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Audiobooks 101: a Beginner’s Look at the Process of Getting an Audiobook Made

321px-faust-f2By now, most writers are at least somewhat familiar with the basic logistics of indie publishing. Today, though, I wanted to talk about another venue that indies have for sharing their stories that may not be as widely known and thought about: audiobooks. If you’ve published an indie novel or are planning on publishing one– or like some authors I know, retain the audio rights on a traditionally published book– you have the option to have your book made into an audiobook and sell that, too. It not only offers another way for readers to connect with your stories, it can be an added significant source of income.

Now, right up front, I should say that the process of having an audiobook made represents a quite significant time commitment on your part, even if– like most authors– you hire a narrator and sound engineer. As a homeschooling mama of small children ranging from 2 years old to 9, I frankly don’t have that kind of time at all. I would never have been able to even think about audiobooks if my amazing parents had not stepped in and surprised me with the offer to take care of everything. So this article is really a collaboration between me and my dad, and when I say “we” what I really mean is “my superhero mom and dad with unbelievably minimal help from me.”

At any rate, here’s a look at the process that “we” went through:

First, you’ll need to pick an audiobooks distributor. (Google ‘audiobooks’ and you’ll find a lot of them.) All will take a percentage of the sales, the percentage depending on whether you distribute through them exclusively or not.
We picked ACX [1],one of the largest and probably best-known distributors.

Next, you’ll need a narrator. If you have a background in theater and/or are extremely brave, you can narrate your book yourself, of course. Although unless you have industry connections, finding a recording studio or buying/renting the equipment is probably going to be a complicated endeavor. Or you can choose to hire your own narrator and recording engineer, which is the route that we chose. In our case, our narrator provided her own engineer. Another option is to let ACX do it all for you, by listing your book for narrators registered with ACX to audition for you. The narrators then share in the royalties. This is the lowest up-front cost option, but we had some money budgeted to pay the narrator and engineer and we didn’t want to wait for narrators to come to us.

Choosing the right narrator to give voice to your characters is obviously extremely important. We browsed Audible [2] for books in the same genre as mine, and listened to the audio samples. We picked three finalists to contact and then emailed them, getting their contact information via Google.
After some email exchanges we picked our favorite narrator, who had her own engineer. If your chosen narrator does not, ask who he/she has worked with in the past, they will likely have some names for you to contact.

Here I would add to what my dad has said about the process: don’t be afraid to dream big. My dad is published by Thomas & Mercer, but retains his audio rights, and his books are read by one of our family’s absolute favorite screen actors of all time, simply because my dad e-mailed the guy and asked. As it turned out, it worked out even better than my dad could have hoped, because this actor had done audiobooks before and already had a studio/sound engineer that he worked closely with. Many actors do take on audio/voice work during down time between screen productions, so don’t be afraid to reach out and see whether your dream actor might be willing. The worst they can do is say no.

At any rate, the narrator then provides audio files for each chapter in a form that meets ACX standards. We used Dropbox as the portal for us to download what she’d uploaded there. Next– and this is where the large time commitment comes in– you’ll need to ‘proof’ the audio files by listening to them closely as they’re made. We (in this case, 100% my previously-mentioned superparents) ‘proofread’ and kept a list of fixes that we wanted as we listened, and then emailed the list to our narrator. Then once the corrected files were available, we checked them again to make sure that they were error-free.

The audiofiles are now ready to put into final mp3 format, which – for simplicity – we put into a new Dropbox file, along with a separate file for each chapter, plus a file to introduce and another to close. ACX also requires a file to give the reader a sample of no more than five minutes. We picked the first five minutes of the second chapter, since that was the first written in the voice of the POV narrator. We uploaded these mp3 files to ACX. They reviewed for technical compliance, a process that takes about a week. They let you know if there are changes needed.

We also had to upload a new cover image. The cover for your book needs to become a square rather than a rectangle, and this will very likely require rearranging the words. We also included the narrator’s name on the cover, which is a decision up to you but in our case we thought it was a win-win. We had our cover artist do the redesign.

Then it’s ‘headed to market’ which means they’re linking it to your book page, with the little button that people can click on to hear the sample. This took about a week from the time the audio files and cover had been approved. The whole process took about four months, not counting the time to wait for the project to be next in line on the narrator’s busy schedule.

And that’s it! The first of my books to be made into audio is now for sale, with the rest of my catalog soon to follow, and I couldn’t be more happy. The decision to make audiobooks was mostly a business one, but it’s also just unbelievable fun and thrilling to hear my stories brought to life in this way. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, hearing my own novels as audiobooks would absolutely have been on it. Thanks mom and dad!

Do you listen to audiobooks, or have you looked into the process of making them?

About Anna Elliott [3]

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.