How to Self-Publish an Audiobook

Of all book formats, downloadable audiobooks have had the highest growth year-over-year since 2013 and that momentum is set to continue with over 50 percent of adults having listened to an audiobook over the past year. Currently, audiobooks make up 10.5 percent of book sales compared to print at 43.2 percent and ebooks at 27 percent and that number is growing double digits each year. For comparison, in 2018, audiobook downloads grew by 36.4 percent while hardback and paperback grew by 7.2 percent and 2.6 percent respectively, and ebooks dropped by 5 percent. The Audiobook Publishers Association and Edison Research found that audiobook listeners listened to an average of 15 books a year!

You likely knew that already and want to know how to tap into this trend by creating an audiobook yourself. How do you do this? Do you record it yourself? Is it expensive to hire a voice actor? Where should you publish it? I’m going to go through my experience publishing the audiobook version of Kicking Financial Ass and why you need to create an audio version of your book.

Why Should You Create an Audiobook?

The answer is simple. You want your book to reach the highest number of people as possible. Having an ebook and/or a paperback is not enough. For example, I’ve expanded sales of my book by 20 percent by having an audiobook version and that number is climbing (my audiobook was launched a month after the paperback). If you don’t create an audiobook you are leaving money on the table and limiting your distribution channels and limiting your distribution channels is one of the reasons why self-published books fail to sell.

How Much Does it Cost?

You may think that creating an audiobook is expensive and complicated. This is not necessarily true depending on how you go about it. The price can range from essentially free (doing it yourself), to costing a couple of thousand dollars depending on who you hire and how long your audiobook is. As an example, I hired a narrator for my audiobook for $900 CAD. You have three options to make an audiobook: recording it yourself, hiring a narrator via a royalty share deal, or hiring a narrator with a flat-fee.

1) Recording Your Audiobook Yourself (Free)

I am often asked if I recorded my audiobook and the answer is no. Why not? I found that my time was better spent on higher-value propositions like writing a second book, marketing Kicking Financial Ass, and writing blog posts. Furthermore, I did not give the recording process a fair shot after getting frustrated spending hours recording and re-recording my book until I gave up and looked up voice actors (there are only so many times I can hear the sound of my voice before driving myself crazy).

That being said, many audiobook listeners actually prefer to listen to audiobooks that were narrated by the author. It allows you to take your relationship with your readers one step further by letting them hear you tell your story in your own voice and the process is not that bad, it just requires time and patience. Here’s what you need if you want to record your own audiobook:

I. The Right Equipment

You will need a microphone, pop filter, recording software, and a microphone to get started.

  • Microphone: I used the Blue Yeti USB microphone. It’s cheap at around $100, and the best part is it is plug and play. A lot of people use it for podcasts and audiobook recordings and it’s gotten stellar reviews. Runner-up is the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB Plus which is a little more money at $169 on Amazon.
  • Pop screen: A pop filter reduces the “p” sounds, and spit and wind that can hit the microphone when you’re speaking. The Blue Yeti has one you can purchase.
  • Audio software: If you have a Mac, Garageband can do the trick. Another free option is Audacity. I decided to use Garageband for its user-friendly interface.
  • Headphones: These will allow you to hear the sound of your own voice more accurately as you’re recording. Any will do really.

II. Get Familiar with the Recording Guidelines

The last thing you want to do is record an audiobook and find out that you didn’t record it using the proper specifications. The good news is that you can submit your audio files to one site, ACX (which is owned by Amazon), which will allow you to distribute your audiobook to Amazon, Audible, and iTunes automatically. These are ACX’s specifications:

Your submitted audiobook must:

  • Be consistent in overall sound and formatting. Mic position, having your chair in the same position for each day of recording and recording at the same time of day each recording session can all help.
  • Include opening and closing credits.
  • Be comprised of all mono or stereo files. Mono files are strongly recommended.
  • Include a retail audio sample that is between one and five minutes long. No explicit material is allowed in the retail audio sample.
  • Be recorded by a human.

Each uploaded audio file must:

  • Contain only one chapter/section per file with the section header read aloud
  • Have a running time no longer than 120 minutes
  • Have 0.5to 1 second of room tone at the beginning and 1 to 5 seconds of room tone at the end and be free of extraneous sounds
  • Measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS and have -3dB peak values and a maximum -60dB noise floor. If you’re like me you’re probably thinking what does this mean?? This means all files must fall within a specific volume range, not too low and not too loud.
  • Be a 192kbps or higher MP3, Constant Bit Rate (CBR) at 44.1 kHz. You can record higher quality if you like but the difference is not likely to be noticed by listeners.

Of all the specifications, watch out for those last two bullet points the most. You can’t change the file once it’s recorded to meet the volume range and quality.

III. Be Patient

Kicking Financial Ass is 7 hours and 25 minutes long. I would estimate it would have taken me three times or four times that length to record it and perfect it if not longer (the average person reads about 8,000 to 9,000 words an hour). Professional audiobook narrators can usually have a finished hour after spending two to three hours on it. If you want to keep costs down know that it could be 30 to 40 hours of work or longer of your time depending on how long your book is.

IV. Find a Quiet Room

This goes without saying but the room you’re recording in has to be quiet. No sounds of dishwashers or laundry going in the background. No pets. And if you live on a busy intersection the chances of an ambulance driving by are higher than you might think based on my personal experience. If your home is not ideal for sound control then your local library may have rooms you can book for free. I’m lucky in that the new Calgary Central Library has podcast recording rooms that I could have used for my audiobook recording.

V. Send Your Audiobook Files to an Audio Engineer

An audio engineer can help you set levels for your specific voice in your specific space. ACX has a good video on what an audio engineer can do for you if you choose to outsource this. The total cost will be around $50 to $100.

VI. Placement

This depends a bit on your mic and the acoustics of your room. But start by having the mic placed one hand’s width away from your mouth and see how that sounds. Adjust accordingly until you get the right sound. You want to get audio that sounds the most like yourself.

VII. Create an Audiobook Book Cover

ACX requires a different size cover compared to your ebook or paperback. If you’ve downloaded an audiobook before you may have seen it’s more square than a rectangle. This is easy to do if you already have a book cover done from your ebook. The specs are here.

This is an example of what an audiobook cover should look like:

2) Hiring an ACX Narrator for Free (Royalty Share Deal)

If the above steps seem like a lot to learn then hiring an audiobook narrator is an option and what I decided to do. There are two ways to hire a narrator, either by sharing your royalties per sale (free), or paying a flat-fee upfront and keeping all the royalties for yourself. For the first option, you can hire a narrator through ACX with their Royalty Share Deal, where you will share 50-50 any future sales with your narrator. What this means is instead of receiving 40 percent (if you go exclusive, more on this later), you will receive 20 percent of the sale price with the other 20 percent going to your narrator. Keep in mind, however that some narrators prefer a flat-fee since they know they will be paid. It’s a big risk for them to spend time doing a recording only to see the book not sell. You can see which narrators are open to royalty sharing on ACX’s website.

How do you find an audiobook narrator? There are a couple of ways. One is to see who narrated your favorite audiobooks and reach out to them to see what their rates are. Another is to look at ACX or freelance websites like Upwork and Fiverr.

3) Pay for Production (Flat Fee)

The benefit of paying a flat fee is that the fee is paid up-front with the hope that you will make your money back over time. The downside is that you are taking on all the risk and might not make your money back. You also have the option of going outside ACX to find a narrator. I used Fiverr but Upwork and other freelance websites have lists of narrators as well. Prices can vary a lot, with the big names charging between $200 and $300 per finished hour (PFH) of audio. Remember it usually takes them at least twice if not three times as long to record it than the finished product which is why the high cost.

Should You Go Exclusive?

When you upload your audiobook to ACX you will be asked if you want exclusive distribution or non-exclusive distribution, which is important because you will be locked into a contract with them for 7 years. Exclusive distribution means that your audiobook will only be available on Audible’s channels, which includes Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. You will not be permitted to distribute or sell your audiobook in any other format on any other site or store outside of those three sites. Audiobooks published distributed exclusively earn a 40 percent royalty, meaning if your book sells for $20, you will get to keep $8. However, if you are paying your narrator a royalty as well, your cut will be reduced to 20 percent.

If you choose non-exclusive distribution, you are able to also sell and distribute your complete audiobook through other distributors such as OverDrive, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks, and Kobo Audiobooks. Another benefit is you will be able to distribute your audiobook to libraries which can improve your exposure substantially. Note that non-exclusive audiobooks cannot be published as a Royalty Share audiobook, meaning you can’t pay narrator royalties to save on the upfront costs and will have to pay a flat fee for a narrator. Audiobooks distributed non-exclusively through ACX earn a 25 percent royalty.

Which one should you choose? Audible dominates the audiobook market so it may make sense to go exclusive. However, if you want your book available to the widest audience, then consider going non-exclusive, especially for the library distribution network. For context, there are 272 public libraries in Canada and over 9,000 in the U.S. You may only make one sale per library but that’s a lot of potential customers. Plus having it available to more outlets may help create more buzz through word of mouth.

I ultimately decided to go with exclusive for Kicking Financial Ass. Audible dominates the audiobook market and I am selling the paperback through libraries. For my next audiobook, I will experiment with going non-exclusive for the library benefit and see how that impacts sales.

What are the Royalties on an Audiobook?

If you go exclusive it will be 40 percent before splitting with a narrator or non-exclusive at 25 percent on ACX. Another thing to consider is you have zero control with pricing your audiobook. ACX prices your book based on the length which is as follows:

  • Under 1 hour: under $7
  • 1 to 3 hours: $7 to $10
  • 3 to 5 hours: $10 to $20
  • 5 to 10 hours: $15 to $25
  • 10 to 20 hours: $20 to $30
  • Over 20 hours: $25 to $35

Most of your listeners will be using their monthly Audible credits so the price is not necessarily a big factor.

Summary

There’s a lot to consider when deciding to self-publish an audiobook. First, decide what your budget is and then determine if you want to record it yourself or hire a narrator. If you decide to record it yourself, purchase the appropriate equipment, watch a couple of YouTube tutorials, and have a spot where you can record. If you decide to hire a narrator, determine if you want to spare yourself the upfront cost and share a royalty, or if you want to pay a flat fee and keep the royalties for yourself. Finally, decide if you want to go exclusive or non-exclusive with ACX. It’s a big decision and one you can’t get out of for 7 years.

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