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What Do I Need to Know to Record an Audiobook?

May 26, 2021

First things first: the audiobook market is exploding. It is now a $1.2 billion business when ebooks are a $983 million business. In other words, for the first time ever, US audiobook sales have outgrown ebook sales. The most popular genres are mystery/crime, suspense, science fiction and fantasy, personal growth and career and money and longer books often do better since Audible works on a credit system and it makes more sense to use a credit for a longer book.

Another thing to know upfront (and forgive me if this is obvious): you need a different cover than the print and ebook because it has to be square.

So what else do you need to know?

Anyone Can Do It

Before 2011, Audible had to acquire your book and only 3% of books were acquired. This meant that they set you up with a booth and engineer, handled the cover and uploading and owned the rights. In 2011, they opened up Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) which made it so that anyone can upload their book and sell it on Audible, provided it met their requirements. As of now, over 100,000 authors have uploaded via ACX.

But be forewarned: ACX doesn’t have nearly the customer service Audible has; when my company was having trouble getting through to anyone at ACX, we had contacts at Audible who told us they were entirely separate companies and couldn’t help us.

It's Harder Than You Think

I know the fantasy of recording your audiobook; I had it myself!

But here's the reality: you’re stuck in a booth for hours upon hours (I highly recommend breaking it up so you give your voice time to rest; spread it over a week if possible). And it takes practice. When I recorded Make Your Mess Your Memoir, I had screwed up the levels so I had to re-record the entire book. And you'd better believe I was much better the second time. This isn’t to say you need to read it through one full time before recording but the practice is going to make it better.

You may want to consider getting a narrator but of course, there are serious pros and cons to that. Many nonfiction authors want to narrate their own books because they’re so close to the material and many listeners want to hear them read by the authors because it’s a way to really get inside an author’s head. It is the ultimate connection – as the author, you’re with your reader while they walk, drive, clean and do whatever they do when they listen to books. But if you do want to work with a narrator, you can get one through AC and even split profits with them so you’re not paying anything up front. If you have zero audio or entertainment experience, this may be your best bet. So be honest with yourself. Don’t trick yourself into thinking it’s just a glamorous fun thing because it’s really not.

If you have a podcast, you probably should read it because you have audio experience and also because people know and hopefully love your voice. 

Programs like one in beta at Descript.com will allow anyone to create a digital voice double, so that “you” can read your book, without really reading your book. In other words, those hours you would spend reading it could become maybe an hour as you set up the program.

You Need the Right Recording Space 

You need a quiet, sound-friendly place to record it. A sound studio is best but otherwise, if you just record in your room with your iPhone, ACX will not approve it. Worst of all, they can take months to approve and then, if you need to fix something, you have to resubmit it, which means it takes even longer.

This means that if you have a book launch planned, you can miss making it because of Audible's approval process and you never know how long it's going to take. We once waited 6 months for them to approve one of our books while Make Your Mess Your Memoir was approved right away . To make sure you don’t cause yourself unnecessary anxiety, I suggest planning to launch your audiobook months after your paperback and ebook release. Then you can only be pleasantly surprised if it's ready in time. 

You Need the Right Help

If you can get a director/engineer– someone who will tell you that you didn’t sound impassioned enough on a certain line or could do better - you’re going to be better off. Ideally, that person has read the book ahead of time and is familiar with the material. Of course, you can improvise; I had my boyfriend sit outside my sound booth and note whenever I made a mistake. You definitely don’t want to do it alone because it will be way more work for the sound editor, which you’ll be paying for!

Your sound editor may be the engineer or someone else. This person will listen to the entire recording, compare it to the text and note when phrases are unclear or something needs to be redone and then give you the lines to re-record and then splice those in.

After editing, the book needs to be mastered. Possibly your editor can do it, or someone else can. 

You Need to Decide if You’re Selling on Audible Exclusively

To be clear, Audible means Audible, Amazon and Apple. Audible counts for about half of audio sales and that's a significant portion but, of course, some people are vehemently anti-Amazon.

An advantage to doing it just on Audible is that your royalties are higher: for an exclusive contract, your royalties are 40% while a non-exclusive contract means your royalties are 25%. Audible requires authors to sign a seven-year contract for exclusivity but that really doesn't mean anything because you can change it to non-exclusive after one year.

A popular option for many authors is Findaway Voices (FV), which gives you a higher royalty rate. FV is a reasonable option as they get your audiobook on numerous bookstore and library sites.

Another advantage to FV is they have a partnership with Chirp, which is the audio version of BookBub—a site that can blow up your sales if they select your book for a featured deal. (Note: the selection process is extremely competitive so this is only relevant for a fraction of authors.)

An advantage or disadvantage to FV, depending on your point of view: When a book is kicked back for not meeting audio requirements, FV will automatically fix the issue without telling the author. Still, the quality usually isn’t as high, and that can affect the author's ratings and reviews. 

All that being said, I tried FV and didn't have a good experience. While I could get support from actual people (as opposed to ACX, where you're stuck in an endless customer service hole that feels like it's run by bots), none of the people were ever helpful. And they did a major screw-up in my case: even though I'd made it clear that Party Girl was already published on Audible, they re-published a new version there and that new version showed up instead of the original version, which had several wonderful reviews (the FV version had one one-star review).

Because of my personal experience, my plan is to go strictly Audible. To me, some of its other selling points are that you can earn up to $75 each time a new Audible listener becomes a member by purchasing your ACX audiobook through your unique link with the Bounty Referral Program. $75!! That's insane. But the reality is most people who want Audible subscriptions already have Audible subscriptions so the number of conversions may be low. Still, I think it's pretty cool.

Going exclusive with Audible also means you get promo codes—10 freebie copies of your audiobook to give away to readers, whom you can then ask to promote your book. (Once your first 10 codes have been redeemed and your catalog of titles has reached 100 qualified sales, you can request an additional 25 codes.) Supposedly FV offers the same sort of promo codes but I never could access mine and my attempts to get that information from anyone there failed.

But one important thing to note: I'm not in this to make money off of audiobook sales so the royalty rates don't concern me. I like my books being available in audio because it makes the whole publishing process feel complete and because it will attract some readers it wouldn't otherwise.

That's why I'm less concerned about the endless controversy over how Audible pays its authors. (See the link below for more on that than you may want to know.)



RELEVANT LINKS:

Audible audiobook requirements

The Audible royalty scandal

 


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QUOTE OF THE POD:

"The audiobook market is exploding. It is now a $1.2 billion business when ebooks are a $983 million business. In other words, so for the first time ever, US audiobook sales have eclipsed ebook sales."

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