SPS-304: Introducing the Findaway Voices Marketplace – with Will Dages

With the consumption of audio products on the rise, despite fewer commuters due to the global pandemic, authors are finding more options for creating audiobooks available to them. Will Dages from Findaway Voices talks to James about alternatives to Audible, the importance of finding the right narrator, and more.

Show Notes

  • James’ thoughts on the critical importance of paying attention to your Facebook ads
  • The history of Findaway voices
  • How Findaway works to distribute audiobooks everywhere Audible doesn’t
  • How the royalty rates work for audiobooks
  • The steps to produce an audiobook
  • The importance of a contract when working with a narrator
  • Tips for how to work successfully with an audiobook narrator

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-304: Introducing the Findaway Voices Marketplace - with Will Dages
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Will Dages: They'd rather have a device that just does one thing, and is not beeping with tweet notifications or Facebook notifications, or anything else, it's just an audiobook player and nothing else, and so we found another niche market there. It's crazy, 15 years later, a physical device like that is still a growing business.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Join indie best seller Mark Dawson and first time author, James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome. Yes, it is the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: This show is going out whilst we're in Las Vegas, but whilst we're there, Mark, we will record a couple of raps for our future interviews of people, just to give a little chance of people seeing what it looks like in Las Vegas, so we're on the cusp of going. We're recording this on a Friday. We're flying out on a Monday to what will be the biggest gathering of indie authors in the world. It's exciting.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it probably is. I saw Craig said they had sold 2,100 tickets and had 400 are oncoming, so 1,700 is still ... I think RWA is probably bigger than that, but that wouldn't be just indie authors. It'd be a mixture, so Romance Writers of America, but it'll be up there, definitely, and it probably is the biggest collection of indie authors. I think next year he's talking about 2,500, so-

James Blatch: Yeah, it should be great. It's only going to go one way, isn't it? And how many will we have at our conference?

Mark Dawson: Well, it's really limited by the size of the room. I think we'll probably have about 1,000, I would have thought, I guess.

James Blatch: Yeah, think so.

Mark Dawson: I'm seeing quite a lot of people asking if we're going to do it.

James Blatch: We haven't announced the date or anything yet. We haven't set a date, but we are-

Mark Dawson: We haven't decided we're going to do it.

James Blatch: Positively minded to do it next year.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's the plan I think, assuming things stay relatively stable and the Epsilon variant doesn't develop over the course of whatever. What's after Epsilon? You're going to say Foxtrot, but ...

James Blatch: Epsilon isn't a NATO phonetic alphabet word.

Mark Dawson: No, but it's Greek, isn't it?

James Blatch: Echo.

Mark Dawson: Dale said Epsilon, they use in the Greek alphabet.

James Blatch: It'll be the Foxtrot Oscar variant-

Mark Dawson: Yes, exactly.

James Blatch: Good. Okay. Look, before we go any further, do you have any Patreons to welcome?

Mark Dawson: Oh, yes, I do.

James Blatch: Marcus now on his phone for you. Not watching on YouTube, and trying to make technology work is like an old man with an abacus. He's good with abacus, but there we go.

Mark Dawson: I can't find them. Honestly, can't get this stuff these days.

James Blatch: Well, I would say the same about you, but that's some of it.

Mark Dawson: You'd think it'd be in the podcast channel, wouldn't you? But no, there you go.

James Blatch: I think it might be in-

Mark Dawson: Okay. I've got it.

James Blatch: Podcast production. Go ahead.

Mark Dawson: Hello to Justin Stewart and Bill Kokas, who have signed up to Patreon, so thank you very much to Justin and Bill from parts unknown, to quote from the World Wrestling Federation and the Undertaker. He's from Death Valley, but yes, thank you very much to Justin and Bill.

We do appreciate all the support we get on Patreon, very helpful. I think we had a little buzz of new signups or new Patreons after you published your, after we produced a video on the process of putting a podcast together, which is worth seeing on the YouTube, if you haven't seen it yet. It isn't just me and James waffling for 15 minutes, and then pressing a button. It is there's a team of people of varying degrees of competence, who put it all together for us, so-

James Blatch: Varying degrees of competence.

Mark Dawson: Well, all very competent, obviously. Just some more competent than others.

James Blatch: Oh, I see. Yeah.

Mark Dawson: I didn't say incompetent.

James Blatch: No. That it is a surprisingly involved process. I will stick that on YouTube. I haven't done that yet, but we'll stick it on YouTube.

Mark Dawson: It is on YouTube, in the episode, but yes, you should put a separate link.

James Blatch: Yes, stick it on. Yeah, and just to show that we do lots of things at the same time.

I am currently publishing the Hello Books campaign for this week, because there's a team of people, the same team of people, including a couple of other people, waiting for me to press a couple of buttons, so they can carry on with their work. So whilst we're recording this podcast episode, but Mark, we're going to talk today about audiobooks, which is very apposite for me, because I am on the cusp of recording my first novel into an audiobook. I'm not doing it myself. I did do a test, because I have a good voice for radio, but I do not have a good voice for reading my book, I decided. I did a test.

Mark Dawson: Did you?

James Blatch: I did do a test, but I just decided it's not for me. I've employed a professional.

Mark Dawson: Very wise, I think. Very wise, so it will be fun see you get your first audiobook out there. Audiobook is doing really well for me, in Germany as well. I've got German audiobooks out now as well, and they're very expensive to put together. They're so expensive, that I have to think twice about do I want to do more?

I think I've gone through almost 1,000 copies of the first one in the series in about two and a half months, three months, so I'm definitely leaning towards commissioning another two or three of those ones. Get those out there as well, so all very interesting.

James Blatch: It'd be interesting to see from him, and I've talked about this before, and I'll perhaps do an episode on the Facebook Ads campaigns I'm running for my book. When you've got one book, what do you do? Well, just build an audience basically, but ... Someone's at the front door.

Mark Dawson: As Google ... Someone's at the front door. Anyway, it's the postman. Carry on.

James Blatch: I am making a profit. I made a profit at first, when I really focused on it, and I was nitty about optimising the campaigns, which is where the juice is for me in Facebook advertising. Then I took my eye off the ball, and started to lose money every day, and then didn't have time to address it.

Then about three, four weeks ago, I thought let's get back on this, and lo and behold, I'm now making a profit every day, which is great. Three or four pounds, sometimes five, six pounds a day, and 200 or 300 books are selling, the equivalent of with KNP reads, every month, which is brilliant. I'm not making a living from it, but it's building an audience.

Now, the audiobook, from what I understand, it is potentially possible to make day to day profits with audiobooks, because it's a fertile market, more fertile. Of course, the big thing is the capital expenditure at the beginning, so you're not really making a profit, until you've paid that off.

It'll be a journey, Mark, and I'm going to use the J word, which we will share here, where I take one book, invest in it. I'll tell you how much I've paid for everything, how we did the production. We'll go through it. I'm learning this as we go along. Just before we hand over to Will Dages from Findaway Voices, we talked to him, tell us what your process is for audiobooks.

Have you done the same thing every time?

Mark Dawson: I've done lots of different things. In the early days, I did it myself. Not myself, but I did what you're doing, finding a way to get them to produce it, and then upload it through ACX. Then I did deals directly with Audible Studios for about, I don't know, 15 Milton books. They did that, and then recently I have a deal with Tantor in the States and W.F. Howes in the UK, which has been really great.

One of the things I could do myself, and potentially it might be more valuable to do it myself, although I don't know, because they do give me a really generous advance per book, but they seem pretty happy with how sales are going, so as long as we're both happy we're keeping it that way. It's one thing I don't have to worry about. Just give them the manuscript and leave it to them.

James Blatch: Okay. Well, look, there are different ways of doing it, and we do go through some of those options, and in the interview we talk about ACX as much as anything else, because it's a huge player in the market, even though it's a bit of a rival in terms of what we're looking at here with Findaway Voices, but let's meet Will, and ... Is it Will? It is Will, isn't it?

Mark Dawson: It's will.

James Blatch: Will Dages. It is Will. I remember that correctly. We were talking for so long, and then Mark and I will be back for a quick chat off the back of the interview.

Will Dages, welcome to the Self Publishing Show. Brilliant to have you here. Do you know you're one person I knew would have a very nice microphone?

Will Dages: Thank you. Yes. When you're the audiobook guy, you've got to sound good on these things, right?

James Blatch: Got to sound good. If you watch him on YouTube, it looks even more impressive than mine, and I'm proud of my microphone.

Will Dages: We've both got the good boom arm thing going.

James Blatch: Yeah, love the boom arm. It's like a disc jockey from the 1970s. Will, welcome from Findaway Voices. We're going to be talking about audiobooks, specifically about Findaway and what you're doing to the market. Let's start a little bit, if you don't mind, about you.

What was your background and how did you get into Findaway?

Will Dages: I have a twisty-turvy background with a lot of different experiences that led me to where I am here. I started my career thinking I wanted to make movies for a living, and I was freelancing all throughout high school, doing wedding voices and doing some commercial stuff, and I actually did a little bit of voiceover work with some of the commercial video stuff back in the day. I had a little taster of it back then many years ago, and then I got bored with that, because doing wedding videos will make you bored and kill the passion there, and I transitioned to programming.

I found a love of iOS apps, and I taught myself programming, and then I started hopping around from iOS programming to web development. That led to some marketing and some UX background, and then I finally landed at Findaway, after several years of teaching myself that stuff as a web developer.

I started my Findaway career almost 10 years ago, as a junior UX and web developer, and then I slowly rose the ranks to management, and then did some more product stuff in the R&D divisions. And then I was head of product at Findaway Voices, when that started up, and now I'm running the whole Findaway Voices division.

James Blatch: Right, so Findaway was, what stage was at it when you joined it? Because that was quite a long time ago. I thought it was even a newer company than that.

Will Dages: Findaway has been around for over 15 years now. It was founded in 2004, and we've always been an audiobook company. We started with physical consumer devices, so little handheld players about the size of a deck of cards that just held a single audiobook.

Back then, these were the days of CDs, so we're competing against CDs. You'd be driving and you'd have to swap out discs halfway through the audiobook, and so we had a much better value proposition there. And we got a tonne of traction in the library market, and we distributed millions of units to the US military as well, so those are the two clients that started out Findaway.

As we're servicing those markets with this device, we're making more and more deals with publishers. We're onboarding more and more content, and then around a little after the time that I started about 10 years ago, we stepped back and we said we have like 40,000 audiobooks here. That's a pretty formidable collection at the time. Maybe we should do something else with it besides just Playaway, and so we started a digital division at that time, and our first product was called Audio Engine.

The idea was we could go up against Audible, but they're the big Amazon company with unlimited resources. We decided to go a different direction. We decided to power the rest of the world with audiobooks, so any company that wanted to spin up and take on Audible, we would provide their catalogue, we provide the delivery technology, we take care of all the royalty payments, so somebody could spring up in a certain market with a certain value proposition and just focus on what made them different to their consumers, and not have to worry about the catalogue, and so that's where we started springing up more and more players.

Scribd did not have audiobooks. They launched with us. Google Play did not have audiobooks. They use us for their catalogue. We have built up a tonne of new players in the last five to 10 years that weren't selling audiobooks at all, and so that's how we grew about, and then through that journey we're dealing with the biggest publishers in the world.

We're signing deals, getting 10,000 books at a time into the platform, and about five years ago is when we realised, you know what? The only way you can get on our platform is through a publisher, and we're missing out on a tonne of really great content here, and that's where Findaway Voices was born.

We need this portal, so that anybody in the world with an audiobook can upload to us and reach the same network that the big publishers were having, and then obviously just booted the title count up on all the other players, which helps grow the entire audiobook industry, and that's why I tell a lot of people we sit in the middle of the audiobook industry. It's because we grew the audiobook industry around Audible. This was Audible was the only game in town 10 years ago, and today they've got some good competition thanks to us.

James Blatch: I hadn't realised your history there, with the hardware side of things. It reminds me of you were like the H track people of the day, who had this alternative to fiddling about with cassettes and LPs in your car. You had your own little hardware thing, so in those days-

Will Dages: James, the crazy thing about that, today, that's still a growing business.

James Blatch: Wow.

Will Dages: It has translated into different value propositions over the year, right now. Today, we're not competing against CDs with Playaway, but it's still a growing business, because there's a group of people who want to disconnect from their smartphones when they're listening to entertainment, and who don't want to run with a $1,000 phone in their pants pocket.

They'd rather have a device that just does one thing, and is not beeping with tweet notifications or Facebook notifications, or anything else. It's just an audiobook player and nothing else, and so we found another niche market there. It's crazy, 15 years later, a physical device like that is still a growing business.

James Blatch: It sounds an attractive proposition to me, so in those days you were effectively publishing the books as well. Publishers would come to you, and you would have the rights to publish and distribute, or are you simply a mechanism for the ... Almost like how self publishing works. A mechanism for them to publish through you.

Will Dages: More like how self publishing works. We never assume the role of publisher. We never funded the productions. The publishers would do that and deliver finished audiobooks to us, and we played more of an aggregation and distribution role.

James Blatch: Sure. Okay, and so the move to Findaway Voices, this was really off the back of the growth of the indie market, and we should take a step back, because not everybody understands. In fact, I'll put my hands up, because I don't know if I completely understand it. I'm about to have my first book done into audiobook.

Will Dages: Congratulations.

James Blatch: Thank you very much. Getting to grips with it all, but Audible and by Amazon. You can go to Audible. You don't have to be exclusive, even if you do go to Audible.

You could go to Audible and still distribute wide, so can you explain how Findaway fits into that universe?

Will Dages: We'll start with the Audible arrangement. So they have their platform called ACX, which is how authors get their books on Audible, and you have two paths when you go to ACX. A non exclusive path and an exclusive path, and the big difference is the royalty rate that you get between the two. If you go non exclusive, meaning you're allowed to go wide, you get a 25% royalty rate, and if you go exclusive, you get a 40% royalty rate.

Now, if you go exclusive, that means you are only selling your book on Audible and nowhere else. Audible and Apple Books, so they also sell it on Amazon, but the fulfilment is actually through Audible, so it's really the same platform there, and then they sell it to Apple Books as well. They still call it iTunes on their website, but it's Apple Books.

They've gone through a couple branding iterations. All the same thing though, whether you see iTunes, Apple Books or iBooks, or whatever, so you can go non exclusive and still reach those same platforms through ACX, but then also come to Findaway Voices and hit the rest of the market, so we work with over 40 platforms. Everywhere, from library providers to streaming subscription providers, to à la carte providers.

We even have a separate direct relationship with Apple that gets you a 45% royalty rate, instead of the 40 exclusive or 25 non exclusive, so you can go around that one channel through ACX, and not have to take that 25% royalty rate there, and we basically just opened up the rest of the market for you. It's very similar to the eBook world.

I tell a lot of people we're like the Draft2Digital for audiobooks. You upload once, and we'll get you everywhere, but if you don't want to go everywhere, you don't have to. You can pick and choose, and you can say, "Yeah, I'm going to go direct to ACX. I'm going to use Findaway for everything else," but we also distribute to ACX as well.

A lot of people don't know this, but there's only four countries in the world that ACX operates, will you let you sign up in. If you're not in the US, Canada, Ireland or the UK, you can't sign up for an ACX account, so if you are in South Africa, or Australia, or New Zealand, or Europe, you might want to sign up for Findaway Voices just to reach Audible, because you can't have an ACX account, which is crazy.

James Blatch: How does that work? That's a brilliant explanation, by the way. Very clear.

How does that work financially for the author?

Will Dages: It gets really complicated really fast when you're looking at individual retailers, because we have 40 partners, and they're all on different terms and different royalty rates, and six different business models, and what is the purchase over here versus over there? We try to keep it really simple.

All of those royalty rates were really transparent about it in our distribution agreement. We can't publicly put it out there on the website, because of some legal contractual obligations to keep it behind a log in wall, but as soon as you log in you're able to see that whole table of royalty rates, but we keep it really simple.

Of all the money we get for your royalties, you keep 80% of it, so we collected in all these different business models under different math terms, but then it all sits in a bucket and you keep 80% of it, and Findaway Voices is a 20% distribution fee across the board.

James Blatch: Okay, so let's say company A takes 25% of your $100. 75% comes in to you. Then your fee is 20% of that reduced amount and the rest goes to the author.

Will Dages: Yes, except your math example there is very optimistic. The highest retail à la carte royalty rate we have is 50%.

James Blatch: Okay.

Will Dages: Yeah, so the audiobooks base is not at this 70%, 80% watermark that you see eBooks a lot of time. Audiobooks are inherently a lower royalty rate across the board.

James Blatch: Is that because it's a more expensive ... Although it's still a digital file I suppose.

Ultimately, these days, it's not really the cassettes anymore, but is it more expensive to deliver?

Will Dages: I think it's dangerous for me to postulate on why it's that much different. Certainly, audiobooks are much bigger than eBooks. eBooks, you're talking about a couple megabytes. Audiobooks, you could easily be talking about a gigabyte, and it's not free to move data across the internet, as much as it might seem like that when you're loading up websites and stuff, but we pay an enormous amount of money just to send a book out to 40 partners. Just on the line there, but once it's on partners in delivering to each customer, that also costs money, but I don't think that, that's really a cost driven reason for the royalty rates. I think more it's probably led by the industry player of Audible.

James Blatch: Sounds like it's ready for someone to disrupt that then. Come in and undercut everyone else, if anyone's out there and wants to do that.

Let's talk about the other I guess part of this, which is the production side of things, which is I'm going to say is the number one reason that authors don't do audiobooks, because they're not quite sure how or where to start.

Will Dages: Yeah, and it's expensive, right? You can publish your eBook for free, ostensibly. There's some editing, and obviously some formatting and stuff, but there's a lot of great tools out there and you can work it out for free, but to make a professional audiobook you really need to hire a narrator. There are some exceptions. We can talk about self narration and some of those specific cases where that works, but for the vast majority of audiobooks you are hiring a professional narrator to create that product, and there's a couple different ways to do it.

One of the reasons I'm on here talking to you today is because we're launching a whole new way to do this with something we're calling Marketplace, so I'll get to that in a minute, but let's talk about just overall what it looks like to make an audiobook, is number one, you've got to have a finished manuscript. You can keep tweaking an eBook forever, but once it's in audio and recorded, changes are really expensive, so you want to make sure that you have a finished manuscript by the time you start this process, so that you're not going back for changes, which can be expensive.

Next, you're going to do some auditioning process. Assuming you don't already know the narrator you want or have a relationship, you're going to be basically going out here into the market and trying to find the right voice for your book, and that can be really intimidating or can be really fun, depending on how your perspective on the process is.

James, you've just gone through this. How did you handle this part of the process?

James Blatch: I got a bit lucky actually, so I started to tout around. I couldn't quite find the right voice. I did start actually, on Findaway. I got one response for my audition tape. It just wasn't the right fit and I carried on looking, and then I got an email from somebody who listens to the show, who had a narrator who did their book and read my book, and said he's a good fit, and he was absolutely right, so I listened to him, so he's doing it.

He's got his own little company in the UK. He has a little production side of it. I had a long chat with him on the phone. He described the whole process to me. He seems very well organised and very good, so he's going to do my production. I'm going to pay him upfront, so I can't remember his ... Three and a half grand UK pounds, something like that I think, for the finished product, and then I will have it. Then I'll have the digital product, which we can talk about in a little bit, of what I should do-

Will Dages: Yeah, of what you do next, right. That's fantastic. Recommendations from people you trust, from people who have worked with this narrator before, great way to go about that for sure.

James Blatch: Not everyone has a podcast by the way, so they don't-

Will Dages: Oh, yeah.

James Blatch: Not everyone has 2.7 million people listening to their podcast every year, so that I can draw on the audience. Most people are going to need your services I think, more than relying on that.

Will Dages: That gives you a little bit of an advantage there. I love that. Okay, so once you find the narrator that you're looking for, then you're going to go into the contract phase. I would not encourage anybody to go through a narration without having a contract with the narrator. You need to outline what the costs are going to be, what happens if it goes wrong. Hopefully, nothing goes wrong, but you need all that laid out, and you shouldn't be going into this without a contract, so that's a very standard part of the process.

After the contract's signed, what we recommend next is doing an extended sample, so this is longer than an audition, but not a whole chapter. Usually, in the 15 minute range, and this is going to be a portion of the book that the narrator is going to perform as if it's the final performance, and you as the author are going to be able to nitpick and give subjective feedback, and say, "I want you to go a little bit faster," or, "This accent isn't quite right," or, "That character needs to be more gruff," or whatever feedback you want to give.

This is the time to give it, because if you give that kind of feedback at the end of the process, that means ... Can you imagine a narrator sitting in a booth for 30 hours recording your book, and then coming back and hearing, "That's the wrong accent?" Oh, my god. I have to redo everything, and generally that's not going to be done for free at that point, so you want to get all of that taken care of upfront, and then, as long as the narrator stays true to that extended sample for the rest of the production, you can't request any changes, right?

If I have a British accent for this character in the extended sample, but then I go give this character a German accent in the actual production, okay. Yeah, you messed up. You've got to go back and fix that, but as long as you stay true to that extended sample, this is really the part of the process where I encourage authors to spend the most time.

Don't breeze through this. This is where an investment of time upfront will yield significantly better results for the end product.

Then the next step is the narrator goes and records the whole book, and this is where the author gets to sit back and relax, and enjoy not being in a stuffy booth, reading for hours on end. This is what you're paying for, and then the narrator will come back with the finished files for you to review.

Generally, on most platforms, ours included, the narrator is required to deliver a finished product, meaning it is ready to go. It's ready to be distributed. There's no more editing or mastering or proofing that needs to be done on that, so depending on your comfort level with the narrator, how many times you've worked together, your time schedule, whatever, you can decide how much you want review that.

I know a lot of authors who just spot check certain parts of the book to make sure it's good. I know a lot of authors who listen to the entire thing in its entirety. They'll sit down and listen to the entire performance, every single second of it, and obviously, if you find mispronunciations, a missed line, something like that, you just let the narrator know. They'll go back and fix that right away.

They're pros. They can patch that in. You'll never know that there was a mistake there. That's what they're really good at, so usually only after that final approval is when you would actually pay the narrator, and the way audiobooks are priced is per finished hour, so narrators are almost all independent contractors. They set their own rates, and their rates are in PFH, which stands for per finished hour, and what that means is it doesn't matter how many hours it took them in the booth, how many hours it took them at the editing station. It only matters what the output was. It could take them 30 hours or 50 hours to make a 10 hour book, but you're paying 10 times whatever their per finished hour rate is at that point. Does that make sense?

James Blatch: Yeah, it does, and that's an interesting thing. I'll do this afterwards, because I won't be able to find it now, but the guy is very well organised and experienced, who's doing my book, and he's sent me a contract, which I'll look through it. I can't remember what it said, but it does have something about the process of the beginning of the book, which I think pretty much describes what you've described, which is you'd call it an extended cut, and it think that's where, because I wasn't sure at what point we start talking about character voices. He said that comes a bit later, when they start the process, so I can imagine how important that is.

As you say, this is not an easy thing to fix later.

Will Dages: Well, whether it's easy or not is up for debate, but whether it's expensive or not, that's not up for debate. It's definitely going to be expensive for you to change things later. I would also say, if you're in a fantasy genre, or you have built a world with a lot of crazy characters and nonstandard names, taking the investment in time to put together a pronunciation guide for here's all of these characters, these places, these names that do not have standard pronunciations can also be a really good thing ahead of time.

Likewise, in nonfiction, if you have a bunch of charts and graphs that you want described, it's better for you to write out a little script on how to describe each graph, than to let the narrator try to interpret that on the fly. That's going to slow them down significantly and it's probably not going to be what you want, so think about those things ahead of time. What do I have in my book that doesn't directly translate into a script?

For the facts and figures, you could have a PDF and say visit my website at xyz.com for the PDF and reference 6.1. That might be what you want to do, or you might want to say this chart that's illustrated here that you can't see is showing that the average population density, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Write out whatever you want to convey the takeaway of that chart to be.

James Blatch: You don't really want to take them out of the moment too much with that sort of description, but I understand there's different ways of doing that.

In terms of Findaway, your service, how involved are you in making sure people follow that sort of process with your voice artists?

Will Dages: Yeah, great question, so now, there's a perfect transition into how we do productions and how Marketplace is going to be a little bit different.

From the time Findaway Voices launched to now and continuing, this isn't going away, we've had a very high touch white gloves kind of service for authors where, as you went through, you went through this, basically, this whole dating profile. You were filling out all kinds of things about what is the voice you're picturing? Is it gruff? Is it sensual? Is it mid '30s or is it late '60s?

We're asking a tonne of questions about what you picture the performance to be, and then we have a human team that comes back. We take all that and it's a mixture of art and science. If you say you need a male narrator, like okay. We have some filters that can filter that down, but generally we're getting down to in our database a couple hundred narrators, and then we're handpicking who we think would really be the best for your particular performance.

We have a casting team that does this all day every day. They love narrators. They love great performances. They listen to audiobooks all the time. They get it, and so you have somebody on your side who knows this, and if this is your first audiobook, that is so comforting for you to know, that the biggest decision, the make or break decision about an audiobook is making sure you pick the right narrator, and having some help with that can be really comforting.

From there, we actually sit in the middle of the contract process, so the author contracts with us and the narrator contracts with us. It's not the author and the narrator contracting directly, and that lets us also sit in the middle and protect both parties, and make sure things go right. In the unlikely scenario where the author stiffs us, the narrator still gets paid. If the narrator ghosts us, then you're not ghosting us with taking all our money. The author is not on the hook for anything.

Those things are few and far between, but it is this confidence builder in the middle. We're sitting in the middle, and we have a production agent that will help you from end to end as well. From that contract phase all the way to final approval. The narrator needs a nudge. Hey, deadline's coming up, or the author needs a nudge. Hey, you've really got to get this feedback to the narrator, so that they can move on, or finish up chapter four's feedback, so that they can move on to chapter five. That kind of thing. We're facilitating all of that throughout the way, to make sure book is done great.

Now, Marketplace is a little bit different, but what we did was we learned from the last four years of how to make a good book and where things go off the rails, and we can invest a little bit more time upfront here, to make it easier down there, and we've taken all of that process and we've built software around it for the workflow of a great audiobook, and this is what Marketplace is. So Marketplace is a way to make a book in Findaway Voices without us sitting in the middle.

If you want to find the narrator yourself without our casting tools, and just open up the whole database of narrators and find the one you want, and audition them yourself, contract directly with them and move through the process. We've got all of the tools to keep you on the rails, so that the workflow piece is good, without us slowing you down.

If somebody really knows what they're doing, if they trust the narrator, if this is their 20th audiobook, this scenario where we're sitting in the middle and helping everybody slows you down. It's actually not a value for you at that point, so Marketplace is really taking everything that we've learned, putting it into code and software tools that helps the production get done really smoothly, and then we're giving it away for free.

We're not charging anything for the use of these tools, so there's no excuse for an author and a narrator to not come to Findaway Voices Marketplace. Pair up there and make their audiobook, or if you just want a little bit more control over searching and filtering, and finding the right voice for yourself, you can search the whole database there too.

Now, we're not launched totally yet, so we've launched for narrators first, because we have about 15,000 narrators on the platform and we need them to upgrade their profiles. We need them to give a little bit more information, so we can have this robust search that we need. We don't want to open it up too early, because I would hate for someone like you, James, to go and put in a couple search terms, and have zero results. We need a couple thousand narrators to update their profiles before we can launch the fool author tools, but we're hoping those will come in by the end of this year.

James Blatch: Okay.

Will Dages: I just had a big chunk of talking and I think you probably have some questions, or at least somebody wants to hear some other voice besides mine for a minute.

James Blatch: I do, and I would like to talk about some of the production, more technical stuff for people who do want to do it themselves, but I'm interested in how this new setup works, and how people would make a choice about which service to use.

You could call it the existing Findaway Voices and the new one, Findaway Voices Marketplace, and at what point do people make a decision about which path to go down?

Will Dages: Well, since casting is usually the first decision that you're going to make, do I want somebody to help me cast the book or do I want to cast it myself? That's really where you would choose one of the two paths, and if you want us to help you cast it, you're probably going down this path of us helping you with a whole bunch of other stuff too, but certainly some people will say, "I want to cast it myself," and they'll work for a little bit on that and they'll come up empty, and they'll say, "Okay. Maybe I do need help. I'll come back to Findaway Voices proper, and ask their casting team for some help there too."

Both paths are going to be available at any point, and the old way is not going away, because it's still valuable for so many people, so really that first decision point is the casting.

James Blatch: Okay, and this is the production side of it, so before the aggregating, before it's been distributed and we talk about royalty, so is there a price difference in using one service over another?

Will Dages: The way we've always done audiobooks before is going to be a little bit more expensive, because we're sitting in the middle, because we're doing the casting, because we're helping and guaranteeing payment for the narrator, we're assuming some risk there, we do take a small cut. So there's a little bit of a surcharge. The narrator gets their full rate, but we put a little bit of markup on top of that. With Marketplace, there'll be no markup. You're negotiating directly with the narrator, no Findaway markup, and so the Marketplace will be a little bit cheaper, because of that.

James Blatch: Okay, so it's almost like a little bit of insurance money for some of that-

Will Dages: Yeah, absolutely.

James Blatch: It's like the collision damage waiver, when you turn up to pick up your Prius or whatever.

Will Dages: Yes.

James Blatch: Okay. Right, so that sounds really useful.

Do you have a timescale for launching it on the author side?

Will Dages: We're hoping before the end of this year. We've seen great excitement by narrators. We've seen hundreds of profiles upgraded already, and shared, and we're really excited about how great those look, and how narrators are using those as amazing tools to promote themselves. The industry has never seen anything like this before. I could not be prouder of what the team at Findaway has built, in terms of the narrator profiles.

It's just a beautiful way to learn about a narrator, to hear them, to understand their body of work. It's awesome, so narrators are flocking to the platform right now. We're really excited about that, but really, we still have some engineering work to do. We think the real gate is going to be when we have that critical mass of narrators, is when we're going to open the gates to authors. We hope that's before the end of this year, 2021, depending on when you're listening to this podcast.

James Blatch: This should go out in the next few weeks, and I'm assuming that narrators who say freelance work from home, probably in their home studios and so on mostly, they are very often the same narrators you might have access to through other big companies like ACX for instance.

These are freelance guys, so it's not as if you're missing out on an exclusive pool of narrators from ACX.

Will Dages: That's right. Yeah. They're all independent contractors. I don't know of a single platform out there that locks a narrator into exclusivity. You sign up for my platform. You can only work on this platform. No. Most of them are all, they have profiles everywhere. Everywhere they can have a profile, they're going to have a profile. It just makes sense to get as many leads as you can, and take as many auditions as you can, and open yourself up that way.

James Blatch: Conversely, people could go through this process on either route. Either pay the little bit extra and get a curated type thing, or go direct and do it yourself. You'll end up with an audiobook product, a digital product.

At that point, you could, if you wish, be exclusive to ACX, right?

Will Dages: We can, yeah. When you pay for an audiobook upfront, a PFH rate, you own that book and you can do whatever you want with it, and this is an important point on the Findaway side too, is on our distribution service there's a hard line in between production and distribution. We don't care where you made the book. You can use us for distribution, even if you made it on ACX, if you made it in your basement, in your home studio, if you use our service or not.

We take any finished book that meets our content guidelines and our technical specs for a distribution network, but yes, you have total portability of that audiobook when you make it on Marketplace, and if you wanted to go not distribute through us and upload it through ACX, and choose the exclusive path, you absolutely could do that. I think you'd be making a huge mistake, but that's my opinion, but you have the freedom to do that.

There's real freedom in terms here. We're giving away these tools for free, and we're not requiring that you use our distribution platform at the end. We really are building this to help the whole audiobook industry. We want to rise everybody up, and just give great tools to make more audiobooks in the universe, so that was an easy decision to make on our side.

We considered it for a second, like wait a second. We're giving this away for free. We should probably require distribution from us, right? It was like no. No. Don't play that game. Be free. Be the one with the good terms. People will use us and they'll appreciate that. We don't need to handcuff them into using us. Let them choose of their own free will.

James Blatch: Finally, on this production choice, what would you say are the main advantages over somebody coming to you, rather than, for instance, going to ACX? Where they could still tick a box that says they're not going to be exclusive with Amazon in the long run. They could come back to you and aggregate or distribute anywhere else.

What's the main sell to an author thinking about this, to come to you over ACX?

Will Dages: Our tools are, we're taking the shrink wrap off them right now. They are totally modern. They are built for 2021. They look beautiful. They're very usable. The experience that you're going to have visually and the user experience is going to be so, so much better.

Not only that. Our process has really been built for 2021 and 2022, the future. The future of making an audiobook is on Findaway Voices. The past is making it on ACX, so I would really encourage everyone to really think future focused.

This is a ground floor opportunity for narrators too. The most engaged narrators who care the most about their career are the ones who are going to jump on Marketplace early to build their profiles, that's the profile of the kind of narrator you want to work with. You don't want to work with the narrator who's just been sitting with a stale profile for 10 years, and gets an audition every once in a while.

You will have a fresh pool of people here at the beginning, and we sit at the middle of the audiobook industry. When you make a book at Findaway, you are lifting up the entire industry. When you make a book at ACX, you are helping a single retailer. It's the difference between a single retailer that's making a tool versus somebody like us, who sits in the middle and our goal is to build everybody up.

James Blatch: Very much in the indie spirit of things. Okay, so in terms of DIY, I know some people, I know a couple of people who actually do this themselves. I used to be a broadcast journalist myself in the UK, but I decided some time ago that I would not voice my own book. I did do a couple of tests, but it wasn't for me, but also I think, because of my background, I also, by the way, ran a video production company for a while.

I knew enough to know how much goes into the final product. The difference between sitting in front of a microphone and reading a book, and the retakes and the editing, and the noise adjustments and so on. All this stuff.

Can you give us an idea of what people should be thinking about, if they're considering doing this themselves?

Will Dages: The primary consideration that I would have is, is your voice part of your product or not? If you are a nonfiction brand, James, I forget how many podcast listeners you mentioned, but it was in the millions, right?

James Blatch: 2.7.

Will Dages: People know your voice, and if you were to release a nonfiction book about podcasting or self publishing, or something like that, people would expect to hear your voice on the audiobook. It would be jarring for them to hear anything else, right? If it makes sense that your voice is part of your product inherently, I think you should go self narration route.

Now, if you're in the fiction space, that almost never applies, but it can still work in some place. Look at Malcolm Gladwell. Look at, not Malcolm Gladwell, because he does nonfiction, but there are several very high profile fiction authors who do really great jobs with their narration.

What I would encourage you first to do is audition yourself, so find the five minute sample that you would audition everybody else. Record it yourself as best you can, and then go to a service like Findaway Voices, or even, I'm not going to say go to ACX. Come to Findaway Voices and audition that same five minute sample with some other narrators that either you find through Marketplace or that we find through the casting service, and then do some research.

Take those auditions and go to some people who don't know your voice, fans, and say, hey, help me choose who should be the narrator. I'd love for you to listen to these three auditions, and don't label them as, so that they know which voice is yours, but let's get some honest market feedback here, of how do I stack up against the pros?

If everybody chooses your voice, win. That's awesome. That's the best case scenario, but you might get some humble pie that you need to eat there as well, and you might learn a lot about what your readers want. At the end of the day, you are not your customer. You are not the one buying your book. You want to do some market research, so that the voice is right for what your customer base wants.

The second thing that I would do, even if you are selected as the best voice in that test, is to do a little bit of a stamina check, let's call it. Get in a closet with a bunch of soundproofing, and your microphone, or whatever your home studio is going to be, and read an entire chapter of your book, and then go back and listen to the voices that you had at the end of the chapter versus the beginning of the chapter. Do they drift? Do they sound the same? Does it match up? Or did you get a little fatigued throughout that chapter?

It is underestimated by a lot of people how much stamina, vocal stamina it takes a narrator to perform a 10 hour book, and sound the same at the end as they did at the beginning. It is not an easy task, especially if you have a bunch of different accents or character voices that you're keeping track of, and keeping those consistent between all the characters.

There's a reason narration is expensive. It is a true craft and those who do it really well are worth every single penny they charge, so I would encourage you to do that chapter test. Sit in that room for an hour, or whatever a chapter takes you, and then listen to the beginning, listening to the end. See if they match up, and also just think to yourself was this worth it? Do I really want to sit in here for another 20 hours, as I do pickups and fix the mistakes? Am I up for this, or is it actually better to just hire somebody?

If you're up for it and that's good with you, more power to you. That is awesome. There are some people who really enjoy it and get energy out of it, and there's a lot of others who say my time's better writing. I should just spend my time writing, instead of doing this. This is not the best use of my time and money, so those are my litmus test, if you should self narrate or not.

James Blatch: I was immediately thinking that's your main thing, whilst you're sat in the closet recording, you're not writing your next book, which is probably the best thing any writer can do for their future. Okay. Let's say that you have decided to do this, and I know there's a bit of instruction. In fact, Joanna Penn has written a book on this subject, of how to do it. She does do her own nonfiction books.

The quality of the recording, there's presumably a threshold that needs to be passed for both you and ACX, and the other, and the end users probably, the retailers, and that will require a certain investment I guess, in both surroundings, so dampening your room, microphone and editing, and noise processing software.

Will Dages: Yeah. We can talk about that real quick. The cost of a good microphone has come down quite a bit. It's not a huge capital investment to get a microphone that's worthy of an audiobook. Obviously, just like anything, you could spend thousands of dollars on a great microphone, a great setup as well, but it's microphone is maybe not as expensive as you think. You can get one for a couple hundred bucks that is really, really good.

What you're wanting to do with your surroundings is making sure that there's as little background noise as possible. You're going to close the windows. You're going to turn off the air conditioner. You're not going to have the fan on, so depending on your climate it can get quite hot and sticky, depending on your environment.

You're also going to want to make sure that the kids don't come home from school and barge through the door, or the tree trimmers are next door from the neighbours. I guess I can't work today. Those kind of things, there are some things out of your control. The garbage truck just came down the road. All of those things are picked up very clearly on the mic, even if you don't think they will be.

Likewise, I had one person submit a book a long time ago, and we're like oh my god, what is going on here? They were eating chips during it. These are things I don't think we should have to say, but you also cannot eat and drink while you're doing this process-

James Blatch: I can't think of anything worse than listening to that.

Will Dages: It was unbelievable. Obviously, it wasn't a production that we were running through. This was somebody who brought a book from another source and wanted to distribute it, but you want to really control your surroundings there, and then you're going to have to take it into the editing programme, and you're going to want to fix all the mistakes. There's a punch and roll system where you can actually back up live and say I made a mistake. I'm going to go back in the time code on my editing programme right now, and just say it again, and go over it.

Otherwise, some people clap twice or three times, and I'd see those little spikes in the wave form, and I go back and edit that. It's to flag me that there's a mistake, so there's a lot of editing to go back and make sure that any of the mistakes you made are fixed before you do it, before you submit the book, and then mastering. You're talking about sound levels, you're talking about floor levels, minimum amount of space, of silence, the beginning and the end of every chapter, which is very particular on some retailers.

RMS levels, which is overall loudness, calculations that need to be averaged throughout the entire production, so there's a lot of technical things, and you can hire out each one of those things. If you are self narrating and you need someone to proof your book, or you need someone to edit it, or you need someone to master it, you can absolutely find people to do those one off tasks, and they're going to be reasonable.

$20 to $40 per finished hour kind of things, and so, if you have the talent, you have the voice, you have the drive to do the narration, and you invest a little bit in a quite setup and a decent mic, you can absolutely get an audiobook out for a couple hundred bucks, even if you need to outsource some of the editing, proofing, mastering pieces.

James Blatch: Not for the faint of heart.

Will Dages: I know. When you lay it all out like that, it sounds a little intimidating. It's like, okay. Maybe I should just pay the narrator.

James Blatch: Yeah, and I think the people who do it, it's a mixture of their voice fitting their book. I'm trying to think of John Logsdon, is one of authors. He writes sci-fi, comic sci-fi, and he's got this great, I've heard his range of voice. He's got a great voice, and I think he wants to do it. He's got an enthusiasm. He's built a sound booth, a little telephone box in his house, and I think you've got to have a lot of enthusiasm and energy and stamina to want to do this.

Okay, but the other solution for the rest of us is to use professionals, and that's the route I'm going down, so I'm very excited about the new service and the new way of working, but that's not to say that people can't get going now, the existing Findaway.

Explain just how people find you, and what they should do in preparation for submitting for the audition stage, the first stage.

Will Dages: Our service name is called Findaway Voices. You can find us at findawayvoices.com. That's where everything gets started. That's where you can make an account, you can learn more. You can get links to our blog. We have a bunch of educational resources. We even just posted a guest post recently about how to write for audio, how to prep your manuscript for audio, so there are some great resources on there that we have.

We also have a mailing list signup to be notified, if you're an author, for when Marketplace launches. We're going to be doing some little giveaways in the meantime, and some sneak peaks at what's coming for the people who sign up to learn more about Marketplace.

The other thing I would really appreciate is, if you work with a narrator in the past, if you have a relationship with the narrator, let them know about Marketplace. There's a really cool opportunity for narrators on Findaway Voices Marketplace. We have 15,000 narrators on the platform right now, and we don't have 15,000 books a month, going through the platform. There's a lot of people who have been signed up with us for a long time, and have not gotten many auditions.

This is another time where those 15,000, they have to upgrade their profile to be shown on Marketplace, and so, if you're one of the first few, it's going to be a big fish in a small pond kind of situation, so another ground floor opportunity for narrators to really get a lot more visibility and search results. Especially at the beginning, and so, if you have a narrator that you know of, do them a solid and let them know about Marketplace, because the narrators can sign up right now, and get their public profiles to be ready for when Marketplace launches.

James Blatch: Great. Well, I'm excited about my book. I know it's a hugely exciting and growing area, audiobooks, and it's quickly become, I think in the last 18 months we've gone from talking about it being something to get around to, to something you should be planning on at the stage of publication, because it's money left on the table.

That's the thing we haven't talked about at all, actually, is the growth of the readership, the listenership, whatever you want to call it, and that's something I see. I don't know about you, the non publishing friends of mine. I'm surprised how often people say to me they listen to audiobooks, they listen to whatever their chosen service is every time they drive.

I hadn't realised how many of my friends listen to audiobooks. It's a lot.

Will Dages: It's amazing. The market just keeps growing. We've had eight years of double digit revenue growth consecutively. More and more people are listening to podcasts, to audiobooks, and it's not just commutes actually. The APA has released some interesting stats over the last year. That's the Audio Publishers Association, which is US focused, but it's representative.

Commuting is actually being overtaken by leisure listening at home. People are actually kicking back in the armchair, turning off the TV and putting on the headphones, and listening to audiobooks more and more, and at home listening is growing at, I don't want to say an alarming rate. It's an exciting rate.

James Blatch: Yes, exciting, exponential.

Will Dages: Yeah. We saw last year, when COVID hit and all the lockdowns were starting to happen, we saw listening drop drastically. It's like, oh, crap. Commutes are gone. Nobody is commuting anymore. What's going to happen to audiobooks? And then we saw it spike back up have a whole new baseline higher than before, and it was driven by a lot of leisure listening and a lot of escapism at home, so people are listening at home.

They're listening while they're working out on the treadmill, on the bike. They're listening for commutes still obviously, but it's not just commutes. I had that in my head for a really long time. If anything were to really happen with commutes, it'd be devastating, but it's proven to be the opposite.

James Blatch: Turns out not to be the case. Brilliant. Well, thank you very much indeed. You've answered all my questions. I hopefully have done the same for other people, Will. It's an exiting business. Well done, for rising through the ranks and becoming a boss.

Will Dages: Thank you, James. This was a lot of fun. I love the show and I'm glad to be on here, and I hope the listeners got some value out of it too.

James Blatch: Yes. There we go. There's Will Dages from Findaway Voices. All the links, everything you need to know about are in the show notes, and quite an exciting area. It's gone from a nice to have to I think a lot of people are saying it's a bit of a must have, if you're serious about your publishing career, and I said to Will during the interview a surprising number of my friends listen to audiobooks. It just seems to be the thing now. I've got friends who just have headphones on when they're doing DIY, whatever, and they become a bit addicted to it.

I have to say personally, I've not listened to a fiction book on audio, but I have listened to nonfiction. I've just listened to Adam Buxton's autobiography, and I think they work well, because they tend to narrate themselves. He's a comedian as well. Stephen Fry does his books as well, but fiction books, I don't know. I guess I'd have to give it a go. I do like reading though. I like holding a Kindle or a book and reading, but do you listen to fiction?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, I do. A really good way to do it is with things like Whispersync. You can read on your Kindle in bed, and then, if you're going to walk the dog, for the audio recording, it'll pick up from where you stopped, and then, when you go back to your Kindle, it'll be where you stopped listening, so it's a pretty seamless way of consuming media. It's good.

It all depends on the narrator, of course. I've been lucky enough to have the same narrator for the Milton books, David Thorpe, and he is just fantastic, to the extent that I think I would have a riot on my hands with listeners if I was to change to somebody else, even a well known actor.

David is so, so good. Quite fun as well, and also my books are sold all around the world, so it is interesting to test around in different accents, and I haven't beaten him yet. It's very annoying. I've tried all kinds of different ones, but he's so versatile. He's nailed all of them, so I need to think of a really obscure place to set a book or have a character from. Some work on YouTube. Leave me a suggestion in the comments, and I think I might work it into the next Milton book.

James Blatch: Central African Republic.

Mark Dawson: Yes, I'm sure we could do that.

James Blatch: Suriname.

Mark Dawson: Suriname, yeah.

James Blatch: Yeah, so I have no idea what that accent sounds like, in Suriname. Yes. Well, I'm using Matt Addis, who's based in the UK, and actually, I really struggled. I did use Findaway. I went onto Findaway. I auditioned a couple of people. Neither of them were right at all, and I went on a few other sample sites, and then someone, I should remember his name. I'll look him up for a future episode. Somebody emailed me and said, "I think this guy would work well for you," and he was spot on, and Matt's voice is perfect.

And then I had a really good call with Matt, explaining the process, who he employs, what producers he employs, how the process works, what the timetable would be, how the payment structure would work, and everything else. Felt very comfortable with it, and so far so good. The only interruption was it was supposed to be recorded last week, but the producer did go down with COVID, which is a sign of the times, so it's probably going to be next week. He still thinks he can meet the original deadline we've got.

Mark Dawson: Was Alan Partridge not available?

James Blatch: Alan Partridge would be perfect, wouldn't he? For this.

Mark Dawson: He would be perfect. Yes, he would.

James Blatch: Well, that's basically me. That's why I rejected me. I auditioned me and rejected me. Okay, so we are going to talk about that process as we go along.

After Vegas, part of our presentation will be about what happens, if you've got one book, you're writing future books or you're writing your first book now. What do you do about marketing? Because are you just going to lose money on it while you're waiting to build your series up? We're going to talk about that. I think we could do an episode on that in the future.

Okay. Mark, that is it for this episode. Thank you very much indeed, to Catherine and John and Stewart, and the other John, and everyone behind the scenes who helped put this together, and thank you to Will Dages from Findaway Voices. What an excellent chat that was. Very clear with his excellent microphone, as you'd expect. Good. All that remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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