give said feminine woman fighting skills.

This is an old argument – under his other names, Rod Walker has written millions of words of fiction with action-oriented female characters, and he has gotten flak both pro and con on the topic. The bald fact is that you can’t satisfy everyone, and you really can’t satisfy SJW-types, so you may as well write whatever you want.

That said, RW thinks the best two examples of action girls he has seen so far this year have been in Mr. Nyanzi’s Sword & Flower and in John C Wright’s Daughter Of Danger.

For good or ill, Rod Walker’s book doesn’t have an action girl. 

the motivations of Conan of Cimmeria

This is a long and interesting post about the motivations of Conan of Cimmeria. Read the whole thing, but here’s the central quote:

  This is another reason the arc of ‘avenge my father’s murder’ is slapped onto the Conan movies; the writer’s want to motivate Conan, they want to give him a reason to pursue all these adventures, to travel to all these places, to fight all these creatures. They assume that for a man to conquer incredible odds and do incredible deeds of heroism he needs a motivation that is almost singular, one that would obsess an man. So they kill his father (and mother) in front of him.

  But in Howard’s tales, why did Conan leave home? What drove him to be a mercenary in the frozen North, a thief in the desert metropolis, a pirate, a nomadic horseman, a soldier, a general, and a king? What great event forced him to leave his home village and put him on the path of the hero? Was it murder? Death? A lost love?
  According to Howard, Conan walked the world because… he was bored at home. Conan wandered the land and sea, fought monsters and wizards, and became a mighty king all because he was restless and easily bored.
  It seems legit. I joined the army very literally because I knew it would be hard and I wanted to be hard enough to do it. A friend of mine joined because he wanted to travel for free. Hundreds of reasons, all legitimate, all interesting.

Revenge is, of course, an excellent motivator for the hero, but it needn’t be the only one. One of Rod Walker’s favorite Robert E. Howard quotes is from the poem Solomon Kane’s Homecoming, where Kane, after returning home after so many years, gets bored and ventures forth to new adventures:

In his strange cold eyes a vagrant gleam / grew wayward and blind and bright, / And Solmon put the people by  / and went into the night.

A wild moon rode the wild white clouds, / the waves in white crests flowed, / When Solomon Kane went forth again / and no man knew his road. 

Good stuff.

Rod Walker has to admit he used the revenge plot in his book.


write what people will want to read

Brian Niemeier has a good post touching on the recent Author Earnings report and Castalia House blog posts. The funniest quote:

Literary fiction–books about shallow narcissists coming to terms with dying polar bears via hate-sex–is outselling science fiction.

Occasionally one sees literary fiction writers complaining how they need big advances to support themselves while crafting their masterworks, or complaining that indie publishing favors rapidly writing genre novels (it does) over literary fiction.

The thing is that literary fiction, by and large, is boring and unpleasant. No one wants to read it. It’s the sort of thing people are assigned to read in school (developing a lifelong hatred of reading in the process), the sort of book people read so they can be seen reading it, or to use it to impress their book club.

The answer is simple.

Don’t write books that people don’t want to read.

Write books that people want to read.

(Though, as Harry Dresden often says, simple is not the same as easy.)

One warning – if you do write the kind of thing people like to read, critics will complain at length. This is a common complaint among writers – “my book got knocked off the #1 spot by crap!” or “this writer sold 300k copies and he just writes crap!” Part of developing as a writer is learning to ignore critics and write what you want.

Rod Walker wrote a book that way. 

reboots never work

Rod Walker came across this post linking an article by Dirk Benedict, who played Starbuck in the original Battlestar Galactica show. It’s worth reading the article in full, but RW liked this bit:

Witness the “re-imagined” Battlestar Galactica. It’s bleak,

miserable, despairing, angry and confused. Which is to say, it
reflects, in microcosm, the complete change in the politics and mores
of today’s world as opposed to the world of yesterday. The world of
Lorne Greene (Adama) and Fred Astaire (Starbuck’s Poppa), and Dirk
Benedict (Starbuck). I would guess Lorne is glad he’s in that Big
Bonanza in the sky and well out of it. Starbuck, alas, has not been
so lucky. He’s not been left to pass quietly into that trivial world
of cancelled TV characters.

“Re-imagining”, they call it. “un-imagining” is more accurate. To
take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that
a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is
unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and
family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality
in which we live, one would assume.

That could just as easily apply to a dozen other reboots in the years since.

Rod Walker’s book isn’t a reboot of anything. 

romance boundaries at Amazon

Brian Niemeier has a good post about Amazon’s recent crackdown on romance novels turning up in the wrong genre. Central quote:

Amazon’s decision to keep romance books out of other genre categories is a benefit to the second proposition. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself: how can Amazon customers read what they want if the books they want to read are impossible to find?

Search Amazon for “vampire” books in the horror category. This is the second result:

It’s a safe bet that readers looking for stories in the vein of Bram Stoker, Richard Matheson, or Stephen King have headless sets of pecs in mind when they search Amazon for vampire horror stories. Even Anne Rice would be a more reasonable search result.

This kind of thing has actually happened before several times, and not just on Amazon. Numerous erotica authors have a bad habit of pushing the limits and putting their works in categories where they really shouldn’t be. Amazon has mass-unpublished erotica works that violated that boundary several times. A couple of years ago, Kobo blocked a lot of self-published books from showing up on its partner sites after the partners complained that erotica was showing up in searches for children’s books. Apple, of course, cracks down hard on anything that violates their rules.

(True story: under a different name, Rod Walker once uploaded a nonfiction book that contained a complimentary reference to iTunes. Apple rejected the book because the mention of iTunes violated its corporate trademark, so RW changed the complimentary reference to iTunes to a complimentary reference to Google Play. Humorously enough, Apple was fine with that, and the book was published in the iBookstore.)

The difficult of genre boundaries, of course, is that readers have certain expectations of their genres. Epic fantasy readers expect men with swords. Romance readers expect a romance. Science fiction readers who click on the Space Marine category expect a space battle with space marines. One of the dangers of pushing genre boundaries is defying reader expectations – if you go too far with that, there might be a pushback.

Rod Walker’s book is in the proper category.