Tips For Creating Great Audiobooks
By Jason Brenizer
Wherever your potential fans live on planet earth, they hold an infinite library in their hands. And that audience is on the move like never before. If you own or control rights to works of the written word, you can increase your passive wealth by reaching an untapped audience through digitally delivered audiobooks. In this article, I’ll dissect several mysterious facets of audiobook production. And I’ll begin the step-by-step process of breaking down who the key players are and where to look for them.
If you can shift your thinking from “I write books” to “I tell stories”, you’ll be on your way to expanding your fan base and massively growing your income with audiobooks.
Here are some questions you should consider when creating your own audiobooks.
The first question you must ask yourself (though this isn’t one of the official fifty) is which publishing road do you intend to take?
On the Traditional Publishing fork you will have very little to worry about, but there is a cost. You’ll have to give up control. You may end up waiting years after the print and eBook versions hit the shelves before you get to hear your book in audio.
Conversely, the Independent Publishing fork can potentially earn you more revenue at a faster pace, if you are willing to put on your entrepreneur’s cap and sink a significant amount of energy into marketing. Here you also gain control over the timing of your releases.
Now, let’s consider a high priority question that you can answer for yourself with a little exploration.
Who do customers enjoy listening to and why?
The easiest way to discover this is to head over to Audible.com, iTunes, Listen Up, or any of the other prominent audiobook distributors and find the best rated books in your genre. Make sure you look at the performance ratings, not just the story ratings.
Next, listen to a few titles to determine which narrators delight your prospective customers and what attributes they find so compelling.
THE ART OF NARRATION
How do you measure the quality of a narrator? How do you gauge the impact of a performance? Narration is a special form of acting, and both experience and training play a part.
Some people just seem to have an innate ability, but that alone won’t give you consistency of performance. Usually it takes time to hone that instinct into repeatable technique.
I would also argue that this practice cannot be carried out exclusively in a vacuum. Actors learn by seeing what works in front of an audience, or at the very least how other actors (and a director) respond. Here are some questions you might want to keep in mind when hiring an actor.
What kind of acting background do you have, if any? Theater, film, voice acting, live radio?
What accents have you done (and which do you enjoy the most)?
How do you handle performing the dialogue for gender opposite your own?
No matter the answers, you should take into account who your target listeners will be to determine the degree of accuracy and believability you need. If you have written a new Sherlock Holmes novel, listener expecations will be high. Likely even Americans from Omaha who love Holmes can tell a bad English accent from a passable one. In this case, think about hiring a native speaker for your narrator.
On the flipside, a science fiction novel might not need regional accuracy, but a huge range and flair for exotic delivery might be called for.
TIME & MONEY
Once you feel confident that a given narrator can deliver the performance that you crave, you can move on to the business related questions.
How many books do you currently have in your queue?
Realistically, when can you get started on my title?
The big producers will have systems in place to give you reasonably accurate projections. The independents often wear so many hats that their estimates might very well be darts thrown at a wall while wearing a blindfold.
Either way, remember that narration and editing are arts as well as crafts, just like writing. A little patience on your part is called for while your producer spins gold from straw. (Don’t worry, I’m not really suggesting your story is made from the husks of last year’s harvest.)
THE CRAFT OF NARRATION
Technique is different than performance. This is the craft, whereas performance is the art. Great narrators and audio engineers will often form a synergistic collaboration.
Also, be mindful when the producer wears all the hats in the workflow. When those roles are conflated into one, there can sometimes either be a loss of quality or a necessarily longer time in the studio.
Does narrator breathe heavily before big lines?
It can be distracting, but when used judicially, a sharp intake of breath can add tension and energy.
Are words clearly spoken without sounding stilted? How smooth is the narrator’s enunciation?
Slurred words can work wonders in dialogue, but listeners’ ears will tire quickly if the narrative is sloppy.
FROM GEAR TO EAR
Finally, we arrive at the land of tech. This may be what you wanted to learn about in the first place.
Do you have a dedicated vocal booth? Have you treated a closet with sound isolating foam? Do you hang blankets or curtains to deaden reflections?
Questions of this type are more for the independent producers who you will often find on ACX.com (Audio Creation Exchange). The big players, like Brilliance Audio and hybrid producer/publishers like Podio, will have top-of-the-line equipment run by experts.
In addition to all the arcane recording, editing, and mastering techniques employed to make long-form performance sound its best, there is one not-so-sexy facet most authors fail to consider.
Do you keep raw, recorded files after the project is finished? For how long?
Do you keep session files? Or high quality mp3’s?
Regular backups during recording are a must. Imagine being halfway through your book and losing the entire performance. It’s unlikely that actor will want to come back and do it all over again.
Yet archives are equally important. What if you write an updated version of your book? Or take three shorter books and want to combine them into one by adding adjoining material? It would be most cost effective to re-record just the updated sections.
And, if session files are saved, it is infinitely easier to stitch in added material and make the new recordings sound as close as possible to the original.
AN UNTAPPED AUDIENCE
Opportunity abounds for you, the pioneers and explorers in this new world of publishing. The Wild West of digital distribution is an exciting place to hang your hat. This market niche is growing at a breakneck pace, yet it’s still in its infancy. That means there is no better time for authors and publishers to do all they can to enter this space now.
If you’d like to dig deeper into what it takes for a producer or narrator to create an audiobook worthy of your story, consider picking up 50 Critical Questions: Discover the Perfect Audiobook Producer.
- We will break down the calculations and reveal the means to maximize revenue from your stories.
- Moreover, we will explore several methods to get your audiobooks into the hands (and ears) of fans through targeted marketing and strategic partnerships.
- And a whole lot more!
If you’re interested in turning your KWL books into Audiobooks, our Author Services team can help. See this post for more details!