Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Reading for Audiobooks

Let’s look at how you can change your book into an audiobook!
By Renee Frey, CMO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
As the sole extrovert (we are a group of writers, what did you think most of us would be?) I often get to do the more “outgoing” things with the publishing company. Things like talking to people, and recording and editing myself reading for audiobooks. 
Audiobooks are here to stay. Audible, Scribd, Overdrive, and other subscription services have made audiobooks accessible and easy. Just think, about twelve years ago you would have had to buy a massive binder of CDs to listen to Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World as an audiobook (I know, I borrowed it from the library). Now you can play it from your phone, then launch it at your work computer without missing a word. 
For our self-published colleagues out there, or for other non-traditionally published authors who retain the rights to produce an audiobook, you have lots of options! But what option is best? How should you proceed?

How Is An Audiobook Made?

As with print or ebooks, audiobooks go through distributors. You’ll see a lot of the same choices you already see for self-publishing: producers like Amazon Creative Exchange (ACX) where you can distribute solely through Amazon, ACX and other companies that partner with you to create the audiobook in exchange for a portion of the royalties, or companies like Findaway Voices and Author’s Republic that are distribution only, but allow you to distribute wide. 
So basically you record the audio, edit and master it, upload it to the distributor, and voila! Audiobook!
Sounds too good to be true? Yes and no. 
This sounds easy, but generating the audio is the hard part. There are tons of blogs out there about what equipment is best, what programs are best, comparing services, and lots of other things. I don’t want to go over that—but I DO want to tell you what I typically use for when we make our audiobooks. 
I also want to highlight the easy and affordable things you can do to make this process easier and more affordable for you. 

Step 1: Recording Audio

Okay, you’ve written your book. Congratulations!
Have you looked at the price of getting professional voice work done? 
I mean, it makes sense. You’re paying for EVERYTHING (they edit and master the audio too). But most self-pubbed or indie authors I’ve met aren’t exactly rolling in money. ACX does have a profit-sharing option. But why lose out on profits if you can do some of the work yourself?
Option 1: Get an amateur to record
If you’re close to a high school with a decent drama department or a college with a decent performing arts program, look into hiring an amateur to do the recording. An experienced actor (even if that experience is amateur experience) will have a lot of fun doing the recording, and won’t be shy about really going out there with their voice. If the thought of hearing your own voice for tens of hours fills you with dread, I highly suggest this option. While you may still need to pay, the cost would be MUCH less than hiring a professional studio. 
Along that note, if you have connections with a professional actor, these guys are almost ALWAYS looking for more work. And with the wonder of the Internet, it’s relatively easy to send them a copy of your book for them to mark up, and for them to send you audio files. 
For both of these, you’ll have to do work at the onset to make sure your project is ready. You’ll need a contract for how much you’ll pay, how many re-records you can request, pronunciation guides (looking at you, fantasy and sci-fi writers with your crazy made-up words) and the timeline for the project.
Word to the wise: Be prepared to give these artists a good length of time to do this. This isn’t their primary job, and life will happen. 
Option 2: Record Yourself
If you have acting or theatrical or voice background and don’t wince when you hear a recording of your voice, take a stab at recording the book on your own! As I already said, there are TONS of blogs about what equipment to get and what programs to use. I’d rather focus on what you may already have or what is FREE, and what you can do to improve the recording. 
First, your phone can record you. If you have a smartphone, you can record an audiobook. However, since that mic isn’t the best, you’ll really need to make your recording space do the work that the mic can’t.
  • Find a small, QUIET space. This may sound weird, but a clothes closet is your best friend for this. The clothes help absorb sound, like echos, and if you can hang a curtain or towel across the door and plug up the crack at the bottom of the door, you can really improve your recording space. Pay attention, and stop if you hear an unexpected noise (dog barking, ambulance, etc). Trust me, it’s MUCH easier to re-record what was interrupted now than to try and remove that sound later. 
  • Be as far away from other electronics as possible. If you are using a laptop and USB mic, don’t bring your phone in. If you’re using your phone, put it on airplane mode. Silence or turn off anything in your house that may make a noise. Yes, that includes Alexa. 
  • TEST TEST TEST! This is probably the hardest part about using a phone. It’s always easier to adjust levels before recording. Adjusting afterward is difficult, and may even require expensive software you don’t have. Check to make sure you sound clear, not too loud or too soft, and that you aren’t popping the mic. If you don’t have professional diction training, BUY A POP FILTER. They cost like $5, and make the difference between acceptable and unusable audio. Once you find a good setting, LEAVE IT. That means if you’re using a phone, leave the phone in a place where you aren’t touching it. 
This seems obvious to me, but aside from preparing your space, prepare yourself. Bring a bottle of water, tissues, anything you may need. Remove jewelry, especially dangling earrings (ask me how I know this…). And most importantly, mark up your script. Use colors, underlines, markings, whatever you need to know when to breathe, when to change voices or inflection or volume, or anything else. 

Step 2: Editing and Mastering Audio

Once you have your recordings, you need to edit them. Most distributors require audio to pass a quality check to distribute your audiobook. That means removing extraneous sounds, including breath and mouth sounds, tightening up pauses, and fixing any issues with the recordings. 
Since our focus is affordability, I’m going to just say it: get Audacity. Audacity is a FREE open-source sound editing program. There are also tons of free ad-ons, and while it isn’t as powerful as paid software, it does what you need for audiobooks. 
When I edit, here is what I typically do:
  • Noise Reduction: So when you record (or instruct your actor to do this when they record), leave about 3 seconds of “dead” space at the beginning of each separate track. Use this portion for your noise reduction. It will filter out the ambient white noise in your recording space. 
  • Remove breaths. In Audacity this is SO easy. Highlight the breath sound, then press ctrl+l to change it to silence. Breath done!
  • Tighten up timing by deleting portions of really long pauses. If you recorded yourself, remove your mistakes, sighs, throat clearings, etc. 
If you have sound editing experience, or really want to learn a lot and take this to the next level, you can add dimension to your “recording room” using offsets, enhance the recorded voice with the equalizer, or other things. These are more advanced mastering techniques, and while they will make your audio sound great, they aren’t absolutely necessary. 
Export your audio as required by your distributor, then upload it!

A Few Final Notes

Audiobooks are one of the fastest-growing segments in the publishing industry. You should get your book out there. To help, a few things to note:
Fewer recording sessions is better. Your voice changes from day to day, and you can hear it! Obviously don’t read yourself hoarse, but doing fewer longer sessions is better. Not always possible, I know, but there it is. 
Consider working together with other authors. Editing your own voice might seem intimidating, but editing someone else’s may not be. It also gets another set of ears on the sound, which like having critiquers and beta readers is a good thing. 

Join us next week when we talk about the importance of reviews.

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