The Essential Guide on Audiobook Production With or Without an Publishing Company
The audiobook industry is growing in popularity more than ever before and authors and publishers are taking notice. In fact, more than 50% of Americans have listened to at least one audiobook in their lives. As you can see, learning how to make an audiobook is a top priority for many independent authors.
Add to the fact that smart speakers in homes continue to evolve and get better, we’ll only see more print and digital books morphing into audiobooks as time goes on.
As an independent author, it’s your responsibility to learn how you can create an audiobook. Whether you’re starting from scratch or wanting to convert one of your titles, crafting an audiobook is definitely something to consider.
In this guide, we’ll discuss all of the steps you need to take to publish audiobooks, including:
- Considerations Before Making an Audiobook
- Producing Your First Audiobook
- Associated Costs of Production
- Considerations Regarding Narration
- Where To Find Voice Talent
- Alternative Option: Self-Publishing Your Audiobook
- How To Create a Contract for Audiobook Production
- Choosing Your Audiobook Distributor
Considerations Before Making an Audiobook
After you’ve finished an awesome script, acquired the license for a new title, or published a physical or digital book, you probably feel that you’re ready to take on the challenge of creating your first audiobook.
However, there are crucial decisions you need to make to ensure success. Some of these decisions have to be made even before you post a voice-over job or jump into the studio yourself.
Specifically, you should first understand whether the genre or type of book you wish to publish will be compatible with the medium.
Furthermore, you also have to decide whether you want an abridged or unabridged version.
What Types of Books and Genres Make Great Audiobooks?
Some of the most common genres in the audiobook industry are fiction, non-fiction, health, business, and romance. The markets available are for children, teens, young adults, and adults.
To have an idea of what most people listen to, you can check out websites like:
Visiting a local library or talking to an experienced author could also provide you with an indication of the types of content your audience like to consume.
Are There Book Types To Avoid?
Although there are many types of books you can convert into audiobooks, there are also a few kinds you should avoid.
The following are the types of books that don’t normally translate well when made into audio format:
- Picture books
- Interior design or garden books
- Some forms of travel guides
- Image-heavy cookbooks
- Reference books
- Citation books
Deciding Between an Abridged or Unabridged Audiobook Version
There are some advantages and disadvantages when it comes to deciding between choosing to go with an abridged or unabridged version of your audiobook.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Abridged audiobook: Abridged audiobooks are short titles that don’t sacrifice any of the major storylines or themes included. Such audiobooks were quite popular during the late 90s, particularly because producers believed that audiences at that time wouldn’t be interested in listening to someone reading for many hours.
- Unabridged audiobook: On the other hand, an unabridged audiobook contains the full literary output of the author that’s recorded word-for-word. Most distributors require authors to provide unabridged versions of their audiobooks nowadays.
Producing Your First Audiobook
Once you’ve decided that your desired book is going to work, the next aspect to consider is the production costs.
For independent authors, you’re most likely looking for the most cost-effective option available to produce your first audiobook. You may already have an idea of how much you’re going to spend on producing it and that’s a good thing. This can help you create and publish in a way that meets your budget.
Perhaps the most vital factor that affects how much it will cost to create your audiobook is the title’s overall word count. The word count significantly dictates the time required to produce the title, including the necessary time for recording, narrating, editing, mixing, and mastering.
The time it takes to produce an audiobook is comprised of three elements:
- The required time to record the book, including all retakes
- The necessary editing of the content, including the addition of sound effects
- Ensuring quality is met by going through the file and ensure that everything sounds as it should
Time Required for Recording an Audiobook
These are the things you should know regarding how long each component of the process takes:
- The average book today has around 100,000 words
- The average audiobook has a run time of 11 hours
- Regarding pace, a narrator can read roughly 10,000 words an hour.
- For each hour of edited audio completed, the voice actor requires at least 2 hours for recording and retakes
- The average total time to record an audiobook takes about 22 studio hours
After the book has been recorded, you also have to process its audio to ensure that the sound of the end product is crisp, clear, and without white noise. The extra processing for this part can be accomplished by hiring an audio producer/engineer or an experienced voice actor.
In terms of reading speed:
- The average person reads about 3 words per second
- The average person can read 88 words every half-minute
- The average person can read around 170 words per minute
Are Audiobooks Profitable for Authors?
Making audiobooks can be profitable if you treat your books as a business and have a solid foundation. Audiobook production is not cheap, but if you have a growing audience and invest in marketing, then it can be profitable.
Associated Costs of Audiobook Production
Associated costs vary depending on the skill and experience of your chosen narrator. Those who are just starting their career can charge as little as $50 per finished hour, while someone more seasoned can charge $300 and upwards.
As for editing costs, the amount of time spent editing the title depends on how talented and organized the voice actor and engineer are. Obviously, the fewer mistakes found in the audio, the fewer edits will be necessary. That’s why investing in a professional is often a good idea. Editing costs are usually included when hiring voice talent. However, if you decide to narrate the audiobook yourself, then you may want to include this in your budget.
The average cost for editing is around $50 per finished hour. If you happen to have experience in audio editing, you can save money by doing the modifications yourself.
Considerations Regarding Narration
There are two important decisions regarding your audiobook: what style you want and who gets to narrate the piece.
Selecting a Narration Style
Many publishers are split on which format is better since it usually depends on what a particular audience prefers.
- Single narrator: Traditional publishers believe that only having a single voice for the entire audiobook is the right move. Many of these publishers cite that most people grow up listening to just a single person reading books out loud, such as a teacher or parent.
- Full-cast: On the other hand, some publishers prefer having a full cast of voice talent. They have found that millennials are the audience segment who are particularly interested in a full-cast.
Before deciding, be sure that you’ve done your research on whether going with a single voice or a full cast is something your listeners expect. You can get consult with other authors in your genre or see which style the bestselling titles in your genre use.
Selecting Your Narrator
As an author, you’ll need to decide whether you want to narrate the audiobook yourself or hire an expert to do it for you.
If you’re a thought leader, public figure, celebrity, or simply someone with a large following, then narrating the audiobook yourself might be a good choice.
If not, then it might be better to have it brought to life by an experienced storyteller. This option is quite prevalent for books that are in the romance, mystery, and fantasy genres.
There are several things to consider when deciding to hire a professional.
Hiring an experienced narrator will provide you with the following benefits:
- A level of legitimacy and polish to the title that an inexperienced voice actor cannot give
- Tap into technical knowledge and familiarity with the production process
- A voice actor that is vocally and physically ready to perform many hours of recording
On the other hand, here are some reasons why you should provide your voice for your own audiobook:
- You understand the voices of your characters the most
- You save money
- You have more financial control of your published asset
Where To Find Narrators
One of the most important factors in making an audiobook involves choosing where to sell it.
We’ve compiled a list of the top production companies where you can find and contact narrators. Keep in mind that if you don’t want to publish your audiobook with a given distributor, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still peruse their voice talent to find the perfect match and contact them another way. Many of them have their own website, LinkedIn profile, or email available. All you have to do is research a little bit or ask them for it directly.
Our first audio publisher is ACX. With ACX, which is part of Amazon (Audible), you have 3 production services available:
The first option will bind you to exclusivity with Audible. You will find and book someone to read your book from the publishing platform.
They will do this for a reduced upfront cost. In exchange, they will get a share of any future royalties you receive for your title.
Whenever you sell a copy, Audible will pay you 40% in royalties, which you will split with you and the chosen narrator. You will be the rights holder to your work. The question is do you want to sell your audiobook exclusively on Audible?
The second option will also require you to be an exclusive author on the platform. Upon finding a voice talent, you will pay them the full upfront rate.
Each sale that you make for your title will result in a 40% royalty. Unlike the first option, choosing Option 2 means that you don’t share royalties with your narrator.
Keep in mind, however, that Option 1 and Option 2 in ACX will tie you to a 7-year exclusive contract with the platform. Although some authors were able to request a break of their contract after 12 months working with ACX, you’ll should expect to stay with the platform for the entire seven-year deal.
The third option for ACX allows you to remain independent from the platform. You get to find and book your narrator while paying them the full production cost up front.
With this deal, ACX will pay you 25% in royalties. You won’t split any of your royalties with your chosen producer if you select this non-exclusive option.
Compared to the other two options, Option 3 means that you get a reduced royalty rate since you choose a non-exclusive agreement. The advantage of this deal is that you get to distribute your audiobook to other platforms alongside the largest audiobook publisher, thereby increasing your exposure as an author.
Whichever option you choose, Audible will handle the distribution of the finished work on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
As one of the newer audiobook publisher websites, VOPlanet doesn’t have as large a community compared to the other more established platforms today. Despite that, they do have plenty of voice-over talent.
Finding and hiring voice talent is easy with VOPlanet. You start by filling out a form and then posting your audiobook job on the platform.
You’ll also get voice-over auditions that are sent directly to your personal dashboard for assessment. All of the narrators at VOPlanet are considered to be professionals who are experienced in voice acting.
Once you have decided on a narrator, you can send them a message to connect with them directly.
What makes VOPlanet great is that you don’t have to worry about hidden fees or commissions when hiring production talent here. You can communicate straight away with your narrator to get the perfect voice for your title. VOPlanet handles distribution as well.
Findaway Voices is one of the largest audio production websites today that connects authors like you with narrators. Whenever you submit an audiobook on the platform, you will have a pool of voice talent to select from.
Narrators working with Findaway Voices get to set their own flat rate per hour of finished audio (PFH rate). If you decide to work with them, they get paid their PFH rate multiplied by the final length of the completed title.
Findaway Voices automatically matches authors with voice talent who they believe will meet their needs. Rates are set in advance so you can decide whether or not a narrator fits your budget and needs. Once you make a selection, you can move on to the next step.
Another advantage that Findaway Voices has is that it doesn’t have geographical restrictions, unlike ACX. The platform will work with any author and narrator wherever they may be in the world. As an author, this provides you with a greater pool of talent that will match your needs.
For first-time Findaway Voices authors, here are the steps you need to take to hire a narrator:
- Create an account on the Findaway Voices website.
- Open up a new project by selecting the New Project button and then choosing the option that says “I want to work with a narrator.”
- Supply the answers to the questions regarding your book including the voice casting inquiries.
- The Findaway Voices casting team will then work and share with you a curated list of narrators with their information, rates, and audio samples. You can expect to see your personal casting list on your account within a week.
- While reviewing these personalized recommendations, you can choose to request auditions from the best candidates so far. These candidates can record a 3 to 5-minute audition using the manuscript you provided to them. Findaway Voices will coordinate with them and will return with the auditions after a week.
- After going through the auditions, you get to make your final choice, and then you can move on to production.
All of the recommendations from Findaway Voices are designed to meet your style and your personal preferences. Each narrator that is listed on the platform has also been vetted for quality and professionalism.
Note: You have no obligation to proceed with the audiobook production by simply requesting and receiving a curated list from Findaway Voices. You are still free to choose where your audio content will be produced even after doing so.
Fiverr and Upwork
Fiverr and Upwork are among the largest marketplaces in the digital world for hiring professionals that perform creative services. These are two of the best places to visit when you’re looking for a narrator that you want for your audiobook.
Rather than waste time browsing through websites, portfolios, and resumes, you can just head over to the Fiverr or Upwork search engine and start assessing the voice-over talent there.
However, there are literally thousands of voice-over actors on the two platforms right now and the options available can be overwhelming. There’s also the risk that you might hire a fake.
Here are some tips to help you find the ideal narrator for your audiobook on Fiverr and Upwork:
- Leverage the search settings: Browsing voice actors on Fiverr and Upwork is very easy as you can search based on keywords. You can also check out all of the voice-over professionals they have by clicking on the “Music & Audio” tab and the “Voice-Over” to see what’s available.
- Pay close attention to key profile points: When going through the profiles, pay special attention to the following: member since, avg. response time, and recent delivery. These sections can tell you the job history of the talent including their recent transactions with past clients.
- Be knowledgeable about customer reviews: Customer reviews are submitted by both satisfied and dissatisfied customers who already paid and received voice services. The information you find here can give you a good indication of what it’s like working with a particular talent.
- Aim for quality and affordability: Just like most services today, the quality usually corresponds to the price set forth by the seller. This is sensible since experienced talent usually charge higher than beginners. That doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to cheaper services, though. Some professional narrators choose to work at a lower rate than others because it is more beneficial for them. Factors such as cost of living, off-platform experience, and new seller discounts are also some reasons why experienced voice talent charge a lower fee.
- Seek “pro verified” talent: Besides regular voice actors, Fiverr also offers “hand-vetted” voice talent who have been tested and verified to provide quality services. This means that Fiverr has already done the vetting and reviewing for you so you can simply choose professionals who have already been carefully assessed. Although working with a vetted professional can cost more, you’ll feel confident knowing that you’ll get quality output from them.
- Reach out first before hiring: Before settling on a specific narrator, it’s important that you reach out to them first. Go over the details of your audiobook project and let them ask questions to clarify things. Providing clear instructions and thoughtful answers can go a long way in ensuring a great experience in both Fiverr and Upwork.
Kobo now allows self-publishers to upload, promote, and sell eBooks and audiobooks. As of September 2019, authors can begin making sales on audiobooks through the site. Self-publishers interested in promoting their audiobook will find distribution to Kobo.com, Walmart, Indigo (Canada’s largest bookstore), and Bol (a shopping platform in the Netherlands and Belgium). However, your audiobook is not required to be exclusive to Kobo and its partners once it is distributed there.
Alternative Option: Produce Your Own Audiobook
As hinted earlier, you can record and publish audiobooks yourself. Indie authors do this all the time, but there are quality standards that must be met for you to upload it to the major audiobook publishers.
Besides jumping in the booth and narrating your own audiobook, you’ll have to contend with producing a high-quality audiobook that meets listening standards. This is no easy task.
If you’re up for the challenge, the Audacity platform can help you produce a great listening experience. It’s also free to use but has a steep learning curve.
You’ll need to spend countless hours making sure that everything meets the approval of the distribution channel you choose. No matter the channel or outlet you use for distribution, ensuring your fans enjoy your work will ensure they return for more next time.
One way to speed up the process is to hire a 3rd party producer that will be with you every step of the way. An experienced producer can put together high-quality audio tracks since these individuals are experts in their craft.
However, you should keep in mind that post-production can take several weeks to complete.
How To Create a Contract for Audiobook Narration and Production
As mentioned previously, if you want to have your own contract with a voice talent outside of an audiobook distributor, then you’ll want to create a contract before employing them.
Here is an outline of what a five-part basic contract should contain. Bear in mind that we are not lawyers and this is not legal advice.
Part 1: The Parties
When you hire a voice talent who produces their own output, both parties should be listed.
If they use the services of an engineer to produce their own work, then there should be another contract between them.
Part 2: The Services
The three parts of the services involved in a narration and production contract are the production piece, deliverables, and transfer rights.
One reason why authors hire voice talent is that they don’t want to worry about producing the title themselves. Even if that’s the case, authors should still understand how this process works.
An ideal contract will require consistent performance that matches industry standards.
The second part in the contract is the deliverables. These are narrated files given to the author throughout the course of the project.
Typical deliverables include:
- Recordings of the whole project
- A 15-minute initial book sample
- A retail sample
- Final audio files in the right format
The third part of the services section in your contract needs to ensure that the author is the owner of all rights to the project. In the most basic form, you should include the language “work for hire” in this section, specifically stating that all audio files and performance to be completed are works for hire.
Part 3: The Payment
The standard formula in terms of the payment is per finished hour (PFH). This is the hourly rate that is multiplied by the number of hours of the finished work. Payment is made once the audiobook has been approved by the author, by which all necessary files are then delivered.
Royalty share is another pricing option wherein the author shares the royalties they receive on audiobook sales. This agreement means that the author doesn’t have to pay the voice talent up front.
Meanwhile, there are also hybrid deals that combine the PFH rate with a set percentage of royalties.
Part 4: The Schedule
Another important part to include in the contract is the schedule for the services obtained. All authors hiring their own narrators have time-sensitive obligations for their production schedules to go smoothly.
- Provide the complete manuscript to the voice talent
- Supply story or production notes to the voice talent
- Analyze samples and add notes if necessary
- Assess the final audio output for mistakes and corrections
- Approve the final audio files if they meet all requirements
- Provide the payment in a timely manner
Ensuring the back and forth of a working agreement between the two parties goes smoothly is worthy of having its own section within your contract.
Part 5: Termination
There are times when a project has to be canceled before it’s complete and this is where the termination part comes in.
Common provisions for termination are those wherein one party can end the contract with due notice if the other party has made a breach in their agreement. Since termination can sometimes happen, you should make it clear that you own the audio rights for the audio files and performances in case this happens.
Having these provisions in place ensures that your chosen voice talent doesn’t use the work they’ve done for you even if their contract is terminated.
Choosing Your Audiobook Distributor
Once you’ve completed your audiobook, it’s time to decide where you should publish it. This is the most crucial decision you’ll ever make as an author as it determines how much money you can make from all your hard work.
Most of the audiobook publishing companies today will take a portion of your royalties by simply distributing your title to their networks. However, it’s possible to skip paying them and keep all the royalties yourself
. Although these publishing companies won’t normally help you market your titles, they do provide a solid platform that will give you the chance to earn money.
When it comes to the marketing side of things, you’ll have to do all of this yourself.
There are many things to consider when deciding to become the author of an audiobook. The good news is that there are several options available. By following the tips and advice provided in this guide, you’ll be more knowledgeable on how to create audiobooks even as a beginner.