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Indie Publishing: Lessons Learned in Audiobooks

As an indie author, I want to share my experiences and the lessons I learned from creating three audiobooks (so far). Each time, taught me new tricks I learned from pain points that may be useful to some of you.

This is my third post about audiobooks, proceed by a how-to and the personal aspects of transforming my written words into spoken form. While I devoured everything I could about creating audiobooks ahead of time, there were some aspects I wasn’t prepared for. I recommend that you do your own research before going down this route. Here, I'll try to add to your arsenal.

Note: My experience is with Sci-Fi Novels, so it may not apply to non-fiction or other genres.


The initial process of bringing a narrator onto my team was exactly like before. I wrote out the details, gave a synopsis of the book, described the characters in the 4-5 minute sample script they'd read, and laid out the marketing I'd do. It was easier this time because I used my first round as a template for the next ones.

ENLIST YOUR ALLIES Selecting the right narrator to create an exceptional audiobook is one of the hardest steps/decision for an author has to to make in the whole process. It's nerve-wracking and influences the rest of the process. On my first book, I chose the narrator all by myself. It made sense becauseI knew my novel better than anyone, right? I had a strong sense of what I was going for. I am happy with the result, but there was room for improvement.

The second and third time around, I enlisted my critique partners and beta readers to help me decide. Admitting that there is a difference between what I wrote and what readers perceived took a mound of humble pie. But humble pie I ate. After all, who is the audiobook for? If it wasn't for an audience, then I would have had it narrated, not published.

Like before, I weeded out the obviously weak auditions, then whittled it down to a handful of excellent samples, making sure to include different styles, including ones that I wasn’t thrilled about. I asked my beta readers to listen to them and choose their top two. Humble pie made its way onto the menu again. One narrator got nearly unanimous support as number one with a few side votes counting for a second. They were the ones I thought would be last and dead last in the bunch.

Suggestion: Be prepared to be wrong. You're too close to the words.

SECOND AUDITION Being more comfortable with this go around, I thanked the everyone else for auditioning and asked the top two narrators to record second takes. I provided a few small notes from my beta readers (not me) and they happily sent me a new audition.

Boy, was I surprised. One sent in not one, but two new auditions, saying that the latter one was "kinda out there, but could be great." He completely transformed one of the two main characters. At first, it was hard to leap the gap between the voice in my head and this over-the-top voice. Yet, it was outrageous in a way that fit the character perfectly. This narrator didn’t just provide a wonderful safe version, he put himself out there and showed he could embrace and embody the sardonic humor I intended for that character.

When I shared these two versions with my betas, they loved it. This new version overwrote all of our inner voices, but in a fantastic way.

I am so glad that I asked for a second audition. If I hadn’t I might have made a huge mistake. Further, if I hadn’t listened to my betas, I never would have chosen the incomparable Brian Avers.

WHEN IT WORKS…For my third book, I didn’t bother auditioning. Because I loved every aspect of working with Brian, it was a no-brainer. In fact, I wrote the book with Brian’s safer voices speaking the dialogue and describing the scenes. Being amenable to direction, he gave me two samples before we started so we could decide together on which voices we liked. Because I already trusted him, I gave him a little more leeway on the side characters than the first time with him (second narrated book). He kept his voices normal and perfectly suited to a scientist and spec ops team–except for a nutty Russian scientist who he nailed.‍

Make it Easy: Because the narrator had breadth of voice acting skill it was far easier than learning a new voice.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION One of my favorite parts of working with Brian was that he wanted feedback. He wasn’t insecure, knowing that he’ll do a better job if he had a partner in crime. This isn’t to say he wanted me to wade in on the minutia. That would have ruined his process and the narration as a whole. But, when something didn’t sit right, I’d let him know. More often than not, he had wondered about those sections and was glad that I pointed them out.

We went back and forth about every chapter. Sometimes I realized that I screwed up in a word choice, and his recording made it glaringly obvious. Writing for reading and writing for narration are different. You have to make sure the words sound great in both. That's why I listen to a text-to-speech version of my books before publishing the digital and physical versions. He was amenable to let me fix some of the problems, which usually only required changing a couple words. (You can update novels after publication.) With the new words, he’d record that sentence again and sometimes the whole paragraph to make the recording flow. Brian's commitment to staying in touch throughout the process gave me peace of mind.

WRITING FOR AUDIO As I mentioned above, I wrote my first two books with the written word in mind. I approached my third book with narration as the ultimate goal. I paid more attention to dialogue tags, pacing, and overall structure to enhance the listener's experience. While visual readers practically ignore the “he said” and “she said” markers, they can ruin a verbal back and forth when over-used.

On the printed page, readers often translate between formal grammar and the way one might actually speak. But, if a narrator says those same words, it won’t be nothin’ but a bag o’ bugs on a pile o’ dung. Here's how I use Google's speech-to-text to listen to my books as a polishing step of editing, so I can hear how it should be written. It usually takes me a few listens to hone it in perfectly.

MARKETING Let's start by saying that the marketing algorithms change every time I think I have marketing figured out. If anyone says they have the magic bullet, don't listen to them.

Advertising and selling ebooks on online platforms like Amazon is almost identical to selling paperbacks on those platforms. For me, both are losing propositions. Because I have to set my prices low as a self-publishing author, I can't seem to sell enough to offset the costs.

Audiobooks are different. Your support team of written word beta readers aren’t necessarily big listeners. You need to reach out to a different group of ARC readers and advertise to a different audience. Auditory people often consume their news verbally, listen to podcasts, and frequent talkshows. Many of us are lysdexic or have other challenges with reading.

Pre-gaming your marketing strategies is critical for success. For my third book, I built anticipation through social media teasers, engaging with my existing readers, and partnering with a few podcasts who have overlap with my readers’ interests. On my first book, I didn’t realize how far in advance I had to schedule out podcasts. Some take months, or even half a year to schedule out. By investing time and effort into pre-release marketing, I reached a wider audience and generate "excitement" around the audiobook before the release date.

GENRES & DEMOGRAPHICS Because each of my novels is aimed at different listeners (Young Adult, Sardonic Space Opera, and Apocalyptic) I had to figure out strategies to engage them differently and couldn’t rely on repeat customers. Do a little research on your ideal listener before you start advertising or spreading the word. If I’d studied the market before I made my young adult audiobook I could have saved a ton of money.

There are tons of audiobooks in Young Adult fiction, which means the competition is fierce. To make it harder, a wider range of auditory readers consume the genre, which means you can't focus on a single subset of people, which spreads your efforts too thin.

Space Opera and Apocalyptic genres are less saturated and have a narrower demographic, making them easier to break into. In my experience (which may be different from yours) it has been easier to compete in the space opera and apocalyptic genres. It costs less to advertise. I know who my potential listeners are.

For my second and third books, beta listeners helped me identify who to advertise to, and who not to engage. They let me know what appealed them about the books and even wrote endorsements.

RECOUPING COSTS As an indie author, buying your way into the audiobook realm comes with a significant financial cost. While I haven't sold as many audiobooks as I'd hoped, I remain positive and committed to earning back my investment and then some. The third book has paid for itself and now is paying off my first book. My second book will eventually cover its cost, but will take a few years. I move closer to my goal of paying off the production costs with each sale. If I stopped at the first audiobook, digging myself out of the red with ebook and print books wouldn’t be possible (unless I miraculously break out into wild success).‍

Creating audiobooks has been a humbling experience. It enriched my storytelling in ways I didn't understand when I started writing. If you have questions that I haven’t answered yet, please reach out via X, Facebook, or on my website.


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

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