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Indie Publishing: How-To Make an Audiobook

This is one self-published author’s take on creating audiobooks. The post is mostly about the process. I have other posts on lessons learned and the experience. I focus on ACX because that is what I know. So, let's dive in.

Audiobooks: A How-To

Audiobooks have skyrocketed in popularity, expanding on the world of storytelling for indie and self-published authors. Gone are the days where listeners' options are limited. Platforms like Audible and Libby. Listeners like me can enjoy books while commuting, washing dishes, or simply relaxing. By converting your book into an audiobook, you can tap into a growing market and reach a wider audience that is hungry for stories like yours.

"Over the last 10 years, the share of US adults who listen to audiobooks has grown by more than 100%."



BUDGET The first thing you should know is that creating an audiobook can cost next to nothing, or it can break the bank. If you have a rich voice and can do accents, then recording your own narration might be for you. If you're like me, you have two options. 1) Tap a friend that is generous enough to give 10-30 hours of their time to you. 2) Find a producer on Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) or a similar websites (expensive). Whatever route you choose, regardless of the size of your bankroll, a poor-quality recording will cost you too much.

"Audible platform has a 63.4% market share in the audiobook publishing category."


NARRATING YOURSELF Nobody knows your book like you do. You know the intonations, the accents, the pacing, and where to be goofy or serious. So, if you have the skill set to do so, it's the best route. If you don't plan to record yourself, skip over this section.

But, before you begin, be honest with yourself. Is your voice audiobook ready? If you're not sure, then you should find out ahead of time. Record a several-minute excerpt from your book, ideally a section with the accents and genders you'll use throughout the book. Share that recording with a few strangers (family and friends will lie to you). It's easy to find critics with the following links: Beta Readers and Critiques on FB, and /BetaReaders on Reddit. You certainly don't need to pay a beta to listen. Be direct and tell the listener that you want honest feedback even if it's harsh. If you don't get glowing reviews, please find someone else to do the recording.

If you're going the DIY route, you'll want to create a recording studio. Find a place that is quiet. Air conditioning, street noise, and family life will ruin your narration. Next, borrow or buy a recording kit. You can find ones that range from free (your Phone) to astronomical. There are a ton of knowledgeable sites that recommend the best podcasting equipment. (I don't advertise or endorse.)

Unlike a blog, newsletter, and social posts, you may want a teleprompter app so you don't have to flip pages, whether digital or physical. Physically turning the page adds noise to the background. Scrolling may distract you.

Perhaps the most important step is to consider your health. This includes creating an ergonomic setup so you won't be tempted to shift in your seat (noise), slouch (aching back), or change the distance between your mouth and the microphone. Also health related, take breaks and lubricate your vocal cords regularly. Otherwise, you'll end up in pain and deteriorating quality of recording.

Lastly, get to know your software before you start recording, including tools to remove residual background noise and how to splice different takes together and adjust them so they sound continuous. There's almost nothing worse than turning up an audiobook to hear a nearly whispered section then have it blare in your ear with a booming voice the next.


MEET ACX ACX.com, an Amazon-owned platform, provides a seamless and user-friendly way to turn your book into an audiobook for a hefty price. It connects authors with talented narrators and producers, making the process more accessible and efficient than ever before. There are other sites, but I am not familiar with those, so I'll stick with what I know.

"Audible generates over $1.19 billion in audiobook sales revenue per year."



PREPARATION Before diving in, take some time to pre-game. Ensure your book is professionally edited, polished, and ready to captivate listeners. Once it's recorded, it will be extremely expensive to fix.

Text-to-Speech: Listen to your written work through a text-to-speech app. It will show you where things that can be read come across as strange when spoken out loud. It's different from when you read out loud. Or, at least it is for me. Read more here.

Target Reader: Consider who your target audience is. Generally, what do the listeners in your genre like? Listen to successful audiobooks aimed at the same people sound like. Are they drawn to deep voices? A wide range of accents? Slow and steady?

Comps: I know that choosing a couple similar books to yours is hard. Do it anyway. Who narrated those books. Telling narrators what you're looking for will help them aim for that.

Characters: Write a description of each character's voice. Male? Female? Child? Accent? Harsh? Smooth?

Suggestion: If the characters' voices in your head, are similar to actors/actresses, then write them down.

Blurb: You want the auditioning voice actors to understand the gist of your book. Otherwise, they may miss the point even though they were perfect for the job. Make the blurb short but informative. If you don't have one yet, this post may help.

Budget: Have a ballpark estimate of what you can afford. More about this later.

Remember, ACX's goal is to help you audition voice actors and select the one who will bring your story to life. By setting up the audition correctly with pre-planning, you'll have plenty of narrators to choose from.


SIGNUP

You can sign up and create an account with your your standard Amazon login. This has pros and cons. Pro: it's seamless and easy. You don't need to remember a new password or which email you used. Con: your audiobooks will be linked to your personal account, so if you want to publish with a professional email linked to your website, your stuck.

While nobody but you will know either way, I find it useful to have all of my book-related activities linked to a separate account.



CLAIM YOUR WORK

Once you're signed up, it's easy to claim your title on ACX. Here are the steps.

Log In: Log in to your ACX account or create one if you haven't already. (Use a professional Amazon login...for reasons.).

Find Your Book: Search for your audiobook title by entering the ISBN, title, or author name in the search bar.

Access Details: Select the gray button that says "Claim Title" to the right of your book's image and title.

Producer: A pop-up will ask you if you want to find a producer or upload files yourself. Select the way you're going to go. I'm not sure you can change it after the fact.

Agreements: You'll have to agree to ACX's ACX Book Posting Agreement to proceed. As always, if you're concerned, contact legal council.



TITLE PROFILE

The next task after claiming your title is to enter the book details that aren't automatically transferred from Amazon. It breaks down like this:

Book Details: Enter the necessary meta-data associated with your book like genre, copyright owner (you), your publisher (you or your publishing entity/pen name), and book word count. Word count equates roughly to how many finished hours your book will be.

Chapter Names: I import the chapter names from my kindle version via the gray button above the text box. I trust it over possible errors if I did it myself. Still, double check it.

Distribution: Here is the second biggest decision you'll have to make. The choice is whether to get 40% of the revenue from each purchase by limiting your audiobook to Amazon and Audible or get 25% on Amazon and Audible to sell your book on other platforms like Apple Books. More on this below.

Hint: you can save your choice and come back to this later. Take your time to make a decision.

Auditions: You can choose to have narrators audition or reach out to specific narrators that you have already identified. This is where you'll be glad you pre-planned. You'll choose:

  • Gender of Narrator

  • Language of Text

  • Accent of Main Character (optional)

  • Voice Age of Main Character (optional)

  • Vocal style (optional)

  • Script: This is also where you upload the audition script/page(s) that they will use to audition. You'll want to select a section where there is narration and dialogue between the main characters. This is 2-3 pages double spaced. Voice actors are most comfortable with double spaced, Times New Roman, left-justified, text.

Hint: Use a PDF because any narrator can read it whereas some don't have MS Word or other writing software.

  • Script Notes: Give the voice actors some guidance about the characters. If one is an old Irish woman, another is a surfer dude, and the third is English royalty, they'll need to know which one is which. Also tell them the setting. You don't want a mundane read for dialogue in the middle of a battle scene.

Project budget: This is a detail where you'll want to dig deep and ask yourself what your budget and risk tolerance is.

  • Pay For Production: You can receive a maximum of 40% revenue from Audible by paying the entire narration fees. If you chose to distribute through other platforms above, you'll earn a maximum of 25% revenue from Audible sales. If you choose this option, you'll be asked to choose a range of pay you are comfortable with.

  • Royalty Share: You split the revenue from sales fifty-fifty with the narrator and they narrate for free. Experienced narrators never go for this because they know most audiobooks never earn enough to cover what they're worth. You may find fantastic newcomers this way.

  • Royalty Share Plus: You pay a one-time fee and split the royalties fifty-fifty. This will attract a couple of more experienced narrators who are willing to take on some risk. It's a hard deal to swallow, but a great narrator can make the difference between no sales and a bunch of sales.

Note to Producers: If you plan to go with royalty sharing (plus), you'll need to give them a reason to think your book will earn royalties. Do you have a bunch of X followers or a YouTube channel with tons of views? What is your marketing plan? Why do you think your audiobook will sell when so many don't.



RATES - PAY FOR PRODUCTION

You can set the pay range you're willing to front on a per finished hour (PFH) basis. Remember that as authors, we understand the need to be paid for our art. Narrators are no different.

  • Some new voice actors charge as little as $50 PFH so they can build a portfolio and gain experience. At this rate, a 10-hour read 90k-word book will cost you $500.

  • The highest I've seen on ACX is $450 pfh. The same book would cost $4,500.

  • Experienced excellent voice actors often belong to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which sets their minimum PFH rate as $250 (2023). That equates to a $2,500 audiobook.

  • Remember, you can reduce some narrators' rates by half with profit sharing plus.

  • Paying less for a bad narration may mean you don't earn any royalties.

  • Most authors don't earn out, especially for self-published audiobooks with low-quality recordings.

"The average narrator charges around $200 per finished hour"



SALES

I'll post a short read about my experiences, which will get into the sales of Audibles. The big question there is "How many eyeballs glance can I get on my audio baby?" You should be prepared to not recover your costs even if you spend on marketing.

"In total, Audible produces 10,000 titles annually."



SETUP THE SCRIPT

As mentioned before, you'll want to prepare a document to share the section of text you want the narrators to audition with. With a bit of work, you'll get more and better voice actors.

  • Select a 2-300 word piece of text, which equates to about 3-minutes of spoken word.

  • Reread the chosen excerpt thoroughly. Pay attention to the character voices in your head. Consider their emotions.

  • Jot down notes about the text sample to share with the narrators to give them the best chance of success. Give any special instructions or accents that stand out. Don't inundate them with details because they won't be able to absorb them all.

  • Dialogue is important because it shows how they perform different voices.

  • Convey the desired style/tone for your whole book.

  • Save and upload the document as a double-spaced, Times New Roman, left-justified PDF. If you come across as professional, you're more likely to land an excellent narrator.

  • Set an audition deadline.

  • State that if selected, you expect continuous communication.

By following these steps, you'll be well-prepared to hold a successful audition and find the right narrator to bring your book to life on ACX.

"An Audible narrator will speak around 155 words per minute"



CHOOSE A NARRATOR

There is no one way to select a narrator from the 20-80 auditions that will fly in over the first three days. Don't feel obliged to choose right away. It's more important to get the right voice for the job than to rush it. Patience pays off. Here are several things to consider.

Price: is the obvious limiting factor. Some narrators will audition at a higher rate than your stated range. Stick to your budget.

AI Narrations: Watch out for AI auditions. They're getting better, but you'll regret it in the end.

Noise: Quickly throw out half of the narrators based on sound quality. Listen for static or sounds in the background.

Voice: If they don't have the voice you want, don't feel bad about chucking them out. A nasally tone or emotionless voice is a waste of time, money, and energy.

and voice.

Stalk Them: Find them on Audible/Apple Books. Listen to the free samples of their narrated books. Check their ratings.

Online Presence: Glance at their social media presence to see if they can/will help promote your audible. Most can't or won't.

Communication: How do they communicate? Will they chat with you over ACX's messaging to discuss their audition.

File Ownership: Ask if they will give you the finished audio files after the final payment. (Royalty Sharing authors may not.)

Timeline: What is their lead time until they can get to your project. Some are booked out for half a year. Does their timeline match yours?

Remember: Patience is important.

Feedback: Are they open to suggestions and spotted errors? Will they let you listen and give feedback on a chapter-by-chapter basis rather than at the very end?

Speed it Up: Many audiobook fans listen at 1.2-1.5 times speed, so make sure the auditions are clear and engaging at those speeds.

Note: audiobook narration should hit a spoken rate around 155 words per minute.



NAIL THE PERFORMANCE Once you choose your narrator, it's time to embark on the exciting production phase. Collaborate closely with your chosen voice actor. Providing guidance and feedback early and often to ensure the performance captures the essence of your book. Good voice actors are better at this than you, so accept most of their instincts. They view your novel from an unbiased first-time reader's perspective. If you don't like where they are going with it by the 15-minute checkpoint that Audible requires, do NOT move forward.


QUALITY MATTERS To create a professional and captivating audiobook, focus on voice and sound quality. Pay attention to sound editing, audio levels, and overall production quality to ensure an enjoyable listening experience. Hissing, buzzing, mumbling, monotone voice, and other factors mean the audio sample won't appeal to listeners.

Consequences: Bad Amazon ratings and reviews for your audiobook bring down your rating for all formats.



APPROVALS

You have the option to approve or not approve the "final" version. You have to be reasonable, but you should never accept a product with fixable errors. Look for:

  • Mispronunciation,

  • Incorrect words,

  • Repeated words,

  • Missing words or sentences,

  • Wrong voices in dialogue,

  • Clicks, pops, dings, &

  • Voice level.

This means you MUST LISTEN to all of the audio files while visually reading your manuscript.



CELEBRATE THE LAUNCH Finally, when your audiobook is ready, it's time to celebrate! Announce your new creation through social media, your author's website, and any other marketing channels you utilize. Engage with your audience, host giveaways, and encourage listeners to leave reviews, building buzz around your audiobook. Give out free promotional books to those who will give honest reviews. Personally, hearing my book in narrated form is an exhilarating experience that I value beyond measure. It immerses readers, including me, in a whole new dimension of storytelling. ACX can serve you well, whether by pairing you with a narrator or by helping you navigate the production process. So, embrace the power of voice and embark on this exciting journey. Captivate your listeners!

Next week, I'll post part two: Audiobooks: A Personal Perspective.


 

As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.



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