Take Advantage of the Growing Audio Market
You’ve taken the plunge into self-publishing, and now you’re considering creating an audiobook. You’ve heard that audiobooks are a good business opportunity, but how do you go about making one?
In this article, we’ll explain the possible approaches to creating an audiobook, along with their pros and cons. After reading, you’ll be able to make an informed plan and starting working toward your first audiobook release.
Why Make an Audiobook?
Audiobook sales are soaring in English-speaking markets—and it’s not just because of lockdowns in 2020. In fact, audiobooks have experienced eight straight years of double-digit growth. In the US alone, the audiobook publishing market has grown to encompass $1,100,000,000 of revenue as of 2021.
Clearly, there is a hunger for audiobooks. And it makes sense: they fill gaps in our daily routine that printed books and e-books don’t, such as when we’re travelling, exercising, or preparing food. Plus, most people already own a mobile device capable of playing audiobooks: a smartphone.
Some authors are concerned that audiobooks will steal sales from their other formats. At a market-wide level, across-the-board growth in print sales and ongoing strong e-book sales suggest this isn’t happening. Plus, more than half of audiobook listeners say they make “new time” for audiobooks and read more books overall as a result, while other readers credit audiobooks with helping them rediscover their love for reading.
In short, the business case for audiobooks is strong: added sales today, plus excellent year-over-year growth facilitated by a widely-adopted technology.
Best Audiobook Genres
Be forewarned, not all genres work well as audiobooks:
- A book that is intended specifically as a visual experience, such as a coffee-table photography book, obviously doesn’t make sense as an audiobook.
- A book that relies on diagrams, graphs, or images to convey key information won’t work as-is, although it may be possible to adapt it. Ask yourself whether the images in your book could be converted into short spoken passages that convey the same information. (For example, a diagram showing how to dress a turkey before roasting is helpful but could easily be narrated instead. Meanwhile, a map showing alternate routes between several towns, plus nearby landmarks, would be difficult to narrate in any useful way.)
- Reference books typically don’t work as audiobooks, because of the need either to search for particular words or to jump between sections easily.
However, any book that’s primarily running text, whether fiction or non-fiction, will likely work well as an audiobook. Some of the top audiobook genres, based on today’s sales charts, include:
- Self-help and self-improvement
- Business & Personal Finance
- Science fiction and fantasy
- Popular science
You may also have heard that autobiographies and memoirs do well as audiobooks. By the numbers, that’s true, but much like print and e-book editions, you need either a pre-existing “name” and platform or an excellent marketing campaign to perform well in these genres.
How to Create an Audiobook
The core of creating an audiobook is recording and editing the narration. You’ll also need to prepare the Whether creating your audiobook yourself or hiring professionals to do it, the core of the work will be recording and editing the narration. Lesser (but equally necessary) tasks include preparing the script, commissioning a cover design, mastering the edited recording, and uploading the package to a distributor.
Let’s take a look at what some of these terms mean, and then we’ll explore two approaches you can take to getting the work done—working with a company that can support you, or doing it yourself.
Narrating an audiobook is more than just “reading out loud”. The narrator needs to achieve an error-free performance, which is a challenge compared to speaking casually, where we make a surprising number of errors. Another challenge is that an untrained voice will begin to sound rough after 30-60 minutes of constant talking. (If you have public speaking experience, none of this is news to you!)
The average person speaks at a rate of 120-150 words per minute. This might seem to indicate that someone can record a 70,000-word novel in 10 hours, but a more realistic estimate would be 20-30 hours, depending on experience. Bad takes, interruptions, and preparation time all inevitably add to the total.
Recording, Editing, and Mastering
The job of the recording engineer is to set up a suitable recording environment and, using specialized hardware and software, to capture the performance into a digital file. After recording comes editing, which involves choosing the best takes, marking any passages that need re-recording, and “cleaning” the audio of defects such as pops and clicks. This process is laborious and can take three-to-four hours of work per finished hour of audio, depending on experience and the quality of the initial recording. (Note, this means that narration and editing together require five-to-seven hours per finished hour of audio!)
After editing comes mastering. This is where an edited recording is adjusted so that the volume is even throughout, with no sudden jumps. The tone will also be balanced, so that the final result sounds good on all types of speakers and headphones and won’t fatigue the listener’s ears.
Audiobooks use square cover images. If your book has already been published in print or ebook format, it may be possible to adapt your existing cover, or you may have received an audiobook format cover as part of a package you paid for. Otherwise, you’ll need to commission a new design.
Assembly and Uploading
When all of your final files are created, you’ll need to assemble them and upload to your distributor. You’ll need to make sure that what you upload meets the distributor’s specifications and requirements. (Be sure to check these requirements before you begin the recording step!)
So, now that you have some understanding of how to create an audiobook, what’s the best approach to use? There are two broad audiobook creation options, one costing mostly money, the other costing mostly time.
Approach One: Use Professionals
Using a professional narrator and audio engineer(s) allows you to spend less of your own time on your audiobook, and receive a reliable, high-quality result—but the investment is significant, often $2000US or more. The two most common ways to hire professionals are by using a marketplace, or by dealing with a specialist audiobook company.
A marketplace is a service that connects you with a variety of professional talent, allowing you to review samples, see prices, and choose the narrator you prefer. Two popular marketplaces for audiobook production are Findaway Voices and ACX. (The two sites work somewhat differently and offer different business terms. You should explore both to see which best fits your needs.)
The voice actor you hire will handle the recording process and deliver the final recording to you. Contract terms may be either a one-time fee, or a royalty-sharing agreement that delivers a percentage of each sale to the voice actor.
If you prefer an approach that’s even more hands-off, you can hire a company that specializes in recording audiobooks. The advantage of these companies is their integrated approach: because they specialize in recording audio, they’ll typically have a dedicated high-quality studio, a staff of experienced professionals, and a well-defined production process that produces reliable results. On the downside, they may have a smaller or more expensive roster of voice talent. Expect to receive an all-in-one quote and delivery of a complete (edited and mastered) audiobook.
If you need to minimize the time you put into audiobook production—for example, if you have an established writing routine and don’t want to disrupt it—or, if you really don’t want to handle the creative direction or price negotiations, using a specialist company could be a good option for you.
Approach Two: Do It Yourself
If your preference is to spend less money, but invest more time and effort, then the do-it-yourself approach may be best. Be forewarned that narration, recording, and editing all take practice. And no, DIY isn’t cost-free—particularly not the first time.
Recording your own audiobook gives you a very intimate connection to the final product, and if you do a high-quality job, it can give your readers a special connection to you. Plus, reading your script out loud can improve your writing, particularly (if you write fiction) your dialogue.
You’ll need to acquire some essential equipment for recording audiobooks:
- A high-quality vocal microphone. This is a purchase you can’t avoid and shouldn’t skimp on. (Expect to spend around $60US minimum.)
- A “pop guard” or “pop shield”, which is a small barrier of nylon or metal mesh which blocks bursts of air from B and P sounds that can ruin your recording.
- Depending on the acoustics of your recording space, you may also need an isolation box—a small, padded cube that surrounds your microphone on all sides but the front, blocking unwanted reflections from nearby walls and surfaces.
You’ll also need a computer with recording and editing software to create audiobooks. There are free options that will work just fine, though professional software often has features that can save time.
Note that if you live in a space where there’s constant noise (such as an apartment above a busy street), it’s unlikely you’ll be able to prepare this space for recording without a significant investment in soundproofing. In this situation, hiring professionals to record your audiobook may not cost any more than doing it yourself.
A complete how-to is beyond the scope of this article, but expect to learn and practice the following to record your own audiobook:
- How to use your recording and editing software, and how the various audiobook formats work.
- How to warm up your voice before recording, and things to avoid before a recording session.
- How to schedule your recording and editing sessions to avoid vocal, auditory, and mental fatigue. (The twenty-ninth hour of recording and re-recording your novel can test your endurance in ways you didn’t know were possible!)
- How to ensure recordings made on different days have the same tone.
Because of this learning curve, you might consider creating a short or free excerpt as your first audio release. Much like writing a short story before you dive into a complete novel, this will give you a low-risk opportunity to work out the kinks in your process. You’ll also get useful feedback from your dedicated readers: if they tell you the quality isn’t good enough, you have a chance to recalibrate before recording the full book. (And if they tell you it sounds amazing, that can give you the reassurance to forge ahead!)
You should also consider the possibility of hiring a professional to master your final recording. Much like a manuscript editor, their outside perspective can give much-needed objectivity. Plus, if you arrange to send them your first chapter for review, they can warn you of any serious problems before you record any more. Creating a partnership with a professional audio engineer can be a great way to ensure a high-quality result for your self-recorded audiobook.
Do Your Research and Be Heard
As you can see, there’s a lot of flexibility in how you go about creating your audiobook. You can choose to spend time or spend money, and to forge long-term creative partnerships or to outsource for minimal distraction.
Importantly, if your budget is tight, you don’t need to feel shut out of the growing audiobook market. With diligence, you can produce a quality audiobook your listeners will love.
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