A few months after I published my book in December of 2011, a reviewer commented that she liked my book, but thought it would be even better as stand-up comedy. This got my wheels moving. Then I saw Audible has a program (ACX) where you can either self-narrate an audiobook or hire someone to do the voice talent within the site. Either way, I was sold. I called up a friend who had access to a recording studio from a local band he works with. He said he was interested in the project and could get access to the recording studio. Away we went.
Here are the steps I took in creating the audiobook:
- Got the idea in my head to do an audiobook. This is partly influenced by reviews who said they’d see a stand up show.
- Decided to record an audiobook. Brainstormed where to record it. I have a Blue Yeti microphone that could work, but I don’t have an environment that would limit background noise.
- Talked to Eric Pierson (@EricJon), who does a lot of work with the band Charn. We met over cupcakes and coffee, which men do these days. He said he was interested in helping record the book and could get access to the studio.
- We have a location! Now to prepare for the audiobook.
- While doing research, I discover ACX allows you to self-publish your audiobook. This will be my vehicle to get on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible.
- I review all of their requirements for recording and send them to Eric.
- I browse blog posts from people who have recorded their own audiobooks before.
- I briefly contemplate whether I should narrate it or hire someone else. Because humor is so focused on delivery, I decide to narrate. I also find that I enjoy books more when the author reads them (Adam Carolla, Derek Sivers, Kelly Oxford, etc)
- After some research and practice, I’m ready to record.
- At the first recording session, I realize how bad of a public reader I’ve become. It’s been a loooooong time since I was in class and had to read aloud to everyone.
- The tendency to read beyond where I’m currently at to anticipate what’s coming next causes a few slip ups.
- I decide to read the entire passage to myself before recording and become stubborn about not trying to read ahead while I’m speaking. This dramatically reduces the number of mistakes made.
- While recording, I had a glass of water with some honey by my side. I eventually ended up just shooting a drop of honey on my tongue occasionally to keep my voice my wearing out.
- I realize I have to do voices for the audiobook. While reading the rant just before recording, I also think of what voice I want to use for people. This is also one of the elements that separates the audiobook from the book, almost turning it into a performance.
- I sing! I didn’t sign up for that when I decided to record the audiobook, but I came to a point in the book where I could add a little extra to the audiobook. So instead to telling people I sing like Jean Valjean from Les Miserables in my car (heavy satire), I showed them I could(n’t)
- After the first session, I find that I improved dramatically in recording the audiobook. This became a problem later.
- Each additional session went smoother and a little faster, as I was able to better prepare myself for each session.
- I found myself mispronouncing words occasionally. Eric would pull up Google to play back a word and indeed, I’d been mispronouncing the word prelude (saying pre-lude instead of pray-lude) my entire life. This is reason #895 why having someone helping you record is a benefit. Kelly Oxford has a valid concern with her tweet.
Off to record my audio book. Terrified I won’t be able to pronounce some of the words.
— kelly oxford (@kellyoxford) January 29, 2013
- I discovered that when talking, waving your hands around in an animated fashion, somewhat like a crazy dictator, makes for much more entertaining audio to listen to. The sales maxim, “motion creates emotion” is true.
- After a few recording sessions spread out over two months, the audiobook was complete. Almost.
- Eric edited together a rough cut for me to listen to.
- I sent the rough cut to one friend, my editor, and my wife.
- My editor provided me feedback which I knew, but didn’t want to confront the reality of. During the first session, I was… kind of boring. Or at least compared to the rest of the book, the first session I recorded wasn’t consistent. See step #16 and #19.
- After receiving the feedback, I went back to listen. I spotted the exact moment when I thought the audiobook went from dispassionate reading to more of a performance.
- I asked my editor when she thought the audiobook changed course for the better.
- She said the exact same spot I noted. I knew what I had to do…
- I rerecorded the entire first session. I think this ended up being an extra 3 hours in the recording studio, but it made a huge difference.
- Eric edited the audiobook together, removing my breaths and any background noise.
- He then had it mixed and mastered, which he’ll explain below.
- Eric cut the tracks up according to ACX’s guidelines.
- I altered my book cover to fit the square shape that ACX requires.
- I found my book on ACX after signing up and uploaded the files for the book.
- Poof. The audiobook went live about 3 weeks later.
Enter Eric (@EricJon), who recorded the audiobook.
- Before you set foot in the studio make sure you are familiar with the author’s work. (i.e. READ THE BOOK AT LEAST ONCE) It’s also a good idea to establish a working relationship with the author. Your conversations with the author should give you an understanding of his/her goals and expectations for the project and will help you in producing the best final results. One thing that was KEY for me in this project was finding the overall mood/tone from the material and making sure that same excitement/energy came across during the recording process. As a producer it’s your job to make sure you keep the same energy level consistent with the entire project. Nothing is more frustrating than listening to the final edit and realizing that the energy level dropped in the middle of the project and you have to re-record (and this is only the fault of the producer). One way to keep on track: Once you find the tone/mood you are looking for, use that as a reference and listen to it right away at the beginning of each session.
- Rome wasn’t built in a day” and your project will take longer than you think. Once you get your levels set everywhere it’s a good idea to make sure you take pictures of your settings of your outboard gear. You’ll come back to these pictures/settings at the beginning of each session. Oh, and take LOTS of notes.
- WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING! Keep a note pad next to you as you work. Write down ideas, goofs in performance, start/end times for each chapter, etc. (you’ll come back to them every day.)
- Find the best microphone for the voice of your talent. “Audition” as many as you can. Every voice is different and finding the right microphone is well worth the investment for your project and for your talent to sound their best.
- Stay hydrated. Make sure that the talents’ voice is ready to get to work in the days leading up to recording. There are lots of ways to get your voice ready for a good workout. Find what works for you and do it.THREE things to keep in mind:
– Avoid alcohol the night before and during recording (it’s tempting when you’re having a good time tracking and hanging out in the studio to ‘tie one on’, but save the celebration for when the project is finished-and REALLY celebrate)
– Room-temperature water with honey/lemon seems to do the trick in the hours leading up to and during your session.
– Make sure the talent gets a good night sleep.
- CONTENT. You might find that the author has already published one version of the book but has changed it for the audio version (grammatical errors, content updates, additional pages/chapters, BONUS material, etc.) Make sure that you pick ONE version to record and stick to it. What I found very helpful was using the Kindle app on my iPad and following along as we recorded.
- LISTEN TO YOUR FINISHED WORK BEFORE YOU UPLOAD. This might be a no-brainer, but trust me, you’ll find things you missed the first, second, and third time around. It’s also a good idea to get a fresh set of ears on your work as well. Someone who is NOT familiar with this project in any way, someone you trust to give you constructive criticism when needed.
- Even when you’re done…..you’re not done. Audible and iTunes have their own rules/regulations for uploading content (found here:http://www.acx.com/help/rules-for-audiobook-production/200485520). Be sure to read, re-read, and then read them again. Make sure you record and upload using their exact specifications (44.1k – 192mbps, etc) Its very straight forward, but one thing that came as a surprise to me when I was ready to upload was this: (see attached image) I had my tracks cut up to their specifications, but when it came time to upload I found out that they wanted separate tracks for the credits as well as a “Retail Audio Sample”. Knowing this in advance would have saved a lot of headache and a trip to the studio (since I don’t work from home…yet)
Self-publishing an audiobook and self-publishing a book are two completely different beasts, though completely doable for the average person. If you have a book that you want to turn into an audiobook, I highly recommend looking at ACX, especially if you want to hire out a narrator. They have a few different options for this and make it easy for people to audition for your book.
Listen to the final product or get a free sample download when you enter your email address here:
April MacLean says
Thank you for this! This is going to save me some serious headache. I have a question: what do you think of the concept of the audiobook before the written book? I want to tell my story (semi) unscripted and transcribe from there. Is this a terrible idea??
Ben Nesvig says
Definitely not a terrible idea. Reading your book out loud is a very good way to edit your writing. I caught things in the recording process that I wanted to change in the book that I didn’t catch in the editing process.
Also, there are some authors who I would far prefer to listen to one of their speeches than one of their audiobooks.