So you want to record an audiobook? It can definitely be worth it: The way we consume media is changing, and because the publishing industry is evolving with it, audiobooks are new territory for some authors. According to a survey from the Audio Publishers Association (APA), audiobook revenue hit $1.6 billion in 2021, the 10th straight year of double-digit growth for the medium. While the number of audiobooks published continues to rise, so has the amount of time listeners spend with audiobooks.
The pandemic has certainly played a role in how we consume media — and how much we consume. Other elements driving this growth include a rise in subscriptions to services offering audiobooks and concerns surrounding screen time and its effect on mental health (studies note detriments to physical and developmental health, too).
As a self-published or indie author, you may not have a publishing contract, which is where audio options would be established prior to publishing (so be sure to check your contract, if you have one). While you may be tempted to record an audiobook simply based on potential sales, the real reason to do it should be your audience. You can meet your regular readers where they are and provide opportunities for people with sight loss and other disabilities to read your books as well.
“I believe every author should create the opportunity for readers to find them no matter how they read,” shares Jane Ubell-Meyer, founder of Bedside Reading, which places physical and digital copies of books in luxury and lifestyle hotels. “You don’t want to limit your potential audience; you want to find fans however they want to consume the material.”
Ubell-Meyer uses as an example her 91-year-old father, who is an avid reader and began reading by listening just a few years ago.
Of course, the decision to record an audiobook is the easy part. While you may be tempted to do it on your own — especially if you self-published your book — many audiobook platforms have strict quality standards that involve both narration and audio production mastery.
Record an audiobook: Get help
Audiobook publishers, such as Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), may reject or delay books that don’t meet their publishing standards (for example, ACX specifically requires your book already be published on Amazon). While doing it yourself may seem like it would save you money, Sam Rhodes, audio director for Book Buddy Media, says in the long run, DIY can actually cost you more than hiring a team to produce your audiobook. This is due to the equipment required and because of how much time you must devote to the project.
“Not only are [authors] going to have to have the vocal stamina and skill to do it,” he says, “[and] not only will they have to have the equipment and space to do it, but they also will have to do the sound engineering and edit audio on audio software.”
Rhodes adds that while it is possible to buy a $100 USB microphone and record from your kitchen table, you can’t easily remove reverb — or echoes — from the sound bouncing off the table, turning pages, or even airplanes flying overhead or the garbage truck driving by. All of these additional sounds can disqualify your book from publishers.
Of course, a huge part of the sound of your audiobook is dependent on the narrator. Ubell-Meyer says that unless your book is a memoir, it’s best to have a professional narrate it. Her advice lines up with current trends, as the APA confirms listeners prefer professionals narrate books.
“[Just like a book cover], narration is so important,” says Ubell-Meyer. “There are a lot of options; you can go for an independent narrator or go full tilt and have an incredible production.”
How to choose your team to record an audiobook
For those authors who prefer DIY, all hope isn’t lost: Publishing an audiobook isn’t just about the production process. The distribution process — actually uploading the finished audio files to publishers like ACX — is something you can choose to do yourself. Understanding what elements, if any, you would like to do yourself will help you decide on the size of your production team.
Some authors may choose to bypass a production company and work one-on-one with a narrator, who oversees the entire recording process and deliver the files once recording is finished. Others may choose a production company that oversees the production from start to finish, including finding the narrator for you.
“We vet professional narrators and their space and equipment before hiring them, so we know the pitfalls — and other companies like us would also,” says Rhodes. “My biggest tip would be don’t underestimate the difficulty of creating quality audio.”
Production companies will also likely have a quality assurance team as well as advisors to help you choose an audio sample that readers can listen to before purchasing the audio book — which many publishers require — and may be able to help you reduce your book cover file from its original size to accompany your audiobook.
Whether you go with an independent narrator or a full production company, Ubell-Meyer advises you to listen to other audiobooks to see what voices and production you prefer. Review audiobook listings on Amazon or other marketplaces to help you find the right fit. “Like anything else, you have to do your research,” she says.
Luckily, if you’re wanting to record an audiobook, APA makes some of that research easy thanks to those yearly sales surveys; science fiction and fantasy genres currently lead in audiobook sales (though romance experienced the most growth). No matter your genre, there are readers waiting to hear your words.
Ashley Lauretta’s writing has appeared in the The Atlantic, WIRED, Men’s Journal, ELLE, and more. Her expertise in the publishing industry has been acquired through an array of posts including bookseller, library shelving assistant, literary publicist, and regional magazine editor. For more info, visit ashleylauretta.com.