SPS-344: W.F. Howes: The Indie Audiobook Publisher – with Craig Thomson

W.F. Howes has been in the audiobook business since the time of CDs and cassette tapes. James talks to Craig Thomson about the effect of the pandemic on audiobook sales, the types of contracts W.F. Howes offers to authors, and how authors can make the most of their intellectual property with audiobooks.

Show Notes

  • Dates are announced for the Self-Publishing Show Live in 2023
  • Come to the Sharktooth Tavern in St. Pete’s Florida in September 2022 and let us buy you a beer
  • How the portability of audiobooks has changed the industry
  • On audio’s growing popularity and growth during the pandemic
  • What an audiobook imprint looks at when acquiring authors
  • Does a famous narrator make a difference to audiobook sales?
  • Should you add bonus material to an audiobook?

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.


SPS-344: W.F. Howes: The Indie Audiobook Publisher - with Craig Thomson
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Craig Thomson: We're really keen to work with authors that are willing to collaborate with us, to be hands on with the recording, to do those extra interviews and things. It's all really, really key to helping promote their product because audio is a very different beast from eBooks.

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 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 on a Friday, with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: First thing I should say, Mark, for people watching in glorious technicolour, is I am proudly wearing a Ukrainian air force polo shirt and I know you have one as well.

Mark Dawson: I do.

James Blatch: And this has been sent to us by Anton Eine who is our friend, who's been on the podcast before, writer in Ukraine. Last time we spoke to him, I think had moved to the city of Lviv. He may even have moved back to Kyiv, I'm not sure.

Mark Dawson: He has. Yeah, he has.

James Blatch: Okay. Since then, which is sort of a good sign, but we all know, following the news, that's not coming to a conclusion anytime soon. But Anton sent me, and he knows I'm a bit of an aviation geek, so it means quite a lot to me, he sent me this fantastic top and they're producing quite a lot of merchandise. In fact, I love that, they're merchandising the war because they need all the resources they can get hold of up against a super power of course, albeit a wilted one.

Mark Dawson: Well, that's a debate.

James Blatch: Yes. A wilting superpower. Anyway, thank you, Anton. It's fantastic. The Su-27 Flanker, which is the aerobatic team, I think they use them. And we also got some stamps which could turn out to be very rare, so they're going to go in my vault with my Star Wars comic, and a couple of other things that I've got in the attic. Thank you, Anton.

And this morning, we also had some dialogue in the background with a writer in Ukraine and we always do what we can obviously as a community. I know people are still doing that, but we mustn't let it drift from our thoughts and become routine. It's not routine for anybody living in that country at the moment. And there will continue to be initiatives that we will support from time to time on that front.

Mark, we should talk about Ads for Authors because the Ads for Authors course is open at least for another week or so, a week and a bit, I think.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, that's right. So it opened, as we record this, a few days ago, so this is going out a little bit later. The course is there and we've spoken about lots before, but very extensive, 50 hours worth of content across all the main advertising platforms, including organic advertising with things like TikTok, so organic I.e., you don't have to spend anything to do it, just invest time.

We've seen lots of success with authors doing well with TikTok, but also Facebook ads. I'm still using them quite extensively. Still see a lot of people in the community who are concerned about the iOS changes that came in about six months ago.

We should probably do a bit more, not today, but another day, we'll do something a bit more depth on that, but it's overplayed in terms of how it affects us because it doesn't really affect the closed garden that Facebook has that we tend to advertise within. It does affect if you're tracking traffic off Facebook, but most of the time authors wouldn't be interested or wouldn't absolutely necessarily have to do that. So it affects the Facebook pixel a little bit, but it doesn't affect things like interest targeting, custom audiences, lookalikes, or all of that kind of stuff. I certainly haven't seen any kind of degradation in effectiveness of Facebook ads and I know we haven't really with the campaigns we run for Fuse either, so I wouldn't worry about that.

Amazon ads, Janet is engaged in a fairly large reorganisation of that at the moment, so that'll be coming quite soon. We're going to break it down into beginner, intermediate and advanced, I think which will make it a little bit easier, it's quite a large course. And other stuff, we'll add some more content in as we think is relevant and we keep everything up to date as well. So we did a quick review of the Facebook course before we opened the cart this week to make sure that everything was current, and where we felt that it wasn't, we rerecorded sessions and slotted those in. So everything should be as you see it on your screen.

James Blatch: Yes. We did some rerecording even very recently, actually in the last few days. So obviously some of the screens that you see when you're going through the course will have August 22 on them, could not be fresher. I honestly do think that does differentiate us from quite a few online courses of the type that I take from time to time, like YouTube instructions and stuff, which are out of date.

I think the Facebook thing, it's human nature, isn't it, when changes happen, think doom and gloom? I get sent stuff, people saying, "Uh-oh, that's TikTok over." And they send me some article that someone's written about TikTok being banned in the world and stuff.

It's human nature perhaps to look on the bleak side, but the way we should look at changes to Facebook and there have been challenges, no question about it, there've been targeting issue, some targets have been taken away that I've really liked, was useful to me. And there's periods of the year when big business gets involved in their heavy advertising and it's harder.

You should look at it and think, "Well, the more I know, the more skilled I am at this, the higher my chances are of beating the system." And those people who are doom and gloom and drop away, that actually narrows the field for you, dilutes the field for you, makes it better. I don't know what that word is I'm looking for.

Mark Dawson: Reduces competition.

James Blatch: Yes. There you go. At the moment, I think it's really good. I think at the moment, I'm getting great results on Fuse, great results on my personal account. I think July and August are kind of slower times. That's probably more influential than those changes you talk about in iOS or targeting, is big business. So December running up to Christmas or November, I think that would be tougher, but that's why you need to be skilled up, tooled up. And it will change, there's going to be stuff next year that you and I can't even predict in the moment that will be hurdles put in our way and that's why we're here talking about things every week and fluid a dynamic way.

Mark Dawson: Absolutely. Yes.

James Blatch: Right. We have an announcement to make, don't we? Because we are going to announce today, the dates for The Self-Publishing Show live 2023. We've held two of these, the first in 2020, just under the wire before the pandemic changed the world. And then we had our post-pandemic show a couple of months ago in June in London, which was fantastic, very well attended, and we are going to do it again. Third year, we want this to be, again, the biggest indie gathering in Europe. We will have people from around the world visiting, as we did in June, and you can be there.

We're going to announce details of the tickets in September. We are doing a loyalty programme, so people who came this year will get first dibs, after that, they'll go onto general sale. So more details about that probably next month. But if you want to put the dates in your diary, they are June the 20th, which is a Tuesday, and Wednesday the 21st, which is a Wednesday of June, both of June, obviously, consecutive days. Easier way of saying that, Mark, is the 20th and 21st of June next year.

Mark Dawson: Exactly. Yes. I'm just looking at this in our diary already, so we're all good to go. Yes. So 20th and 21st. Hopefully, we had lovely weather this time, actually we've had a very nice summer, haven't we? Extremely nice, very warm, but hopefully it'll be similar weather next year and we'll have a lot of fun again. It was good.

We got some really good feedback from, we had the suggestions box and we must have had three or 400 of those stuffed into the box and we've reviewed those. Some people made the same suggestion, maybe 30 or 40 people made one in particular, that we'll definitely do with regards to making it easier for you to find other writers within your genre. And some other suggestions on speakers and bits and bobs that we think we can implement to improve things even further. So we're looking forward to getting into that, we'll probably start planning that at the start of next year, but definitely we'll have the tickets on sale in September.

James Blatch: Yes. And a few decisions we've got to make about how we do the tickets and so on, but it'll be more or less the same structure of the event. Two days of conference. And we'll have a party on the Tuesday night, the first night, at the Southbank Centre. So by the time this goes out, we will have signed the contract, but we have finished the negotiation phase of that.

Unfortunately, everything is going up in the world at the moment, so we're going to have to think about how we structure the payments. We just about broke, even in fact, I'm not 100% we've broken even yet because we've still got a few bills to pay, but we won't be far away from breaking even this time. We don't want to make a massive loss on it, but the prices have gone up higher.

This is a behind the scenes chat, but sort of thing Craig talks about very openly as well when he talks about the 20Books conferences, so we should as well. And I suspect a few of the other costs are going to go up. So some thoughts you and I will have to have about this over a beer between now and September. Maybe on the beach in September, because if you want to come and say hello to us in person, and I was going to say buy us beer, but actually we'll buy you a beer.

You can do that because we're going to be in the US in Florida in September. We'll be attending NINC, but you don't have to be attending the conference to come and say hello to us because we're going to be holding an open drinks on the evening of, let me just get this in front of me, Mark, we're flying out on the evening of the 23rd of September.

Mark Dawson: Is a Friday.

James Blatch: It's a Friday night. So there you go, no excuses. The weekend starts there and it starts at the Sharktooth Tavern, which you will find as part of the... What is that place called? Tradewinds. The Tradewinds resort in St. Pete's Beach. So if you go to the Tradewinds Hotel in St. Pete's Beach, on their estate there is the Sharktooth Tavern, it's just off the beach, you can walk along the beach to it, and we will be in there drinking cold beer. It's going to start at 9:00 to deconflict with some other things.

And at the sessions itself, if you are attending the conference, I'll be doing a talk on TikTok. I'm also, actually, they've asked me to moderate a panel, which I'm going to do on a Thursday night. And we are going to record an episode of The Self-Publishing Show live on the main stage that I'm really looking forward to. I say, I'm looking forward to, I also have to plan it, which is a reasonable headache. A small outside broadcast production. We'll get a couple of trailers for you and me.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, exactly. Green room.

James Blatch: And a Fiat at 126 for John to sit in.

Mark Dawson: And John and Tom would share it.

James Blatch: Yeah. And they relax. Good. Okay. Look, I think we've got all our announcements out the way. So we are talking audiobooks today. I need to make a decision about what I'm going to do and how I'm going to do my next audiobook. I'll ask you about that at the end of the interview because I do have a decision to make on that, actually I'm mulling at the moment.

Audiobooks are a hugely vibrant growing part of our industry. I rarely do direct advertising from my new book and I sell one or two a day, which is fantastic. So at the end of the month, it's often the difference between my Facebook campaigns on one book, making a loss and making a profit, which is brilliant. So audiobooks, definitely something you should be getting into.

And one of the oldest players in the market is W.F.Howes. And you may not have even have heard of them, but they were around in the old days of C60 cassettes and DVDs and CDs in libraries and so on. They have been doing audiobooks before we knew the phrase, audiobook. They're part of a bigger company now, but they are the largest independent audiobook producer, certainly in the UK, possibly in the world. And we are going to hear all about their methodology and how they are building a relationship with the indie community through their spokesman, who is Craig Thompson. And then Mark and I will be back for chat.

Craig Thompson, welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to have you on here, we're going to be talking audiobooks. And we're going to be talking a company called W.F.Howes.

I think Craig, a good place to start would be with who W.F.Howes are and then we can talk a bit about who you are.

Craig Thomson: No worries at all James, thank you for inviting me on, I should say, that's first thing. We're the UK's largest independent audiobook publisher. And we're really part of the RBmedia Group. We've really established ourselves as the specialists in audio. We've been doing this for over 20 years, really working in this particular market.

We started with cassettes and the CDs, those kind of originals and we've since evolved with the industry as the industry's moved into other things like Audible and that subscription based model, we've evolved with it.

We've been there since the start and I think that's really held as in really good stead. We work exclusively in audio, so we have no founding in print at all, it's all audio-based. Our marketing is all specific to audio. The way we produce is all audio specific, so that's really our kind of main focus. And as I said, that's established as these audio specialists. So that's where we've been and we've been pioneers in this field, so moving into originals recently.

It's been a fascinating change in the industry over the past few years and since I started a couple of years ago and it's really exciting to be part of it. I'm sure everybody's got lots of questions on audio and it's one of those things that everybody seems to be talking about, particularly in the publishing industry.

James Blatch: It's definitely dynamic at the moment. I can tell you from my own experience this year, the audiobook sales, it seems to be the one area I don't have to market too hard, they just seems to sell themselves, which is great. There's an appetite and it's a growing market. But 20 odd years, you say started with the CDs and cassettes. I know you weren't there then, but that was pioneering at that point.

There can't have been too many options for audio book producers.

Craig Thomson: No. And it was primarily the real demand for that kind of stuff was in libraries and things and we still get it now, we still get a lot, particularly here in the UK, we get a lot of libraries that still want that physical product. We still produce CDs, that I think particularly that market are very interested in. It's still not been outmoded yet, it's still there. But obviously the change in the growth in the market has come from retail really, that's largely where it's been.

James Blatch: Trying to think back, I can remember those cassettes being in there, but I think they were marketed more or less as books for the blind in the very early days, you'd listen to it. But actually that's silly for us to think that everybody wouldn't quite like to sit down and listen of pair headphones to a book and it's become such a huge thing now, not just for people who're visually impaired.

The portability of an audio book was the unlocking of it for the retail market.

Craig Thomson: Yeah. And I think as well, very recently we've had a lot of changes obviously with the pandemic and the way things... The market has changed slightly again. There was a lot of people, particularly, probably... I think the majority of people were using it for commuting. If you look at Nielsen data and things like that, the majority of audiobook consumers prior to the pandemic were largely using it as a commuting media. They were using it when they're travelling to work, on the tube, in that kind of environment.

And I think as well with the pandemic, that changed. There was obviously a worry, I think, that there might be a drop off, but obviously not because there was a lot of people who were very curious during the pandemic about audio and first time listenership actually rose during that time. So it was very interesting how the market changed, how people listen audio books or why people listen to audio books. Yeah, it just makes for a very interesting environment really I should say, and how the consumership's changed as well.

James Blatch: Are you concerned about the dropping away of commuting, which is one of those consequences of the pandemic?

Craig Thomson: Well, as I said, that was a slight concern, but it's proved not to really have been one to be honest because of the amount of people that have transferred to audio, really. I think that, as I said, there was a massive boom during the pandemic, people... I think curious more than anything about audio. I think there were certain retailers that were really pushing it. So I think that's not really been so much of a problem and the growth has been really, really encouraging. So no, we've not really had that kind of problem, I don't think.

 And I think people will continue to listen to it. A lot of people are using it for relaxation, so listening at home for leisure and that kind of stuff, which that's really interesting to hear. I know a lot of people for instance that do it during their hobby times, for instance, and things like that, so it's really great. When people are cooking, there's a lot of people still listen to audiobooks for that. So it's a really, really interesting of how people are using audio, that's really interesting how that's changed.

James Blatch: Yeah, I absolutely did. I don't do it downstairs when cooking, because my house is chaotic and busy and two teenagers and I wouldn't be able to do it, but I actually do do it relaxation. I lie on the bed. I just finished Steve Coogan's autobiography of a comedian here in the UK, an actor. I did a Richard Ayoade book before that, so I choose this nonfiction comedian stuff and it's really is genuinely relaxing time. Because you're lying on the bed, nothing else to do, you get transported off a little bit.

I can imagine during lockdown, that was something people discovered.

Craig Thomson: And I think that's kind of testament to particularly some of the genres that are doing very, very well in the audio world. I think there was that escapism needed during lockdown, particularly with the news and all of everything that was happening. And particularly, audio has always seen a growth in particularly the genre fiction, so science fiction, horror, all those kind of not speculative, but of high-concept genres have always kind of had a mark here in audio.

But here we did see a massive growth in those and I've seen a growth actually in things like historical fiction as well, crime thrillers, always have their place, but I think there has been a movement towards these more fantasy-based genres that really do offer people an escape. And I think that's been really interesting that people do that, kind of like you said, to move away and almost escape what's happening in the world.

James Blatch: Yeah. Much needed.

Does W.F.Howes specialise in particular genres?

Craig Thomson: No, we don't. We are kind of all round really. We cover most of the key genres. The big ones always are crime, thriller, romance, we do that. And one of my bread and butters is always crime and detective fiction really, so that's always done really well, crime series always do incredibly well for us. But we also do a lot of science fiction recently and fantasy, we're publishing an author, V. E. Schwab, who's absolutely brilliant, writes these really, really great fantasy stories, and that's been a real success for us as of late.

But also non-fiction, we do a lot of non-fiction, and that's an area that has really grown since I've been with the company in terms of audio, really, really exciting in that part. And we also have our own kids imprint, Nudged, which there's a lot of children. So we cover a whole range of different subjects across all different types of genres, really.

James Blatch: I know the question everyone's going to be asking listen to this now, is how do you acquire authors? Bearing in mind, there's lots of authors listening to this.

Craig Thomson: Yeah, well, I suppose what I should say is really what my role is. I work as a senior acquisitions editor for Quest, which is W.F.Howes, its own specialist imprint and it deals with digital bestsellers. So I'm really interested and excited by seeing what's selling well in the eBook format, that is really what my main focus is.

As I say, we've been running probably for around about five years now, we've had some real, real success with what we do here with imprint. What I'm looking at with authors and how I acquire, I'm really interested in a number of different things. I'm really interested in working with authors that are incredibly entrepreneurial. So I'm looking at the reviews, how they kind work in terms of engaging with their audience, I'm really, really excited to see when I see authors doing that. And also to have websites like front facing things, ways of engaging again with their audience in that way, having that kind of background there.

And obviously this is all alongside, really well packaged books, that's really key, cover, blurbs, being really spot on with all that kind of stuff, that's all key to how I look at and how I assess authors and their books. And I think another thing really for us is that willingness to collaborate, we see ourselves as kind an author's audio arm, and we're really, really keen to wear that.

As I said, we don't really have the print rights to fall back on, so ours is completely audio-based. And that's another thing, we're really keen to work with authors that are willing to collaborate with us, to be hands on with the recording. And think of other things, like bonus material to do those extra interviews and things, it's all really, really key to helping promote their product because audio is a very different beast from eBooks. And we find that those things, if we can get those things right, we have a really great recipe for success, particularly with authors.

James Blatch: Do you wait for authors to submit to you or do you trawl the charts and pick out people you think are likely candidates?

Craig Thomson: Well, a bit of everything really. Yes, I work with a lot of self-pubbed authors, many who have come to me with inquiries. I do a lot of my own as well when I find the authors that I think are suitable, I'll begin a conversation with them. But I do a lot as well with all agents as well, I work with a lot of agents and also with publishers as well. So I work across a wide variety of different acquisition models, but it's kind of a mixture really how I acquire, and I'm always willing to have an email come in and always excited to have a look and see what different eBooks are available, really.

James Blatch: You say you like to work with, or you get excited by working with entrepreneurial authors, but I guess from a self-published entrepreneurial author will also be examining other routes, I.e., the self-published route, which is I have to say the route I've gone down with my first novel. I've paid in advance, I've paid for the production to be done by Matt Addis here in the UK. And I upload that myself, so I'm on a full royalty. At the moment, exclusive with Audible, but not necessarily forever.

Do you find that entrepreneurial self-published authors, who at the same time is happy to sign a deal with you, and obviously, because that's how it works, sign away some of that royalty?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. Working with authors, in that sense, obviously they're very, very hands on, they're very keen to exploit their audio rights in the best way possible. And again, that's all to be lauded really. I suppose what we offer that is different is we can offer the good quality specialist production that other audio producers perhaps don't necessarily have the same level that we do because of how specialists we are really with regards to that. So I suppose that's the key thing.

One of the hardest things about the audio market is the cost of recording. And the costs can be very, very high. It's very easy to lose money and I think certain publishers themselves are learning that as well.

So in terms of the way we come in, is we ease that burden a little bit in that we pay for the entire recording, we do it. We make sure it's all fully produced and done in a way that's just of the highest quality possible. And then on top of that, we also do the distribution.

I think that's probably another key thing, you mentioned being exclusive to Audible, we have one of the largest, if not the largest distribution network in this industry. We've got links to not just Audible, but all the other places as well, that are emerging players, say just larger players, like Apple, Google, Kobo, and Storytel, all these different places where we're able to put those. So we're offering the greatest exposure available.

We also have links into libraries as well, which I think can be particularly lucrative for authors when they're trying to build that audience, that's one of the things we also do as well. So we're able to offer that kind of increased exposure, but also, as I say, pay for that recording, get that recording, distribute it accordingly and also make sure it's incredibly high-quality as well. So that's what separates us from other places, I think, and that's why we would encourage people coming to us because we can be that audio on for them and really help them.

James Blatch: You say you have a wide distribution network. Does that mean that you don't ever put your books exclusive with Audible, you're always wide?

Craig Thomson: No, we're always wide with all that kind of stuff. That's one of our key things.

James Blatch: Do you at the moment or have plans to operate as an aggregator, maybe for self-published authors and a bit like Draft2Digital is with the eBooks, it distributes on their behalf and takes a small percentage?

Craig Thomson: I don't know. No, not at the moment from my understanding, no.

James Blatch: Sounds if you've got a big distribution network that might be a future development plan, you can have that one for free, Craig, that's that business development idea. Okay. A couple of questions then. So you talk about the upfront cost, absolutely, and I know that, and I can't remember the top of my head, but probably best part of 3000 pounds, I think. So $4,000.

Craig Thomson: It can be. It's usually around about that depending on where.

James Blatch: I have to say whilst you are absolutely appropriate to say that the quality is something that you guarantee. I had a fantastic experience with Matt Addis and his production company, which I think was called something like Liquid. I won't guess it because of one's company name.

Craig Thomson: Now. Yeah. I should clarify, not to say that they wouldn't be a poor quality replacement, because they can be. He's absolutely brilliant.

James Blatch: His was superb. He employs a producer and an editor and every stage went backwards and forwards on accents and everything, it was a really good process.

Craig Thomson: Yeah. That's key, isn't it? That is key to have that, really, I would say when you are producing audio, is to have that collaboration, really. And it's exactly what we were talking about earlier, it's making sure that you've got that high quality audio experience there as well, I think that is really key. So yeah, that all sounds...

James Blatch: It was a good experience for me, but wasn't cheap and haven't paid it off yet, but getting there after a few months. But to make that work for you, do you have an entirely in-house team?

Do you employ your own narrators and engineers, producers and so on?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. We have our own in-house studio, I'm in one of the booths now moment. And we have a network of studios all around the country as well from other places. So that we've got basically the opportunity for authors, particularly when we have higher profile narrators. Actors, for instance, they have access to studios there where they're based as well, so we've got a really high... That was one of the positives of our experience, is we already have that set in place, but we have our own in-house studio, all those kind of editors as well, and our own studio team who deal with casting and everything really.

James Blatch: Do you employ narrators yourself or do you generally use freelance?

Craig Thomson: We've got a really, really strong pool of narrators. Many of which are an experienced from all sorts of different walks of different studios as well. So yeah, we have a great pool of narrators that we use. Obviously a lot of these narrators have their own audiences as well, people like Jonathan Keeble are really, really well known in the audiobook world and have big following themselves now. So people like that, that we work with.

James Blatch: How much is it worth having a bigger name as a narrator? Does it make a big difference to the sales?

Craig Thomson: We always joke, if it's Stephen Fry, you're guaranteed a best seller. I think it depends on the book to be quite honest. I think key to it, really, the whole thing, is making sure that the narrator fits the audiobook first and foremost, to make sure that the narrator delivers that content in a way that works for the author and is reflective of the tone and the content of the book. I think that's, first of all.

There are cases when I think of bigger names are really useful. I think sometimes with larger profile books that can be a really great, particularly if something's being adapted into a television show for instance. But I do think it really does vary depending on what book is being produced at time really, I would say. We do have the Richard Armitage effect.

James Blatch: The Richard Armitage effect?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. Richard Armitage does very, very well whenever he narrates, and you see him all over, he does some great books with Audible and does some great books with us as well, David Hewson's book that Armitage has done for us have been absolutely spectacular. And he's also done a couple of our LJ Ross books, which are really, really great as well. So yeah, would always recommend that.

James Blatch: As you say, they have their own audience, a good narrator, don't they? Now you mentioned bonus material, which I think is something someone mentioned to me before and I've forgotten as about it as an idea, but it's exactly sort of thing that I could add to the end of my audiobook I could easily, because I'm already used to doing interviews, an interview with me about the book, about the writing process.

Is that sort of thing that's worth doing and adding to the end of your audio book?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. I think it goes back to that entrepreneurial spirit that I was alluding to. And if you've got any way of engaging with your audience, I would always advocate for that. So a couple of my books, particularly on my imprint, we've done a lot of great kind of Q and As. We've actually done one very recently with the author, Morgan Greene, who wrote Angel Maker and the Jamie Johansson series with the narrator. And it's really great because you have this moment where you have the author and the narrator both speaking, but they're both coming at it from different perspectives, and it makes for a really, really fascinating kind of listen as well.

I would always push for things like that, if you can get those Q and As in as bonus material, fans love that because they can feel like they've got that closer engagement with an author and with the series itself, almost like they've got that further investment with it, so I would always recommend that.

But we've done a lot of those kind of Q and As, particularly when we're working, say, with a celebrity author or somebody with a higher following, we'll sometimes get them as well to do intros if they're not fully involved in the full narration of the book, so we'll always look for that. And we're also big on enhancements as well, so whether that be sound effects or other elements, we can do that as well. Music sometimes has been involved. We recently, one of my colleagues did a book recently with David Gilmour from pink Floyd who-

James Blatch: Right up my street.

Craig Thomson: Yeah. Who actually created some original music for the book, which was absolutely fantastic. So yeah, we can do that. As I say, any opportunity we can for anything like that, is really, really kind of right up our street, really for that.

James Blatch: That could be my next bedtime listening, bit of DG. You just mentioned there about sound effects and stuff, obviously David Gilmour lends itself to a bit of music, but there is this whole transition, there's this movement from the plain audiobook. At the other end of the scale, you've basically got we'd call a radio play with multiple actors and a cast and produced with sound effects.

Somewhere in between is something that I'm hearing a little bit more often on audio books, is just a bit of background and maybe one other voice. Is this something you're exploring at the moment?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. So as I mentioned, we've done some, we call them enhancements really, enhanced audio. It seems to be a thing that it's still quite popular. I think again, it's one of those ones where you've got to be... It has to be reflective of the material and it's not to be used everywhere because I think there is the potential sometimes, particularly if the sound effects aren't quite synced in, it can potentially cause problems with experience, the listening experience, sorry, I should say. However, there are times when it can really, really increase and make an audiobook sound better.

We recently, I think probably about two years ago, did a series, the first book was called Holt House, it's part of The Eden Book Society series by Dead Ink Books. The Eden Book Society are kind of retro horror stories and we wanted to enhance the audio and make it seem in keeping with this idea of retro 1970s horror. So we added this effect to the story, which made it sound like it was an old tape recording, a crackle make it sound olden. And we were able to add the story to that of saying that these were the early cassette recordings of The Eden Book Society stories that have actually just been recovered for the very first time. And it made for a great story and also really, really helped the recording, Holt House and places like that.

And that's when that enhanced audio can come up that long sound incredibly well, incredibly good. We've also done a recent book, an original where we've got binaural sound, so the idea being that you can... It's almost like surround sound and that say a bee's flying past, you can hear the bee get louder as it comes past you and things like that, which has been really, really exciting as well.

James Blatch: And what about music, bit of library music maybe, make sure obviously it's copywrite done, but is that something that could enhance the sound just to bring the chapter to an end?

Craig Thomson: Yeah, that's what I would normally suggest that the music, if it is used, is used in that, say almost as an intro to the story. Maybe if the book is split into different parts, so first part, part two, part three. You can really create that bridge between each part by using music to have an intro and have an outro as well. Sometimes if it's used every chapter, I think sometimes it could get a bit... The reader might not be too keen on that. Sorry, the listener, I should say in this case. But I think in parts, yeah, I think it works really, really well.

James Blatch: My mind just turning over with the possibilities there.

Let's talk about deals. Now I know obviously any publishing company deals are author specific and confidential, but can you give us an idea that if an author signed with you, what they could be expecting to weigh up against other avenues they might consider?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. So obviously we can't go into anything in terms of advances, we normally offer decent solid advance. We do offer zero royalties as well, there is that option that with obviously-

James Blatch: Like a buyout?

Craig Thomson: No, we don't necessarily offer that.

James Blatch: So what you mean by zero royalties?

Craig Thomson: So we would just sign the rights over, but then what you would get on top of that is basically you'd be earning straight from the start. I think that's the key thing for us, is that we're able to do all the legwork and make sure that authors are earning straight away, that's the key thing, whether it be via an advance or just via the royalty, so it'd be royalty only in that case. And that's probably the best way describing, James, for you. So we offer the two models there.

Normally, I should say, the advance is the way that we go, it's very rare that we do the other one recently from experience, but it has been the advanced one. And then on top of that, as I mentioned, we would cover all of the recording costs, all of the marketing costs in that sense, we do all that as well.

James Blatch: Yeah. So someone in my position's up fronted the cost of it... If you offered me an advance, I'd basically have to add in the other 3000 pounds and my time and all that effort as well to consider the deal on the table?

Craig Thomson: Of course. Yep.

James Blatch: And then a percentage, hopefully, if the advance earns out.

Craig Thomson: And I should say, yeah, there would be royalties included on that as well. You've got all your royalties as well on top of your advance as well, so there's all that. It's just that we offer the two different models sometimes. It all depends on the book as well and what the author... We're quite keen to negotiate as well, so we talk with authors, we get an idea about what they want, and we're always keen to discuss with authors as well, what they're looking for. And we make sure, as I say, we're author-centric here, so it's all about what the authors expect.

We want to be fair to authors, it's all keen. We're all about of monetizing all the rights for authors and making sure that they're getting the best deal possible. So we have all these different models available and it's more just about discussion with the author and what fits their expectations. But as I said, on top of all of that, you would also get the cost of the recording, which would be completely covered by us.

James Blatch: Yeah, definitely the right way to work, that's how we work with authors as well in our little Fuse enterprise. It's got to work for both of you, otherwise there's no point in doing it.

Craig Thomson: That's exactly it. When I talk about collaboration, we're all about working with authors, making sure they're getting the best deals possible. That for us is key, really key.

James Blatch: In terms of the length of contracts, does that very, or do you have a fixed time you offer?

Craig Thomson: Our standard is normally, it really just depends that one. And we normally have a range of different, again, all negotiable.

James Blatch: Because I know seven years is talked a lot about in the industry, isn't it? Is that enough time for you because the investment in your case is a little bit different from other publishers?

Craig Thomson: Yeah we do, as I say, a range of different ones, we've done seven, we've done 10 years before, it's a range of different terms on a contract, all, again, negotiable with the author depending on what it is, what the book is.

James Blatch: And in terms of the company, it's going okay. I guess you enjoyed the last couple of years, I suspect?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. As I said, it's a booming area really with the double digit growth in the overall market. We've grown as company. My imprint, last I check had tripled in terms of that growth as well. So it's an absolutely fascinating and brilliant, really exciting time to be in audio and to be working with a range of different authors. There's lots of exciting products coming out as well. Authors are really keen to offer different books, different experiences for listeners and that's really great as well, so that's been really encouraging for us.

It isn't a very competitive field though. That's one of the things I would say, is that as much as it is growing, it's still slightly smaller than the eBook market, so it's still sometimes quite difficult to find an audience. But it's one that I think that's why it's imperative to have an audio specialist with you in your corner to open the doors to some of these retailers. A lot of them, they're almost like walled gardens, it's quite difficult to get into say promotions and merchandise, so to have somebody like us involved to help, can really push that a little bit.

James Blatch: So in terms of geography, you're obviously based in the UK. Whereabouts are you actually?

Craig Thomson: We're actually based in the East Midlands, so right in the central part of the country. There's great routes into London so we can do all that kind of stuff, but yeah, we're based in the Midlands, which is quite rare, I think, in the publishing will. But we are right out in the countryside here in Leicestershire.

James Blatch: Do you specialise in UK-based authors or you a global outfit no matter where the author is?

Craig Thomson: Yeah. So we are part of the RBmedia Group, so we've got this really, really, and this is what goes back to that distribution network, we've got a really, really large international distribution network. We've got all this incredible reach. We've got offices in America, but also in Australia, and we very recently expanded into Germany as well. So we've got this brilliant global reach, but for us here at W.F.Howes, we focus on the UK and Commonwealth markets really. That's our main focus, but we do have this great reach and we work very closely with our cousins, as it were.

James Blatch: And in terms of marketing the books, you've got your distribution network. I run paid ads to my books. Is that the sort of thing you do as well?

Craig Thomson: We do a bit of that. It's very difficult in the audio world because, as I said, it's quite a different beast from eBooks. And we find that a lot of the audiobook retailers, Audible and that, as I said, it's kind of like a walled garden type thing, it's quite difficult to get into there unless you've got those preexisting relationships. And that's one of the key things for us really has been that because we've been in this for so long, we've managed to establish these really great relationships with people like Audible, with Storytel, with Apple, Google, all these different places. And we get an opportunity to get into various merchandising promotions and then things like that, that aren't really available to self-published authors. And I suppose that's one of the key things for us really, is that. And we find that if you can get onto one of those, it can really, really help sell an audiobook, so that's the key marketing.

We do often pitch to Audible as well, that's another thing, so we can get books out in front of them early beforehand. So yeah, it's very much that, it's a little bit different from, as I said, eBook. It's a different kind of beast and I think sometimes that's can be difficult to get your head around, but yeah, that's the main approaches that we take, but we do do a little bit of Facebook advertising as well.

James Blatch: Yeah. Great. Well, it's been really fascinating talk to you. Also, I should say that you've come on board as one of the sponsors of The Self-Publishing Show live in London, which we're really excited about. We're recording this just before, the week before the conference, but it will go out afterwards. So unfortunately if you're listening to this and think, "Oh, I'll go and have a chat with Craig," you won't be able to. But are you going to be personally joining us next week, Craig?

Craig Thomson: Yes. I'm delighted to say that I will be, yep, which you'll have a stand, I will be on... I might even have some notebooks for people so they can all come and take a notebook from us. Yeah. I'll be on hand to answer any questions about audio, say particularly excited to be talking to you guys really, and to get an idea about what you guys are looking for and also that, as I said, what we can offer for you as well in terms of getting your audio books out there really.

James Blatch: Yeah. Great. Any swag you bring will be gone in 5.8 seconds at the beginning of the first 500 people who turn up.

Craig Thomson: I'll tell my marketing manager to pack double.

James Blatch: Brace himself and I'll be up there as well. Really lovely talking to you, Craig, very excited to see you batting for authors and finding a piece of the market that can work for them. And particularly the collaborative approach that you have, which I think is so important and to be supported. Those old days of the money machine publisher seeing authors as the fodder that came in, I hope are behind us, and that's not how the new world operates and I'm pleased to hear that's very much the way you operate.

Craig Thomson: That engagement, it's so integral, I think, and to have that spirit, it's so great. We find if those authors are engaging with the fans and we're able to help with that as well, it's so key. I completely agree with James.

James Blatch: There you go, Craig Thompson, lovely man. He came to the conference as well. And yeah, W.F.Howes, big established company, been doing it for years, been doing it before you and I even probably had even written a book, before you'd even written a book.

Mark Dawson: Oh God, definitely. Yeah, they're my publishers. So I've done a couple myself through ACX, which is a pretty easy, simple experience and quite good fun. And then went directly with Audible Studios who did maybe 15 of the Milton books. And then from around about book 16 onwards, I transitioned over to Howes in the UK and Tantor in the US, and they're both owned by a big German conglomerate called RF Media, I think, who own both of those.

It was just one of those things for me that it was, I'm quite busy and I don't necessarily have the time to produce the audiobooks myself. It's possible that I'm leaving a little bit of money on the table, but I don't really care because they're really easy to work with, they're very professional and they're doing a great job selling the books that we've published together. So I think they're great, I've been very impressed with both Howes and Tantor and I'm pleased to better to work with them and continue to.

James Blatch: Yeah, Tantor will publish six of our books in Fuse as well, the audio rights and we have a good relationship with them. So yeah, I need to get my second book done. I am keen to do it, but it's quite... I'm doing it, I want to do it, so I want to pay for the production, own the tapes and upload them myself to Audible and then choose whether I'm going to go exclusive or wide at that point, but have that option to do it. That's just my choice and preference, but it's top heavy in terms of upfront money, so that's about three grand, I think, last time, maybe a little bit more. My second book is shorter, but it's American, set in America, so I probably need an American accent. And Matt Addis is fantastic, did a great job on book one for me. And I haven't asked him yet, but maybe he does an American accent.

Mark Dawson: You don't need an American narrator. Remember my books are set all over the world, so a lot of the books are set in America. So I've had the same narrator, David Thorpe, for all of the Milton books, so 20 so far. And his narrator's voice is his own voice, so fairly neutral English voice, but can do any accent. I've not been able trip him up yet and I have tried, but he can do everything. So if there's an American character, he will do that character in a region-appropriate accent. So we've done deep south, we've done New York, we've done Los Angeles, we've done bits in the middle, Kansas we've done, and Dave was able to handle all of those.

So well in fact, that readers from those places think that he must be from those places too. So that's what you need to find, you need to speak to your narrator. I would suggest trying to keep the same one if you can, and you are happy with him and your readers are happy, changing the narrator's I don't think it's a very good idea generally. But see if he can do American accents. I think if he can't, you might want to change, but if he can, it's probably a good reason to stick with him.

James Blatch: I suppose the difference for me, yours a bit like James Bond series and he flies around the world, yeah, I'd expect that to be rated by. And he's English, but this second book is a standalone book, both my books are standalone, is wholly set in California and Alaska, a spoiler. It's all American characters, there's no Britishness to it at all.

Mark Dawson: Well remember, American listeners have no problem with British sounding narrators. Stephen Fry sells a lot of books in the US as well as in the UK.

James Blatch: But Harry Potter's set in the UK.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. I don't think that really matters. I think look at the English or the British accent, the English, Queen's English, is not something that Americans are going to shy away from. And we might get some comments for the YouTube video for this, but I suspect it might actually be a positive thing that it's read... Laurence Olivier didn't do too badly over there and Kenneth Branagh does quite well. The English actors do very well in American and they don't necessarily always change their accents, Hugh Grant, for example, we could go on and on and on. I do think if you've got American characters, they have to sound American. So if you can't do them well enough, then you've got no choice, but I would I'd ask him and see if you can have a listen and ask him to do some rehearsals and see what he comes up with.

James Blatch: Yeah. I'll have to mull over. I would be interested to hear your opinion, if you want to post that into the comments or in our Facebook group. Well, let know what you think and then I'm going to have to pony up and get that one done. I've already got people waiting for it, so I've got at least two sales. Good. Okay. Look, thank you very much indeed to our guest Craig Thompson from W.F.Howes, lovely to speak to you, Craig. And thank you to the team behind the scenes.

My camera's about to melt so I have to finish off now. And thank you to the team, especially John, he organises everything behind and make sure that you actually do get to listen to this show once a week. Where would we be without him? Answers on a postcard. Here we go. Thank you very much indeed, Mark. All the remains for me to say, is it's a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.

James Blatch: Bye-bye.

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