Audiobook

My experience using Tantor Media to produce an audiobook… spoiler, it’s not great!

Audiobooks are a great up-and-coming market for the Indie author. There are a number of ways to go about creating audiobooks, in the past I have used the Amazon-based service ACX.

ACX is essentially an online marketplace which connects authors, publishers, narrators, producers, and rights holders. The idea is that people can get together on ACX and find the right person to work with them on their project. I’ve produced Huntress and The Road Ahead through ACX with two different (and equally fantastic) narrators. On the whole, I like ACX and would recommend it to anyone.

While ACX is great, it does sometimes take a while to find the right narrator and you sometimes have to wait until that narrator has time to work with you (people who are good at their job are usually busy!).

Back in June, I received an email from an Acquisitions Associate at Tantor Media. Now I’d heard of Tantor before and knew that they had created a few audiobooks within my genre so I knew they were a large and professional company. They wanted to acquire the audio rights to Bring Holly Home—basically, they wanted to create and sell an audiobook of the book for me. As I was currently auditioning for narrators, it was a good time to consider a new direction and using a service to create the audiobook rather than doing it all myself. I emailed back and asked for some more details.

Now, I believe in transparency. I think the more secrecy that surrounds the publishing business, contracts, and royalties, the more damaging it is for new authors starting out. How is an author to know they are signing a terrible contract if no one talks about contracts? That’s why I will always be open and honest about my business dealings, if it helps one person to make a more informed choice—fantastic!

So, I’m now going to tell you exactly what Tantor Media offered me for Bring Holly Home (although they initially called it Bringing Holly Home, which should have been my first alarm bell!)

Tantor offered to cover all production costs (damned right!) and then offered these terms:

  • Advance: $500 on signing
  • Rights: Exclusive, unabridged audio rights in the retail + library markets
  • Territory/Language: World / English
  • Term: 10 years on publication
  • Royalties: 10% net on hard goods; 20% net on all download sales
  • DRM: Free

Now, as you may be aware… I’m a control freak. So, the idea of giving away my rights for ten years didn’t appeal. And I wanted to ensure I would have control over the product, because the final product is important to me and I’ve lost control of that in the past and am not interested in seeing that happen again. I replied to Tantor and asked if we could reduce the years, if I could have final approval over the narrators, and if I could have final approval over the artwork. The artwork was an important one for me because I’d noticed Tantor had made some very questionable decisions in the past with other books I’d seen in the market. Books with a great book cover, had been given an awful audiobook cover. I didn’t want that to happen to Bring Holly Home.

They came back and said I would have a choice of narrators and they could work with me on that, they didn’t see any issue with the cover being used, and that they would knock three years off the rights terms. Seven years is still a long time and I debated this for a while, but if I was to ever try a service to produce audiobooks then this was the time to do it. So I agreed.

Following this I had to fill in some paperwork, and when I say fill in some paperwork I mean paper. I was shocked that none of these forms were digital, for a company that deals in audiobooks… they sure do like paper. One of my pet hates is having to print out documents, fill them in by hand, scan them into the computer, and email them back. I’ve applied for mortgages, bank accounts, and even set up my Amazon account all digitally. But Tantor are, currently, old school.

This went on for weeks. Often their emails didn’t turn up and they chased me to see if I’d “had time to review” something which I’d never even received. Eventually we got to the Casting Associate who recommend Emily Beresford. I replied and said that Emily’s samples (of other, completed audiobooks) seemed great but said I didn’t know what the process was and asked if it would be possible to hear a sample of the voices of the characters.

Here, I’ll rewind a little. You remember when I mentioned ACX? The joy with ACX is that you can put together a little audition script and narrators will send you a sample of that script. This means you get a sense of their narration style and all the character voices they will do. Following that, different narrators work in different ways, some will send you a few chapters at a time for you to listen to an approve, some will send the whole book. But the result is the same—you as the author get to listen to and approve (or request changes) for each and every chapter.

Anyway, the Casting Associate said it would be fine for Emily to do a small audition and so I sent a file over. Emily came back super fast, which was great. However her depiction of Victoria, one of the lead characters was completely wrong. The voice was sharp and fast, which is a problem because in the book her tone is specifically described as slow and soft. I fed back this and was told that Emily would take on this advice.

The next day I received an email asking for the cover art file to create the audiobook cover, which I promptly sent along. Two weeks later the cover arrived, thankfully it was no different to the book cover just having been resized to suit the square audio format. But there was an issue. On the cover it stated that the audiobook was being read by two people. One was a man. Neither was Emily. I panicked and asked if the narrator had been changed or if it was a mistake. Thankfully, it had been a mistake. It was changed, but I was never offered sight of that change. I found it a little concerning that the mistake had been made, surely a company like Tantor would check things like that before sending them to the author? Apparently not. Also, in my line of work it is best practice to send the client the corrected file back to ensure you had made the change. Tantor doesn’t seem to agree.

Following this… I dropped the ball. As some of you know, my wife had serious health issues throughout November and December. I didn’t contact Tantor, but then I didn’t feel I needed to. I assumed they would contact me to ask for final approval of the audiobook.

Wrong.

A reader posted in my Facebook group that they had preordered the audiobook of Bring Holly Home. It would be out in two days. I blinked. Surely, I hadn’t read that correctly? It was coming out? I hadn’t heard it, certainly hadn’t approved it. And no one had told me about it. Surely, Tantor would tell me so I could… you know… market it for them?

I had a look at my Amazon product page and sure enough… it’s in preorder and about to be released.

Obviously a mistake had been made. I quickly emailed Tantor to ask what was going on.

Here’s the reply I received:

Hi Amanda,

It’s good to hear from you! I hope you’ve been well.

I’m sorry to hear of your disappointment with the release of Bring Holly Home. Unfortunately, Tantor is not able to provide licensors with copies of the final audio prior to the release of the audiobook, and while we can accommodate authors who keep in touch with us regarding their release date, it isn’t our general practice to automatically provide authors with the date, especially since the it is sometimes subject to change.

I wish you all the best with audiobook sales, and please let me know if there’s any way I can be of assistance. I’ve attached the sample mp3 file for this audiobook, which you’re free to share with your readers for promotional purposes if you’d like.

Best,

-Sarah

Sarah Gibson

So, to unpack that message a little…

  1. Tantor will not tell you when your book is being released
  2. Tantor doesn’t see why an author would want to know
  3. Tantor will not sent you a final copy of the audiobook, never mind a copy to proof before sale
  4. Tantor doesn’t think it needs to liaise with authors for marketing
  5. Tantor wishes me all the best with my sales, even though I now I have zero interest in this project due to their poor customer service and complete lack of standards

There you have it. That was my experience of creating Bring Holly Home through Tantor. Do I recommend them? Not really. The product is about to be released and I have no idea what it sounds like. I hope it’s good… being I really don’t know.

There’s a chance that I slipped through the net and this isn’t the usual Tantor way of working, maybe everyone else gets a copy to approve, gets a copy at all? If you’re an author who has used Tantor then please feel free to leave your comments down below.

By the way, my audiobook comes out tomorrow.

2 Comments

  • Cara Malone

    I do not believe you slipped through the net – I produced Fixer Upper with Tantor around the same time you were working on Bring Holly Home, and had a pretty much identical experience. I asked for narrator and cover art approval, and was able to negotiate the standard contract (and I was happy with all of that).

    A large part of my decision to go with Tantor was wanting to let them deal with producing and proofing because the time commitment was what was holding me back from producing more audiobooks through ACX (I’ve done one previously). So I was happy to hand the reins over to them on that, too..

    But the “we don’t tell authors about their release dates” thing… that was a complete surprise. I understand that if they’re going through the same quality review process that we do when we produce audiobooks independently, the date can be hard to pin down, but it can’t be *that* hard to keep the author in the loop. Like you said – it takes the excitement and pride of ownership away when you find out from a reader who stumbled across your book that, oh gee, it’s available now!

    And I definitely think Tantor themselves would be happier with the performance of their new titles if they let the authors market for them – they work with indies, so it’s second nature to us, and don’t most publishers expect that from their authors these days anyway?

    My final two cents, honestly I probably would work with Tantor again if they offered to produce another one of my standalones just because I don’t have the time to produce audiobooks on my own and it’s worth the downsides to get more formats out there to the readers (plus they distribute to libraries, which I love). But I would not rave about them in the streets.

    • aeradley

      Thanks for commenting, Cara! Sorry that we had similar experiences though I can fully understand why you’d be happy to work with them again, it does save a lot of time and effort. I’m sure many people don’t mind this way of working and prefer it to the work you have to put in otherwise, and the extended distribution as you mention. Personally, as I say above… I’m a control freak! 😉

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