Several months before the launch of my second book, Stop Putting Out Fires, I reached out to the producer who had narrated my first book. I wanted him to narrate this second book, and I was willing to pre-pay for the audiobook narration so that I didn’t have to split royalties with him. This turned out to be a costly mistake.

Retaining the Narrator for my Audiobook

I didn’t really know the guy who’d narrated Building a Better Law Practice for me. Our only interactions had been through the messaging system in ACX. But aside from him delivering the product late (for which he was apologetic and seemed to have a valid excuse), I was pleased with the product he delivered.

So when it came time to get the ball rolling for the audiobook version of Stop Putting Out Fires, I went back to the same well. The difference was that I wanted to earn all 40% of the royalties on ACX, rather than having to split them. Alternatively, I wanted the option of not listing the audiobook exclusively on ACX, which wasn’t possible with a royalty-share option.

My solution was to offer to pre-pay for the audiobook narration. My narrator was agreeable and even gave me a discount for paying up front. This arrangement was going to work out well for both of us, it seemed.

Arranging Pre-Payment for Narration of the Audiobook

The narrator asked that I make my pre-payment through Google, which I did. Then he refunded it, and asked that we do it through PayPal instead. I made the payment. He refunded it saying there was a problem with his PayPal account, and wanted to use Google again instead. These should have been red flags, but I was both inexperienced and assuming the best.

All of this was occurring in February 2019, in anticipation of an early May 2019 launch date. I knew it would take a while for him to record. And then it takes about three weeks to get the audiobook to market after it’s been uploaded to ACX, as they run it through quality controls and get everything set up on the back end. Still, I thought we had started well enough in advance to get everything done on time.

But my narrator missed his first submission deadline. Then he missed his second deadline. He explained that some extenuating circumstances had arisen but assured me everything would ultimately be done on time. I started to have concerns that the book was not going to be delivered on time. But I hadn’t yet considered that it wouldn’t be delivered at all.

Pitfalls of Pre-Paying for Audiobook Narration

As launch day approached (and eventually came and went), I started emailing once a week about the narrator’s progress. Eventually, he stopped responding. I made ACX aware of the problem. They laid out my options, which eventually enabled me to cancel the contract with the narrator. But this did nothing to help me recover the money I had paid in advance for the narration services.

So I got creative and — since I’m a lawyer — thought I’ll offer this guy a settlement alternative that won’t require him to pay back the money. The idea was that we’d use the advance as a buyout for the first book. I sent him an email with the idea and … nothing. He had ghosted me.

I went to Google to request that they refund my money. But since I had paid so far in advance and we were now well beyond the due date, we were past their 120-day window for their resolving these issues and entering refunds.

At this point I had no options left. I had to get accustomed to the idea that the money was gone, with little chance of recovery. I didn’t have enough cash left to pay for another narrator outright, and was going to have to do a royalty-share again, which limited my distribution options too.

The only consolation left was that I knew this article would be born out of the loss. I would be warning others of the potential pitfalls of pre-paying for audiobook narration without putting any safeguards in place to protect themselves. And let me tell you, that was only a small consolation.

I eventually found a new narrator and finally got the audiobook for Stop Putting Out Fires to market. Only three months later than intended. I’m happy with the final result and am ready to continue accruing sales with this new income stream.

What I will Do Differently Next Time

Even though it worked out poorly for me the first time, I would still prefer to pre-pay for the audiobook narration of my next book. I like the flexibility that it gives me. But I will put some safeguards in place to mitigate the risk of paying for a product before it’s delivered.

  1. I have a personal relationship with my narrator now and know him outside of the ACX platform. We have a mutual group of friends and professional acquaintances. There is more at risk for both of us if we were to treat each other inequitably.
  2. I will only issue pre-payment within the ACX platform, such that the narrator can only access it once the audiobook has been delivered. This gives the added safeguard of keeping everything within the ACX dispute resolution process, should a problem arise.
  3. I will keep all communication about fee arrangements within ACX’s messaging platform, rather than using outside email for some exchanges. Again, this keeps everything consolidated within ACX for easy review and accessibility.

As you consider your options for having your books narrated as audiobooks, make sure you cover your bases and protect yourself. If you haven’t yet created audiobooks out of your writing, you definitely should. It’s been a significant percentage of my book sales this year.

For some inspiration on doing so, listen to Joanna Penn’s recent podcast about writing for audio first and the growth of the audiobook industry.

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