This week (on Monday, November 14th) I launched the audiobook version of my non-fiction book “Negotiating After Getting A Job Offer“.
I’m not much of an audiobook “reader” myself. Almost all my reading is done electronically on an iPad, with a tiny amount of print reading on the side. I keep encountering the fact that audiobooks are an enormous market.
Every time I see an ad on Facebook for a book, one of the first comments is someone asking “when will the audiobook version be released?”
A small press publisher I talked to told me that he sells 15% eBooks, 5% paperbacks, and 80% audiobooks. I found this astounding.
Audiobooks have the virtue of being consumed while doing something else, such as commuting, exercising, cooking or cleaning, or some sort of hobby that requires your hands or eyes. My mother listens to audiobooks while she weaves.
Recording On A Shoestring Budget
I’m a big believer in starting cheap whenever you do something new. Professional narrators will record an audiobook starting at $200 per finished hour (final audio that the listener hears). Newbie narrators will charge around $50 while they’re building their portfolio, while celebrities would obviously charge much more than this.
It wouldn’t have been cost-prohibitive for me to hire someone for this, but I was interested in trying out the processes myself. I first tried to book an audio recording room at the Toronto Public Library, but that turned out to be hard to execute, so I ended up setting up a home studio.
My wife has a pair of headphones with a mic on them, so I used that and waited until our (loud) refrigerator and the air conditioning system turned off. I would record the book in sections and upload these to the ACX website. ACX is a part of Amazon and is integrated with Audible. Each time I uploaded an audio clip, the website would do a rough pass and tell me whether or not the audio quality was acceptable.
At first, there were multiple problems that I couldn’t even understand. I’ve used Audacity, free open-source audio editing software, but I didn’t even understand the issues the website was raising with my recordings.
After Googling the errors, I discovered a series of recommended steps that previous people had found to use Audacity to get audio into an acceptable state for submission. The key steps for me were:
- Effect > Filter curve… > Manage > Factory Presets > : Low roll-off for speech > OK.
- Effect > Loudness Normalization…: Normalize RMS to -20dB > OK.
- Effect > Limiter: Soft Limit, 0.00, 0.00, -3.50dB, 10.00, No > OK.
- Analyze > ACX-Check.
I was using a new version of the software, so some of these were in different places in the menu, but I found them all. I also needed to install some other Audacity plugins (Acx-check and rms-normalize) for these to work.
After I followed these steps, I found that most of the time my recorded audio would be accepted by the site. In the small number of times there was a problem, it seemed the volume wasn’t sufficient, so I played around with the -20dB value for the Loudness Normalization until it passed.
It took me maybe 4 hours of recording and troubleshooting to produce the final 1 hour and 1 minute long audiobook.
Home Recording Studio
There’s advice online for how to set up a home recording studio. Basically, you want something that prevents echoes and absorbs sounds, while providing noise insulation from traffic and other sounds that might be picked up. At the most humble, some people record inside a closet.
I was prepared to do this, but it ended up that just recording in our main living room produced an acceptable recording quality, so that’s what I ended up doing.
Submitting To ACX
When I submitted the final version, I was at first annoyed that I had to update my tax information before they’d accept it. I could have submitted this earlier in the process, so the delay seemed avoidable. After they accepted this information and my submitted audio files, the website told me that ACX would be performing an audio check on what had been submitted and would get back to me within 10 business days about whether it was correct or if changes needed to be made.
After 11 business days, I emailed them for an updated and then today (on the 12th business day) it was accepted and went live.
I’ve read that your first submission takes the longest to get approved and that they’re faster after your first.
It now appears on my book’s Amazon page as a format you can purchase, like “Kindle”, “Paperback”, or “Hardcover”.
I got an email from them giving me 50 promo codes to give people free downloads of the book on Audible, which I imagine will be useful for promotions and reviews.
It’s still way too early to tell how it will sell. I’ve sent my wife one of the promo codes and we’re going to listen to it and see how it sounds through the Audible app.
I’ll try to write an update once I’ve seen a few sales and link to that update from here.
UPDATE: As of September 26th, 2023, I’ve sold 9 copies.
The typical advice for indie publishing is not to proofread your own books, don’t make your own covers, and don’t narrate your own audiobooks. Doing these yourself is viewed as “amateur hour” stuff, and you’re expected to hire an expert to do them. I don’t completely agree with any of these, and I certainly think you should do it yourself instead of not doing it at all.
Non-fiction is more accepting of the author narrating the book since it’s their advice or lived experience. I found it an interesting experience and I’m glad I did it. My wife and I were happy with the final product.
Hiring A Narrator
I haven’t done this myself, but there’s a well-developed marketplace for hiring narrators through ACX and different ways to pay them. A friend of mine got a small-scale celebrity to narrate her romance novel and was very happy with the cost and final product.
I’m excited to record my other non-fiction book on real estate investing. I plan to self record it the same way I did this (shorter) book. I’m also tempted to try recording an audiobook of my fiction. I don’t think I have it in me to do funny voices for the characters, but I think I can read it in an emotionally engaging way.
If the final version isn’t great, I’ll try to hire a narrator once sales support the cost.
If you’re an author, have you ever made an audiobook version of one of your books? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back?