Audiobooks—the HOW

Want to publish your book as an Audio book, but not sure how? Read on to find out The HOW of Audio Book publishing.

In our last blog, Audio Books–The WHO, we discussed the people and skills needed to produce an audio book. Now we will take a deeper dive into how this is done.

As we mentioned previously, the Rights Holder (RH) is the person or entity who has the legal authority to make decisions about and sign contracts to initiate the production of an audio book. The RH may be the same as the author, unless the author has chosen to transfer these rights to a third party. For our purposes, we are assuming that you, the author, are also the RH. We also discussed the people or entities who will help you get your audio book to market and the types of skills that are required.

How NOT to record an audio book

It just isn’t possible to get the high quality recording you might expect by talking into your smart phone or tablet. You may be stunned by the sheer number of sounds in your body (tummy rumbles) and home (heaters, creaking pipes, running water, and computer noise) that our brains automatically filter out, but which show up on the final recording. There may also be echoes, reverb and frequency modulations that occur in a studio that doesn’t have the proper sound treatment. Your savvy audio book listeners will be able to hear the difference in quality. Just click on the Sound Cloud samples below to hear the difference yourself:

Recorded on a smart phone

Recorded professionally

Hear the difference? Not only is the first sample difficult to listen to for very long, but the distributor will probably not accept this recording for publication.

This is the general process for getting an audio book published:

  • The book must first be narrated, either by you or a professional narrator, depending on which route you choose to go. (More about this below)
  • The initial recording of the audio book must then be edited to remove mouth or background noises, breaths that are too harsh or too long or short, and errors in reading text. This is done using specialized software.
  • The recorded audio must then be proofed” to look for mistakes in phrasing or pronunciation and for noises that the editor may have missed
  • The recorded audio may need to go back to the narrator to correct the recording, which is sometimes referred to as being punched”.
  • After it has been punched, it should then be mastered to meet the distributor’s specifications.
  • The audio book is then sent to the distributor for a final quality assurance check and, if it passes, goes up for distribution.

As the author, you might be wondering whether narrating your own book is something you can or should do on your own, or whether hiring a professional audio narrator is the better choice.

The foremost issue is cost, (both in terms of dollars and time spent by you to complete this process) vs benefit (in term of the effect of royalties and overall revenue to you, the author).

If you narrate the book yourself, you keep all the royalties and any other revenue from audio book sales. And you may deepen the connection with your audience, especially if they are used to hearing you speak your book’s subject matter. However, you will incur some costs, in both time and money, to record the book yourself.

If you choose to use a professional narrator, you might be wondering what hiring one costs. Professional narrators are generally paid either by “per finished hour”, a hybrid deal or royalty share.

  • In a royalty share (RS) agreement, the narrator and author or RH split the royalties.This split varies with each distributor. For example, if Audible is the distributor, the author and narrator split the 40% royalty equally, each getting 20%. There are no “up front” costs to the author in a RS agreement and the narrator bears the risks that the audiobook will sell enough to compensate the narrator for his or her time and expense to complete the recording. Therefore, the narrator will ask you questions about how well the print and Kindle versions of your book is selling and what you are doing to market them.
  • In a “per finished hour” (pfh) agreement, the author or RH agree to pay the narrator a fee based on the length of the finished (ie, narrated, edited, proofed and mastered) audio book up front. This arrangement allows the RH to keep all the royalties. Narrators typically charge $200 /pfh or more. The narrator bears the costs of editing, proofing and mastering in a pfh deal. There are no risks to the narrator in this arrangement. You, the author/RH, bear all the risks that the audio book will sell enough to cover the time and expense to have it recorded. This increases the upfront costs to you, but you may make them up on the back end because you will receive all the royalties from sale of the audio book.
  • In a hybrid agreement, the author/RH agrees to cover the costs to edit and produce the audio book which typically starts at $50/pfh, and shares the royalties with the narrator along the distributor’s standard split.

If you wish to narrate the book yourself, you can do so in one of two ways:

  • Set up a home studio. This entails purchasing the necessary equipment and software to do a professional level recording and to be able to edit and master it to the distributor’s requirements. If you don’t already own and know how to use this equipment, the cost to do so ranges from $2500 to $5000 depending on the type of equipment you purchase and how much you must pay to get the training to use it. This may be a good investment if you plan to narrate multiple books or record podcasts in the future.
  • Rent space in a recording studio and outsource direction, editing and mastering of the final recording. Most cities have recording studios and trained audio professionals. If you live in L.A. or NYC or Chicago, where there are several professional recording studios geared toward narrators, this may be easier and quicker than trying to do it on your own, but also may be more expensive. Other areas of the country may have fewer studios but may also be less expensive because there is a lower demand. Note that, while the studio should be local to you, the editor and director don’t have to be in the same studio. The director can work with you by Skype and the editor just needs your finished recording sent in a wav or mp3 format sent via the internet.

If you DON’T wish to narrate the book yourself, then consider hiring a professional narrator

Authors/RH hire audio book narrators for the same reason you’d choose a professional for any job instead of doing in yourself: it frees you up to do what you are best at doing and most want to do. You must consider the value of your time vs the cost of hiring out. Here’s what your Audio book Narrator brings to the table.

  • They’re proficient at reading while recording. Narrators know how to talk into a microphone, how to avoid plosions, mic pops, and mouth noise. . They ‘re adept at editing, making the final product pleasing to listen to, easy to understand, accurate, and meeting the production standards required by the audio book publisher and distributor.
  • They will give a professional performance. Some books may require a different gender voice, dialect or character type that you may not be able to perform. They’re passionate about what they do and make it a priority to keep learning. All their expertise is going into that sound file to get the best results and create a crisper, more polished product.
  • They are proficient in sound technology. A professional audio book narrator has his or her own recording studio sound treated booth, experience in using the mic properly, in the use of the recording software or DAW (digital audio workstation), and they know how to use it. They know what it requires to eradicate or minimize ambient noise that human bodies, computers, and buildings make.

How do I find a professional narrator?

You want a narrator whose vocal style and talent best fits your book. Finding one depends on what company you are using to distribute your audio book and how your are distributing it. If you are an independent author / RH for your book, you may wish to distribute through Audible, which is owned by Amazon. Amazon has another company, ACX, where authors/RH can find narrators suitable for their book. If your publisher is the RH of your book, they may do their own audio book production or have their own distribution channels, through which they will either assist you to narrate your book, if that is what they deem best, or find suitable narrators. There are many options here. In our next set of blogs (Audio books–The WHERE), we will discuss different options for distributing your audio book, along with the pros and cons of each.


Becoming an Audio book narrator is something that can be learned, but it’s a lot of work. Because it’s a job, many writers don’t want to split their time learning how it’s done, or investing in equipment. Others may welcome a new challenge. If you’re passionate about it then you should give it a try.

However, if your time is better spent writing and speaking, then consider talking to a professional audio book narrator. We’ll talk more about what that entails in our next post: Audio Books–The WHERE: Audible


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©2018, Becky White, The Voicing Expert, all rights reserved

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