Audio books – the why and how

Audio books – the why and how

Audio books …

Are a growing business. This format is popular among those who drive long distances and those who love to listen while they do other tasks.

For me it has been a challenge to even consider publishing my novels in audio format. I’m an independently published author who never considered running my own business. To find myself needing to learn not only how to write but how to market, run websites and the numerous other components of a business has been daunting.

One thing that has been super helpful is the number of free podcasts and ‘how to’ articles that are online. I’m grateful for many authors who generously share their expertise. As my knowledge and competency increases I become more discerning about what I still need to learn. 

One podcast I listened to helped me recognise that each one of my books has multiple ways it can earn income – ebook, print book, large print, hard cover and audio. Two years in and I only had ebook and print books available. But …

Fears prevented me producing an audio book

I. Fear of failing

Early on in my research into audio books I discovered there were three main ways to produce one.

3 main ways to do audio books

1. Pay someone to do it – this then requires you to find an appropriate reader and can cost up to $500/finished hour. As my first audio books is eight hours long we were talking between $3000-4000. 

2. Royalty share – so the narrator would receive 50% of your royalties (the distributor also takes a percentage). This option seems to be becoming harder to find. 

3. Author does it themselves 
As I looked at the options I concluded that it was impossible. I couldn’t afford options 1 and 2 and the technological requirements of option 3 continued to overwhelm me. So I put the idea to one side. Some time later I listened to several podcasts from people who do their own audiobooks.

Their reasons for an author narrated book made sense. 

Advantages of an author narrating their own audio book

a) It builds connection between the author and readers.

b) The author already knows the characters in the story and so knows which lines are to be read with which emotion. An outside narrator has to spend a huge amount of time in preparation.

c) You’ll find you still do some edits of the original book and this means it keeps improving.

Hearing about the advantages gave me more motivation. I love reading books to children and have an expressive voice but another fear got in the way. I’d heard that people pay actors and they can do all sorts of voices. That is way beyond what I can do. Thankfully I listened to this podcast from a group of top-rate narrators. By the end I thought, ‘I can do this.’ They suggest putting character (expressiveness) into your reading rather than changing your voice. But they also gave hints about how to do the best job possible including the interesting one that mens’ voices tend to drop at the end of sentences and womens’ to go up. 

NB Take a good hard look at yourself. Some of us simply aren’t going to be able to do our own narrations because reading isn’t our talent. Listen to samples online and make sure that you can do it to that standard.

II. Fear of the time needed

Most authors want to be writing the next book. We know that recording and editing an audio book will take time but how much time? I found that doing the audio book could be a good break from writing. In the end, I actually enjoyed the recording process.

III. Fear of the technical aspects

This was by far the biggest fear for me. I’ve only just learned to cope with a mobile phone! This fear prevented me moving forward for quite a long time. Especially when I worked out that I could never get a quiet enough recording space in Taiwan without hiring a recording studio. So I’d need to do the recording when I was in Australia.

But GOD … it is so wonderful to be a Christian and have other resources, supernatural ones, at our disposal if we’d ask. Our God specialises in ‘fear busting’ when we trust in him and also is able to direct us to all the resources we need. 
I began to pray that I might find someone who could help me with the technical issues. In addition, I only had a narrow window of four months it would be possible.

I asked if anyone had a homemade studio or the equipment but no one responded. In my first month at home I was visiting a friend and asked, “What’s in that room?” He opened the door to show me his recording studio! Not only did he have all the equipment but he also had an Apple computer and so I could use his equipment and easily transfer it to mine. He’d never done narration (he’s a musician) but with various podcasts/articles we worked it out. Sure we made mistakes but eight months later there were two audio books for sale online.

What you will need to do your own recording

  1. Some sort of studio – you can make your own in a space that deadens sound. 
  2. Microphone + stand + Pop filter + headphones for use during editing. Ask around you might discover that people have these. Look online for suggested brands …
  3. Computer with recording/editing software. I just used the Garageband software that comes standard with an Apple Macintosh computer. This podcast gave me the exact numbers. I didn’t necessarily understand them but I followed them meticulously.
  4. Patience! Lots of this. It takes a while to learn how to do this.
  5. An expressive voice. 

Production process

1. Record

2. Edit – get rid of breathing effects, pauses …

3. Process – get it into correct format

4. Upload

Technical bits

These are the numbers that make my eyes glaze over. It is best to google these things for your particular recording software. Audacity (free), Garageband …

  • 1 chapter per file with the chapter heading read aloud
  • Room tone at beginning and end and no extraneous sounds
  • Be a 192 kbps or higher MP3., Constant Bit Rate (CBR) 44.1 kHz
  • Measure between -23dB and -18kB RMS and have -3dB peak values and a maximum -60dB noise floor

Tips on recording

  • Record at the same time each day – our voices sound different at different times of day
  • Aim for bursts of 2-3 hours
  • I found it easier to edit every chapter the minute I’d recorded it – this gave my voice the rest it needed. It also meant that I could keep a tally on my fingers of how many mistakes I made and make sure I caught them.
  • Every time you make a mistake or a parrot screeches outside (they do in Sydney), make a loud noice. I said ‘beep, beep, beep’ loudly so that the series of three spikes of sound would be visually noticeable. Then I would repeat the line. Keep a tally of how many mistakes you made. I didn’t have any ‘perfect’ chapters until well into my second book. Usually the more tired you are the more mistakes you’ll make. Ten mistakes/chapter was about my maximum but that really slows down the editing. I was happy when I had less than five.
  • Set up something like a music stand to put your ipad/computer on. You do not want the sound of pages turning or clicking. Sliding the page down works best.
  • Put tape on the floor so you can set up your microphone and stand at the same place each time. Make sure you stand or sit on a bar stool in a way that you’re comfortable. You’re going to be doing this a long time. You won’t be happy if you get back, arm or neck pain.
  • Wear comfortable clothes – that don’t rustle, creak or make any noise.
  • You’ll need plenty to drink. Warm water is best. Do a voice warm up treating your voice as a precious instrument.

Final listen through before uploading

By this stage of the project, I was sick of it. So I asked my Facebook friends if there was anyone who often listened to audio books and would be willing to listen to all my files.

I needed her to note:-

  • Extraneous noises, especially in the silent/room tone start and finish of each file
  • Any edits I’d missed letting her know about my ‘beep, beep, beep’ method.
  • Any stumbles …
  • And of course I needed to know the chapter and sentence.

Distribution options

As usual there are a variety of these that you need to consider and way up the advantages or disadvantages.

  1. ACX/Audible – this is the most well-known and as usual Amazon will attempt to get you to go exclusively with them. I believe it is a 7 year term! That’s forever in indie publishing. To convince you to go with them they have the $50 bonus deal. That is, if your book is the first audio book a new customer listens to you get paid this bonus. I presume I won’t get this as I’ve gone with Findaway. Amazon sets the price.
  2. Findaway – I worked with them via D2D. They distribute to about 30 companies including many libraries which is where most of my sales have been. I choose the price and can change it easily. I can choose to go exclusively with them for 6 months (which I’ve done) so that I receive 100 free codes of my book (only able to gift to people in US, UK, Australia and ? Canada). I’ve found them easy to work with. You can also hire narrators through them and interview candidates … if I was to do the process again I’d probably first upload with Audible and choose their ‘non-exclusive’ and then get Findaway to do the rest. Expect the process to take a month with Audible being by far the slowest to accept from Findaway.
  3. AudioRepublic – I know nothing about this option.

Ways to listen to/purchase audio books

  • Buy outright – This will cost between $10-20 per book as they are usually eight+ hours of listening.
  • Join a subscription service – you pay a monthly fee and can borrow a certain number of books. Examples are Scribd, Audible, Hoopla, Libby …
  • Borrow from a library – the author is usually paid a /listen fee. If your library doesn’t have a certain book, consider asking them to purchase one through Overdrive …

REMEMBER – love your author by reviewing their work online. You can copy and paste your review to various sites.

***Grace in Strange Disguise & Grace in the Shadows are both available as audio books. ***

Helpful links–A-Do-It-Yourself-Guide

2 thoughts on “Audio books – the why and how

  1. Wow, good on you for taking the plunge and learning how to do the audiobooks. It seems like an overwhelming amount of things to learn, but I imagine it will get easier with each new book. I’ve just finished listening to an audiobook and it’s a totally different experience to reading. It can really bring out the characters. I hope it all goes well for you. I might start with a podcast and see how I go 🙂

  2. Thanks Christine for an excellent outline as well as encouragement. Your comment that “Our God specialises in ‘fear busting’ when we trust in him and also is able to direct us to all the resources we need” has so many applications, and it spoke to me today. Some years back, as part of Cert IV practical experience, I assisted a Learning Assistance Teacher who had Year 8 and Year 9 students who struggled to read a novel and understand it. I spent several days with her ‘church sound guy’ narrating two books so that those students could listen as they read. It was an interesting experience – especially when, after five hours of narrating, the sound guy discovered he hadn’t actually recorded anything – which meant a do-over. I love the idea of audio books, not only for the situations you have mentioned and for the ‘assisted learning’ aspects, but also for those who are visually impaired. My mother loved audio books for that reason (back in the day when they were cassette tapes borrowed from the library). Must book mark this for future reference.

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