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This month’s optional question is: Have any of your books been made into audiobooks? If so, what are the main challenges in producing an audiobook?

As an avid audiobook consumer, I have considered the notion often and I keep coming to the same conclusion.  Eventually, I will.  Assuming that anyone spends their discretionary income on my novel(s), I would think that there would be non-readers, listeners, that could also enjoy it.

Having yet to complete my first novel, I cannot address the question directly from my own experience.  So I sent off a request to an experienced and famous published writer that has sold numerous audiobooks, not really expecting a reply, but you can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket. I also wanted to stay on topic nonetheless and talk about my thoughts and concerns about the idea of turning my novel(s) into audiobooks.

When do people listen to audiobooks?

About ten years ago, a survey was taken of when do people listen to audiobooks.  The number one answer at the time indicated that the vast majority of people, greater than 60%, listened to their audiobooks while doing housework. I found that to be very interesting and potentially very disturbing. How much attention could they be giving to the story?  Or is just background noise for them?

Between 3 to 5 times a week, I travel from home to office and back again.  It is an hour and a half drive each way mostly through rural countryside and county highways with about eight minutes of city driving on the office side.  Depending on where I am in the story, I may sit and listen until a chapter break after I park.

Tell Me A Story

Challenges with audiobooks

Most of my audiobook library is educational non-fiction.  I can absorb a great deal of information in those three hours and I can always rewind if I need.  For the fiction books, I can get into the story and enjoy it, but I’m sort of forced to put the book down if you will when the trip is complete.  The whole concept of a page-turner, can’t put the book down, seems to be non-existent.

As writers, we also want our readers to connect strongly with our characters. Part of the connection is where they ‘hear’ the character’s voice in their head.  That voice is part of the character’s persona that the reader has created which strengthens their connection.  With audiobooks, the voice artist creates that voice for them, the reader’s participation isn’t there, they are just an audience to a performance.

But there is a market for audiobooks

There you have a couple of strong negatives for fiction in audiobooks.  But then my business cap jumps up and down for attention and reminds me that there is a market for audiobooks.  Some people want a good story but just don’t find the time to sit still long enough to focus on reading for pleasure.  The market is strong and you can acquire a ‘readership’ that would not be readily accessible.

My perception then is that the primary challenge in creating an audiobook is to have a great voice actor do the reading.  It is also yet another reason to make sure that the novel has a strong page-turner draw to it that can carry over to an audio representation.  There must be a lingering desire left with the reader to turn off the taps when doing dishes, shut down the vacuum cleaner, or put away the broom.  The work has to be engaging enough for them to want to hit that play button again.

Advice from an expert, Jason Scott Bell

A few days after I sent my email I sat down to write this blog post. After finishing the first draft, I checked my email one last time, I was entirely elated to find that in fact, James Scott Bell did take the time to respond to my email.  

With respect for his time, I only asked three questions and I present here his responses.


Have you found that educational or teaching audiobooks do better than fiction works?


I don’t know that there is an appreciable difference. Fiction readers like fiction, and those looking for self-help or education or the like will gravitate toward those. I think any kind of book will sell when it’s good and gets good word of mouth. That holds true for audiobooks.


What were the factors that went into deciding to narrate some of your work and not others?


I started doing audios of my own writing books. That’s the only decision thus far. I may do some fiction if I find the time. Or I may farm it out. 


What should writers be aware of and watch out for when attempting to convert their work into an audiobook?


Most writers will need to work with an experienced narrator/producer. So do your due diligence on the cost. ACX has a royalty-sharing network, but be really careful about who you ultimately partner with. Check their credits and listen to their samples. If one wants to try narrating their own book, ACX also has articles on how to, and there are YouTube vids, etc. 

Perspective unchanged, still thinking eventually

With those challenges in mind, my novel will have to earn enough to fund a good production.  While the thought of narrating my own novel is teasingly fun, I don’t think it would be the best path.  I will probably still search for YouTube videos to torture myself.

Nonetheless, my decision remains consistent. Eventually, I’ll want to convert my novel to an audiobook.

Regardless of all my bravado and thick skin, I’m sincerely hoping my writing skills and craft are up to this challenge.

Closing Note:

I cannot express enough my appreciation that Mr. Bell took the time to respond to my email and provide his thoughts to share with other writers and the community. His books on the writing craft are absolutely amazing, jammed packed with advice and experience.

Please take some time to visit TKZ, The Kill Zone Blog where he is a consistent contributor along with several other knowledgeable authors. You can also learn more about James Scott Bell on his website.

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2 years ago

That he answered your query is awesome. I once sent a message to Donald Maass who also replied. They are human after all.

Myrtle L Barbour
Myrtle L Barbour
2 years ago

Hi, Douglas! I’m visiting from the IWSG today. I enjoyed your post, and I appreciated that you contacted James Scott Bell for his insights on audiobooks. I rarely listen to audiobooks because I learn much better visually and kinesthetically. And now that I’m getting older, hearing is more challenging. When I read books, I’m never doing anything else. Reading is one of my greatest pleasures, and I can’t go a day without reading. When I’m housecleaning, I have the tv on and can tune in and out. I haven’t published a book yet, but when I do, I would consider an audiobook if it made sense financially. I have a friend who listens to audiobooks when she is mucking out her horse stalls. That’s the only time she “reads,” and she reads a lot. There is definitely an audience for them. Have a good day, and happy writing in April!

PJ Colando
2 years ago

Great website and great thoughts – I like how you delve deep-

Alex J. Cavanaugh
2 years ago

That was incredible he responded and gave you such great insights! I admit, I don’t listen to them, but I’m glad my books are available in audio form.
Welcome to the IWSG!

Melissa Maygrove
2 years ago

How awesome that Mr. Bell replied!
I don’t sell enough books (yet) to make audio profitable. Maybe someday…
As to listening to them, I love the rich voices and all, but my mind tends to wander. I find myself rewinding because I got distracted. Maybe if I listened while driving, it would be better.

2 years ago

Wow! How great that you got a response. With regard to housework while listening, my guess is it’s probably the housework that suffers! (I never thought of listening while I clean. I may have to try it. Anything for a distraction from that!) I listen while walking as long as there is no traffic noise. If it’s a story I love, it’s difficult for me to shut it off when I get home! Welcome to IWSG!

Elizabeth Arroyo
2 years ago

Some great info! When i worked in the community, i always listened to audio books. I worked mostly out of my car and it was a great way to catch up on some great “reading”.

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