Jessica Kaye: The Making (and Selling) of a Good Audiobook

POSTED ON May 10, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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At the meeting of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) on Saturday, the featured speaker was Jessica Kaye, who came up from her base in Los Angeles to speak to the crowd of interested self-publishers and authors.

Jessica has deep credentials in the audiobook field. A partner in the Beverly Hills law firm of Kaye & Mills, Jessica has worked on both television and feature film projects as well as publishing contracts. She founded The Publishing Mills, an audio and literary publishing company, and produced the Grammy Award-winning Best Comedy Recording, Crank Calls by Jonathan Winters.

Ms. Kaye has also served as President of the Audio Publishers Association and as a member of the Board of Governors for the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Academy for Recording Arts & Sciences, West. She is the founder of Big Happy Family, LLC, a digital distribution company for audio programming, and was the creator and editor of, and a contributor to, the short story anthology Meeting Across the River.

Jessica started her presentation by describing some of the reasons you might want to convert your book to an audiobook:

  • To further disseminate the ideas in the book
  • To make additional income from your book
  • To further promotion of the printed book
  • For special needs readers to have access to your material

She also pointed out that some books lend themselves to audio while others are much more problematic. Jessica advised authors to take a good look at their material before committing to an audio book. For instance:

  • Fiction usually works well in audio, since it consists mainly of narrative.
  • Nonfiction can be more difficult. Although memoirs or histories might work, books that rely on visuals like charts and graphs don’t translate well.

Publishers, she noted, often sign audio books to capitalize on a print book that has already shown good sales, suggesting there’s a market for additional products based on the book.

Audiobooks for Self-Publishers

For self-publishers, issues are likely to be getting the audio done and finding some way to distribute it. Jessica’s current company, Big Happy Family, aggregates audiobook products from over 75 publishers in order to sell to, the leader and dominant force in audiobooks, as well as other vendors. This allows smaller publishers to get distribution through Audible, which they might not be able to secure on their own.

(Audible, by the way, is owned by

It was interesting to hear Jessica talk about why she only deals in digital audiobooks now, and won’t carry or distribute “hard copy” audiobooks—CDs in packaging. It sounded a lot like other conversations we hear throughout the publishing industry. What’s her reason for going only digital? returns.

She described the feeling—known by many smaller book publishers—of thinking you were profitable on your product, only to get a message that a large number of items you thought were sold were actually being returned for credit, wiping out any profit you thought you had earned.

Tips on Making Audiobooks

Many attendees were interested in Ms. Kaye’s specific ideas about making audiobooks, and a lively discussion ensued, with lots of feedback and comments from the audience. Some of the topics that were covered included:

  • Decide whether you want to hire a production company to produce your audiobook, or you will try to do it yourself
  • You can find independent audio producers by checking with trade groups like Audio Publishers Association
  • Also check the packaging on audiobooks in stores to see if a producer is credited
  • You may need an experienced audio director to get the most out of your studio time and ensure a quality production
  • It’s equally important to have a sound editor who is used to working with audio books specifically
  • If you’re on a budget you can make audios yourself with some relatively inexpensive equipment. Jessica advised getting a good microphone and a “pop” screen to soften explosive sounds.
  • A big decision is whether to hire a narrator or try to do it yourself. Jessica seemed to feel that a professional voiceover artist would greatly enhance your project, and they may be available for less than you think. Try for a large pool of professional audio performers.
  • You can evaluate talent by getting sample audios emailed to you, without the need for live auditions
  • Studio time can be the biggest expense in making audiobooks, although more and more people are setting up quiet rooms with sound equipment in their homes.

Audiobook Distribution Choices

As usual, distribution is the name of the game if you want to sell any appreciable number of copies. For hardcopy audiobooks, Jessica suggested trying to find a traditional distributor, or looking into the small publisher programs of Ingram or Barnes & Noble. The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) also has resources that help independent publishers with distribution.

For digital products, you’ll need to deal with Audible, but it will be much easier going through an aggregator like than trying to deal with Audible yourself.

What Does An Audiobook Cost to Produce?

Although Ms. Kaye insisted that each project was different, she did offer an estimate of perhaps $5,000 to get a one-hour audiobook done with good quality, by a professional narrator, and directed and edited by professionals. Others in the audience suggested that do-it-yourselfers could simply buy a good microphone and lock themselves in a closet to do their own recording.

Whichever way you decide to go, it was an interesting presentation on a form of publishing most people are pretty unfamiliar with.


p class=”note”>Takeaway: Audiobooks are mostly the province of large traditional publishers with the resources to produce them for their top-selling authors. But the tools of production are now within the reach of self-publishers as well.

Resources in this article:
Bay Area Independent Publishers Association
Big Happy Family
Audio Publishers Association
Independent Book Publishers Association

Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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