At Girl Friday, we aim to be a one-stop shop—taking care of all aspects of the publishing process for our clients. That said, we’re aware of the limitations of our expertise, so we pull in strategic partners for certain facets of the process. Audiobook production is one of those areas where we partner with high-quality production agencies to bring our indie authors the best possible experience and product.
We took a moment to sit down with David Markowitz, Head of Strategy and Partnerships at ListenUp Audiobooks, to discuss the audiobook landscape and some tips for independent authors who are making their first foray into the format.
GFP: What does ListenUp do, and how does your approach differ from other audiobook production companies, such as ACX?
David: There are a lot of options in the audio space for indies, so choosing the right one is the first task. I’d say there are three tiers of service available to indies. The first is DIY: you find a narrator, perhaps through a listing on Craigslist or Fiverr, and hire them directly. They’ll record your book and you need to figure out how to get it up on distribution platforms, make the cover art, and promote it effectively to get it in your readers’ hands.
The second tier is Amazon’s ACX platform, which is the largest audio “content exchange platform”—it’s like a dating service site for people seeking and offering audio services. It allows authors to fill out the type of narrator they’re looking for, then people self-select and audition for your listing, you choose one, and ACX handles distribution of the finished book. While this is a better model than DIY, there’s a lot of luck involved in finding the right narrator match—and the terms highly favor exclusive distribution to Audible.
There are a small handful of companies in the full-service tier; this is where ListenUp is positioned. Unlike many of our competitors, who are music studios that do audiobooks on the side, ListenUp is entirely dedicated to audiobooks. We work with all the major publishers to produce high-quality audiobooks and bring the same services to Indie authors. (It’s not unlike Girl Friday’s business model.) When you work with ListenUp, we’re hand-selecting the narrator for you from a talented pool, managing their work, navigating the rules and regulations, and facilitating broader distribution—including the library market, other retailers outside of Audible, and the international market.
GFP: What's the biggest challenge in creating a high-quality audiobook?
David: The audiobook market is growing rapidly with our ever-more-efficient society. Driving to work now feels like a waste of time if you’re not listening to a podcast. More and more people squeeze in their pleasure reading on their commute, or while exercising, via audio formats. As the market for audiobooks gets more flooded with content, quality matters—the microphone in the closet model is no longer okay with listeners, who have come to expect a more polished listening experience. As an independent author trying to make an audiobook for the first time, vetting the pool of potential narrators may be the biggest hurdle—they just don’t know what to look for in the hiring process and what pitfalls to avoid. And that’s an expensive mistake to make.
GFP: What categories sell best in audiobook format? Are there genres that perform less well?
David: In general, self-help and business books are strong-selling areas for audio. Also, genre fiction series do quite well, particularly sci-fi, thriller, true crime, or romance. Less popular and effective in audio are the more esoteric literary fiction titles.
GFP: What's a single piece of advice you have for authors when it comes to audiobooks?
David: You should ALWAYS be reading your book aloud while writing it.