If you are an indie author browsing Lovely Audiobooks, you can see all the fantastic books other authors are creating and you might wonder if it isn’t time to turn your book into an audiobook as well. And that is a really good idea! Audiobooks are the fastest-growing book market and many audiobook fans consume their books exclusively in audio. That’s an entirely new target group waiting for your stories!
Savannah Cordova from Reedsy wrote an introduction for us with key tips on how to make an audiobook!
How to Make an Audiobook
Despite the alleged global decline in attention span and the tech world’s obsession with micro-media (Quibi, anyone?), more of us are consuming (and enjoying!) long-form media than ever — whether that’s Twitch streams, podcasts, or audiobooks. Particularly for this last one, the benefits are numerous: when you can save trees, avoid lugging around extra weight, and even read while you grocery shop, there are really no cons!
Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you’re ready to harness the audiobook hype for your own book. Yes, putting your first audiobook together can be daunting, and many authors are deterred because they don’t know where to begin. But don’t worry — I’ve got you covered with these five key tips on how to make an audiobook so you can take your audiobook skills to the next level!
As when creating any established form of media, the first thing to do is review what others have done before you. That means listening to audiobooks, lots of them — and alas, not just the ones you like. You want to really get a feel for what works in an audiobook and what doesn’t.
Try asking yourself these questions as you listen to (or at least sample) a range of audiobooks:
- How does the audio sound?
- Am I engaged throughout the narration?
- If not, what’s making me zone out?
- Are there certain elements or transitions that work better or worse?
- What’s the narration style like? Is it multiple or duet narration? Are there different accents at play?
You’ll probably think of your own questions too, but these give you a solid foundation to build on. Indeed, once you have an idea of what your audiobook should look like (or rather, sound like), you can develop that research into actionable notes to implement during production. Keeping your competition close has its benefits!
The most efficient way to go about creating an audiobook is to invest in hiring experienced professionals — which goes double if it’s your first audiobook. There are two primary routes to choose between: working with a full-scale production and distribution company, or hiring freelancers who specialize in narration and audio engineering.
A production and distribution company will bring a team of capable hands to make things sound pitch-perfect, plus you’ll also have their industry connections to make your audiobook be heard ‘round the world. It’s similar to getting a publisher to distribute your book, except you’ll have more control and receive better royalties, since you’re still heading up the project.
The two most popular audiobook production companies are ACX (a subsidiary of Audible) and Findaway voices. Both are valid and efficient, but do your own research beforehand to ensure your choice perfectly suits your needs.
And if traversing the world of large-scale companies isn’t music to your ears — or you’re confident in your own distribution abilities — working with freelancers is the path for you. This could be an especially good fit if you want to oversee every stage of production!
However, note that not every freelance producer has the same amount of experience — so again, research every option thoroughly before deciding. Similarly, while it’s occasionally offered as a combined service, most narrators are not sound engineers. If you find the perfect narrator but they don’t do production, it’s worth hiring someone else to handle the raw files.
If you don’t have the budget to go pro just yet, you may decide to DIY with your audiobook. The upside here is that many readers relish the authenticity of listening to an author recite their own words! The downside, of course, is the extra costs in time, energy, and equipment (including studio time, unless you have a very quiet living space). DIY might sound like the easier option, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
In terms of setup, put aside plenty of time to record. It takes, on average, 16 hours to record an audiobook — and unless you have vocal cords of steel, you probably won’t want to do it all in one weekend. (For context, the recommended session length is 2-3 hours before resting!)
That said, if you choose to record at home, there are a few things you can do to optimize each recording session:
- Invest in nice technology, such as a good mic, pop filter, and recording software.
- Set up somewhere with minimal noise and echo, or soundproof your room.
- Make it comfortable — or else shivers and cramps might be your inciting incident!
- Always have a glass of water on hand.
Remember, when recording for any extended period, you can never be too prepared — and without the right equipment, you risk turning readers off with poor quality. It’s normal to make mistakes, or for background noise to crop up, but the right equipment will make these things so much easier to avoid (or edit out if necessary).
Whether you record at home or in a studio, it’s also extremely important to take care of your voice. Pro narrators have this down, but novices can underestimate the strain that continuous talking can put on you. This is why you need to warm up carefully before each session — especially if you don’t often enunciate or alter your voice in this way!
For a simple yet effective warm-up, try reading aloud the section you’re about to record. This method kills two birds with one stone: warming up your voice and giving you a feel for how this part should sound when you turn the mic on. Sure, you’ll already know how the book sounds in your head, but how does that translate as a listening experience? Are certain sections difficult to read out, or require more emphasis? I also recommend looking for vocal warm-up tutorials on YouTube, as there are plenty of guides out there.
Before you get into the thick of recording, you should also consider how to phase in and out of each section. Continuity is crucial because listeners will consume hours of your audiobook at a time — if you suddenly sound different in the next chapter, it can shatter the illusion of the story. For this reason, you may want to always record around the same time of day, right after fulfilling the same routine. For example, you might always eat lunch (to avoid your stomach growling during a session), have some tea (to clear your throat), then begin recording.
Another way to help continuity is to include a pause at the start of every chapter. This not only allows a buffer to make any differences in your voice less noticeable, but also helps build anticipation for what’s to come.
Now we’ve covered the performance aspect, there are just a few more technical details to familiarize yourself with. Luckily, the industry standards (as published by ACX and Findaway voices) actually aren’t too complicated.
Firstly, your chapters must all be in separate MP3 files, under 120 minutes long, and should start with a pause followed by the chapter title (such as “Chapter 1: The Summer”). You should also make sure that your audio files don’t go above or below -18db or -23db respectively, with a peak value — for momentary emphasis — not exceeding -3db. Finally, the recommended frequency and transmission speed (or sampling rate) for recording is 41kHz, to ensure the highest quality.
(Pro tip: if you do make a mistake recording, making a very loud noise — known as a sound marker — is an excellent way to find it when you’re editing later!)
This might sound like a lot, but keep in mind that there are plenty of tutorials and apps out there to help you. For example, GarageBand and Audacity both offer extensions to limit your audio recordings to a certain decibel range. Audacity even has a free ACX Check plugin that analyzes your files to ensure they meet industry standards.
And if this still sounds like a lot to handle, worry not — that’s what the pros are for! You can always consult your friendly local sound engineer, who will know these rules inside-out and make sure your audiobook comes out sounding smooth.
I hope that this article has helped you on your journey to creating your first audiobook. Don’t forget, there are plenty of online tutorials and professionals out there should you need a helping hand. I look forward to hearing what you record!
Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, she enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.
A few additions from Eline from Lovely Audiobooks:
If you find the audiobook process too daunting after reading all of this, you can also choose the route of giving your audiobook rights to a publishing company like Tantor. They will do all the work for you – finding the right voice actor, creating a perfect sound production, getting a cover in audio format, distributing your audiobook. Of course, you will get a smaller cut of the royalties if you pass this work on, instead of doing it yourself. But it is a convenient way of getting a foot in the door and getting your name in front of audiobook listeners.
Secondly, don’t underestimate the pull the right voice actor can have! As I said in the beginning, audiobooks are their own market. Many readers are indeed full-time listeners and they might not have heard of you before if you don’t have a book in audio format out. If you want to reach these people, you need to market your audiobook specifically to them. And your strongest tool to do that is to find a popular voice actor with their own social media following and their own fanbase. Many audiobook fans will give YOU as the author a chance, because they know and love the narrator. “Narrator-motivated”is what we call that and it means that many audiobook fans will buy an audiobook and take a chance on a new-to-them author or genre because they trust and enjoy the voice actor.
Which brings us to the newest siren call, AI narration. Several companies now offer their services to produce your audiobook for a small(er) price by using AI voices instead of human voice actors. While it might sound like a good idea to not invest so much money into your first audiobook and “see how it goes first”, I will tell you now that your audiobook will fail miserably. And that would be a shame! As Savannah says, do your research! Listen to audiobooks, read social media posts by audiobook fans, get a feeling for what works and what they care about. And you will find that the right voice for your story makes half the magic of an audiobook and will go a long way in ensuring that your first audiobook will be a success right away!/