How to make an audiobook

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ARTICLE INSIGHTS
  • Audiobooks are surging in popularity, so it’s a great time for self-published authors to transform their books into audiobooks.
  • You can narrate, record and edit your own audiobook to save money. Alternatively, if you have a larger budget, hire a professional narrator and producer to help you create a high quality audiobook.
  • ACX, the Audible distribution platform, allows you to upload and sell your audiobook. You’ll receive royalties of between 20%-40% per sale on this platform.

Audiobooks are more popular with readers than ever. In fact, audiobook sales are growing faster than ebook and physical book sales. In 2022, audiobook revenues rose by 10% — a further increase after audiobook sales jumped by 37% in a single year in 2020. So if you’re thinking of publishing your own audiobook, it’s the perfect time to take the leap and find out how to make an audiobook.

Whether you’re an experienced indie author, or making your first forays into the world of self-publishing, making an audiobook is very different from writing an ebook or printed book. As well as the usual storytelling components you need to write a captivating story, there are technical elements to contend with that can make or break the success of your audiobook.

We’ll assume you’ve already got a great self-published book and are itching to transform your written words into a gripping audiobook. If you’re still looking for tips on how to write your story, check out our author resources - you’ll find tons of useful writing and self-publishing info.

Ready to find out how to make an audiobook? Let’s get started.

Why make an audiobook?

There are lots of reasons to make an audiobook of your self-published work:

  • Make more money from your work — As you’ll see, audiobooks can actually be more profitable than other book formats. And the best part is you’ve already got a great story — you just need to record it.
  • Connect with more readers — An audiobook connects with readers in a different way to ebooks and paperbacks. Those who prefer listening to reading can now become familiar with your work.
  • Make your work more accessible — Blind and partially sighted readers (as well as those with other additional needs) often find audiobooks more accessible than standard written text.
  • Add a personal touch — If you decide to narrate your own audiobook, you can tell your story in your own words. This can connect with readers and fans on a new level.

Is audiobook publishing profitable?

In a word, yes. It’s a profitable industry which has had double-digit growth every single year for the past nine years! That said, self-publishing audiobook creators need to be mindful of how much they invest, versus how many sales they can expect to make.

If you hire a professional narrator and sound studio, you’ll spend a lot more than an author who narrates their own audiobook using their own recording equipment. However, you’re also likely to end up with a more professional, polished result, which can lead to more sales.

According to a report by the Audio Publishers Association (APA), audiobook sales in the USA in 2022 reached $1.8 billion, up 10% from the previous year.

Deloitte also looked into this last year and found that audiobooks overtook eSports and Podcasting for overall revenue.

Source: Deloitte Insights

To ensure it’s profitable for you to make an audiobook, you’ll need to carefully consider your investment budget, and weigh it up against how much you expect to earn from your audiobook.

How much money can you make selling audiobooks?

It tends to cost a lot more to produce an audiobook than an ebook - which means you can price it higher, too. Audiobooks on Audible cost up to 4 times more than the ebook version.

The more popular your story is, the more you can make selling it as an audiobook - so it’s a good idea to use your ebook sales stats as a guide to how much money you can make from the audiobook version. You should also check out our guide on author salaries.

As a rule of thumb, longer audiobooks also sell for more than shorter ones, so be sure to consider this if you’ve written a short story or novella.

Here are the general guidelines for pricing an audiobook based on its length, as provided by ACX:

  • under 1 hour: under $7
  • 1 - 3 hours: $7 - $10
  • 3 - 5 hours: $10 - $20
  • 5 - 10 hours: $15 - $25
  • 10 - 20 hours: $20 - $30
  • over 20 hours: $25 - 35

What do you need to make an audiobook?

To make an audiobook, you’ll need the following as a minimum:

  • A microphone and sound recorder/computer
  • Sound editing software
  • A narrator - this can be you or a professional narrator

For more high-budget recordings, you can also consider hiring a professional sound studio to minimise background noise and help you procure a high-quality recording. ACX - the self-publishing audiobook platform behind Audible - has a list of technical requirements each recording must meet to be accepted for listing on Audible. If you’re unsure how to meet these requirements, it may be a good idea to invest in some professional assistance.

You may also want to find a voiceover agency that can help find a suitable voice artist. Many of them will record a short snippet of text for you to see what they sound like.

How to make an audiobook in 5 steps

Follow these 5 steps to see how to make an audiobook version of your story.

  1. Decide on your budget - Work out how much you expect to make from your audiobook. From this, determine how much you can spend to create a compelling, professional audiobook. Split your budget between production and marketing costs.
  2. Plan your recording - Now you know how much you have to spend, decide where your money is best invested. Decide whether to DIY your audiobook, or hire a professional studio, narrator and/or sound engineer.
  3. Record your audiobook - If you’re narrating your own audiobook, practice as much as possible beforehand. If someone else is narrating it, make sure they have plenty of time to familiarise themselves with your story before recording. If you’re working with a professional sound engineer, make sure they know the specifications you need to work to.
  4. Sign up for an ACX account - This is where you can upload and list your audiobook on Amazon’s Audible platform. There are other audiobook platforms available, but Audible is the most widely used, so it’s your best bet for earning royalties fast.
  5. Market your audiobook - Use social media to let your readers know that the audiobook version of your story is now available! This is also a great time to email your mailing list with the good news.

Professional recording vs self-recording an audiobook: pros and cons

If you’re unsure whether to work with a professional studio or record your own audiobook yourself, this comparison table will help you decide.

Factor

Professional recording

Self-recording

Cost

Best for higher budgets; can cost up to £4,000

Best for lower budgets; equipment rental/purchase can cost up to £850

Quality

Higher quality recording expected

Quality may be lower, but can still achieve listenable quality modern equipment

Time outlay

Takes 6.2 hours on average to create 1 hours of listenable material

Likely to take longer than professional recording

Returns

Professional recordings may command a higher price (but not always)

Self-recordings may return lower profits, depending on audio quality

Self-recording an audiobook: what you need to know

If you decide to get a professional producer and/or narrator to record your audiobook, most of the technical work will be taken care of.

But if you opt to self-record, you’ll need to learn more about the intricacies of recording and narrating your own audiobook to get the best possible results. Here’s everything you need to know about how to record an audiobook yourself.

  1. Practice your script

Even if you’re very familiar with your text, you probably haven’t read it aloud that many times. So you need to know the material like the back of your hand before you start recording. 

Practice reading your book aloud several times before you start. Vocal warm-up exercises can help you prepare for long stretches of narration.

  1. Choose appropriate recording software and equipment

Investing in good equipment can help you achieve a more professional sounding audiobook recording. While this isn’t cheap, it’s often less expensive than working in a pro sound studio.

Investments to consider include:

  • A high-quality microphone.
  • A well-insulated recording space with good acoustics.
  • Recording software such as GarageBand, Adobe Audition, or Audacity (Audacity is a free open source software).
  • Headphones, mic stands, and other accessories.
  1. Set up your space and equipment properly

Having the right gear isn’t enough to record good sound. Learn more about how to set up your equipment and space to get the best possible results. For example:

  • Make sure there’s no background noise in the area you’re recording in.
  • Use a space with lots of soft surfaces to avoid echo and feedback.
  • Sit or stand in a comfortable posture that allows you to breathe freely while you speak.
  • Do a few practice runs and experiment with the settings to achieve the best sound quality.
  • Learn about setting the correct gain levels to avoid sound distortion.
  1. Back up your audio files

Don’t lose hours of valuable work by forgetting to back up your files. Make sure you have duplicates saved so you can recover any recordings if you need to.

  1. Edit your audiobook

Now you have your base files, you need to create your final file. Audacity, GarageBand, and other recording programs allow you to edit your recording directly in the software, which is often the simplest option for self-recording an audiobook.

Make sure to follow the ACX guidelines linked above (or those for your chosen distribution platform) when editing and exporting your final audiobook recording(s).

  1. Add music and sound effects

Some audiobooks include introductory music and/or sound effects to create more atmosphere. If you think this is appropriate for your audiobook, find some good royalty-free music (or, if you’re prepared to pay, you’ll find even more options) and mix this into your recording at appropriate moments.

  1. Create a cover and packaging

Just as an ebook or paperback needs a good book cover design, your audiobook should look the part, too. Creating a compelling audiobook cover can make people more likely to download it and listen, so this is an important part of your marketing strategy.

How long does it take to record an audiobook?

It takes an average of 6.2 hours to create 1 hour of your finished audiobook. That includes narration, recording, and editing. And that’s for a professional producer - so if you’re narrating and producing your own audiobook, you can expect it to take longer than this.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone audiobook runs for 9 hours and 33 minutes - so it may have taken almost 60 hours to produce. That’s almost 2 weeks of full-time work!

Making an audiobook is time-consuming - but the payoff can far exceed the earnings from an ebook or physical book. By knowing how to make an audiobook, you can make your work go further.

How much does it cost to make an audiobook?

Luckily, the cost of making an audiobook can largely be tailored to your budget.

If you’re planning to record and narrate your audiobook yourself, you can save money on production costs. You may need to invest in a decent microphone and sound editing software if you don’t already have these. Expect to pay between £200 and £850 depending on the equipment you buy. Audible will also take a cut of any audiobook sales you make on the platform.

If you’re looking for higher production value, the costs can quickly ramp up. Hiring a narrator, professional studio time, and a sound engineer will all increase your costs. These optional extras will eat into your budget, but they’re also likely to give you a more polished audiobook, which can add value to the finished product.

When hiring professionals to produce your audiobook, expect to pay 50% royalties for 7 years (Audible) or anything between £1000 and £4000 if you want to use a voice artist. If you’re going it alone, expect to pay for the narrator, the studio, the production and royalties (depending on your contract and negotiation).

How much does it cost to publish a book on Audible?

Listing an audiobook on Audible is free. Like self-publishing an ebook, self-publishing on Audible means you’ll only make money when your audiobook sells. When that happens, Audible takes a substantial cut.

According to ACX, you can earn royalties from 20%-40% when you sell your audiobook on Audible. For example, if your audiobook sells for £20 and you’re earning a 25% royalty rate, you’ll earn £5 from the sale. Your royalty rate depends on whether you choose exclusive or non-exclusive distribution on Audible. Exclusive distribution earns you higher royalty rates.

A bonus with Audible is you can get a $75 (or ~£60) bonus if your book is the first audiobook a new Audible member decides to buy.

Also, when users exchange their Audible credit for a book instead of paying full price for it, the author receives $1 (or ~£0.80).

Audible also offers plans that allow you to work with and pay producers and narrators through royalty share schemes. This is a simplified way to outsource production of your audiobook - but make sure you understand the rules of royalty share schemes before you commit, as it may mean you earn less from each audiobook sale.

More self-publishing tips for authors

Audiobooks are just one way self-published authors can make money with their writing. Find out more about how much writers can make - and how to price your book - in our self-publishing resources for authors.

Advice from a published writer
This article is always evolving and being updated regularly by our expert writers. Information featured in it has been fact-checked and verified.
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