Audio books have taken off big-time in recent years, and many writers are looking at recording their fiction for Audible or other audio platforms. But what does it take? And are you ready? This how-to will help you to decide.
I trained in radio, so I thought recording an audiobook would be straightforward. It turns out there’s a heck of a lot to learn! Here are some of questions to consider in deciding whether to go ahead and record your audio books.
1. Listen to audiobooks in your genre
Get to know the audiobook market for in your genre, by listening to some examples.
This needn’t cost a lot. You can listen to audio book samples on Amazon (the audio equivalent of Look Inside).
Sign up to the free Audible trial and choose a book in your favourite writing genre.
Fire up your Kindle and try out Whispersync, the synchronization platform that lets you switch seamlessly between audio and ebook.
Get a sense of what you enjoy, different voice artists, what voices work for you. Find out how your genre and favourite writers come across in audio books. This will help you decide whether you love the medium enough to invest in audio production.
2. Decide whether the expense of audio recording is worth it
Recording audio books takes a looooong time. The rule of thumb for the voice recording industry is around six hours’ production for one finished hour of audio.
Audible suggests a speaking speed of around 9,400 words per hour. My 50k book amounts to around 5 hours of audio. So, that’s around 30 hours of time!
If you’re paying a voice artist or narrator with their own home studio, you’re looking at £250-£450 per finished hour. That’s a starting point of £1,250 for my relatively short book.
If you consider writing as a business rather than a hobby, you’ll need to weigh up whether your audio book will recoup that investment over its lifetime.
Or, you could go the cheaper DIY route, and record your audiobook yourself. But first, ask yourself:
3. Assess your performance skills
Most writers have done workshops and readings, and enjoy reading their work aloud. But that’s very different to spending 30 hours in a cramped space, recording and editing your own voice. It’s extremely gruelling, and audio book narrators earn every penny they charge.
Listen to professional voice artists, compare with your own recorded voice , and ask yourself honestly whether you can equal those skills.
Non-fiction is slightly more forgiving than fiction, since you don’t have to create lots of distinct characters or evoke a complete world.
Non-fiction writers who record their own books are also more acceptable to listeners, as your authentic voice can add authority to your message.
The main challenge with non-fiction is to make it interesting, since it doesn’t have the excitement of multiple character voices.
Hiring a traditional recording studio and sound engineer is expensive. Unless you’re keen to voice your own work, it’s cheaper to hire an audio book narrator with their own home studio. See ACX and Findaway Voices to get started.
If you’re really keen, the next step is to set up your own studio. You don’t need a lot of space – a small room usually has less echo than a large one.
Some people record books in wardrobes “treated” with clothes to absorb echo, and get decent audio quality. Unlike with video, no one will ever know you weren’t in Abbey Road Studio.
But you do need funds to buy kit, and you do need to ask yourself:
4. Assess your technical audio skills
This is the crunch question, in my view. I have a radio background and have done a lot of live news and feature work. However, I’ve still found it a big leap to establish a home recording studio setup and get a high quality recording.
You may be thinking: how hard can it be? Everyone has a voice recorder on their phone nowadays. Everyone is doing podcasts. You can get those little lavalier lapel mikes cheaply. My mate Dave has a few old mics going spare now he’s left the band.
But for successful results, you need good audio recording foundations. High quality capture is vital. It’s nearly impossible to sort out capture issues in post production.
Audio book recording steps include:
- Find a suitable room /cupboard with no external noise, dampen echo, and remove all acoustic interruptions.
- Research kit, and get a decent mic and preamp that suits your voice. If you have a quiet voice like me, this can take some time. I ended up getting a Beyerdynamic ribbon mic, which is a bit unusual for home studios, but works for me.
- Set a kit budget. There are two main sound kit streams, which use different technical standards. Sound kit made for digital devices uses USB and minijack connectors. Audio professionals use XLR and ¼ inch jack-type cables – the same kind as pro musicians. The two different standards typically don’t meet, so you’ll either need a USB microphone, or some kind of interface or mixer. See the ACX site for recommendations for different budgets.
- Get sound editing software, and practise till it’s second nature and you’re superfast. I use Adobe Audition as I’m on Creative Cloud. Audacity is a free, open source equivalent.
- Learn how to do compression, equalizing and other processes to prepare your audio files for uploading.
Your files then have to be approved by ACX. The first time, mine were rejected, and I had to do the whole thing again (noise floor issues – the room had too much echo, and my voice was too quiet in the mix).
Record a small sample and get ACX to check it before embarking on a whole project. Take your time!
The Audible production platform, ACX, has loads of information on the different audio book options, including training videos, and experienced narrators for hire.
Check out www.acx.com for an up-to-date overview.
5. Practise reading your audio book out loud
Even if you’re not a performer, and you plan to hire a voice artist, it’s still helpful to perform your book out loud. It’s amazing how editorial muddiness and overwriting jumps out when you hear it echoing round a room.
And don’t be tempted to read your book with your interior head voice. It just isn’t the same as speaking the words and sentences out loud. It doesn’t give the same sense of music, pace and flow, or alert you to potential tongue twisters.
If you can’t bear the thought of reading your whole book aloud, use a text-to-speech app. The Speak function in Word is free – use the Office Help feature to add it to your toolbar.
The synthetic voice will accentuate anything that lacks clarity and economy, and also help you pick up overlooked typos (a useful tip for editing in general).
If you’re keen to record your audio book, go right ahead! If you love a technical challenge and have a knack for performance, you’ll find it interesting, fun and highly satisfying.