Welcome to my world! Today I’ll give you “Audiobooks 101” – all you need to know to get started in the Audiobooks business!
Yes! I’ve recently branched into audiobook versions of my own books. I call them “Bradiobooks,” because they’re not just audiobooks – they’re written AND narrated by the author, because who better to speak in your authorial voice than…you?
You can find them here! [EDIT, January 2016 – the Shopify store is gone, alas. More on that below!]
This all came about really quickly. At the end of May, I was invited to be a guest on the 3M/Musketeers author podcast. To my surprise, I listened to the recording and I thought I sounded pretty good. Knowing that delusional egomania is the writer’s stock in trade, I figured I’d better hear that opinion from someone else as well before I went off half-cocked. When podcast co-host Jayne Lockwood said my voice was “like chocolate,” I thought, well, let’s give this a shot.
And I did! If you’re a writer and you want to go into this line of business as a do-it-yourselfer, let me walk you through the requirements – artistic and technical.
There are three artistic requirements:
The confidence to read your own work out loud. For some people, that’s the hardest part. But think about it – who else really knows your style, your narrative tone of voice, your characters? Who else can get into those characters’ heads better than you can? Okay, as noted, a certain level of egomania helps!
A smooth, professional tone. Which is NOT to say a perfect radio voice or an opera-level tone control. Unless you sound awful, with a voice like Fran Drescher or Gilbert Gottfried, it’s a matter of confidence, and of listening. You weren’t born knowing how to write – you read and read and read, right? Same with narrating – listen to a bunch of the top narrators, decide what you do and don’t like about how they do it, talk along with them, back to them, imitate, learn.
A little bit of acting skill. Not a lot – you don’t want to ham it up. Audiobook listeners don’t want lots of wacky voices, especially since those can mess with the sound levels and hurt your eardrums! But enough acting that you can do slightly different voices for each character. I don’t know about you, but I’m always preparing for the soon-to-come day of my intergalactic fame, which requires me to be constantly casting the leads for the Hollywood versions of my books. For my current Bradiobook in progress, “A Little Too Broken,” I had to find a voice for Tom, the Afghanistan vet who lost his legs to an IED. Tom’s a big dude, a good dude, and so, whenever Tom is speaking, I’m visualizing Jon Hamm in my brain, and thinking about how Jon Hamm would say his lines. Then I don’t have to “act” myself as much as channel how I think someone else would play the part.
As for the technical requirements…
I didn’t want to set out with a NASA level budget if it was all going to be for nothing, go down in flames, and cost me more than I’d ever make. To start out, I had in mind something more like an amateur rocketry budget. Here’s what I spent on the project:
Audacity recording and editing software – FREE. Don’t be gulled into paying for Adobe Audition or any other schmancy software. This is the shit, and it does everything you need to create top quality output. (Discussed below are some resources to get you going with it.)
Dropbox or Google Drive – FREE. You should have this no matter what you’re doing, but nothing is worse than losing gigantic sound recordings that you’ve already edited when a computer goes kaput. Always have backup – and as long as you keep all your files in a Dropbox/Google Drive folder, you won’t have to remember to do it, it’ll go to the cloud automatically, and be easily retrievable.
Blue Snowball microphone - $50. This sounds like it’s “cheap” but it’s not. In fact, in one session, this mike picked up the gurgles in my empty stomach! There’s no need to spend more than this on a mike for narrative recording.
A decent sound card and a quiet fan in your computer – If your computer is relatively new, you should be okay there. I bought a $350 Dell desktop unit to serve as my dedicated audio recording station. A new desktop unit has all the power you need and is cheaper than the equivalent laptop. And since you’re recording in a studio environment, you don’t need a laptop. A noisy fan is going to cause you a lot of problems in the editing process.
POP Filter - $10, spend $20 MAX! A guy at Guitar Center tried to talk me into a $60 steel mesh filter, saying the advantage over the fabric filter was that “you could clean it.” Right. This filter reduces “popping” sounds from the impact of fast moving air on the microphone (i.e., you talking at it).
Really, really good headphones – up to $300. For me, this is the one place not to skimp. You want to hear every pop, gasp, huff, and background click when you’re editing. You know how they say don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink? Don’t edit with headphones inferior to what your audience might use to listen to your product. Personally, I have a pair of Bose QC2’s that I love. The noise cancelling feature really blocks out the world around me and lets me focus only on the recording.
CAD Audio Acousti-Shield - $100. It’s a little padded shell that sits behind your microphone. Okay, honestly? Maybe when all was said and done I really didn’t need this. I could have constructed something from these…
2 12-packs of 2x12x12 Acoustic Wedge Soundproofing Studio Foam Tiles - $60. These are small soft versions of the “cone shaped” panels you see in pro studios. I put some in the rafters but otherwise they just sort of “cradle” the mike setup, as seen in this picture.
In addition to the equipment above, you’ll need a good physical space - The key is to have either a large room, like my giant basement, where most of the echoes are dispersed and you can carve out a small, shielded space, or a very small room, where you can put sound baffling on the walls and ceiling. (You don’t need to cover every inch of the walls/ceilings with acoustic tile, in fact, you don’t want to – you want to retain some natural room reflection in your recordings.)
So…you’re looking at that picture and you’re thinking…okay…crazy person…
I know, right? This totally looks like amateur hour, especially with the cat blanket on top and the other blanket hanging from the rafters behind it, all set up on a TV dinner tray. How could such a cheap shit setup result in high quality output? It looks like the perfect setup for recording your deranged conspiracy theory ramblings, right?
Well, hear the results for yourself > HERE < (for free)
Imagine how pleased and surprised I was when Jason Frazier, professional audiobook narrator and Disney voiceover artist, took a listen to this, and told me that I had the right voice for it, AND that I’d done a slick professional job on the final product! At that moment, I knew I was going into the Bradiobooks business.
Once you’ve got all that going, you’ll need to develop…
The technical chops to edit your recordings. And that’s not that hard to master. Take a look at this awesome video, which pretty much gave me all the Audacity skills I needed to smooth out the noises and make it sound “pro.” I use some but not all of these steps, and Your Mileage May Vary – everyone’s voice is different, and everyone’s studio setup is different, and what sounds good to one person (i.e. a heavy bass sound) may be irritating to someone else.
Your best friend is the Insert Silence command – grab every second or half-second of snorting or huffing and blot it out. The basic rule is, if your end product doesn’t sound as smooth as a radio commercial…you need to edit it some more.
Editing is demanding in terms of the attention you have to pay to each sound, and to do it “pro” you need to be a perfectionist. I’ve heard some pro recordings from pro publishing houses where the narrator gasps before each sentence or two, and I think, nobody thought to edit this out? Remember, you’re inside someone’s ear, they can hear every sound you make, and the more sounds you make that aren’t words, the more distracting they are from your work.
Don’t forget to break your stories up into chapters, or break your book chapters up even more – as with ebooks, short chapters are key. I prefer 10-20 minute blocks, myself – about the size of something you’d listen to driving to work, or working out. Even if you have a short story, break it up. When I did “Sam’s Reluctant Submission,” I broke it up into four “chapters” so I had four MP3 files.
Okay! So, you’ve set up, recorded, and edited your audio. Now what?
Well. You’ve basically got three options. You can go with Audible aka Amazon, you can distribute to multiple sites directly, or, if you’re really adventurous, you can start your own store.
Which is what I did, here at https://bradiobooks.myshopify.com/ Right now I only have a few titles available, but there will be more to come J Visa/MC/PayPal accepted! (Okay /end shameless self promo…)
[EDIT January 2016: This following section is unfortunately out of date, as my Shopify store is now closed, but it shows my intentions at the time I wrote it last year. All the arguments for not going with Amazon are still legitimate, but…the sad fact is that Audible/Amazon rules the audiobook market – it’s just so much easier to “one click” a purchase than to go through the complicated sideloading process that comes with a purchase from a site like Shopify. So, yes, the first self-narrated “Bradiobook” is coming very soon from Audible, in the form of my novel A Little Too Broken, but yeah…I had to bend the knee to Lord Bezos.]
I made my decision to go indie for a simple reason - I'm an indie author who's lost a lot of his independence, and I'm looking to get some back.
As an author who's “all in” on Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program, I've seen how quickly my income could go from hero to zero, when the 'zon makes a sudden change in its compensation structure...a change made recently with only two weeks' notice, screw you very much.
And this change in the KU program happened just as I was thinking about going into audiobooks. I looked at the Audible.com option, and I really hated the 7 years' rights they took on audiobooks. And, Audible is owned by...Amazon. So once more, I'd be putting all my eggs in that one economic basket, knowing full well how, um, whimsical they could be about changing compensation programs.
And why should I take only 25-40% of the sale price, when I could get 97%, after Shopify.com takes their credit card processing fee? At least I get 70% on my ebooks, whereas Amazon/Audible takes the lion’s share on audiobooks.
I decided that I needed to do less business with Amazon, not more. I tried selling audiobooks the way unsigned bands used to sell their albums, out of the “back of the van,” so to speak - asking folks to PayPal me $5 and I'd send them the files. A lot of people were not into that, especially strangers. Which is understandable.
So now I'm all legit! There are only a few stories up here so far, but I do have a vast back catalog as you can see here, and many of these stories will be Bradiobooks in the coming months.
If you’re looking for further guidance on how to submit to and deal with Audible.com, well, I can’t help you there, but I hope what you’ve read helps you get started in your budding audiobooks career!
QUESTION: Who’s your favorite audiobook narrator and why?
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