How To Make An Audiobook [An Independent Publisher’s Definitive Guide]
The audiobook industry is absolutely flourishing, and now, more than ever, independent authors are wondering how to make an audiobook.
Fifty percent of all Americans, aged twelve and older, have listened to an audiobook, according to a national annual consumer survey by the Audio Publishers Association.
There’s also a huge opportunity with the increasing presence of smart speakers in people’s homes. Many smaller, independent authors are looking to Alexa Skills on Amazon Echo or Google Actions on Google Home to publish their audiobooks.
Even entrepreneurs are riding the audiobook wave. Many are finding books from the public domain and turning those titles into audiobooks.
If you’re an independent author, you need to make an audiobook, plain and simple.
This piece will be your comprehensive guide to making your first audiobook. In this article we’ll break down:
- Before You Begin: Considerations for Creating an Audiobook
- Genres and Book Types that Make Great Audiobooks
- Books to Avoid Converting into Audiobooks
- Making a Choice Between Abridged and Unabridged Versions
- Audiobook Production
- Audiobook Production Activities
- Time Required to Create an Audiobook
- Audiobook Narration Costs
- Audiobook Editing Costs
- Choosing an Audiobook Narration Style
- Selecting a Narrator for Your Audiobook
- Recording Your Own Audiobook Narration
- Working with a Professional Audiobook Narrator
- How to Publish and Distribute Your Audiobook
- Audiobook File Formats
- Top Audiobook Distributors
- Publishing an Audiobook on Audible
- Alternatives to Audible for Audiobook Distribution
- Audiobook Promotion Strategies
Before You Begin: Considerations for Creating an Audiobook
You’ve created an amazing manuscript, published your own book, or you’ve just gained the license for an exciting new title, and now you’re gung-ho to begin the process of creating an audiobook! This is an exciting time, with grand possibilities and many key choices ahead, as you aim to participate in one of the fastest-growing sectors of publishing: the audiobook market.
However, some of the most important decisions that can affect whether or not your audiobook will be successful, are the decisions you make before ever stepping into the recording studio or posting your voice over job for that perfect narrator voice.
Namely, you need to understand whether your book’s genre, or type, will lend itself well to the audiobook medium.
Plus, you will also need to make a choice as to whether you want to turn the abridged or unabridged version (or both) into audiobooks, too.
Genres and Book Types that Make Great Audiobooks
Before we dive into how to make an audiobook, it’s worth noting that, according to Audible, certain types or genres of books that usually perform well as audiobooks include:
- Health and Fitness
- Science fiction/fantasy
Types of Books to Avoid Converting into Audiobooks
There are also a few kinds of books that don’t typically translate very strongly into good audiobooks. Here’s six kinds of books to avoid when making titles into audiobooks (Note: Many of these books are image or citation heavy):
- Some versions of travel guides
- Picture books
- Many image heavy cookbooks
- Interior design or home and garden books
- Reference books
- Quotation/citation books
Making a Choice Between Creating an Abridged vs Unabridged Version of Your Book into an Audiobook
When making a choice between abridged or unabridged, there are some pros and cons to weigh. Here’s what you need to know about each option, in a nutshell:
An abridged audiobook is a shortened audiobook that shouldn’t sacrifice any of the major themes and storylines of the book. Abridged audiobooks were extremely popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s when producers thought listeners wouldn’t be engaged for hours and hours of narration.
An unabridged audiobook is the full literary work of the author that’s read word-for-word. The audiobook industry is almost exclusively asking for unabridged audiobooks these days.
Read our full article on the pros and cons of abridged vs unabridged audiobooks to fully inform your decision before you start recording.
After deciding on whether or not your title will work as an audiobook, the next question most people have is, “How much does it cost to create an audiobook?”
If you’re an independent author, chances are you’re looking to find the most cost-effective means to produce your audiobook. You may have an idea of what you’re hoping to spend to produce this audiobook, and that’s great. You can create an audiobook in a cost-effective manner.
One of the most important factors that influences how much it costs to create an audiobook is word count of your book. This is because wordcount dictates how much time is required for production, including time to record/narrate, edit, mix and master.
We’ll explore the options of recording your own audiobook or hiring a professional narrator further on in this piece.
Learn about the other important factors you need to consider before you self-publish your first audiobook.
Audiobook Production Activities
Audiobook production time is composed of three elements:
- Time to record the narration, including retakes.
- Editing the narration file, including adding sound effects.
- Quality assurance check (listening back on the file to ensure it sounds as it should).
Each one of these elements has its own time considerations…and as we know, time is money.
Time Required to Record an Audiobook
Here’s what you need to know about how long each audiobook production component takes:
Average time to narrate an audiobook:
- The standard audiobook has 100,000 words
- The standard audiobook run time = 11 hours of finished audio
- For every finished hour of edited audio, the voice actor will need approximately two hours to lay down the track, including retakes.
- Therefore the average amount of time to record the audiobook voice over narration takes around 22 studio hours (2 x 11 = 22 hours of recording time).
Once your book is narrated, you’ll also need to process the audio so that the end product is crisp and clean. This extra processing time can be completed by either an audio engineer/producer, or the voice actor.
Average time to edit and run quality assurance on audiobook recordings:
- Each finished hour of audio requires three hours of editing, mixing and mastering (3 x 11 hours of finished audio = 33 hours)
- Each finished hour of audio also requires one hour for quality assurance (QA) (1 x 11 hours of finished audio = 11 hours)
- Editing, mixing, mastering and quality assurance take an average of 44 hours (33+11 = 44 hours).
To sum it up, the average 100,000 word audiobook will take 66 hours to create: 22 hours for the narration, plus 44 hours for the editing, mixing, mastering and quality assurance.
Audiobook Narration Costs
Narration costs can vary, but most narrators charge between $200 (on the low end) up to $500 or more per finished hour (on the high end).
Check out Voices.com’s voice over talent rates to get a sense of the price range of your project. Note that audiobooks are considered to be ‘non-broadcast’ projects.
Audiobook Editing Costs
Essentially, the amount of time spent editing hinges on how organized and talented both the voice actor, and the audio engineer are. Naturally, fewer mistakes in the audio will result in fewer edits, which is one of the many reasons why hiring a professional voice actor is a great idea.
Plus, on the editing front, some professional voice actors on Voices.com will also professionally edit their work, which can often save you from spending more on an audio engineer.
The average audiobook editing fees cost around $50 per finished hour.
Audiobook producer Lee Pritchard says the average audiobook in the UK costs an estimated £2963.40, or $3,756.08 US to produce.
Or if you have an audio editing background, you could save some serious money by doing the editing through your own software and equipment.
Audiobook narration is an absolute marathon. Thousands of words have to be spoken, and not just recited but presented with a level of emotion and engagement that will keep listeners enthralled for hours. When it comes to narration, you have a few key choices to make:
- What style of narration do you want/need?
- Who will narrate your audiobook?
Choosing an Audiobook Narration Style
Audiobook publishers are mixed on what format works better, as it often varies on audience preferences. Here are some considerations for each:
Single Narrator Audiobook
Some more traditional publishers believe it doesn’t sound proper to have a full cast of voice actors for an audiobook. They believe it makes the audiobook feel more like a theatrical drama. Many publishers cite the fact that we grew up listening to a book being read out loud by one voice, such as a parent or teacher. Additionally, traditional publishers may to source a talented narrator who can pull off multiple voices for each character.
Full Cast Audiobook Narration
Other publishers much rather have a full cast of professional voice actors to truly give each character a unique and distinct voice. Millennials have been shown to gravitate more to audiobooks with a cast of multiple voice actors. Much of the popularity of the full cast option derives from its ability to keep the audience fully engaged for 10 plus hours.
Make sure you do all your research on full cast vs single narrator audiobooks to determine what makes the most sense for your listeners. This article breaks down the pros and cons of various narration styles.
Selecting a Narrator for Your Audiobook
When it comes who will narrate your book, you have two options: Recording your own audiobook (voice of the author) or hire a professional narrator.
It can be tricky for an author to decide when they should be narrating the audiobook themselves or hiring someone else for the job. If you’re a public figure, celebrity or thought-leader or have a very large following for your special niche, then you may want to narrate in your own voice, as people will want to hear directly from you. This may be more common for business, self-help and health and fitness audiobooks.
However, you may want to have your book brought to life by another storyteller. This is very common for romance, fantasy, mystery books for example.
There are pros and cons to each option.
Why Hire a Professional Narrator:
- They’ll add a level of polish and legitimacy that an untrained voice can’t
- Will bring your characters and audiobook to life
- Technical know-how and familiarity with audiobook process
- Physically and vocally prepared for hours of recording
- Owns professional recording equipment and software
- Credibility and distribution will be impacted, as fans of the particular narrator may discover your audiobook
Why Narrate Your Own Audiobook:
- No one understands your characters’ voices more
- It will save you money
- Avoiding potential communication breakdown or fallout with voice talent
- Full financial control of your published book assets
Now let’s take a look at how both options work:
Recording Your Own Audiobook Narration
If you’re an independent author who has the skill set and endurance to record your own audiobook, well, hats off to you. There’s a few things you should know before you start recording up a storm.
Voice Over Equipment
If you want anyone to take your audiobook seriously, it has to be recorded with professional equipment, not your smartphone or a built-in laptop microphone. Low audio quality will be noticed by listeners and your books credibility will completely be jeopardized if you don’t have these three essentials:
- Quality Microphone: It’s important you find a microphone that highlights the best qualities of your voice. And just because the mic is expensive doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for your voice. Check out our article on the best microphones for voice over.
- Pop Filter: Also know as a ‘pop screen’ this microphone attachment will reduce plosive sounds that are produced from letters like ‘p’ and ‘b’. Here’s a thorough read on how to pick the right pop filter.
- Audio Editing Software: If you have a Mac computer, then you already have a free audio editor in Garageband. Read this walkthrough on how to edit on GarageBand. Another great option is Audacity, which is a free audio editing software that will certainly do the trick for recording your audiobook. Check out what the best voice over software here.
Set up an Audiobook Recording Studio Space
Every voice over actor needs to have that quiet sanctuary where they can get in their groove and not be disturbed. The reality is, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to set up a soundproof studio to begin recording.
Do you have a decent-size closet or tiny crawl space? You can quickly and cost-effectively convert that room into your recording space.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when setting up your recording space:
- Filter External Sound: Take a look at your doors, windows or any other entry points in your recording space. See how much external noise is coming through them. Cracks under doors are most common and can be soundproofed with a plastic sweep.
- Double Up On Drywall: Many studios add another layer of drywall on top of the original layer of drywall to reduce sound transmission. A more cost-effective option is soundproofing your space with bags of insulation and spreading them out around the room. The cheapest option is loading a closet with clothes (on hangers) and stuffing it with as many pillows and blankets as possible.
- Thick Carpet: You’d be surprised how much of a difference thick carpet can make with noise reduction. The thicker the carpet, the better for recording quality. You can also hang up strips of carpet on your walls, windows and doors to dampen noise.
Get the full low-down on the do’s and don’ts of soundproofing a room before you start recording your audiobook.
Getting Feedback on Your Audiobook Narration Skills
Before you start recording, you need to really make sure that you have a strong enough voice to give your audiobook the best shot at success.
You’ll need honest feedback from others over whether or not you’re able to provide a believable and engaging listen.
Rafe Gomez, the co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing, narrated his own audiobook ‘What’s In It For ME? A Powerful New Interview Strategy to Get You Hired in Today’s Challenging Economy,’ which landed coverage on various high-profile outlets like Fox News, MSNBC and NY1. Rafe says, “It’s important to share a sample of your read with friends and family to see if your voice is entertaining and professional enough to carry the audiobook.”
“To get a sense of whether or not your voice is audiobook appropriate, share a one to two minute passage of your read with friends and family and listen to their feedback,” he says.
“While your audiobook content may be great, your audiobook voicing skills may not, so it’s crucial to be honest with yourself about your capabilities.”
If your sample read passes the test of others, then you’re good to start recording.
Recording Your Audiobook
In order to record your audiobook, you need to have a script version of your book to actually read from. This is often referred to as the manuscript. Typically this is just a printed out version of your full book that you can easily read from and begin to mark up with highlighters and pens.
So you have all your recording equipment and your studio space set up, now you need to record your audiobook. Here are a few unique strategies to keep in mind before your press that big red ‘record’ button:
1. Character Cheat Sheet
Well known audiobook narrators Suzy Jackson (Jodi Picoult, Gordon Korman and Dean Koontz audiobooks) and Jim Dale (Harry Potter) both said they make a character cheat sheet that shows each character’s traits and denotes each character by color on their manuscript. If you have a horde of heroes and villains, this will be key.
2. Loads Of Preparation Time
Many narrators will take two to three weeks to prepare for an audiobook recording before they step into the booth. You have to make sure you’re ready for countless hours of isolation and ensure you don’t go into autopilot. It’s also key to prepare your voice and body for such a long read, especially if you’ve never professionally voiced an audiobook. The last thing you want to do is strain and lose your voice early on in the recording process. Stretching and vocal exercise breaks need to be planned through the recording process.
3. Listen To The Last Recording
All great narrators listen to their previous session to make sure they’re in tune with the pace, volume and tone that they were using for the book in the last recording session. Consistency is key to keeping an audiobook believable and engaging. Also there’s nothing worse than having to re-record hours of audiobook recordings to realign tone.
Get more narration tips and tricks for recording your own audiobook.
Need even more resources? Check out these four helpful articles on mastering audiobook narration:
Make sure to read our comprehensive guide to becoming a voice actor.
Read this helpful article on three tips for successful audiobook narration.
Here’s an excellent interview with Audie award-winning narrator Tavia Gilbert on how to become an audiobook narrator.
Twilight audiobook narrator Ilyana Kadushin says narrators need an overall passion for the material you’re reading. That’s usually pretty easy when it’s your book.
Working with a Professional Audiobook Narrator
Most authors end up teaming up with a professional voice actor to narrate their audiobook. Being able to deliver a compelling, consistent and professional read for hours of audio content can be extremely difficult for an independent author, untrained in the art of voice acting and narration. Plus, professional voice actors offer many advantages – from providing near flawless performances that help cut down on editing time and costs, to bringing your character or story to life in ways you could only dream of.
Independent author John Wilker, who created the ‘Space Rogues’ series, says there were a few reasons why he really wanted to have a professional voice actor narrate his series.
“One, I lacked the equipment, so the investment would have been significant. Two, I wanted to focus on writing the stories and narrating my own would have taken, from my understanding, a fair bit of time. I’d rather have a pro do it,” he says.
“The narrator is a pro, not only equipment wise, but skillset. I wanted my readers, or listeners, to be greeted with a professional sounding story.”
There are three basic steps in hiring and working with a professional narrator or multiple narrators:
1. Find the voice for your audiobook
There’s a reason why J. K. Rowling opted for legendary British narrator Jim Dale to voice all 300 characters in the seven Harry Potter audiobooks. You know your characters intimately and know the voice of each, as you brought them to life. That’s why it’s important to find the right professional voice actor who can bring your characters’ voices to life.
Luckily at Voices.com, we have the world’s largest selection of professional voice actors right at your fingertips. You can easily search and listen to talented and unique voices from around the globe for your audiobook project. Check out our amazing selection of audiobook narrators.
2. Record the audiobook
Once you have selected the voice actor or actors you want to voice your audiobook, they’ll need to start recording for you.
It’s extremely common for professional voice actors to have their own home studio and editing equipment. Some will also offer editing services along with the voice over work for your project. Do keep in mind that because of the volume of audio files with audiobooks that the voice talent will be charging much more than they would for just recording the audio files for you.
It’s advised that you seek a more accomplished audio engineer to edit your audiobook files, instead of getting a voice actor to edit after the fact. Most voice actors are used to editing much smaller and less complex audio files.
When it comes to recording sessions with the voice actor, how involved you want to be in the recordings will dictate the process. Typically, a few preliminary phone calls are set up to make sure you’re on the same page with the voice actor. Giving background on the book, your vision for the audiobook and preferences on pacing and tone will be important to establish.
Although back in the day, most recording sessions were directed in person and in studio. These days, tons of voice over work is done remotely, making recording sessions much more affordable by reducing travel and studio fees. Live remote directed sessions are possible, but are typically leveraged by creative directors of large scale projects. For an independent audiobook, it would be better to fully brief the voice actor and then set them free to record the first few pages, or chapter, and see what’s produced.
Find out how to give the best voice over direction to voice actors and how to give voice over direction to multiple remote voice actors.
Once you get the recorded files and you’re pleased with the final product, you’ll have to pay your voice actor for their work.
3. Edit the audio files
Now you need to edit your audiobook files.
You have three options:
- Edit the hours of audio files yourself.
- Have the voice talent edit the audio after they record.
- Or have an audio engineer master the files.
For maximum quality, you’ll want to get a professional audio engineer to properly polish your hours and hours of audiobook files.
Discover the four main benefits to outsourcing your audiobook editing before you decide who’s going to edit your ‘baby.’
4. Receive the edited and completed audio files
Once all your audio files are edited and mastered, it’s important to make sure the finished product meets your expectations and you pay the audio engineer.
Make sure you store your audiobook files on an external hard drive and not just on your personal computer. All it takes is for your computer to crash for your audiobook files to be erased.
Now your audiobook is ready to be uploaded and distributed.
How to Publish and Distribute Your Audiobook
Now things are getting real. You have a fully finished audiobook! But where will it live and how will people actually listen to it?
One of the first considerations for distribution, is to ensure that your audiobook file format enables your target audience to actually download and listen to the content.
Audiobook File Formats
There are three common audiobook file formats. They are WAV, MP3, and M4B files.
Here’s more on each of these file formats, and how they’re typically used for audiobooks:
1. WAV Files
A WAV file is an uncompressed audio file that’s become the standard for storing audio on computers. The WAV file format was created as an audio file extension by Microsoft. Uncompressed WAV files are easy for audio engineers to break down during file mastering. Any digital recording program that uses WAV will save a ‘.name’ file for each individual WAV file, which usually represents each chapter or recording session. Once an audio engineer masters the WAV files, they are exported and converted into MP3 files or M4B files.
2. MP3 Files
MP3 files are the final file format for most audio clips. MP3 files are a lot smaller and this file type is a common audio format for smartphones. The mass adoption of MP3 files helped grow audiobooks into the booming industry it is now.
3. M4B Files
M4B files are also known as ‘MP4’ or ‘audiobook files’. Audiobooks that are downloaded from iTunes are packaged in the M4B file format. Other media players use M4B files to store digital bookmarks to let you pause, resume and playback audio. MP3 files can’t save where you’ve stopped in the audio file.
[Wondering how Voices.com helps authors and publishers create audiobooks? Check out some of the awesome audiobook projects we’ve been apart of.]
Top Audiobook Distributors
Here are some of the most active, high volume audiobook distributors:
- Audible, Inc.
- BBC Audiobooks America
- Canadian Broadcasting Company
- Live Oak Media
- Penguin Group
- Random House Audio
Publishing an Audiobook on Audible
One of the best places to start, is by publishing your audiobook on the Audible-owned site, the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). ACX is a marketplace for authors, agents, publishers and rights holders to choose how to produce and distribute their audiobook on major online retailers like Audible, Amazon and iTunes.
ACX will host your audiobook files, the cover art and online metadata for listeners to find the audiobook through online searches.
It’s super easy to set up a ACX account. All you need is an Amazon login and your tax information. Once you upload your tax and bank account information, you can start uploading your audiobook on ACX. You’ll then upload the audiobook files, the audiobook cover art. Once your audiobook is uploaded, it’s ready for you to start promoting it to your target audience.
Check out this awesome video by Gutenberg Reloaded on how to upload your audiobook to ACX.
Non-exclusive ACX Publication Deal
If you want to take advantage of other audiobook channels beyond ACX, then you’ll have to sign a non-exclusive publication deal with ACX. This means more flexibility and further potential reach but much lower ACX publication royalties.
Alternatives to Audible for Audiobook Distribution
If you do want to keep your options open, here are three awesome channels to consider beyond ACX:
Audiobooks.com is the second largest audiobook publisher for audiobooks sales, only behind Audible.
Overdrive gets audiobook authors into libraries across the U.S., a huge opportunity for any independent author. Overdrive is extremely picky on who they select to allow on their platform. They don’t even consider authors unless they’ve published a minimum of 12 audiobooks.
Downpour comes in behind Audible and Audiobooks.com for audiobook sales. Downpour requires authors negotiate a deal to be published on their platform. Whereas ACX lets authors upload their audiobook and start selling right away.
Explore the full list of the top audiobook publishers and distributors here.
Audiobook Promotion Strategies
Once the audiobook is published, you’ll need to promote it like crazy.
These days, there are countless ways for independent authors to promote their new audiobook for free or at least in an extremely cost-effective manner. Here are three of the most common audiobook promotional strategies for independent authors:
1. Launch a Website
Creating an official website for all of your titles should be a first step. Adding the audiobook versions of all your books into an online hub is a fundamental component to having baseline credibility within the publishing industry. This is the easiest way for everyone to locate your full body of work.
2. Start a Blo
A blog is a great way to connect with your target audience. It’s extremely easy to add a blog section on your website and serves as a free platform for promoting your audiobooks. You don’t have to wait until you’ve published your audiobook to start a blog. There’s tons of value in you creating blog posts that are related to the audiobook or publishing industry or even posting opinion pieces on more granular topics within your area of writing expertise.
3. Create a Social Media Following
Choose what social media channel makes the most sense for you as an author and for your audiobook audience. For some, it may be LinkedIn and Instagram, for others it may be Facebook and Twitter. The important part is that you don’t just promote your new release tirelessly and annoying your followers, but offer your audience valuable industry tips or interesting side-stories from your writing adventures.
Audiobook Cover Art
One item that can’t be forgotten is your audiobook’s cover art. This valuable element of your branding and promotion strategy is one that can really help your title stand out.
Most publishers use the same cover art from the print version, however some authors will get a graphic designer to make unique cover art for their audiobook version.
Audiobook Success Stories: Indie Authors
Still don’t believe that independently publishing your audiobook can be done? We’ve compiled a nifty little list of some independent authors (often called indie authors) and their success stories to inspire you before you embark on your audiobook publishing adventure.
Author: Rafe Gomez
Book: What’s In It For ME? A Powerful New Interview Strategy to Get You Hired in Today’s Challenging Economy.
Success Story: The audiobook received significant media coverage on Fox News, MSNBC, NY1, and many others. As a result of this coverage, it became a top 5 selling career title on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible.”
“In terms of action points for audiobooks that present advice and guidance for listeners, it’s crucial that the subject matter shares a proven solution to a pain point that’s being experienced by many people. It’s also helpful is if the audiobook adheres to a trending or popular topic that’s prominent in the media and popular culture.”
“If what’s being offered is a tepid rehash of an existing message that’s available in the marketplace, it will have zero appeal to bloggers, editors, journalists, and most importantly consumers.”
Author: John Wilker
Book: Space Rogues
Success Story: “My first audiobook (Space Rogues) was released in April (2019?), after several trials and tribulations of being indie and going through the process on my own. [Since then], I’ve received my first earnings report. Nothing to quit a job over, but it’s not bad and certainly makes it clear there’s demand.”
“My second audiobook, the next in the series, is in process with the narrator now. It’s due out in June. I’ve been publishing since 2017 on my own and have four books out, with two more due this year.”
“If you’re planning to do a series, pick a narrator you’ll want for the whole thing. Readers prefer series read by the same person. If you can afford it, you’ll likely get better auditions if you’re willing to pay up front.”
What Tips and Tricks Do You Recommend for Publishing an Audiobook?
Hopefully at this point you feel much more equipped to go out and make your first audiobook. We’d love to hear stories about your experience publishing your first audiobook. Any tips and tricks that really worked for you? Did you voice it yourself or did you hire a professional narrator?
Leave a comment below!