Best year in S&S history - and what authors need to know about it.


A lot of interesting things have been coming out in the news lately especially related to why author’s income from the big-five is in decline and it’s even harder to make a living as a writer (which has always been the case but seems to be getting worse.

There are many who are saying, “Well publishing is in the toilet, and publishers are struggling, and that being the case, it puts downward pressure on the authors.” Makes sense, right? Except the publishers are doing well, Simon & Schuster is reporting their best year ever. What are the contributing factors?

  • Bob Woodward’s Fear
  • Audiobooks
  • Strong backlists

The first is an outlier, and we can take it off the table, but the last two are particularly important to authors right now how are thinking of going traditional.

  • Audiobooks are now VERY lucrative (my latest audio deal was for seven-figures for a trilogy) but the publishers are now demanding audio rights in addition to ebook/print which (a) is not increasing the advances and (b) is lowering the royalty rate paid to the author because they are getting either a % of a % (if the publisher produces the audio themselves) or a % of a % of % (if they sell the right as a subsidiary You can learn more about this from the audio rights manager at Curtis Brown

  • Backlists are interesting in that the publishers are (a) doing little to nothing to promote them and (b) have contracts that turn them over into the publisher’s care FOREVER. All big-five publishing contracts are for life-of-copyright (which is 70 years after your death for those who aren’t familiar with such things). Some will say, “But wait, there are reversion clauses that will give those rights back to the authors in those contracts.” Which, respectfully, makes me laugh. My agent is always telling me that I have “one of the best reversion clauses he’s seen” (btw these are on contracts that I signed before coming to him), and he wished he got as good as this for his other authors. But I think the revision criteria is a joke. Why? Well as long as a book is making $500 a year, it’s considered “in print” and the publisher keeps the rights…something they can do without further investments (they don’t have to pay more advances, nor do they have to even print any more books, the digital formats (ebook and audio) will be enough to cover that “nut.” Think about it. $500 a year is $9.62 a week. For a $9.99 ebook (which nets me $1.75 a book) that means as long as the publisher is selling 6 books a week (less than one a day). I can’t get the rights back. Also, how am I supposed to live on $9.62 a week?

Now I should note that none of my backlists is at those levels, and I’ve met only one author whose in the position to trigger his reversion (and I only met him 2 weeks ago at ConFusion) but that’s kinda the point. Those reversions are pointless and so the rights really are gone for the life of the copyright. – Well 35 years after publication for people who know about the copyright law change that happened in 1976.

So, this is a long way of saying…don’t be fooled by the publishers singing woe is me. They are doing well because they are looking out for themselves. My advice to authors…do likewise!

Self-publishing YA fiction

Good intel.

The interesting question, of course, is what can the author do about it? The market’s long term answer to anyone’s inflated margin is competition (as Bezos said, “Your margin is my opportunity”). But that is not by itself a course of action for an author.

For the author, the reasonable action is to work the numbers for each of the forms of competition that exist now. For example, to consider Big Five, smaller Indie press, and self-publishing. A difficult comparison, because each offers value in different dimensions.

Your points about Audiobooks and backlists doing well for S&S (meaning, they were able to acquire those rights at below current fair market prices) suggest that there are significant advantages to self-publishing. Of course, only authors who have a product good enough to attract competition can benefit from competition :slight_smile:


Judging from the amount of books I buy each month on KU…around 6 or 7…yeah, it’s doing well.


My take aways are:

  • Audio rights are very lucrative - if a publisher is requiring you turn over your audio (and many of them are), then you have to do some financial analysis because it might be best to say no to them and go the self-publishing route. That’s what I’m doing.

  • Backlists have long legs, so content is an important ingredient to author income security. So, monetize your earlier works - they can provide a nice “cushion” while you write new stuff.


Sounds reasonable.
Any interesting experiences to share on the process of self-publishing an audiobook? Opinions on services like Findaway?

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I’ve self-published five audiobooks through ACX and one through Findaway Voices. I produced and narrated all of them myself, so I can’t comment on which is better for finding a producer or narrator. The process of getting the books uploaded and through QA was about equally difficult between the two.

Pros and cons of each, as I see them…

  • Findaway lets you set the recommended retail price. ACX sets it automatically based on the book’s length.
  • Findaway distributes to the same retailers as ACX, plus about a dozen more, but I hadn’t heard of most of the extra ones before. They seem to be quite small and/or specialised.
  • ACX pay higher royalties if you agree to be exclusive with them (or lower royalties if you want to go wide, depending on how you look at it). The duration of the exclusive deal is quite long - seven years, last time I checked. Findaway don’t ask for exclusives.
  • Once the book has passed ACX QA, it normally takes one or two weeks to show up at the retailers. With Findaway, it took a month.
  • The ACX sales dashboard is better than the Findaway one, or perhaps just updates sooner after sales happen.
  • Findaway has a payment threshold - they pay you once your royalties reach $100, or once a year, whichever comes first. They pay by PayPal, so there might be transaction fees. ACX pay once a month, however little you’ve earned, and there are no transaction fees.

Great info!


Thanks :slight_smile: I forgot one other thing - Audible has a bounty programme, whereby you can get a bonus payment if your book is the first one that a new subscriber buys. Distributing through ACX makes you eligible for that. I’m guessing that distributing through Findaway Voices doesn’t, though I haven’t looked into it in detail.


They’ve actually changed the bounty system fairly recently. They pay an extra 75 USD if the new subscriber buys the book using a special link they provide, or something like that.

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For a self-publisher author there are several options. If you go with ACX, you can produce the audiobook yourself (usually by paying a narrator - this usually costs 4k+ for the finished audiobook) and when it sells you get 40% of the list price. That’s about 3-5 USD, depending on the length of your book and how it was sold (with audio credit, bought outright, etc). Or you can offer your book to a revenue share agreement, where an independent audio producer makes the book for you and you pay nothing and you split the 40% 20-20. This is what I did for my big series, as I had newly published and wasn’t ready to deal with audiobooks. It’s worked out okay, the guy did a great job and I’ve sold 2300 or so audiobooks, which is essentially free money for me. Now, you can also sign with one of the big audio companies like Podium and Tantor. Some people have had massive success through these companies (even making the NYT audio bestseller list as an indie, like Sufficiently Advanced Magic) but you get a lower rate and there’s no guarantee your book will take off. I signed with Pdium for my new series, and the deal is they produce and pay everything, but I only get 8% of the list price. We’ll see how it goes.


So, I’ve never self-published an audiobook. The advances I get from Recorded Books and Audible Studios are so high that I’ve just been having them do it. I MIGHT do it in the future, but I don’t know yet.

I DO know a lot of people who have done their own, and most use ACX, although I know at least one guy who went with Findaway voices. Of the two, I’m a little more leaning toward Audible just because 40% of audible sales and exclusive > 20% of audible sales + sales to other venues.

My biggest advice…get a a great narrator. Don’t scrimp on that. Also know what your costs are going to be. You have to figure in:

  • Narrator fees
  • Studio time
  • Engineer during recording
  • Post-prouction editing
  • Mastering

All those should be quoted to you on a “Finished hour” basis. It could easily run $350 - $500 an hour so for a 16 hour audio book that would be $5,600 - $8,000 total.


A great summary - thanks for sharing.

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You can get them cheaper than that, but the old adage about “you get what you pay for” generally applies. Each “finished hour” is the result of at least 4 hours’ work, probably 6, and nearer to 10 if the narrator or producer isn’t very experienced. If there are two people (a narrator and producer or engineer), the “per finished hour” rate doesn’t have to be much lower than the figure you gave before they’re working for less than minimum wage in most developed countries.

16 hours would be around 150k words. Most audiobooks come in shorter than that. The usual conversion rate is 1 hour to about 9000 words.


I used 16 hours because that’s the length of the audiobook I’m working on right now. But yeah, I have them as short as 11 and as long as 31. And yeah, you can get it cheaper, but when it comes to audio, I suggest you focus on quality and that does mean spending more (for the most part).

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Are there audio books where the dialogue is in each character’s voice?


Yes. Some have full casts. I expect that’s very expensive though, and it seems like it would read very strangely unless the narrator were omniscient.


It is, because as well as the actors’ wages, you’re looking at possibly hiring a bigger studio and paying the actors’ travel and accommodation costs. As well as that, if you can’t bring all the actors for a particular scene together at the same time, it takes more time and effort to edit everyone’s performances together and make them sound as though they were recorded at the same time.

Some books compromise and have two or three actors. Say if the point-of-view character is male, they have a man reading the narrative and doing the dialogue of the male characters, and then have a woman doing the dialogue of the female characters.

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Yes, there are basically three types of audio books:

  • Single narrator
  • Full-cast non-dramatic - where there will be different voices for different characters
  • Full-cast dramatic - same as #2 but with special effects and music - much like a radio drama.

I agree it would be more expensive. I can say that for my full-cast audio books the actors are not together at the same time. They are recorded individually and later “put together.”

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That gives more flexibility over scheduling, especially over a long-running series if you want to keep the same actors. The downside from the actors’ point of view is that it can be harder to act convincingly when the rest of the cast aren’t there. I suppose the producer can play back the other actors’ dialogue, if it’s already been recorded.