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Strategic Publishing: Selecting the Right Titles for Audiobook Production

Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment in publishing, representing a billion dollar industry, with millions of people making purchases each day.

Given the demand, well-edited and expertly narrated audiobooks have huge sales potential, especially as they tend to command a higher price-point than their print versions. However, with with great growth potential comes tough competition. More than ever, publishers have to battle for consumers’ attention.

So what exactly is it that makes a book a good candidate for an audiobook?

The following provides a peek behind the scenes of how publishing houses can be strategic in their selection of manuscripts, taking into consideration manuscript selection, licensing and assessing marketability for the end product.

Previous Sales a Consideration Behind Audiobook Production

There are a lot of considerations that come into play when selecting a title that will be suitable to conversion to audiobook format.

And although it may be obvious – previous sales of the book in other formats (e.g. print and e-book) – is worth mentioning, as it is one of the most frequently regarded indicators of future success.

In a 2015 interview with Voices, Eddie Jones, Acquisition Editor for the indie-publisher Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, said, “At LPC, we focus on top-sellers first – those titles that demonstrate strong print and eBook sales on Amazon and have lots of 4-5 star reviews.”

Trends in Book Genre Popularity Should Be Taken with a Grain of Salt

The fact that there are many different genres that you can work within can be a double edged sword: while you have a wide variety of choice, it can be very hard to choose.

The good news is that there’s no ‘wrong’ choice, no matter if you choose to focus your business on a niche area, or go broad. The only true ‘perfect pairing,’ is when you can publish audiobooks in a genre you love and connect with that genre’s audience.

One of the more popular kinds of books on the market is the How-To, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and/or Self-Help genre. Books like Tim Ferriss’s ‘The 4 Hour Workweek,’ which spent four years on the New York Times Best Seller List is one such ‘self help’ book.

However, as tempting as it can be to aim for the most widely-marketable audiobooks, it’s also true that there are ‘riches in the niches.’

So, if the genre that fits your vision actually only appeals to small interest groups, then you should go for it anyway! It’s often within the niche subjects where you will find the most engaged and loyal audiences – people who are most likely to applaud and reward your shared passion for the topic(s). While it may seem more exciting to hold a title that has mass appeal, knowing that your next release is nearly guaranteed to sell to everyone in your fanbase can be an equally energizing prospect.

In choosing a genre, you have to trust your gut, go with your passion and believe in the process of building a fanbase. While making money is important, the bottom line should always be your comfort level with what is being produced. Draw a line in the sand so that you know what you will and will not produce.

Book Format and Layout Must Be Able to Transition to Audio

This might seem like an obvious tip, but it’s more easily and frequently overlooked than you might believe.

For instance, as popular as the Self-Help and DIY markets are, not every such book transitions well into audio. Several of these titles are constructed as visual aids to learners who must have a picture to guide them along the process.

TCK Publishing, founder Tom Corson-Knowles, has learned first hand that some genres are easier to adapt than others.

“Books loaded with pictures and visual tutorials may not fit the audiobook format very well,” he says. “If it’s in a good market but the content doesn’t work, we often either ask the author to rewrite some parts for audiobook or publish an abridged version.”

Research Audiobook Popularity and Marketing Tactics Online

The saying, “don’t reinvent the wheel,” is cliche for a reason – the advice rings true. Strategic audiobook publishers can save themselves quite a bit of time and heartache by taking the time to research what other successful audiobooks are doing well.

You may wish to start with common audiobook retail sites like, Barnes & Noble, and

Publications, like and, can also provide insight.

And though it may seem old school, a visit to your local library might also give you an indication of the kind of materials that are consumed by audiobook aficionados. A significant percentage of all audiobook sales are generated by libraries and educational institutions so it would be wise to take a look at what they are offering to their patrons and customers.

As you look at what titles are trending, check out how their synopsis is written, how many reviews they’ve gathered, what people had to say, and whether or not they received celebrity endorsements.

Taking a deeper dive, you can also review website content and social media in support of the book. See if you can find out if the author went on a book tour, or if the publisher was able to land media coverage in relation to the release. If so, which publications wrote about them? You’ll likely want to target them too.

It’s also interesting to note whether or not the publisher maintains an email mailing list (always a good idea to have one!).

As you go through this exercise with other popular audiobooks in your genre or industry, you’ll start to see trends emerging in the kind of content they contain and how these books are promoted.

Don’t Underestimate the Narrator’s Role in Audiobook Popularity

Many narrators are known for narrating books in a particular niche of a genre. If you are producing a large number of audiobooks for a particular niche, you might want to work with established narrators in that niche in effort to boost awareness and sales by leveraging their existing following and fanbase.

On hiring narrators, she says, “Unlike other publishers, we prefer to have our audiobooks read by the actual author. [However] as a published author myself, when bought the rights to my book, “Get on TV,” they hired a voice over actor to read my book. As a publisher, our customers enjoy the experience of the voice of the author, especially since our books are expert driven.”

Many expert driven books are written by authors who are professional public speakers and that experience lends itself well to narration in that genre. However, the narration can make or break an audiobook so it should be carefully considered. Hiring a professional narrator and voice actors to act out the characters will ensure the quality of the writing is not compromised and will enhance the listening experience for fans of the author.

Good editing is also a must, according to TV Producer and media consultant Jacquie Jordan, founder and CEO of Jacquie Jordan Inc. Jones advises that pages and pages of descriptive text may work well and serve a purpose in the hard-copy but it doesn’t lend itself well to audio versions of a novel.

“Bottom line?” Jones says, “The book needs to engage the reader [and] listener.”

Are you involved in audiobook publishing?

What do you think makes a book a good candidate for an audio version?

Share your opinion in the comments below.

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  • Avatar for George Anderson
    George Anderson
    August 27, 2017, 4:16 pm

    I am completing blown away by this excellent explanation of developing an audio book. I will share this information with others.