My guest today is Gordon Doherty, a fellow Scot and author of the excellent Legionary and Strategos series. Gordon was a great help to me when I first started to think about self-publishing, helping with things like formatting and choosing a cover designer. By lucky coincidence, we both created audiobooks of our debut novels around the same time so, as June is apparently “audiobook month” according to Amazon’s ACX division, I thought I’d ask him about his experience.
You have a few books out now, all in ebook and paperback formats, and you do very well in terms of critical acclaim and sales. What made you decide to make an audiobook?
A: Since the early months of 2011, when Legionary first saw the light of day and readers started asking for more, I have spent most of my time with my head down, writing and publishing furiously. At the tail end of last year I thought it would be a good idea to take a step back, have a short break, and think about the direction of my writing career and how to get the most of my back-catalogue.
I listened in to a few self-publishing podcasts for advice on this. They offered tips on how and where to market your book and advice on how to manage blogging, tweeting etc without it taking up too much of your writing time. None of this was news to me, until they started talking about diversity – in essence, making your book available on every possible medium. This made me sit up and take notice. Until then I had published my books in eReader and paperback format, but what about the audiobook market?
I had a look online for guidance on how to get started with this side of things. There were no slick and easy self-publishing sites for audiobooks as there are for eBooks. I then realised that publishing an audiobook on, for example, Amazon’s Audible website, was particularly involved, as it involved setting up a US company amongst other things – complex to say the least. Added to that, it seemed that most narrators charged fairly hefty fees to narrate a book. This dampened my initial enthusiasm, but only for a short while…
How did you find your narrator?
A: I didn’t – he found me! As mentioned above, I had put my grand audiobook plans on the backburner. Then, one day late last year, Simon Whistler got in touch with me. He’s an audiobook narrator with a particular interest in self-publishing (as you’ll see from his website http://rockingselfpublishing.com). He had read Legionary, and strongly declared his interest in creating an audiobook version of it.
I was going to ask why you chose him, but you’ve just answered that! What made his voice stand out for you when you heard him?
A: There were a number of factors, but Simon’s enthusiasm and confidence were key. In his initial communication, he sent over a demo narration of the first chapter of Legionary. The quality of the demo was outstanding and this show of initiative really got me on board.
How did you feel when you first heard that initial demo read by Simon?
A: Cliché alert! It was spine-tingling. Seeing my book in print for the first time was an exceptional moment. Hearing it narrated with passion and verve was equally unforgettable. And then when the full version eventually came about, it was even better!
Now, the part most people will want to know about! How did you pay for Simon’s services? Did you pay him up front, or do the royalty share, where your narrator gets half the royalties, rather than a one-off lump sum?
A: Simon offered a royalty sharing deal. With this approach, he did the narration for free, and he takes a percentage of the profit accrued from sales.
Are you glad you paid in that way?
A: Definitely. This approach means Simon has bought in fully to the project and the resultant product. It is in his interests to promote the audiobook as much as it is in mine. And, knowing how enthusiastic and effective Simon is about ‘spreading the word’, this can only be a good thing (I’m still a novice in the art of audiobook promotion). Also, Simon took care of setting up the American company and the legal side of things that had deterred me previously, so that’s another win. (I should point out, ACX no longer requires you to be based in the US to use their program. It’s open to UK authors as well as of April 2014 – Steven)
Of course, if Legionary does well as an audiobook, then I’ll probably lose out a little in the longer term, but I think this was a prudent approach for my first foray into the audiobook world. Perhaps you and I can compare notes at some point in the future to see which approach works best?
That’s a good point about your narrator having a greater interest in promoting the title than if you paid in a lump-sum, as I did. I hadn’t even thought of that until now!
How has feedback been so far from listeners?
A: It’s shaping up nicely. Most direct feedback has commented on Simon’s narration and how much he sounds like Tom Hiddleston! As for reviews, it’s looking good too. At first though, it was a bumpy ride: as sod’s law would have it, the first review was a stinker, with one listener seemingly infuriated by the narrator’s pronunciation of the word ‘grimaced’. It was disappointing, but that’s life. Since then, a few strong reviews have come in to bolster the audiobook’s standings.
I read that review, but I have to say how Simon says “grimaced” hasn’t been an issue for me.
How have you been promoting it?
A: Well, I’m still working on that! This blog will hopefully help spread the word, and I have a handful of freebie codes to give away to any willing reviewers (if you’re interested, drop me a line at www.gordondoherty.co.uk/contact-me). I did the initial shout out via Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc etc when it first came out, but I don’t want to labour that (I used to tweet almost every day about my latest book, but I’ve since stopped doing that, and noticed no adverse effects on sales).
Do you have any tips for authors wanting to make an audiobook or promoting one?
A: Find a narrator that sounds right for your work, and who is easy to work with. Not exactly ground-breaking advice, but worth affirming.
As for promoting an audiobook, come back to me in 6 months!
With the first one under your belt, do you plan on making more of your books available in audio format?
A: Yes, definitely. It seems like a no-brainer now that I’ve done it once. The process involved maybe 20-30 hours of my time to proof-listen to the audiobook and to advise Simon on pronunciations etc (I use a fair few Latin terms). That’s not a massive outlay in the grand scheme of things, and I’d be happy to do it again.
Is there anything you plan on doing differently next time around?
A: I might consider paying up front if there is evidence that this might be more lucrative. Then again, money isn’t everything and I do like the simplicity of royalty-share. One thing I would do is a ‘spring-clean’ edit of a book before it is narrated. During my proof-listen of Legionary, there were a few bits that the perfectionist in me wanted to change. Not major stuff, just stylistic choices and that kind of thing.
Would you use the same narrator? What about for your other series? Would you try a different narrator for that maybe, just to make the distinction clear between the two?
A: I’ll hopefully be working with Simon again. That said, I’m open to trying different styles. Perhaps for my Strategos trilogy set in the last years of the Byzantine apogee, a different voice might help to distinguish that tale.
Overall, how do you feel about the whole experience?
A: The project has left me with a strong sense of satisfaction. It wasn’t overly complex or time-consuming, and the end product is of high quality. It’s great to look at the Legionary page on Amazon and see the formats section listing eBook, paperback and …. audiobook
My thanks to Gordon for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ve been listening to Legionary at work in the past week or so and really enjoyed it. A review will follow when I get a chance to write one up, but for now I’ll just say it’s highly recommended!
Find out more about Gordon and his books on his official website here: