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Narrate Your Audiobook

How to Create and Narrate Your Audiobook

Your self-published book is finally finished. You lovingly and painstakingly nurtured it over many months, maybe even years, transforming it from a few scrawled notes into a sleekly bound thing of beauty. There’s nothing quite like holding a copy in your hands, reading through it a few dozen times, and feeling enormously proud.

Well, actually, there is something like it… hearing it as an audiobook.

I recently recorded my self-published book, Let It Out, about my approach to singing, and then released it for sale on Amazon. Here are some things I learned along the way about creating an audiobook.

Which Way Do You Go?

Right off the bat, I’ll say that making an audiobook is not for every author. But bear in mind that audiobook sales continue rising and are outperforming print sales. People are more plugged into their electronic devices than ever and are listening to a lot of books.

The question becomes how to go about creating and narrating your audiobook. You have a few options:

  1. Do it all yourself – recording, editing, equalization, uploading.
  2. Record your voice and have another person edit the tracks.
  3. Hire a studio and engineer.
  4. Have someone else narrate and produce it.

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I went with option one. I already had the equipment (nothing fancy) and I kept full creative control. Just know that this option takes time. A lot of it.

There’s a big learning curve. But it’s not impossible. Many people have done it. Why not you?

Just set aside plenty of time. It won’t take anywhere near as long as writing your book, but allow a few weeks to a few months. My audiobook took ten weeks, working part-time.

I’ll cover DIY first and talk about hiring a studio and auditioning voice actors a bit later.

Narrate Your Audiobook Yourself

Recording your book with your own voice lends your work authenticity and “genuineness”. You get to do it all your way.

But DIY means what it says. You produce the entire project. You do everything, unless you can pay someone to help or maybe exploit a family member.

The Time Factor

If your book is 40,000 words, that translates into about 4.5 to 5 hours of finished recordings. (My own book is 53,000 words and the audiobook running time is 5 hours 40 minutes.) But you will be narrating for much longer than 5 hours. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll rework some sections, you’ll start again after interruptions.

Then there’s the many hours of editing and EQ work and mastering. For every hour of raw material, allow 5 to 6 hours of editing.

Before You Begin

Decide which platform(s) you want to use for selling your audiobook. There are many and their numbers are growing. Each has its own rules about how much you’ll earn and technical specifications for recordings.

I used ACX because it’s part of Amazon, the largest distributor of them all. People download the audiobooks through Audible. (By the way, distributors set the selling price for you based on running time. Saves you figuring it out.)

Setup

When you're ready to begin narrating your audiobook, here's what you need:

SETUP NARRATING AUDIO
  • Deadening. The deader the space, the better. A room with a “live” acoustic is terrible. A great idea at home is to put the mic on a table right up against an open closet full of clothes. That’s what I did, plus I added a few pillows around me. Some people make a little “house” of pillows with the mic inside. Note: If you use a desk, cover it with thick blankets to eliminate thumps from your hands or arms.
  • USB microphone. You don’t have to spend thousands. I have a $200 cardioid condenser mic (ordered online) and it works great. USB is important because that’s how it plugs into your computer. Don’t use your phone.
  • USB microphone. You don’t have to spend thousands. I have a $200 cardioid condenser mic (ordered online) and it works great. USB is important because that’s how it plugs into your computer. Don’t use your phone.
  • Stand or cradle. Your microphone has to be supported, anchored, and stable. A little desktop camera tripod can work.
  • Pop guard. A cheap screen that attaches to your microphone and eliminates pops from heavy ‘p’ sounds and stops you spitting in your mic.
  • Laptop or desktop computer. Producing an audiobook with a tablet is a pain.
  • Recording software. You can download several for no cost. I used Audacity.
  • Soundproofing. You don’t have to build a professional studio. But do what you can to cut down noise being picked up by the mic. Remember that air conditioners, fans, and central heating make noise. So do children, animals, rain, clock chimes, washers, lawnmowers, toilets, dishes clinking, doors closing, floorboards creaking. Software tricks can filter out some sounds, but not all. It’s far better to re-record a sentence than spend hours trying (and failing) to remove a background sound.

Good Tips From Those Who Have Done This Before 

  • Be consistent. Have the recording setup the same every time.
  • Spend a few days playing around with dummy sample runs and listening back.
  • Figure out your ideal distance from the mic.
  • Set your pacing. (Don’t worry about pauses at this point. They can be shortened or lengthened in editing.)
  • Play with the software.
  • Follow advice/instructional pages. Especially learn software noise filters that can reduce noisy and annoying inhale sounds and room noise.
  • Learn about equalization and how to cut out the frequencies from 20 to 60 hertz (or even 80) because the human voice doesn’t go this low.
  • Write down equalization levels, effects and filters that create a sound similar to other audiobook samples out there.
  • Run samples past people whose ears you trust.
  • Start each track with 1.5 to 2 seconds of silence and finish each with 5 seconds of silence.
  • Learn now about the recording standards required by ACX. You will quickly get used to terms like peak level, RMS level, noise floor, etc. If you are using Audacity, I strongly recommend you download Nyquist Prompt add-on for Audacity. With this you can be sure every file meets ACX’s requirements. This is really important, because when you think you’ve finished editing a recording, it still has to pass ACX’s standards.
  • Record for only an hour or two per day. Your voice will become tired quickly.
  • Eat tart apples to eliminate wet mouth noises, clicks and smacks. These sounds are really annoying and can’t be edited out. Tart apples work better than water here.
  • After every chapter or section, listen to it again while following the text. You’ll be amazed how many times you might say the wrong word or skip a line or two.
  • Learning how to edit so that you create quality, consistent tracks takes trial and error, but you don’t need to be a professional.
  • Each chapter must be its own individual recording. Even you reading the title of the book and your name as author constitutes a chapter.

When You Think You're Done

Before you upload, listen to the entire thing again and follow the text. For example, I found that I had been inconsistent with the gaps between sentences from one chapter to the next.

Hiring a Studio

A studio costs around $100 to $200 an hour, sometimes more. And editing takes about five times longer than the time spent recording the raw material. If you’re in the position where you can afford that, you’re lucky. Be prepared to spend at least $5,000.

If that cost doesn’t deter you, or your printed book sales are strong enough that it’s a worthwhile investment, you’ll get a professional audiobook product much quicker than you could do yourself.

Auditioning

Many authors aren’t confident in their abilities to record and produce their audiobooks. Or they don’t like their own voice in recordings. So they go on ACX and ask registered voice actors on there to audition. (As a singer and vocal coach, I’m accustomed to voice work and have no problem hearing myself on recording.)

As the author, you get to choose from the auditions you receive and negotiate a contract. You can even request specific voice types, accents, energy levels, characteristics, etc. Contracted actors not only supply the vocal recordings using their own setups, they are also producers responsible for quality products. So choose wisely.

You decide how an actor/producer gets paid, likely based on sales you make. Choose between flat rate per finished hour of material and royalty share.

If nobody auditions, there are a few possible reasons:

  • The material isn’t as good as you think. (Many authors don’t understand just how important good editing is for turning unshaped material into sparkling copy).
  • The material is tough to turn into an engaging listening experience.
  • The actor isn’t confident of sales volume.
  • Actors pick and choose their genres. Sometimes they’re busy.

 Good luck with your audiobook. You can do it! Just allow time and enjoy learning the process. 

As always, when in doubt, talk to the best in the indie publishing help game to give yourself the best chance of emerging with a brilliant print book, eBook, and audiobook.

About the Author John Newell

John is a writer/editor, content marketing manager, singing coach and author of Let It Out, a handbook for vocalists. He has also launched a website to help others suffering with depression: www.depression-survivor.com. Aside from his lovely wife and children, there is nothing John loves more than turning a phrase until it catches the light.

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