Voice Acting

5 Things You Need to Know Before Self-Publishing an Audiobook

Tara Parachuk | August 17, 2019

A stack of four books sits on a light blue table in front of a teal washed stucco wall

Self-publishing an audio book is truly an art form that takes patience, skill, and plan for success.

The world of digital and recorded media is competitive. So, it’s best that you go into the project with an understanding of how you’ll stand out from the competition, as well as give your audiobook the best chance for success.

In this article

  1. 1. Determine Your Budget For Narration and Production
  2. 2. Learn Who the Audience is for Your Audiobook
  3. 3. Identify Your Audiobook Publishing Niche and Own it
  4. Rabbit Ears Entertainment: An Excellent Example of a Publisher Creating the Right Audiobooks
  5. 4. If You Are Not the Author, Ensure You Have Properly Licensed the Manuscript
  6. 5. Find the Right Voice Actor(s) for the Job
  7. Are You an Author or a Publisher?

While there is much to be mindful of (there are books written on self-publishing books!), the following considerations are key to ensuring your end-product has the right specs, and marketability:

1. Determine Your Budget For Narration and Production

In order to get an idea of what to budget for narration and production, you should start with how many words there are in the book.

The word count plays an influential role over how long it will take to record the book, and therefore, it also affects how much it will cost to have the audiobook narrated, edited and produced.

Here are some statistics that will help you to determine how much money you may need to budget for:

  • The average audiobook is 100,000 words in length
  • 100,000 words = 11 hours of audio
  • It usually takes 2 hours of recording for every finished hour of audio. 11 hours of audio = 22 hours of voice in the studio

Note that it usually takes twice as long, if not longer, to edit a voice over than it does to record it. The time spent editing will vary depending on the audio engineering skills a narrator possesses. If you have editing skills you may wish to do the editing on your end to save some money.

When it comes to the cost of narration itself, the pricing varies by the professional. Some narrators charge $200 per finished hour of recording while others charge as high as (or higher than) $500 per finished hour of audio.

2. Learn Who the Audience is for Your Audiobook

Whether this is your first audiobook, or the start of your audiobook publishing empire, it is your understanding of who your audience is and what will appeal to them, that will make or break your success.

Your audience will guide almost every aspect of production, from the narrator you choose to the way you market the title.

Knowing your audience ensures that your expectations and sales goals are in line with what the market will support. The more you know about your target audience, the better you will be able to attract them and provide value to them.

Factors to consider are:

  • Who your prospective listeners are (in age, location, and occupation, to name a few),
  • Why they listen to audiobooks,
  • Where they listen to them (at home, commuting, while at work, etc),
  • How they listen (from their phone, in their car, etc)
  • And the kind of audiobooks they consume most frequently and what source or organization would they trust to recommend audiobooks to them.

3. Identify Your Audiobook Publishing Niche and Own it

Getting strategic about your audiobook production goes a little deeper than knowing which genre you fit into. The more granular you can be, for instance, understanding your sub-genre or niche, the more chance you stand of being successful.

For instance, letting your potential audiobook listeners know that your book isn’t just science-fiction, but more specifically, it’s science-fiction for kids aged 8-12 who have an interest in rocket ship pirates, well now that can get their interest piqued.

And what about those who aren’t into rocket ship pirates? Well, you just saved money by not spending marketing dollars trying to win them over – and have instead sent a clear message that will resonate with those who will love your content.

Rabbit Ears Entertainment: An Excellent Example of a Publisher Creating the Right Audiobooks

One example of a publishing house that is doing a good job of focusing on their niche, is Rabbit Ears Entertainment, LLC which offers classic literature at its best. Their primary target audience for listening is children but truly, their products entertain parents as well as educators. People who buy audiobooks from Rabbit Ears range from parents to grandparents to libraries to teachers. The company was founded by Mark Sottnick and Doris Wilhousky at their kitchen table in 1985. We highlight their brand here as a prime example of what you could do if you dream big enough, know your market and clarify your goals.

The works Rabbit Ears produces are narrated by celebrity actors the likes of Jeremy Irons, Danny Glover, Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Garrison Keillor, Nicolas Cage, Jonathan Winters, Michael Palin, John Candy, Morgan Freeman, Sigourney Weaver, Anjelica Huston, Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Amy Grant, Kathleen Turner, Catherine O’Hara, Cher and others accompanied by musical scores composed and performed by top musicians of the day and illustrated by the best artists of our day.

The company has won many awards, including:

  • 2 Grammy Awards
  • 18 Grammy Award nominations
  • 21 Parents’ Choice Awards
  • A Parents’ Choice Award for the Entire Storybook Classics series
  • 7 Action for Children’s Television awards
  • A National Education Association Award
  • The Humanitas Prize

Just like Rabbit Ears, you need to know your target audience.

4. If You Are Not the Author, Ensure You Have Properly Licensed the Manuscript

Unless the manuscript is in the public domain, you need to be very diligent about licensing fees and any other legalities.

Publishers hold the copyright to the content of each audiobook and audiobooks may not be reproduced (just like printed books) as it is considered copyright infringement

If the content has already been licensed, or published, then contact the publisher to inquire about licensing opportunities.

Note: Some publications are available in the public domain. So, if you’ve always dreamed of producing classics such as Treasure Island, Little Women, or Frankenstein, you’ll appreciate that the manuscripts are freely available for use without copyright. A great source of Public Domain materials is Project Gutenberg. The site is an online book catalog offering a treasure trove of manuscripts on a wide variety of topics that you can use without cost with next to no limitations. The site offers over 40,000 free ebooks to download, allowing visitors to access free epub books, free Kindle books, download them or read ebooks online.

5. Find the Right Voice Actor(s) for the Job

Once you’ve analysed the above, you can then dive into where and how your target audience might expect to hear about your audiobooks and the narration style they’d prefer.

Does your audience care about who the narrator is or are they only concerned with a good story? Maybe your listening audience enjoys a certain style of voicing and expects words to be pronounced in a particular way or is accustomed to hearing a certain voice type and prefers it above all others. Knowing this about your audience will help you to decide who should be narrating your audiobook.

Taking a brief exploration of Voices, it’s clear that the sky’s the limit when it comes to accessing a diverse pool of different vocal tones, styles, languages, dialects and inflections.

In the end, finding the perfect vocal match for your narration project can help increase sales and exposure of your audiobook. After all, in order for your audience to want to go out and tell the world about your amazing audiobook, they first have to be entertained and engaged by the narrator.

Are You an Author or a Publisher?

What other resources have you found to help you along your journey to self-publish or start an audiobook publishing business? Do you have any other tips and tricks to share?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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  • Avatar for William-Stephen Taylor
    William-Stephen Taylor
    September 8, 2018, 4:06 am

    What are comment tags for in the audiobook manuscript, my agent (USA) sent me (DE) this and I have no idea what she means?Can you see the extended right margin?
    These are just examples
    This is how to make the Comment tags (text highlighted in pink and the ‘comment balloon’ in the extended right margin)
    Do you have a Review tab in the top bar of your Word? If you do, click on it.
    In the center you should have a box called ‘Comments’ (with four options)
    You highlight what you want in the Comment (like you would if you were copy and pasting), then click ‘new comment’ and a numbered, empty comment balloon will appear attached to that text. You can put any information in those balloons that you want. When you click on the finished comment balloon it will show what text the comment is referring to.

    The following had ‘Balloons on the right. I have a German Microsoft Office Word.

    Twenty-five year-old Wolfgang von Berging entered his aunt’s bedroom and approached her bed. He gazed down at her as she lay there sleeping, breathing gently. Satisfied he moved away from the bed and spoke quietly to one of the five nurses who worked in flexible 6-hour shifts taking care of her, “Judith, I’ll be out all day, I’m going for a cycle ride, and then I’ll spend the rest of the day at the library. I’ll be home around six.”
    The nurse nodded. “Very well, sir.”
    Dressed in his cycling clothes, he left the quiet room and walked across to the door leading to the corridor. He patted his shorts hip pockets where he kept his keys and his wallet.

    They passed Mrs. Silberman on her way back from shopping, and as they stood to one side on the staircase the octogenarian squeezed the child’s cheek gently, as she was prone to.
    “How’s my boy this morning. Are you taking your Mama and Papa for a walk?”
    Jean smiled at the old woman. “He’s fine, Mrs. Silberman, how is your husband today?”
    She shook her head. “Complaining, complaining, always he is complaining.” She ruffled the child’s hair gently. “You bring him round for cookies later; I have baked them fresh this morning.”
    Jean laid a hand on the old woman’s shoulder. “Will do, Mrs. Silberman, I’ll bring him with me later.”
    She walked on up the stairs and the child burbled happily, “Gramma, Gramma bakes cookies.”
    Jean laughed softly as she descended once more. “His first word and it had to be Gramma.”

    Question: What does my agent mean, what can I add to the text as it is obvious who is speaking- and how.

    Thank you E. E. Dudley (Author name.)

    • Avatar for Tanya
      September 11, 2018, 8:01 am

      Hi there!
      Hmmm… With the way your comment has posted, I don’t see the comments – however, my assumption is that the comment tags are likely to give you additional instructions, or insights on the text, so that you can keep them in mind when crafting your performance. Have you tried clicking on the balloons to see what the text is inside them?
      If you can’t see what’s inside the balloons, there is no harm in asking for clarification with your agent. After all, all you’re trying to do is give your best performance – and no one can fault you for that!
      As an aside, this looks like a fun project! Audiobook narration is a fabulous form of voice over. We wish you the best of luck!