SPS-311: Spectrum: From Opera to Audiobooks – with Kelly Rinne
Kelly Rinne has had a varied career that has brought her into the audiobook production side of book publishing. She talks to James about the challenges authors face when producing an audiobook and what the future may hold as AI narration peeks over the horizon.
- Starting out in Opera, travel through technology to audiobooks
- Is it better to publish audiobooks wide?
- How the pandemic has affected audiobook sales
- Tips on how to choose a narrator for your book
- Why James failed his audiobook narration audition
- Approximate cost for getting a book narrated for audio
- Distribution options for audiobooks
Resources mentioned in this episode:
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SPS-311: Spectrum: From Opera to Audiobooks - with Kelly Rinnes
Narrator: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Kelly Rinne: Some authors say, "Well, I can read my own work because I know it the best." Well, sure you do. But do you have the skillset to engage the audience?
Narrator: 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 bestseller 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. It is the Self-Publishing Show. The very last one of 2021. I am James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And I am Mark Dawson, and I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say... And I'm not going to swear, but F off 2021. And let's hope that 2022 is much better. Less viral.
James Blatch: It won't be.
Mark Dawson: No. It probably won't be. That's true.
James Blatch: But good luck with that.
Mark Dawson: We can hope that.
James Blatch: I think the key is just to try and make the most of life in between those things it throws at us.
Mark Dawson: Yes. Exactly.
James Blatch: I'm hoping when this goes out that I will be in a ski resort in Europe.
Mark Dawson: Right. Yeah.
James Blatch: Everything looks dodgy. We will see. Anyway. We're trying to carry on as normal, as much as possible, which I think is one way of doing it.
Mark Dawson: That's the way. Yeah.
James Blatch: And focus on our things that we want to do, which in this case for the show means writing and selling your books, which is what we're going to talk about today. In fact, specifically audiobooks, but that's to come in a moment.
Before then, we have some Patreon supporters to welcome to the Self Publishing Show.
Mark Dawson: We do. So, we have Matt Cleary from New South Wales, Australia, and Marie Burdine Stein of no address.
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: So, we don't know where Marie Burdine lives, but we thank them both nonetheless. So, thanks very much for supporting the show. I'm afraid we've don't mention it enough, really, but we have a collection of very generous patrons who help us put the show together as we kind of push on towards 400 shows. It's pretty crazy, isn't it?
James Blatch: Indeed.
Mark Dawson: But it wouldn't be possible without those guys. So, we are very grateful to them for their continued support.
James Blatch: Thank you, Matt. And well done in the first ashes test, Matt. Maybe by New Year's Eve the series will be level. Probably not.
Mark Dawson: Unlikely.
James Blatch: Unlikely. Yeah. Okay. We are also going to talk about our TikTok expedition, which is a challenge you can take part in, which if you follow the five steps over five days will help you get a foothold in a new platform, which is something to use. Mark's expression is moving the needle on sales for books, and lots of examples that we've seen. So, we're quite excited about the power of TikTok for authors.
If you are slightly anxious about a new platform, don't know where to start, this is the ideal thing for you to take part in. And if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok, you'll get a series of emails with videos and things to follow to do it. Now, I've put these videos together. They are really good.
Mark Dawson: They're really actually.
James Blatch: I followed it as well. I was already on the platform a bit, so I did a couple of stupid things. But I posted my first kind of bookish, booktok post. I did another one yesterday, and I'm going to make a good effort at trying to establish something on there.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I will do that too. By the way, we have over 3000 people doing the challenge now, and 1000 people in the Facebook group that we've set up to go along with it. And one of the things I see a lot is two things really. Two kind of threads. Some people saying, "I'm not going to sing and I'm not going to dance." Or, "These things are inane and ridiculous."
And yeah, some of the actually are inane and ridiculous, and I'm not going to sing and dance either. But there are other ways to get that content out there. So, I wouldn't close yourself off to that possibility without thinking about how you could do it.
And the other thing I would say is people saying, "It only works for romance." Now, I've seen examples in all genres where this is working. But the example I posted into the group the other day, just something I found, just, I think it was on the Verge. I can't remember her name now. Zoe something. But she teaches people how to do Excel, and she's making... Now get this. This is ridiculous. Six figures a day through... Six figures a day. So, what's that a year annual salary? I don't know. Depends how high the six figures are.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: But even if it was a 100,000 a day, that's nearly three and a half, four million a year, just from TikToks, selling courses on how to do Excel. Which is absolutely unbelievable.
James Blatch: I think it's 1.2 million, isn't it?
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: 12 times 100,000.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, sorry. You're absolutely right. No. 100,000 a day.
James Blatch: 100,000 a day. Oh.
Mark Dawson: It's not a month. It's six figures a day.
James Blatch: Oh my goodness.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It's about three and a million, three, four million. So, James is just checking that. It's about 3.6, isn't it?
James Blatch: Oh my goodness.
Mark Dawson: So she's doing incredible numbers now.
James Blatch: No, it 36 million.
Mark Dawson: Is it 36 million? Is it?
James Blatch: 36.5 million, I think.
Mark Dawson: 100,000 a day. That's ridiculous. That's right. Yes.
James Blatch: Yeah. Because it's a million every 10 days, right?
Mark Dawson: Yes. It's 36 million. So, well, that is ludicrous. We're not promising that, that's for sure.
James Blatch: No. It's a guarantee. You'll make at least 30 million if you go onto TikTok.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, god. That's not a guarantee, says Mark the lawyer. But so, it is something that people are in, across all genres, all kinds of content they're making. They're selling a lot of their stuff, as my dog starts eating something.
So, come along. It's going to be interesting. And I've seen the videos. They're really good, and I think it'll be quite a fun as an introduction before the full new module, the 10 hours of content that we've got in the Ads for Authors course, which opens what, in about 10 days' time, I think, as this goes out.
James Blatch: Yeah. Something like that. Wednesday. I'll look up the date in a second. But yeah, the course is very comprehensive, done by Lila and Jane. 10 hours of very detailed instruction of how to actually build your platform and get going beyond just simply establishing yourself, which is what the expedition's about. As much as we can do in a challenge like that. We will open the course. We'll have more about that probably next week on the 12th of January.
And I would say to people who do first set up their account, or they first look at TikTok and they see people dancing and lip syncing, of course, there's an algorithm at work there. When you first go on there, TikTok has no idea who you are or what you're interested in, and it's going to send some videos to you that have... They've got like a million views, because they're popular with the mass market.
But my TikTok feed is full of people will with green screen behind them talking about space and astronomy, and aviation and stories. And they're not dancing and singing lip syncing. And golden retrievers, quite a lot of that. Because I save them for my wife to see. So, very quickly-
Mark Dawson: Not combined though. Golden retrieves in space. That would be good.
James Blatch: No. Haven't had that yet. Probably will be at some point. So, very quickly the algorithm start serving you stuff that you want to see. So, don't be put off by the first few posts you see. That's not how it works.
There are a couple of quite happy accounts, which do feature dancing, which you should throw in there. There's one called Happy Kelly. I'd recommend her, because she does brilliant video effects they do on their dancing as well. And we all need a little lift every now and again.
Mark Dawson: Here's a question for you.
James Blatch: Go on.
Mark Dawson: Name of the first dog in space.
James Blatch: Kika. Something like that.
Mark Dawson: Laika.
James Blatch: Laika.
Mark Dawson: Good try.
James Blatch: Nearly. Yeah. What happened to Laika? Let's not go there on a family friendly podcast, because it's disturbing. Don't look it up if you love dogs. Okay. Right. Here we go.
Mark Dawson: Oh, hang on.
James Blatch: Oh, go on.
Mark Dawson: I interrupted you before you gave the URL for the TikTok challenge, didn't I?
James Blatch: I think I may have given it. I will give it again. Selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok, T-I-K-T-O-K, to join us in that. And at the moment, there's a hashtag to go with your first post, which is the result of day five. And at the moment I am the only person, because I've edited the course and had a sneak preview. So, I'm looking forward to being joined on that hashtag-
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: ... at some point by a few thousand other people. And we could all follow each other. So, we'll get to a thousand followers plus, which is a key. As you'll discover during the challenge, getting 1000 followers opens up things like live aspect to you and stuff. So, let's all do that.
Okay. Right. Are we ready now to talk about the interview?
Mark Dawson: I think we are.
James Blatch: Because we have Kelly Rinne on today, and I saw Kelly in person at 20Books, and Tom and Mark and I and John, we went through a lot of the sessions of 20Books conference in Vegas in November, and tried to pick out one people who were giving really good value added talks. I thought we could have them as guests.
Kelly was definitely one of those. She owns Spectrum audiobooks, which is, you'll find out, a kind of production service that you can use as an author. But she's also incredibly knowledgeable and geeky about audiobooks. Their place in the ecosystem, where they're going, how to get them right. How to get the right narrator. A really good all round discussion on audiobooks.
I've just been through the process with mine. I outsourced the production to a company in the UK. Got the raw files back, so they're mine and I'm able to upload them anywhere. I've decided to go exclusive with ACX for the first 90 day period, and then I'll decide what I'm going to do. Probably think I might go wide after that.
I've had 45 sales so far. Is that good? I don't know. Also it's that slightly odd dashboard on ACX, because you can't really see.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it's awful. It's awful.
James Blatch: I have no idea how much that's generating me. And they're 20 quid.
Mark Dawson: No, it's awful. I mean, I love Amazon and I love most Amazon companies, but ACX, the information you get is just terrible. So, I'm doing this with my German ones at the moment, because I've had an offer for German audio from a publisher, and I think it's probably better for me to do it myself. But just trying to work out the numbers is really difficult. You can't work out how much you're making per sale, which is like the most fundamentally important piece of information.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: I can't run ad campaigns. Others may want to leave a message in the comments, but I think it's about four pounds per copy, is a roundabout the amount that you make on sales. But the only way you'll know is when you get paid at the end of the month, divide that by the sales you made in that month and work out just on average, what you're getting per download. But it's not satisfactory at all.
James Blatch: No. I'm waiting for the end of my first month. But from where I am at a moment looking for advertising money, just to break even, that's a decent chunk of change that's come in on the audiobook. And I am running a specific audiobook campaign in Facebook, targeting people who are also Audible interested. And I've no idea whether that's generated the sales or my mailing list or whatever, but I will try and work that out as time goes on.
Okay. Anyway. Let's talk to Kelly, and Mark and I'll be back for chat.
Kelly Rinne. Actually, that's quite good name, Kelly Rinne.
Kelly Rinne: Thank you.
James Blatch: Nice rhyming... It's quite fun to say. Welcome to the Self-Publishing Show, and we are talking about audio. Things that are nice to say and listen to. We're going to talk about audiobooks, Spectrum in particular. But I think we'll talk a bit about the audiobook markets in general.
Why don't you introduce yourself, Kelly, and let us know your journey to this point?
Kelly Rinne: Elevator pitch. I started in opera. I also have a background in technology and programming, which is a very strange background. And I spent 16 years in opera, and then I quit that industry, and I went full blown into website development. And at the same time, I started working in radio. I was hosting a classical music programme and live opera from the opera house here in Detroit, Michigan.
Then I started doing internet radio, and then I developed live video streaming for my husband's company. And one thing led to another, and a friend of mine wanted me to help her with her studio and help her set it up. And I said, "Sure. I'll help you set up your studio." And I said, "Why are you setting up a studio?" And she says, "I'm going to narrate audiobook." Beat, beat, beat. "You should do this." I said, "Okay."
I went out on ACX the way everyone else does, and I auditioned, and I got three books. And a hundred books later, and publishing company.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kelly Rinne: And here we are. I've always liked running a company. I've always liked being my own boss. I never really was comfortable with the whole work for hire thing that narration tends to be. So, I went into it always with the plan of having a publishing firm. And I found out that I really enjoy it.
James Blatch: Sure. So, you didn't published traditional books, I mean, non audiobooks before this.
Did you have any background in publishing?
Kelly Rinne: Not at all.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: Not at all.
James Blatch: And is Spectrum just audiobooks?
Kelly Rinne: Not now. It was originally, but I've had a couple of authors who came to me and basically said, "I want to write. I don't want to fool with eBooks. I don't want to fool with print. I just want to stay and write."
I said, "Okay." And there are so many great people in this industry and people who were very willing to share knowledge. Obviously you and I both know the 20Books to 50K Group, and it's been a fabulous this resource. And so, I had to scale up pretty quickly in order to accommodate those folks. And it's been one heck of a journey. I just did my first full blown wide distribution in print as well, which was a real challenge. Wide audio I was very familiar with, but wide print was-
James Blatch: So, as you grew Spectrum, who were your typical authors? Were these self published authors who had their books already up online, and you just looked after the audio side for them?
Kelly Rinne: Correct. Yes. And mostly in the Lit RPG genre. Because I was narrating for them. And so, it turned into, "Well, why don't you just handle everything?" And I said, "Okay, sure. I'll do that." And so, I started in Lit RPG, and then I've had a fantastic partnership with a couple of author agents where they basically just send me everything new that their authors are doing.
So, in that way, Spectrum ended up becoming more of a generalist than specialising in oh, say, Lit RPG or science fiction or romance or general fiction. We just kind of became more of a large portal and a generalist than anything specific.
James Blatch: It seems pretty broad now, because I had to look at the website before we came on. And I think you've got most bases covered there, one way and another.
Kelly Rinne: And yesterday I just had a great meeting with an author that's doing nonfiction.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: So, we'll now be adding that as well.
James Blatch: And you can't possibly still be narrating all these audiobooks now.
Kelly Rinne: Oh, no. No.
James Blatch: I assume you have a bit of a team.
Kelly Rinne: Oh yeah. Quite a few narrators. Probably a couple hundred at this point. 110 authors, I think. And then we add new narrators all the time. So, depending on the authors, I will open auditions up to new narrators, especially those with a little bit less experience so that they can get some under their belt. Because larger publishers usually won't do that.
And for other folks, I go to my roster. I say, "Okay. This person is going to be a perfect fit for your book." And I let the author take a listen. But the authors do get to choose. I don't demand that they use someone. I'll usually give them a selection. I'll say, "Here are three women I think are great. Here are three men." If it's a duet, I've got a lot of couples that work together, and I just pass those on, and cast that way.
James Blatch: I'm just making a note, because I want to talk to you about narrator choice when we come onto that.
Kelly Rinne: Sure.
James Blatch: But just so I understand the process and the model, what's the attraction for an author then, signing with Spectrum? Because the trouble with audiobooks, there's quite a myriad of choices available for authors now.
What's the attraction of being signed by Spectrum?
Kelly Rinne: The fact that we pretty much handle everything soup to nuts. With some companies, they will only produce your audio and you are responsible for distribution. Or other companies are distribution only, and you are responsible for getting your audio produced. So, this way, they can come to us. They can be as involved as they want to be, or as hands off as they want to be.
That was something that I always wanted to have from the very beginning, because narration is a creative process, as much as writing is a creative process. I love what happens when I put narrators and an author together in a Zoom meeting, and they get to have that initial meeting and just talk about the book. It's really incredible. And it's something that not a lot of folks will do. I've seen some other companies that really just stuff out, and it's not my mindset at all.
James Blatch: What are the offers to authors? What royalty rate can they expect?
Kelly Rinne: Really we've done what is an industry standard. They have some options, and it really depends on how much control of their masters that they want to have. So, if they want complete control of their masters, then we do ask them to cover the narration fees. We cover everything else, and they get 75% of the royalties or more. I have a couple of authors that are a little bit higher than that.
We do a 50/50 split, where we just split everything right down the middle. Split the narration fees, split the royalty rates. And then the last option that we have is when Spectrum covers all of the costs, and then we give the authors 35% until their book earns back. If we pay in advance, if it earns back the advance, then we switch to a 50% model. So, it's tiered.
James Blatch: Okay. So, it's some good options. And that's quite interesting, the 75% option, because that's almost like the aggregating site, to take the grind for authors out of it. Particularly wide. There's so many channels.
You're like a human version of an aggregator site, where you just do all that.
Kelly Rinne: Pretty much.
James Blatch: I can see the attraction in that. I've just done my audiobook, literally in the last few days. In fact, went live about three days ago. In fact, I noticed it's number two in the military thrillers most wished for book today, which I was really excited about.
Kelly Rinne: Oh, good. Congratulations.
James Blatch: Thank you. So, starting to do a little bit of promo for it. But like lots of people, slightly overwhelmed with the choices of channels of where to go, and I've opted at least for the initial 90 days to be exclusive with ACX. It seemed like the like most straightforward thing for me.
But at some point I'll have to make a decision, because there are a lot of people everywhere in the world who don't necessarily use Audible.
It feels to me like in audiobooks more than eBooks, that there's an argument for being wide, is there?
Kelly Rinne: Very much so. The pandemic actually created an entirely new audience for wide distribution, with things like Hoopla, Bibliotheca, libro.fm, Libby. Places like that, that let you do more of a library borrow model. And a lot of folks have switched over to that. They want their audiobooks, but they don't want to pay that monthly fee to Audible or Storytel or somewhere else.
Storytel is fantastic for folks that are outside of the United States. The royalty rates are very, very good. They get the books in and distributed very, very quickly. I've seen a lot of great stuff out of them. I really like them. It'll be interesting to see what happens with Findaway, now that Spotify has bought them. Three weeks ago, I was saying something completely different, and now it's all sort of a big question mark. So, time will tell on that one.
James Blatch: Are you wide with all your authors, or some of them exclusive to ACX?
Kelly Rinne: Yes. Everybody's wide. And what I have found is that it works extremely well for authors that have back catalogue, because they can do like you did. They can do the exclusive to ACX for the 90 days. And thank goodness that they changed that rule. It's been great for a lot of folks, and they can get a lot of bang for their buck out of the 100 promo codes that they get up through ACX, and get those reviews coming in, and put their back catalogue in wide.
And as we all know, every time you do a new release, it does affect your back catalogue. And that's where people really start to see that passive income start to tick up. So, it usually takes about a year, we say.
But even with a new author, it works. It works again, if you do it the way you're doing it. You do ACX first, and then you start to phase in, because over time your sales on ACX are going to drop. It's just, unless you're constantly pouring money into promos with them, and you might as well earn back some of that on the backside, with the passive income.
James Blatch: It's funny, you mentioned the lead time. I did read an article. I've been reading quite a lot, obviously having gone through my own process. I was a bit surprised and daunted to read that it can take 12, 13, 14 months to get your book everywhere. Seems like a long lead time to me.
Kelly Rinne: Yeah. And again, it's just because there are so many channels. The average aggregator has anywhere from 30 to 50 channels that it needs to distribute on. Are you going to see sales from every single one of those? No. Some of them are very small, and they just don't have a lot of reach. But I'll be interested in five years to see what this conversation looks like.
James Blatch: It is a changing world, isn't it? You mentioned COVID. I can just tell it anecdotally, friends talking to me about listening to audiobooks, who never mentioned them a couple of years ago.
Feels to me like this is the current booming area of publishing.
Kelly Rinne: Well, here's what's interesting about that was in February of 2020, audiobooks were poised to overtake eBooks in the amount of sales. This comes from the Audio Publishers Association. They put those numbers out, and then we had the shutdown, and everything tanked. And we saw eBooks especially start to really climb.
Then audiobooks started to follow, as people burned through their Netflix queue or whatever they were... Which is also why I started... And I know you probably want to go here and discuss this as well, but that additional distribution channel on connected TVs that I've put together.
James Blatch: Yes.
Kelly Rinne: That was specifically because of that.
James Blatch: Well, just explain that. That's the Roku?
Kelly Rinne: Correct. Yes.
James Blatch: Just explain that.
Kelly Rinne: Okay. So, connected TVs, smart TVs, OTT, it's all the same thing. It's all the cable cutter, niche channels, niche devices that people are using to stream all kinds of things. That's your Netflix, your prime video, Hulu, Fubo if you're into sports, Zoomo, Pluto. There's hundreds, thousands of them.
James Blatch: They all end in O.
Kelly Rinne: Yes. Anything you want. But there isn't for audiobooks. Now, what was interesting is there's plenty of radio channels, and they're very popular. Obviously listening to audio on this device is done. I've been in that space because of doing video streaming for years. So, I was already very familiar with it.
And that's when I decided to put two and two together. And I thought, okay, let's put together Roku and audiobooks and see where it goes. We're also working on Amazon Fire Stick and Xbox. So, once all three phases are done, we'll be covered on all three of those devices.
James Blatch: And who is Roku? Who owns Roku?
Kelly Rinne: Roku is out of Texas, if I remember correctly. It's a device. Although you now have it pre-installed on televisions, at least here in the US. I don't know about the UK. In the UK, you can get the device. It looks like a hockey puck, and you just connect it through an HDMI cable. And there are thousands of foreign language channels and sports and movies and public domain content, mostly in video, all kinds of government... I mean, just any possible niche you can imagine, mostly for video and television, like I said.
It's been around since 2006, but it didn't really take off till 2016. And in 2017, it had 51 million instals, devices that were in use. And now they're up to 91 million devices that are in use.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: And they've just added their 18th country. So, they just added Germany.
James Blatch: Wow. So is it effectively a bit like... Well, like a Fire Stick, where now on TV we have in the UK, devices you plug into your TV, and it enables lots of other services.
Kelly Rinne: Yes.
James Blatch: Okay. Brilliant.
Kelly Rinne: But it's the oldest one.
James Blatch: Right.
Kelly Rinne: So, that's the thing, is that Amazon Fire Stick hasn't been around for that long.
James Blatch: No.
Kelly Rinne: So, Roku is really the grandfathered one. And it's why I started with that one, because I know the platform the best, and it's got the largest audience at this point.
James Blatch: I remember interviewing Lindsey Buroker a few months ago, and she had started at that point, whether she's still doing, I don't know, putting up her entire audiobooks on YouTube and collecting the advertising revenue, which turned out to be not insignificant for her.
Is that a channel that you've looked at at all?
Kelly Rinne: Well, obviously it's there and it exists. And my biggest issue was something like Roku is the fact that it's easy for people to steal the content off of... YouTube, I mean.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Kelly Rinne: As I said, it's easy for people to steal the content. Whereas with a Roku device, it's almost impossible. And because there are so many people pirating content and putting it up on YouTube already, I really didn't want to go down that route.
James Blatch: Yeah. Yes.
Kelly Rinne: So, it's a hard call to make, because obviously with the right kind of content, sure. The monetization on that could be great. But again, it just creates more work, having to basically be a guard dog against... Because I already have to do that.
James Blatch: Of course. Yeah.
Kelly Rinne: I've got to have somebody just constantly keeping their eye out for whether or not content has been pirated.
James Blatch: It does feel counterintuitive, doesn't it? Uploading it to YouTube. It's certainly not something I'm going to do in the immediate future. But anyway, I'm always interested in things that people do, and they find work for them.
Kelly Rinne: Sure.
James Blatch: So, I'll catch up with Lindsay at some point. I think it'd be really useful if you don't mind talking a little bit about some advice to authors who are going to go through the process that funnily enough, I've just been through. So, choosing a narrator.
I found that really difficult, I have to say, and I felt a little bit like I was... You know when people put covers up and they tell the cover illustrator exactly what they want on the cover? And they're like the last people who should be telling a cover illustrator that, because a cover illustrator knows how to tell their book better than they do.
And I felt, was that happening to me with the narrator choice? Am I being picky about what my particular take on this is, where actually I could have perhaps done some help at that point?
Can you give us some help when choosing a writer?
Kelly Rinne: Sure. Obviously the author always has a voice in their head, and the voice in their head might not match what the narrator does. This gets back to what I mentioned earlier about, a narrator doesn't just read copy. That's not really what they do. They craft your story, and the word craft is vital to what they do.
It's one of the reasons why there's so much anger over possibly artificial intelligence voices coming into narration, which is an entirely different discussion altogether. Storytelling is the oldest art there is. It's older than the written word. So, if you think about it, letting that narrator bring a piece of creativity to your words is the most important thing that you can do.
So, to answer your question, I tell narrator authors to go into this with a very open mind, try and ignore that voice in your head that you heard while you were writing it. That's the one thing that's going to make it the most difficult to cash your book is... And you're welcome to have what you want. That's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is just, let the creativity open up and flow and try and listen to your words in a different way. And most folks get that. Most folks usually are pretty excited to hear what a narrator brings to their text.
James Blatch: Yeah. That's the way to think of it, isn't it?
Kelly Rinne: Yeah. But there is some prep that will help a narrator immensely, even just in the audition process. And you can use the same thing for working with the narrator, but having a little cheat sheet that basically tells them, what voice is it written in? Is it in first person? Is it in third person? What point of view does the majority of the story take place in?
If you've got characters with unique names, and you specifically want them pronounced a certain way... I just had an audition come back. And the author said, "Well, I really liked this narrator, but they pronounced this wrong." And I thought, well, we didn't know it was supposed to be... You didn't tell us. So, it's those kinds of things that will also make the process smoother.
If, let's say, you're doing fantasy or science fiction, and you've created a very unique world, it's really helpful to just have few sentences that describe that world for them. Because often an audition script is only four pages, maybe. You don't want them to only do 30 seconds.
You want to an audition to come back to you that's about three to four minutes long. Maybe a little bit longer. You want some narrative and some dialogue, especially if there's dialogue between different genders of characters, because how some narrators handle opposite gender can become very important or very difficult to deal with.
And so, again, this just gets back to what you want to hear. Not everybody has to do character voices, some of the best storytellers out there do not do character voices, but the way that they're able to engage the audience is amazing. The other thing I recommend is don't just listen to the first five auditions that hit your inbox. Listen to the first 25 that hit your inbox.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Kelly Rinne: You may hear someone that technically might not have a very good microphone or they didn't process their audio correctly, but they're a fantastic actor. Reach out to them and talk to them, because there are plenty of resources to fix your tech. But a good actor, it's amazing.
For those authors that want to try and narrate their own works, apply the same process to yourself. Narration is acting first, and that includes in nonfiction.
James Blatch: Right.
Kelly Rinne: And it's something that some authors say, "I can read my own work because I know it the best." Well, sure you do, but do you have the skillset to engage the audience?
James Blatch: But I will say that I have a long background in broadcasting, both television and radio, and I do a podcast every week and interviews. And I thought I might do my book. I wasn't sure. But I auditioned to myself. So, I read the same bit of script I gave other people, and I can tell you, I failed my audition. I failed it spectacularly. And I knew straight away, I am not going to make an engaging read of this book.
Kelly Rinne: That is so beautiful that you did that. I love that. See, every author should do that.
James Blatch: I did it at the same time I sent it out to other people. I read the bit, and then I listened to it in the same way. And yeah, I didn't get the job, unfortunately. But a guy called Matt Addis got the job, and he did a brilliant job. He did a brilliant job with it.
Kelly Rinne: Oh great.
James Blatch: And actually listening to it, there are bits when I kind of go, "Oh, that's not what I had in mind." But I understand, I've been around enough to know that at some point you have to cede some creative control to a creative.
Kelly Rinne: Yep.
James Blatch: That's how that process works.
Kelly Rinne: It really does.
James Blatch: Writing books can be a bit of a solitary thing, but if you get involved in anything else, like making a record or making a film for goodness sake, a film's like the biggest collaboration on the planet. And you have to cede creative control all over the place. And that's the beautiful thing about it in the end, right? That's why it works.
Kelly Rinne: Yep. I've done a multicast. One of the books I narrated where I was the MC, and I had 14-
James Blatch: And I'm sorry, multicast is almost where it's like a play rather than a single narrator.
Kelly Rinne: Yeah. That's the easiest way to describe it. I had 14 other narrators.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kelly Rinne: In four different countries.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kelly Rinne: Oh, it was a tonne of fun. And so basically what happens is the main character usually is the narrator and does their own dialogue. And then every other actor that you bring in only does their dialogue. So, there's still one narrative voice.
James Blatch: Gotcha.
Kelly Rinne: So, the radio play analogy works up to that point. Where it diverges is that audiobooks still don't do a tonne of sound effects and music. We're seeing some of that, especially in the science fiction area, but very little of it in the other genres.
James Blatch: It's exciting to think how many different formats your original novel could end up being, isn't it?
Kelly Rinne: Yes.
James Blatch: So, I think I saw on audiobook now, there's nothing left, but there's loads left.
Kelly Rinne: Of course.
James Blatch: There's multi casters, as you say, which is the next exciting thing.
Kelly Rinne: Yes. Yes.
James Blatch: Yeah. And of course, when Spielberg wants to make the film of my book-
Kelly Rinne: There you go. And then you talk about other companies that are doing this. There's a couple of audio companies that specialise only in doing these full blown music and sound effects. I'll give a shout out to Soundbooth Theatre. They're great friends of ours. And they actually have composers as part of their roster.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kelly Rinne: And that's all these people do is write music for all of the science fiction that they put out. It's amazing.
James Blatch: Now, if people are going to come to you on the 75% royalty option, so that they would be funding the production, is the way you work.
You basically do the production and give them an invoice, or whichever way?
Kelly Rinne: Correct.
James Blatch: Okay. Rather than, rather than them turning up with their pre-produced material. Or could that happen as well?
Kelly Rinne: They could do that. Yeah.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: They could do that, and then we could do the engineering and mastering and distribution. I don't really want to become a distribution house only.
James Blatch: Yeah, okay.
Kelly Rinne: I really like the hybrid model, but I have done it for a few people and I will continue to do so.
James Blatch: But your skill set is in the production side as much as anything else.
Kelly Rinne: Correct. Yes.
James Blatch: I know it's a movable feast, but can you give us an idea of cost?
Kelly Rinne: So, the costs really come down to a few things. One, there is a union for audiobook narrators. And so, most of your big names, your Ray Porter, your R.C. Bray, Johnny Heller, those folks, they are all union. And so, you have to pay them their base union rate or higher, and you have to pay their pension and health. So, on the high end, Luke Daniels, he may bill 800 or 1200 per finished hour.
James Blatch: Right.
Kelly Rinne: But it usually starts at about 250 for union.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: And then it goes up from there. On the non-union side, you don't have to do the pension and health. You don't have to go through the union. You're just paying the narrator directly. And those folks are usually 190 to 250.
And then you will get folks who are willing to do the royalty share, the same way it exists on ACX. You can do that. I know we do royalty share. I know Pink Flamingo Productions, which does mostly romance, they do royalty share with narrators. You've really got to have the backend on keeping to be able to do that. And that way you give the narrator a stipend, and then split the royalties.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: So, usually those are about the three ways to do it. And then of course, if you use ACX, you do have the full royalty share option, where authors don't pay anything up front. And it used to work out really well, but ACX has been flooded with scam authors so much over the last three years that it's made it really difficult for anyone to get the royalty share model to work very well, in the past few years.
Like I said, years ago, it was great. And for those of us narrators who took the risk and are holding those older titles, it's great. But again, ACX has some issues and they really need to work through them before-
James Blatch: You're saying it doesn't work so well anymore for the narrators or for the authors or for both?
Kelly Rinne: Well, really for the narrators, because they're the ones taking all the risk up front. Because narrators actually have to pay a proofer, and they have to pay an engineer to master their audio. So, if they're working independently, they're actually paying money to narrate your book before they see a dime.
For royalty share, authors, if they want to go down that road, then they basically have to have a really high profile book. And it's got to be paid rank. It can't be free rank. It's got to be a paid rank that is sitting in the top 100 in good categories. And the sales numbers have got to be sitting around 1000 or under, in order for royalty share to really be worth it for a narrator to-
James Blatch: On the overall Amazon charts.
Kelly Rinne: Right. If you're just going off the Amazon rank and the Amazon charts.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: But again, there's a lot of options out there. And I know that Findaway has... They've basically got a competitive platform to ACX that hasn't quite rolled out a full royalty share option, but it does have the royalty share plus option. So, authors can do sort of a reduced buy-in to getting their audiobook produced.
James Blatch: Yeah. And the distribution side. Let's just talk about that for a little bit.
Kelly Rinne: Sure.
James Blatch: Because it is complicated, isn't it? You rattled off some of the retailers just now. Where does an author start with this? I mean, through your company, I guess is the best thing.
Kelly Rinne: Right. Well sure. That's the thing. Yes. They can obviously come to Spectrum. But you can also go down the road of basically becoming your own distributor and cutting your own deals, or you can choose one of the two larger aggregators. Findaway obviously is one. But again, with the whole Spotify acquisition, it's hard to say what they're going to do and how the royalty rates are going to change. So, all my information on that is older.
IngramSpark does have an audiobook distribution side. The problem with it is, is that you have to have a sizeable catalogue to do IngramSpark. I know a lot of people use it for print and you can just have one or two books and use it for print and eBook, and it's great. But on the audio side, they really want you to have at least a good 70 to a hundred titles in your catalogue, before they'll let you on the audiobook platform.
So, a Craig Martelle, who's got a huge back catalogue. That's a great platform for him to do wide distribution. Or any other authors like that, who've got these huge, huge multi-book series that run 17, 25 books in a single series. That's great for them. And then that way they kind of have one stop shopping. They get access to the largest platforms in wide distribution. So, it's your Kobo, your Overdrive, Libby Hoopla, libro.fm, which goes to bookstores.com, Storytel, Bibliotheca. All of these larger platforms.
Barnes and Noble is its own entity. You have to do Barnes and Noble on your own as a single deal. Google Play, you'll get the best money if you do Google Play on your own. You'll get 90%. But the hoops that you have to jump through to get on Google play are particularly difficult.
James Blatch: Right.
Kelly Rinne: So, this is why it gets back to your earlier point about how long it takes to get the wide distribution. It takes Google about seven to nine months just to approve you to get on the platform.
James Blatch: Wow.
Kelly Rinne: It's really a pain, and you have to constantly submit in information to them.
James Blatch: Doesn't sound fun.
Kelly Rinne: No.
James Blatch: What is next for Spectrum specifically and audiobook in general, do you think?
Kelly Rinne: Well, like I said, we've got the Roku platform underway. We've got the other two that are going to become a phase two and a phase three. I definitely want to expand out eBook and print offerings, and fight the good fight against AI.
James Blatch: The robots are coming.
Kelly Rinne: Really.
James Blatch: Kill all humans.
Kelly Rinne: I'm not afraid of technology, obviously, since I use so much of it to do this, but it's something that's really shaking up the community. And I basically want to hold the line and fight the good fight.
James Blatch: I know some people are excited about this, and other people dread it. But I think when you talked earlier about the craft of narration, about telling the story, it seems unlikely to me that we're anywhere close to artificial intelligence recreating that. It might be able to read the book out, and it might sometimes be hard to tell if it's a human, but to bring that heart to a narration, I hope for some time to come, that's a human's job.
Kelly Rinne: Well, same here.
James Blatch: We'll see. Kelly, what fun talking to you.
Kelly Rinne: Yes. Thank you, James.
James Blatch: An that's aside for me, having just gone through this process. And I know that there are authors, they often say to me that, "I just haven't started this process yet. I know it's money on the table." But I think it's becoming clearer to me, and hopefully this interview's made a bit clearer to other people, what the landscape looks like. So, that was great.
Kelly Rinne: Thanks again for the time. And I really appreciate it.
James Blatch: Hey, no, we do too. I should say one more thing. I think you did maybe talk about having a PDF, a helpful PDF, that would be useful.
Kelly Rinne: Yes. I will send you my presentation that I had at 20Books to 50K.
James Blatch: Okay.
Kelly Rinne: I know I've got it up in the group, but I'll send it to you directly, and you're welcome to distribute that. It's got a tonne of information in it and should be quite helpful.
James Blatch: Great. Okay. Well, thank you. And I sat through the session at 20Books, so I can say it was a very useful session for me. I made lots of notes.
Kelly Rinne: Oh, great. Great. Now, did you attend in person?
James Blatch: Yes.
Kelly Rinne: Were you able to come over? Okay, great. Great.
James Blatch: Yeah. I was there. We actually flew. It looks now like it might have been a window of opportunity, when we were allowed to leave the country. But who knows?
Kelly Rinne: Right.
James Blatch: Yeah. Anyways, just park that one for now. Brilliant Kelly. Thank you so much indeed for coming.
Kelly Rinne: Thank you. Thank you so much. All right. Enjoy the rest of your day. Bye now, James.
James Blatch: There you go. Kelly Rinne.
Where are all your books and audiobook? Are you still self publishing your audiobooks, or are you sold those rights to Tantor, was it, I think?
Mark Dawson: No. I had deals with Tantor in the US and WF House in the UK. They're owned by the same parent company. Recorded Media, I think it is. So, big multinational.
Would I make more money doing it myself? Probably I would, but they're really good. And they take it off my plate, which is something that I don't have to worry about. There's a value to that for me. And I like working with them. So, it's been pretty good that way. And I'm not thinking about doing it myself, even though obviously it's pretty easy these days to do that.
James Blatch: I outsourced mine to a company called Chocolate Fox Audio, which is by basically Matt Addis is the narrator, and he has a team around him. He was suggested to me by a listener actually to the show, as somebody whose voice would fit my book. And I listened to him straight away and thought, yep. That definitely would work.
Had a really good conversation with him. He explained entire process. How his producer works, how he works with the producer or how they'd work with me. And everything he said happened. It was a little bit of interruption with COVID, of course. But we had detailed conversations about characters, about parts of the world, about pronunciations of names, whether I'd made them up, whether they were real.
He helped me out with finding a few things in the book, inconsistencies, which of course in any novel, when someone else has a fresh pair of eyes, you find a couple of things there, which we smartened out. And I'm being really pleased with the feedback I've had so far. Apparently his pronunciations are very good.
I did find it weird hearing the characters I created being voiced by somebody, but I think it's a very important part of what we do when we grow a little bit into bigger services, is to cede creativity to somebody else to interpret your story. J.K. Rowling had to do it with Harry Potter, right? And Peter Benchley with Jaws. So, I'm sure you and I can do it with our books, and just let somebody else interpret things rather than me too nitty about it.
Mark Dawson: Interesting choice of two authors there.
James Blatch: Oh yes.
Mark Dawson: That's an insight into the way your brain works. J.K. Rowling and Jaws. Weird.
James Blatch: I'm trying to think of big book adaptations. They're the two that came to me. There are others. Other books have been adapted.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: Perhaps Ian McEwen should have been a little bit more on top with Atonement, but there you go. Which was not a great adaptation. We could have a discussion, couldn't we, of good and bad adaptions. But we're running out time. And yeah, we are running out time, because we've got another episode to record in a minute, you and me.
I do want to say thank you to Kelly Rinne for coming on. She was a very enthusiastic interviewee, and I learned a lot about audiobooks. I hope you did too.
We have our TikTok challenge starting in a couple of days. I think we're going to start it on something like the 5th of... Yeah. Wednesday the 5th. So, that's next Wednesday from where you're listening to this, if you're listening to it on release day. So, that URL again, selfpublishingformula.com/tiktok.
Mark Dawson: TikTok.
James Blatch: TikTok.
Mark Dawson: Time's moving on.
James Blatch: Yes, it is. Okay.
Mark Dawson: Actually, given this is the New Year's Eve show, TikTok is a very appropriate way to end it.
James Blatch: It is.
Mark Dawson: So, well done. That was a smooth seage. Smooth and sophisticated seage.
James Blatch: Smooth segue. We don't say seage. It's segue. That's how it's pronounced.
Mark Dawson: Well, you ride those. You ride your Segway. I'll use words from the dictionary that are correct in the way I use them, thank you very much.
James Blatch: I think I'm going to wrap things up now. So, all that remains for me to say for 2021 is thank you very much indeed for being with us for this year, and we look forward to continuing through 2022 and helping you with your career as an author. And that's it. All that remains for me to say, therefore, is it's goodbye and happy new year from me
Mark Dawson: And happy new year for me. Goodbye.
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