This post touches on a process that I attempted. My brother drives a cab in our hometown. He has been a big supporter of my books and my writing. After I finished my first book, he suggested a medium for my books that I had not seriously considered. Many of his regular passengers are blind or vision impaired. They are also avid consumers of audio books. He told me that this would be a great market for my books.
I was a bit skeptical at first, but I began to research the audio book market. Audio books are very popular for commuters and there is a very active market. Because of the work involved, audio books often sell for more than their printed or e-book counterparts. Armed with these facts, I set out to pursue creation of an audio version of my first book, Frankly Speaking.
I read a couple of books on the subject and discovered that ACX, an audio book outlet owned by Amazon was an easy to use platform to initiate this project. ACX has a number of professional voice actors that will record audio books. This, however, is where I hit my first obstacle.
The voice actors are paid by two different methods, a flat fee, usually by the hour, or by a percentage of the royalties. Being an independently published author that was dabbling in this medium for the first time, I opted to solicit auditions for my book with the sharing of royalties in mind. I had no idea how many copies I would sell and I am trying to keep my investment in my writing in line with my earnings. The problem with this is that, at first, there were no voice actors willing to audition for a royalty sharing arrangement. Recording an audio book takes a long time and a lot of effort. Understandably, a voice actor doesn’t want to invest the hours necessary to complete a book if the reward is unknown based on work from a new author.
So, what did I do based on these results? I decided to attempt to record it myself. This decision was against every instinct. I do not like the sound of my recorded voice. It’s much lower than I hear it in my ears and it sounds very nasal to me. The prospect of hearing myself read aloud and then spending the hours necessary to edit the recording was not something I was looking forward to. But, enough about that. Friends, family, and others assured me that the sound of my voice would not make listeners rip their ears off. I put that issue behind me and forged ahead.
The next step was, how to record. From the books I read, the equipment needed was not as cost-prohibitive as one might expect. I found a good recording microphone and stand for under $100. A screen to eliminate popping ‘Ps’ was another $20. The only drawback is that the stand looked like a gun when it goes through the airport security scan. I had to explain it a few times. The Amazon reviews were very helpful with selecting a microphone. It plugs into the USB port of my tablet.
As for software, this is where the pleasant surprise emerged. One book that I read recommended Audacity as the software of choice. This software is free. It has a lot of great features and effects. It allows multi-track recording. It has a great noise elimination feature. This is great for me. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I travel every week and did most of my recording in hotel rooms. The software allows me to remove ambient background noise such as the heat kicking on or the refrigerator running. This noise is virtually eliminated using Audacity. I also found a free add-in module for Audacity that helps reduce the ‘S’ sounds if they get too annoying. Another tip to reduce noise is to run Audacity or whatever software you use on a tablet or a solid state storage device. This way there is no spinning hard disk or fan to add to the background noise.
So, now I had my hardware and software. If you are going to upload your audio book to audible or one of the other similar platforms, it is important to learn their rules. There is usually a certain format and quality of audio required and things like pauses and copyright information that need to be recorded.
Here are some other tips that may help you along the way. In the interest of full disclosure, I abandoned recording my book on my own. I just didn’t think my voice had the quality to carry it and it is time consuming. I eventually went another route that I will discuss in future posts.
DON’T EAT BEFORE YOU RECORD
This isn’t to avoid stomach cramps. It’s to avoid unwanted noises like burping. Also, depending on what you eat, your voice may actually sound different right after a meal.
SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONE AND ANY OTHER POTENTIAL NOISE MAKING DEVICES
You will have to re-record anything that has an unwanted noise within it that is not part of the ambient background noise.
IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE, RE-READ IT
You don’t need to stop the recording if you make a mistake. Just go back to the beginning of the sentence in which you made a mistake and read it again. Over time, you will begin to recognize the graphical shape of the audio your recorded and you will be able to easily cut out the bad audio.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE LONG PAUSES WHILE READING
You can take longer pauses if you want to catch your breath or rest for a minute. Just remember, you can shorten these pauses during the post-production process when you fix up your audio.
I tend to speak rapidly. When I began listening to playback of my first two chapters, I thought that it sounded rushed which made it hard to understand. You should read at a pace that is easy to understand and follow. The cool thing about Audacity is that you can actually slow down the tempo of your reading in post-production. You have to be careful, however. If you slow it down too much, you will end up sounding like Forest Gump.
I hope these tips are helpful. You may not have considered recording or producing an audio book. If you haven’t, maybe you should. If you have, I hope you find some value in what I’ve gone through. It was not an enjoyable process for me, but the one benefit I’ve found (and I’ve mentioned this before in tips about improving the quality of your work) is that reading your book aloud will help you to be a better writer. You will feel any clumsy phrasing emerge, your dialog will be easier to assess for realism, and you will catch mistakes that you might have missed in editing.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Don’t get me wrong. My books eventually sold enough for me to use a professional voice actor for two of my books. Trying to record myself chewed up a huge chunk of time that I could be spending writing!
I didn’t actually complete the recording of my audio book. I’ve talked to other authors about this and have come up with some alternatives to using my own voice. It really is a time prohibitive exercise.
One suggestion I received and will be trying out is reaching out to local high school and college drama and journalism departments to see if students may be interested in recording an audio book as an experience item. I would still pay them, but the cost would be significantly less than paying a voice actor.
I really think there is benefit to releasing audio book versions of my work, but it is a process you shouldn’t jump into lightly.