Friday, September 11, 2009

When Authors Are Readers

Dear Rich: My book publishing contract has a provision that allows my publisher to make audiobooks. Except the book's been out for a year and they haven't done it. Do they have a contractual obligation to do it? What if I want to do it myself? (I think I am the best person to read my book.)  We'd have to see your contract but usually the publisher doesn't have an obligation to produce the audiobook, even though they own the rights. Most likely the standard that applies to the publisher is that it has to act in good faith and do what's commercially reasonable. And if the publisher determines that it's not commercially reasonable, it's "ixnay" for audiobook production. 
What's commercially reasonable? 
The party line on audiobooks is that a publisher usually sells one audiobook for every 10 print copies (sometimes the ratio is lower). So if your book sells 5,000 copies in its first year, it might not be commercially reasonable to produce an audiobook (at a cost between $2,000 to $10,000) if it will only sell 500 copies. It's possible -- though not likely -- that your contract will have a " use it or lose it" provision that says something to effect that if, after a certain amount of time, the company has not exercised certain rights, those rights revert to you -- for example audiobook rights. So look for any reversion clauses.
What About DIY?
Even if the rights don't revert, the publisher may be open to having you do it yourself. But the Dear Rich staff warns that unless you have had experience creating, producing and mastering, you'll need to hire and pay for some audio services in order to get a competitive sound quality. Having produced some extensive projects, we can say with conviction that it takes quite a bit of work to create a professional audiobook.
Are You the Best Person to Read It?
A professional reader will give you the most bang for your buck. But if you don't have any bucks, then "read by the author" may be the way to go. Unfortunately, not every author is as gifted at writing as performing; here are some exceptions: Eric BogosianDavid SedarisJoshilyn JacksonRon McLarty and Malcolm Gladwell