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Audiobooks are the fastest-growing segment of the book market. While paper and ebook sales grow by a measly 1-4% per year, audiobooks are growing by 20-25% every year.
If you don’t have an audiobook, you are missing out on sales to readers like me. I only buy audiobooks. Since I graduated from college, I have purchased and listened to nearly 1,000 audiobooks.
During that same time, I have purchased and read maybe a dozen paper books and ebooks.
This excludes children’s books, of course, since my daughter asks me to read millions of children’s books each day. Or sometimes the same children’s book one million times each day.
But just because you have an audiobook doesn’t mean people are reading it. It’s still a needle in the proverbial haystack. While the audiobook haystack is much smaller than the ebook haystack, you are still competing with hundreds of thousands of other audiobooks.
To learn how to market your audiobook, I interviewed David Wolf, the founder and CEO of Audivita Studios, an audiobook creation and marketing firm. We talked about seven strategies for marketing your audiobook.
Strategy #1 Hire a Celebrity Narrator
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Having a celebrity narrator gives readers a second reason to say “yes” to buying your book. Audible lets you browse books by narrator, and I have purchased books based on the narrator.
What are some tips for hiring a celebrity narrator?
David Wolf: Narrating a fiction audiobook requires the art of performance. Most authors cannot do this well. You need an actor to pull off the narration, the changing of character, the emotional content, the action sequences, and the pacing. It takes a skilled actor.
A well-known name might attract more buyers and produce a high-quality recording, but they are expensive. Many authors are not able to hire a celebrity narrator.
Thomas: There are two ways of working with two different kinds of celebrity narrators.
Publishers often select a famous Hollywood actor, like Elijah Wood, to read a book like Huckleberry Finn. The actor who played Ron Swanson of Parks and Rec read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He has a down-to-earth voice that’s a great fit for that book.
But if you’re writing fiction, you don’t have to hire a Hollywood narrator.
Hiring a Hollywood actor is tricky because they generally hate audiobook narration. The act of narrating an audiobook is grueling, boring, and not very glamorous. It doesn’t have the cachet of narrating an animated film.
In microgenres, you’ll discover one narrator does most of the books in that genre.
For example, there are a couple of narrators who perform military science fiction. A bestselling space battle audiobook is likely narrated by one or two narrators who have perfected space battle narration performance.
I read a lot of military science fiction. When I see you’ve hired either of those top narrators, I know you’re familiar with the market. You’ve done your research. You have enough money to hire one of those guys, so readers must be buying your books. And there must be something about your book that those narrators like.
Savvy narrators are careful with their brand. They try to stay close to their brand because they know they’re building a reputation that brings their own audience to the audiobooks they record. They don’t want to disappoint their own fans.
Do nonfiction authors need a celebrity narrator?
David: For nonfiction writers, the best strategy is to become your own celebrity narrator. A nonfiction author who speaks publicly is the voice of their brand. It makes sense that you represent your content. People feel like they know you and are more likely to hire you for a keynote speaking engagement since they’re familiar with your voice.
Thomas: With today’s technology, it’s easy for your audience to hear your voice through webinars, videos, and podcasts. In fact, it’s likely your audience first listened to your voice somewhere besides your audiobook.
For this reason, fans often expect to hear your voice when they listen to your audiobook. It can be jarring if they don’t.
This even holds true for fiction. James L. Rubart wrote his most recent book from a female point of view, so he hired a female narrator. It was a different listening experience for his readers because he narrated all his previous books.
David: Some of our clients narrated a previous audiobook, and when they switch and hire someone else, their “fans” have a negative reaction. They don’t feel as connected to the hired narrator as they do to the author. Audio is an intimate medium.
Thomas: They key is to use the narrator that readers expect. It might be you, or it might be a famous narrator, but having the right narrator gives audiobook consumers a second reason to say yes to buying it.
On the flip side, a poor narrator can give readers a second reason to say no. For example, the top reviews for the new Hunger Games book are all complaints about the narrator. Readers loved the book, but they did not like the narrator.
It’s important to become a good enough narrator to read your own books. If you can’t or don’t want to, hire a good narrator so that you’re not hurting your brand.
If people are thinking about buying your audiobook and they see a bunch of one-star reviews for the narrator, you may lose those sales. People don’t want to listen to a bad narrator for six hours.
David: Yes. You need to cast your narrator carefully. Our casting team spends a lot of energy sorting through auditions. They know how to listen in a way that brings an actor’s sensibility to the choices we make. We understand the risk involved with a potential disconnect between the content and the way it’s read.
Strategy #2 Have Your Audiobook Ready at Launch
Thomas: Many indie authors make the mistake of releasing the audiobook weeks or even months after the paper and ebook version. This is a huge mistake.
Audiobooks take more time to produce than paper and ebooks, and sometimes authors are in a hurry to launch. If your audiobook is ready at launch, all your carefully planned launch efforts will promote the audiobook as well as the paper and ebook versions.
You make more money from the audiobook (per unit) than from the paper or ebook versions, so you want it available at launch when you’re creating all the excitement. If you release it later, the energy is gone, and it’s like launching your audiobook to an empty room.
I know because I made this exact mistake myself. To be fair, I wasn’t planning on doing an audiobook. But I eventually made one, and it didn’t sell as well because we launched it a year after the book came out.
David: Authors often ask when they should release their audiobook, and I concur with you.
I’ve heard an argument that releasing the audiobook later gives a second boost to sales, but the sales data doesn’t prove it.
It’s a customer-driven decision. You offer all the versions on your Amazon page and let consumers choose how they want to consume your content. If the audio is not there, you might lose them entirely because they don’t feel like they have time to sit and read.
That’s the reason the audiobook market is growing 20-25% percent year over year.
Thomas: People prefer certain formats. A busy CEO will likely prefer audiobooks. Someone with poor or failing eyesight will like an ebook because they can easily enlarge the font size on their Kindle. Kids prefer paper.
If you want to have followers, you need to be a servant. And what better way to serve your readers than to offer your book in the format they want?
Also, Amazon is less likely to promote your book internally if there is no audiobook version.
One of my favorite authors recently released a new book, and Amazon did not email me about it. I’ve listened to every one of his books, so I was surprised I didn’t get an email from Amazon.
Do you know why I didn’t? Because Amazon knows I only buy the audiobooks, and there was no audiobook version available. The new-release announcement I would have received was not sent because there was no audiobook available, and the opportunity was lost.
Don’t let this happen to you!
Strategy #3 Promote Your Paper Book
If your book is on Audible, it is also on Amazon since Amazon owns Audible. Some of your Amazon page visitors will end up buying your audiobook. When you promote the ebook and paper book, you are simultaneously promoting your audiobook.
If a reader enjoys a book, they often want to own it in multiple formats. People can read the ebook, switch to the audiobook when they get in the car, and then pick up where they left off when they return to the ebook.
Why is offering multiple formats such a powerful strategy?
David: It’s powerful because it allows the consumer to have it their way. The consumer may want to switch back and forth by syncing the two formats. The multiple-format approach is critical to success. People’s preferences may change over a single title.
I’m starting to wonder if there is also an audience that wants to listen and read simultaneously.
Thomas: That is true for nonfiction. When people have an intense drive to learn something, they want to be able to listen, but they also want to interact with the physical book. They can highlight and mark it up the physical book.
If readers really love the audiobook, they’ll go buy the paper book.
One of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson, did a Kickstarter campaign for a limited-edition, leather-bound version of his Way of Kings book.
Michael Kramer and Kate Reading narrate his books, and in my opinion, they are the best in this genre. All of Sanderson’s readers expect to hear their voices.
Brandon Sanderson hired them to narrate his Kickstarter campaign video. And when Michael Kramer asked me to buy a $250 leather-bound anniversary version, I did!
Brandon Sanderson raised $6 million through that campaign, partly due to the emotional attachment we had to his narrators.
So, offer all your readers the format they prefer.
Strategy #4 Price Pulse on Chirp
Thomas: You must decide ahead of time whether you want to implement this strategy.
Many indie authors publish their audiobooks with ACX, which is Audible’s audiobook publishing platform. If you aren’t careful when you sign up for ACX, you commit to being exclusive to ACX for the rest of your life or the next seven years, whichever comes first.
A book typically gest all its sales within seven years. So ACX wants you to be exclusive with them for the life of your book. If you’re exclusive to ACX, you can’t use some of these strategies.
Chirp is BookBub for audiobooks, and BookBub owns Chirp. People can sign up for Chirp for free. They enter their email address get a daily audiobook deals email where they can buy an audiobook for less than half the price of an Audible credit.
If you want to promote your audiobook on Chirp, you have to use Findaway Voices or another third-party audiobook publisher, rather than ACX.
How do you help your clients navigate their choice between ACX or Chirp?
David: Authors make less money on Audible if they’re not exclusive to Audible, but there are advantages either way. We present the options to each author, and they decide based on their goals.
Sometimes we use Findaway Voices or Authors Republic or one of the other 35 distribution channels available online instead of ACX.
If our client is interested in being in public or university libraries, we recommend going wide with a more horizontal distribution model. Some authors like to keep it simple and distribute exclusively with Audible. When you’re exclusive to Audible, you’ll see 40% of the retail price coming back to the author, whereas if you go nonexclusive, you’ll only see 25% of the retail price coming back. There are trade-offs. Each author had their own approach.
Thomas: If you’re writing a series, I recommend going wide with book one, so you have a broad playbook of marketing strategies. You might make less money on book one since it’s not exclusive, but it’s available in many different places.
If book one is available everywhere, you might consider going exclusive with ACX and Audible for the other books in the series.
The drawback is that you’ll potentially alienate a customer who hates Amazon. But most people are just looking for the best price. If I buy your first book on Chirp, and your second book is only available on Audible, I’ll buy it there.
Early in your career, when you’re trying to build an audience, having the ability to use other marketing tools like Chirp is important.
If you’re accepted on Chirp, you can expect a minimum of 1,000 downloads. I have never talked with anyone who has had less than four-digit downloads after a promotion.
We’re talking big numbers with Chirp because more and more people are signing up for Chirp every year.
How do you price pulse on Chirp?
Thomas: You temporarily lower your price in conjunction with something like a promotion on Chirp. The audiobook deals Chirp promotes are temporarily discounted. They aren’t always $2.99. The temporary discount allows you to take advantage of psychological triggers such as urgency, scarcity, and social proof.
The promotion gets lots of people buzzing, and once the promotion is over, the frenzy continues. If your book is good, those people tell their friends who then purchase your book at regular price after the promotion has ended.
If you have a series, you can price pulse one book, and if it’s good, people will go on to buy the other books in that series at regular price. Novelists who have written a series regularly price pulse various books.
The more extreme version of this strategy is to free-pulse your book. You offer the first book for free for a short time, you get an even bigger frenzy, and those readers spread the word about your book, too.
David: I love that strategy. For fiction authors, the book is the product, and going wide with that first book makes a lot of sense for getting more royalties out of your unit sales.
For nonfiction authors, their book is primarily a tool for building a speaking or business platform. An author’s goals will determine their strategy.
Thomas: Right. If you’re an attorney, you might write a book on copyright law, and that book makes you the number-one attorney on copyright law.
The business you gain from being the expert makes you so much money as an attorney that you’re willing to give away your book for free because it will only generate more business for you.
Novelists depend on their books to make money. You might be willing to lose money on book one, but you need to make it up on the other books because you’re not selling your legal advice or your counseling advice. You’re selling your book.
Strategy #5 Go on a Podcast Tour
There is a reason Audible is one of the biggest sponsors of podcasts. There is also a reason the Audible app plans to add podcasts soon.
Podcast listeners are more likely to listen to audiobooks and vice versa.
Marketing audiobooks is challenging because only a small percentage of people listen to audiobooks. It’s a growing percentage, but since the market is relatively small, not many firms focus on audiobook marketing.
If you’re buying Facebook ads or billboard space to sell your audiobook, half the people who see it will never buy because they don’t listen to audiobooks.
If you are an audiobook and podcast listener, I know that’s hard to believe. But if you want to reach people like you, go on a podcast tour.
In a podcast tour, you are interviewed by various podcast hosts, and you must have an audiobook to offer them because the vast majority of them are audiobook listeners.
To reach audiobook listeners, do a podcast tour.
David: Audio consumers consume audio. If you’re the narrator of your book, your audience will get a feel for you, your message, and your voice.
Thomas: Historically, podcast tours worked best for nonfiction authors. But in 2020, there has been a podcast boom. Many novelists have started genre-specific podcasts, and novelists can now go on a podcast tour for their fiction.
Strategy #6 Advertise on Podcasts
Thomas: Advertising on podcasts is a sister strategy to the podcast tour. In some ways, it is easier because it costs less time for the author. If you’re afraid of speaking in public or you’re too busy to conduct a podcast tour, you can advertise.
But it does cost money. The money you spend to advertise on a podcast can produce great results because the listeners hear about your audiobook every time the ad is played, whereas they hear your interview once.
While you have their full attention for the length of the episode as a guest interview, the advantage of advertising is that they hear about you every week for the length of your advertising run.
You don’t have to produce a fancy radio commercial to advertise on podcasts. In fact, it’s a hassle, and it’s less effective.
It’s better to do a host-read ad. The regular podcast host will read a blurb about your book, or better yet, read a portion of your book and give their own thoughts in their own words. “Hey, I just read this book, and you should totally buy it. By the way, here’s my affiliate link to get it on Audible.”
What are some tips for advertising on podcasts?
David: The host-read or the prerecorded host-read ad is the best tactic because that host has an intimate connection with their audience. The audience knows, likes, and trusts the host, and that can result in book sales for you.
A prerecorded, produced trailer type of ad doesn’t fold into the audience experience as well. The host-read ads fit more naturally with most podcast formats.
Thomas: Very few authors are buying ads on podcasts. Everyone is buying Facebook ads because there’s a course teaching people to do it. People ask me about the hottest and newest advertising tactic, and this is it.
This is your chance to be the only bidder on ad space for a podcast that speaks to your specific readers.
Strategy #7 Host Your Own Podcast
Become your own celebrity narrator by hosting your own podcast. People will get used to hearing your voice in their head, and they’ll want to hear your voice in your audiobook.
Ten or fifteen years ago, when podcasting was in its infancy, podcasters would write books based on their podcasts, and both fiction and nonfiction writers saw those books become New York Times bestsellers.
Hosting your own podcast is a tried and true path to bestseller status. Many authors do not use it because starting a podcast is a lot of work. It also costs a lot of money.
What are some tips for hosting your own podcast?
David: It’s important to know it will cost you time and money. You must plan the listener’s experience. Hosting your own podcast may be more valuable for nonfiction authors because the book and podcast are components of the author’s larger business.
But it’s the perfect way to unpack the subject matter of your book and have dynamic conversations with guests. It’s a powerful strategy, but you’ll need to be able to release new episodes weekly or at least every other week. If you release less often, you won’t build the momentum you need to be effective as a podcast host.
Thomas: Authors need to start with their audiences’ pain points. If you want to host your own podcast, you need to ask several critical questions:
- What do my target readers want?
- What questions do my target readers have?
- What are their pain points?
- Where are they struggling?
If you start a podcast about female protagonist dragon riders, you may need to invite other authors who write in your genre even though your books compete with each other. You and your podcast will benefit because those other authors write to readers who would be interested in your podcast.
David: We encourage the nonfiction authors we work with to invite their peers to be guests on their podcasts. Heated discussions and conflicting opinions attract a listening audience because they’re interested in all aspects of the subject under discussion.
As the host of the show, you’re controlling the conversation and positioning yourself as the authority online, which develops your platform.
Thomas: One strategy that has worked for a long time is the podiobook strategy. Many authors have used it to hit the New York Times bestseller list. With a podiobook, you’re essentially recording and releasing a chapter of your audiobook with each new podcast episode.
After you’ve produced and released all the episodes, you can then release the ebook and paper book.
The first episodes you record aren’t rough drafts, but they also aren’t final, so sometimes authors will revise the audiobook based on audience feedback. That gives the people who’ve heard the podcast a reason to buy the book. They want to see what you changed, and they get to feel like an insider.
David: Keep in mind there are strict audio requirements within the ecosystem of ACX and the other distributors. If you are recording a live podcast, make sure you understand those requirements about noise reduction and file format. Make sure you have the ability to remaster the audio, so it’s acceptable and not rejected by ACX or other audiobook distributors.
Thomas: Another way to think of it is that podcasts are like TV shows and audiobooks are like movies. TV shows don’t have the quality a movie has, but if you make a high-quality set for your TV show, you can film the movie on the same set.
Create a top-shelf podcast so you can use your same setup to record your audiobook.
For the best equipment, check out my podcast gear guide. If you’re going with the podio-book strategy, choose the mid-tier option or the most expensive option.
You’ll still need to learn about access rules and audio remastering, but you can also hire a company like Audivita, who will make sure the audio is compressed properly and can handle all the technical aspects of production.
Where can people find out more about Audivita?
David: You can find us at Audivita.com. You can also email me at email@example.com.
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