I opened my email inbox recently and discovered a surprise – a company called Tantor Media wanted to buy the global audio rights to my novel The Witch of Napoli. Was I interested?
I was instantly suspicious. Everybody’s trying to sell services to indie authors these days (agenting, publishing, marketing, etc.); many are expensive scams. You pay them an outrageous fee, or you “share” the cost.
I fired back a snarky, warning salvo: “I’m only interested in a sale of audio rights to a company which will pay all production fees. If you’re looking for a co-investor, I’m not interested. I can easily produce an audiobook myself via Amazon’s ACX or similar platforms. It’s been on my to-do list for some time.”
Then I googled Tantor and gulped. The company was more than legit – Tantor is the largest independent audio book publisher in the U.S. Tantor Audio titles include National Book Award winners, Man Booker Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners and New York Times Best Sellers. OMG! Had I turned them off before we even started talking?
It’s not that I couldn’t produce my own audiobook – Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) tool http://www.acx.com/ is surprisingly easy to navigate; it’s seamlessly integrated with Amazon.com and industry gorilla Audible (which Amazon owns); you can find inexpensive narrators, or even voice the novel yourself if you have talent (I don’t); and as publisher you keep 100 percent of the royalties. So I didn’t need Tantor. On the other hand, I would have to front $1,000-$3000 for a truly quality product, and spend a hundred hours managing the damn project. DIY is inherently expensive and time-consuming. In the end, I punted, putting an audiobook on the back burner. Sixteen months later, the Witch was still speechless, I was still conflicted, and Tantor was knocking.
Kristen Hummel at Tantor responded sweetly. Don’t worry, she assured me,Tantor covered all production costs. The Witch would be made available in both digital (audiobook download) and physical (MP3 and Audio CD) formats; and sold in both the retail and library markets – Audible, iTunes, Tantor.com, Hoopla, OverDrive, Recorded Books’ OneClick Digital, as well as smaller distributors. I was impressed. I asked for a draft agreement — terms and conditions, $$ advance, % royalties, proposed narrator.
I held some strong cards in the poker game. Tantor recruited me unbidden for a reason, and I could easily guess why. On March 6, 2015, thanks largely to a successful BookBub 99 cent promotion, The Witch of Napoli made the Amazon Top 100, ranking #41 in paid books out of 3.3 million books available in the Kindle Bookstore. That same day, it hit #1 in both the Historical Fantasy and Victorian Historical Romance categories in three countries – the U.S., Canada and England. The novel boasted the all-important BRAG Medallion (Thank you IndieBRAG!), and featured reviews by Kirkus and HuffPost Books; a combined 230 five-star reviews from Amazon and Goodreads readers; an Amazon sales rank hovering in the lower teen thousands (13,000); a cover designed by Andy Carpenter, creator of a half-dozen NYT bestsellers. I also researched Tantor’s backlist, comparing my ranking, stars and reviews against their existing authors. I couldn’t match their New York Times bestsellers, but I belonged on their team.
They sent an offer sheet, I countered. Double the advance, increase the royalties. I was worth it, I argued. I was social media savvy, would be an active marketing partner. I blogged and tweeted, irregularly yes, but with substance, and across multiple sites – my Amazon Author page; Facebook, Google Plus. I had over 200 Goodreads friends — most had posted an unsolicited Witch review, I had followed up with a personal thanks, and we had struck up a genuine friendship. I concluded by playing my ace. I was working with a well-known San Francisco screenwriter named James Dalessandro on a pilot/bible for a mini-TV series based on the Witch. No guarantees it would ever see the screen, but if it did, Tantor audiobook sales would undoubtedly soar.
In the end, we reached a fair deal. I also landed final say on the cover art for the CD and, most importantly, choice of narrator, the “voice” of the novel and its extensive multilingual cast of characters – Italian, French, German, British. I’m now listening through Tantor’s list of over 250 pro narrators, sampling their work. Who can best make the Witch come alive to the ear – male or female narrator? American or Brit accent? Someone specializing in historical fiction? Romance? Paranormal? It’s going to be fun!
Meanwhile, I am trying to find out from Tantor exactly what an indie book needs to be considered for an offer. If I find out, I’ll post it on IndieBRAG. Let’s get more IndieBRAG authors into audiobooks.
We’re all in this glorious adventure together!