The audiobook industry is growing in popularity more than ever before. In fact, more than 50% of Americans have listened to at least one audiobook in their lives. This is one of the main reasons why learning how to make an audiobook is the top priority for many independent authors.
Add to the fact that smart speakers in homes continue to evolve and get better, it’s only a matter of time before hardbound and digital book authors will start flocking to audiobook production as well.
As an independent author, it’s your responsibility to learn how you can create an audiobook. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to convert one of your titles, crafting an audiobook is definitely something for you to consider.
In this guide, we’ll discuss all of the steps you need to take to make and publish audiobooks. We’ll discuss the following:
- Considerations Before Making an Audiobook
- Producing Your First Audiobook
- Associated Costs of Audiobook Production
- Considerations Regarding Audiobook Narration
- Where To Find Audiobook Narrators
- Alternative Option: Self-Publishing Your Audiobook
- How To Create a Contract for Audiobook Narration and Production
- Choosing Your Audiobook Distributor
To begin, here are some things to consider when creating an audiobook.
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 the success of your audiobook. Some of these decisions have to be made even before you post a voice-over job or get 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 audiobook medium.
Furthermore, you also have to decide whether you want an abridged or unabridged version of your audiobook.
What Types of Books and Genres Make for 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 audiobook author could also provide you with an indication of the types of content audiobook listeners 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 listeners at that time wouldn’t be interested in listening to many hours of narration.
- Unabridged audiobook: On the other hand, an unabridged audiobook contains the full literary output of the author that’s narrated word-for-word. Most distributors in the audiobook industry exclusively 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 as an audiobook, the next aspect to consider is the audiobook 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 audiobooks 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 an audiobook, 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 narration, including all retakes
- The necessary editing of the narration file, 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 audiobook production process takes:
- The average audiobook today has 100,000 words
- The average audiobook has a run time of 11 hours
- 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 narration takes about 22 studio hours
After the book has been narrated, you also have to process its audio to ensure that the sound of the end-product is crisp and clear. The extra processing for this part can be accomplished by hiring an audio producer/engineer or an experienced voice actor.
One thing to consider is that although you may save money by forcing the narrator to read faster, the experience of your listeners will suffer. No one wants their audiobook to sound like a commercial.
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
Associated Costs of Audiobook Production
The cost to narrate an audiobook varies 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 the more seasoned audiobook narrators can charge $300 and upwards.
As for audiobook 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 voice actor is often a good idea.
The average cost for audiobook 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 Audiobook Narration
With regards to audiobook narration, there are two important choices you need to decide on: what narration style you want and who gets to narrate the piece.
Selecting an Audiobook Narration Style
When choosing an audiobook narration style, many publishers are unsure of which format is better since it usually depends on what the audience prefers.
- Single narrator audiobook: Traditional publishers believe that only having a single narrator for the entire audiobook is the right way of doing it. 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 audiobook: On the other hand, some publishers prefer having a full cast of voice actors in an audiobook. They have found that millennials are the ones who are particularly interested in full cast narration audiobooks.
Before deciding on one narration style, be sure that you’ve done your research on whether going with a single narrator or a full cast is best for your listeners.
Selecting Your Audiobook Narrator
Audiobook authors have two choices when it comes to deciding who narrates their titles: hiring a professional or recording your own.
As an author, you might find it tricky to decide whether you want to narrate the audiobook by 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 your audiobook 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 or narrating the audiobook on your own.
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
- Technical knowledge and familiarity with the audiobook 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 narrate your own audiobook:
- You understand the voices of your characters the most
- You get to save money when you narrate yourself
- You have more financial control of your published asset
Where To Find Audiobook Narrators
These are the top platforms where you can find and contact narrators that you need for your audiobook. Keep in mind that if you don’t want to publish your audiobook with a given audiobook distributor, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still peruse their narrators to find the perfect match and contact them another way. Many of the narrators 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.
With ACX, you have 3 options available for audiobook production:
The first option will require you to become an exclusive author for ACX. You will find and book a narrator from the audiobook publishing platform who will record the voice acting for your audiobook.
The narrator does 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 of your audiobook, ACX will pay you 40% in royalties, which you will split in half with your chosen narrator.
The second option in ACX will also require you to be an exclusive author on the platform. Upon finding a narrator, you get to pay them the full upfront rate to have your audiobook narrated.
Each sale that you make for your title will result in a 40% royalty from ACX and you get to keep 100% of that. Unlike the first option, choosing Option 2 means that you don’t get to 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 most likely 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 upfront cost to have your title narrated.
With this deal, ACX will pay you 25% in royalties and you get to keep 100% of that amount. You won’t be able to 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, thereby increasing your exposure as an author.
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 for audiobook needs.
Finding and hiring an audiobook narrator is easy with VOPlanet. You start by filling out a form and then posting your audiobook job on the platform.
You’ll then 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 when it comes to audiobook narration 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.
Findaway Voices is one of the top audiobook publishing websites today that connects authors like you with narrators. Whenever you submit an audiobook on the platform, you can choose narrators who you believe are a good match for your title from their existing talent pool.
Narrators working with Findaway Voices get to set their own flat rate per hour of finished audio (PFH rate). If they are selected to narrate an audiobook, they get paid their PFH rate multiplied by the final length of the completed title.
This is great for authors looking to hire their narrators at Findaway Voices. The reason for this is because the narrators who audition for their titles are actually the ones who match your needs.
Findaway Voices performs automatic matching for narrators who they believe will meet the needs of specific authors. Authors also don’t have to worry about haggling with narrators since their rates are already set in advance. This allows you to decide whether or not a narrator fits your budget and then 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 audiobook narration jobs.
For first-time Findaway Voices authors, here are the steps you need to take to hire a narrator:
- The first thing you need to do is to create an account on the Findaway Voices website.
- Open up a new audiobook 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 narrator 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 narrators can record a 3 to 5-minute audition using the manuscript you provided to them. Findaway Voices will coordinate with these narrators 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 narrator recommendations from Findaway Voices are designed to meet the style of your title and your personal preferences. Each narrator that is listed on the platform has also been vetted for quality and professionalism.
One thing to note, however, is that you have no obligation to proceed with the audiobook production by simply requesting and receiving a curated narrator list from Findaway Voices. You are still free to choose where you want to produce 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 narrator or something different than what you’re expecting.
Here are some tips to consider to help you find the ideal narrator for your audiobook on Fiverr and Upwork:
- Leverage the search settings: Browsing for narrators and 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 of your chosen narrators, you should 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 the voice-over services of the narrator. 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 narrators 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” narrators: Besides regular voice actors, Fiverr also offers “hand-vetted” narrators 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 narrator can cost more, you’ll feel confident knowing that you’ll get quality output from this individual.
- 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 narrators with clear instructions and thoughtful answers can go a long way in ensuring a great experience in both Fiverr and Upwork.
Check out our review of the top audiobook distributors to find the best royalty rates and other perks of each platform.
Alternative Option: Self-Publishing Your Audiobook
As hinted earlier, you can record and publish audiobooks yourself, but there are quality standards that must be met for you to upload your title to the major audiobook publishers. There’s also the Audacity platform which is free to use but has a steep learning curve.
When deciding on self-publishing audiobooks, you need to start learning the ropes on how to do things right. You’ll need to spend countless hours making sure that everything is correct and appropriate for the title.
One way to help you here is to hire a producer. Working with an experienced producer can allow you to add quality to your 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 narrator outside of the audiobook distributors, then you’ll definitely want to create a contract before employing them to narrate your audiobook.
Let’s take a glimpse at how a five-part basic contract should look when creating a contract for an audiobook narrator. Bear in mind that we are not lawyers and this is not legal advice.
Part 1: The Parties
When you hire an audiobook narrator who produces their own output, the parties that should be listed in your contract are yourself and the narrator in question.
If the narrator uses the services of an engineer to produce their own work, then there has to be another contract between the narrator and the engineer.
Part 2: The Services
The three parts of the services involved in a contract for audiobook narration and production are the production piece, deliverables, and transfer rights.
One of the biggest reasons why authors hire narrators is because 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 in professional audiobook narration.
The second part of the services provision in the contract is the deliverables. These are files that the audiobook narrator supplies 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 audiobook narrator contract needs to ensure that you’re 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 for audiobook narrators is per finished hour (PFH). This is the hourly rate that is multiplied by the number of hours of the final audiobook. 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 narrator upfront.
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 an audiobook narration contract is the schedule for the services obtained. All audiobook authors hiring their own narrators have time-sensitive obligations for their production schedules to go smoothly.
- Provide the complete manuscript to their narrators
- Supply story or production notes to narrators
- 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 author and narrator 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 happen with your audiobook narration agreement, you should make it clear that you own the rights for the audio files and performances in case this happens.
Having these provisions in place ensures that your chosen narrator 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 part is one of the most crucial decisions 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 distributors 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 publishers won’t normally help you market your audiobooks, 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.
We’ve also made the Ultimate Author’s Guide to Selling Audiobooks for Max Profit. This comprehensive guide lays out the details behind how audiobook distributors make their money and what authors can do to keep more of what they should earn.
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 for authors.
By following the tips and advice provided in this guide, you’ll be more knowledgeable on how to create audiobooks even as a beginner.