First, realize that you should have experience BEFORE you represent yourself as a professional narrator who can complete the job. About half of the general population has never listened to an audiobook. If their first experience is bad, they may never come back to the medium.
If you need more experience, volunteer for an organization like Learning Ally or your state’s reading service that records material for visually impaired or dyslexic people.
Before you even look at books available for audition, be aware that ACX is an open marketplace.
It’s not ACX’s policy to police the books that people make available in the marketplace unless the books infringe copyright. It’s our job as narrators to assess the quality of the books and be selective in our auditions.
Choose books that are in popular genres in the type of portfolio you want to build. Your work defines you as a narrator, and ACX projects will show up on Audible for 7 years. Producers and casting directors look at the number, length, and genres of your titles. If you have a lot of short (under and up to 3 hours) books, they may decide you are not serious about the work or are not capable of completing a longer title. Audio publishers invest a lot of money to acquire the rights to books and must be able to trust a narrator to finish within the deadline.
Before auditioning for a book on ACX or a freelance site like Upwork.com, examine the listing to determine whether it’s a REAL book with REAL prospects of generating sales.
The 3 most popular genres are Mystery, Romance, and Sci-fi. Your best bet would be a book in one of those categories with a duration of 6-8 hours. Audible listeners are less likely to use a credit for an audiobook under 6 hours, and you’ll find it more difficult to recoup your ROI on an RS book over 8 hours.
Beware of Scams
Most problematic books — including the “short” books discussed below — will be listed as Royalty Share projects, though some purport to pay a low PFH rate like $50.
You may be wondering what the scam is or how the scammer benefits. Previously, the Audible download codes given to rights holders and RS narrators could be used for any book. In addition, codes issued before 26 March 2020 paid royalties as if the promo code was an actual sale.
Scammers sold the codes on eBay and/or created Audible user accounts to claim the codes as a listener. Of course, they pocketed any royalties made on those books.
Now that the codes are tied to the particular book, sales of promo codes have stopped. However, the scammers still get royalties on sales.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Someone who doesn’t actually hold the audio rights may claim the book on ACX and try to create an audiobook illegally. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of the RH, contact the author or publisher outside of ACX to verify their listing.
A scammer might claim a popular author’s book, set up the ACX listing, and choose a narrator. The narrator spends her time creating the audiobook. The unethical cheat approves the audiobook so that it goes to Audible’s retail shelves. The author’s fans see the audio edition and purchase it, with the audio royalties going to the thief.
The crook has invested a few minutes in creating the listing and has no risk or consequences for their illegal actions. If the audiobook gets taken down, they will simply start other listings. Also, they could post the MP3s from the book other sites and continue to earn royalties. The more narrators they can snare with their fake listings, the more money they make.
The AudiobookScout.com site, run by author/narrator Craig Tollifson, offers 2 tools to help you verify that the project and RH are legit:
- this page of flagged listings of titles that are suspected to be fraudulent
- the Author Snoop utility which shows you the ACX rights holder’s name along with their past and present projects on the site
Some red flags on book listings that should stop you from even auditioning for one:
- a bestselling book by a well-known, popular author or brand (like the “For Dummies” series) especially from a Big 5 publisher — If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Major print publishers have their own audio production channels and haven’t posted books on ACX for auditions. If you see a well-known author’s book, you would do well to contact the author and/or publisher outside of ACX to confirm that the listing is legitimate.
- no Amazon ratings or sales rank. Conversely, an incredibly low sales rank with 50+ Amazon reviews could be a red flag if it is listed as a royalty share book. Most authors of popular books that are selling well would prefer to pay good PFH rates and retain all royalties.
- no ability to Look Inside on Amazon
- an centuries-old date like 1750 or 1800 in the header of the Amazon listing
- audiobook for the title already exists. All editions are usually listed together on the Amazon page for the book, but you should also check on Audible.
- audition text contains several poorly written and repetitive paragraphs, possibly in Courier font, that may or may not relate to the book’s title or is just the blurb about the book
- audition text and/or RH’s comments are exactly the same as the sales blurb
- non-fiction titles on a diverse and non-complementary variety of subjects with the same author posted on the same day or within a few days of each other. The covers are usually quite ugly and may just be text. Beware of authors with famous names like “J. D. Rockefeller“. Trust me, the dead Standard Oil baron is not posting a book about goat yoga on ACX! If you click that link, you’ll see almost 300 books on Audible under that name. Look to see how many of them have low or no ratings and poor reviews.
- the same title is posted multiple times
- poor English, grammar, and/or bad punctuation in the description and/or audition text. It may look like a poor translation and/or not make much sense.
- RH expects you to buy the book to get the manuscript. Per Section 1 of the ACX Production Standard Terms, the “Rights Holder will provide to Producer the final recordable manuscript for the Audiobook within 3 business days after acceptance of the offer.”
- RH sends you a flattering but generic message about liking your samples and asking you to partner with them on a book. Such messages may not include your name in the salutation or link to a particular book.
- books in the Public Domain —This comment only applies to PD books posted for audition, which is against ACX rules for PD books. If you want to do a PD book, you can and should produce it yourself as I discuss in this article and comments. (Express Pass members also have access to the Create Your Own Path video course and its list of resources to help you find good public domain projects and publish your own audiobook.)
The adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” doesn’t necessarily apply here. Audiobook buyers DO judge a book by its cover, and so should you. Poor cover design can indicate that the author doesn’t expend money for her business, which could mean she won’t pay your PFH rate or do much marketing of an RS title. You also get clues about the book’s content.
The RHs for the types of books listed in the bullet points below do not care whether the audiobook is a quality production. Scammers spend as little time as possible in creating dreck and hope an unsuspecting narrator would be inclined to do the work because the narrator thinks it’s short and would add to one’s portfolio.
Thousands of short books have been posted by scammers who only care about making quick royalties or possibly acquiring the unsuspecting talent’s voice for artificial intelligence applications.
DO NOT DO A SHORT (up to and including 3-hour duration) BOOK SIMPLY TO GAIN EXPERIENCE! DO NOT RATIONALIZE THESE BOOKS AS “QUICK TO DO”. You should not view these books as on-the-job training or practice work as a narrator.
Professional narrators don’t look at audiobooks as a way to make quick cash. We look at them as a career choice, and, as such, I only want my name associated with high quality books. If I wanted or needed to make quick cash, I would do the problem-solving exercise in this article.
Even if the book and author are valid, I still wouldn’t waste my valuable time on it:
- diet books
- essential oils books
- gaming guides
- computer programming guides
- how-to books ranging from social media to chicken farming
- summary books of popular titles —These listings could be considered plagiarism because the ACX rights holder isn’t authorized by the author and publisher to repackage and resell the info from the original book. While you can’t copyright an idea, RHs of these books use others’ work to make a quick buck.
- any short title that has more SEO keywords in the title than actual title
- any title where the rights holder tells you the finished book must run at least 3 hours and asks you to slow your rate of speech and/or add unnecessary silence
- Amazon or Goodreads reviews for the title indicate it has a lot of spelling and/or grammatical errors
- Amazon or Goodreads reviews have similar language and were posted on the same day, indicating fake reviews. Read some of the reviews. In one review for a suspicious listing, I discovered that the author had passed away, which meant more investigation of the RH was warranted.
- travel guides by unknown authors
- glorified pamphlets with an estimated finished time under an hour
- books where the author comments that they don’t do marketing or otherwise doesn’t expect to make money like a family history or vanity project
These criteria are not necessarily mutually exclusive!
I’ve also seen an instance where the RH offered PFH payment and then asked the narrator to speed up their pacing to cut time from the book. Someone who is paying a PFH rate and wants you to arbitrarily change your pacing to shave off time is someone who wants to pay you less money for the project.
DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME AND TALENT on these so-called “books”!
Other Issues and Info
You can find some wonderful, well-written books on ACX, but you need to be careful and intentional about the books for which you audition and perform.
You may receive a message from a RH inviting you to audition for their book. If you’ve recently updated your samples in your ACX profile, your name will appear near the top of the RH’s search results. Do not agree to do the book simply because you feel flattered that the RH contacted you. You should still do your due diligence to investigate whether the book warrants your time to audition.
As part of your due diligence, use the Amazon Look Inside feature to preview its text before you audition. You can even search the Amazon book for certain text that you’d find objectionable, such as sexual or violent content, as discussed in this 1:19 video.
Be sure to look at the author’s web site and social media links to determine how active and prolific they are.
I recommend that you always request that the RH send you the manuscript before you audition or before you accept an offer. If it is riddled with grammatical errors, you can ask the RH to send you the edited version. Sometimes they do make mistakes and upload the wrong file.
Be very careful if a rights holder asks you to deliver files to them outside of ACX. On an RS or RS+ project, Audible pays you the royalties, not the RH.
I send RHs a link to my policy page upon project acceptance. You’ll see that I ask new clients to pay a non-refundable 50% depositwhen they approve the first 15 minutes and the balance after I upload the completed book. Remember that all PFH payments are paid by the RH outside of the ACX system. You must communicate with rights hold about your preferred method of payment.
People may contact you through the ACX messaging system about recording their book for a flat fee, but the book isn’t on Amazon. It’s possible that the author doesn’t want to use ACX for distribution but is using the site’s database to find a narrator. Once they have the audio files, they can upload the audiobook to any distributor. For that reason, it’s also possible — and I think more likely — that this situation probably is some sort of scam that can be avoided if you ask for the manuscript and insist on a non-refundable 50% deposit as I do.
In all projects that you accept on ACX, you will click “I’m Done” to send the book to the RH for approval. When they approve an RS project, your files will be released to QC and eventually Audible.
Once the RH approves an RS+ or PFH title, you then would be prompted to click “I’ve Been Paid.” You should wait to click that button until you actually receive payment. Otherwise, your files will be released for retail processing, and you will have no recourse.
If you decide not to do the book for any reason, you should request contract dissolution before you produce the 15-minute checkpoint file. This article has some pointers and sample language.
Other resources on this topic:
- I walk you through the entire ACX system and show how to evaluate listings and make the most of your experience on ACX in my 3-hour webinar Put Yourself in the ACX Driver’s Seat.
- If the narrator in this article had read THE FIRST AND FIFTH RED FLAG BULLET POINTS listed above, his unfortunate-but-all-too-common story never would have happened. Forewarned is forearmed!
- This page in the ACX help section lists legitimate books that do not make good audiobooks.
- This article discusses the high number of scam listings on ACX.
- These 3 articles will help you research and evaluate royalty share titles:
- Award-winning narrator Joel Froomkin shows how to use reviews for detective work before you audition and markup your book during prep in this video.
- The article 4 Keys to Becoming A Successful ACX Audiobook Producer offers a lot of info and links that will help you start and proceed on ACX.
- Look in the Downloadable Training options in the Welcome Center and also work with a coach listed in the Coaches Directory.