An intro to audiobook production for authors
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Congratulations! You’ve published a book!
A great way to expand the reach of your book, and give audiences a convenient way to experience it, is by having it made into an audiobook.
I’ve written this blog post to help de-mystify the production process, so you can see exactly what will go into creating your audiobook.
If you’re new to publishing, you may initially be shocked at the potential cost of producing an audiobook. Professional audiobook producers can charge anywhere between $50 and $400 or more—depending on their experience, fame or reputation—per finished hour (PFH) for your project.
***[Be sure to see my “P.S.” section at the end of this post about royalty-sharing deals on ACX, a potentially more affordable way to hire a narrator.]
“Why do they charge so much?” You might ask. “After all,” you might be thinking, “All you’re doing is reading my book in front of a microphone, right?”
Well, not quite. There’s a bit more to it. Audiobook production is a craft that involves the combination of a variety of technical and artistic skills, not to mention expensive and sophisticated equipment.
So, let’s take a look at what all is involved:
First, there’s the equipment.
A self-employed voiceover actor and audiobook narrator has invested in some pretty sophisticated recording gear.
First, they must either soundproof a room in their home or studio or construct a soundproof recording booth, and then treat the interior to absorb unwanted audio frequencies. This can cost thousands … to tens of thousands of dollars to do right.
Second, they use computers running sophisticated recording software (called Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs) often in conjunction with other outboard audio gear and expensive microphones (My microphone alone, for example, was $1000, and even though it sounds great, it’s probably at the low-middle end of the professional quality spectrum. Of course, I also have to own backup mics in case one goes out in the middle of a project.)
Second, there’s the training.
Most professional audiobook narrators and voiceover actors are usually trained actors, with years of schooling and work experience. Many other successful narrators, who weren’t professional stage or screen actors before they started this work, have put in years or months of intensive training in order to be competitive…in an increasingly competitive field.
Audiobook narration and production is a unique craft unto itself. So, many pro-level narrators undergo specialized training in book character interpretation, dialogue techniques, voicing techniques, live reading and more. Additionally, many get specific technical training to set up and operate their recording studios. And to keep honing and improving their craft, the best ones continue their training and learning throughout their careers.
Audiobook production is a time consuming and physically demanding job.
For every finished hour of audiobook recording, it takes on average 3 to 4 hours of production time. That means a 300 page book, which may clock in at around ten hours, could take a week or more’s worth of time to complete.
And it can be taxing work:
The initial recording process is a mental and physical juggling act.
The actor is reading the text, acting and interpreting it on the fly … while also using both hands to operate the recording software with a keyboard and mouse. For hours at a time.
After the initial recording, there is an extensive editing process.
After the basic tracks are recorded, the narrator/producer goes through them all again:
1. To ensure all the recorded content matches the words on the page.
2. To re-record any passages that didn’t come out “quite right,” or perhaps didn’t capture precisely the right mood.
3. To remove all odd-sounding breaths, mouth clicks, electronic sounds, coughs, sneezes, hiccups, mouse or keyboard sounds, false starts, or other unwanted sounds that may have occurred during recording.
4. To ensure the sound levels, mix and equalization are up to professional standards, and up to the production standards mandated by Amazon and the other audiobook sellers.
After initial production, many authors may listen to the first-round recording, and get back to the narrator with feedback, suggestions and other change requests … all of which require additional recording and editing time.
After all that … the audiobook is be ready to be uploaded to the popular audiobook marketplaces … and enjoyed by adoring fans!
Many of them will have no idea the amount of work, blood, sweat and tears you put into writing your book … and your audiobook producer put into recording it.
But we do. And the satisfaction of sharing your story makes all the effort worthwhile.
P.S. – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s possible to get a narrator for your audiobook with no up-front costs to you. You can do so by entering into a royalty-sharing deal with a narrator on ACX – Amazon’s marketplace for authors and narrators. There are lots of narrators just starting out, dipping their toe into the marketplace, or who narrate as a hobby. And they’ll work in return for a 50% share of your audiobook sales proceeds. Experience, efficiency and quality levels vary in this area of the marketplace. The saying “you get what you pay for” may end up applying here. And that’s why seasoned professionals are still able to charge the PFH rates they charge.
But if you’re willing to take a leap of faith and aren’t too exceedingly picky with the potential end product, this can be a cost-effective way to get your audiobook recorded! I narrated some books under this arrangement when I was first getting started. And I occasionally still do it if a particular title catches my eye…and the author likes my audition. It gave me some great practice, the authors were happy with the end results, and I still receive occasional royalty checks!