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Yes, You Can Record Your Own Audiobook. Here’s How.

When I finished writing and publishing Where the Hell is Tesla?, I looked at the Amazon.com book page, noticed the absence of an audiobook/CD, and said to myself “Hmmm. I wonder if I could do that myself?”

I found out I could. And guess what? You can too. You, an independent author, can narrate and publish your own audiobook — for free! (Or close.)

I won’t say it’s one-click easy, though. There are many small things to do right, and many small things that can make a recording awful. In fact, here’s a really smart article outlining numerous reasons why you SHOULDN’T narrate your own book. But if you’re still into it after reading that, any author that’s a bit technical can do it, without breaking the bank, using tools you already have (or that won’t cost you an arm and a leg to buy).

Before we get started:

  • You should already have your book done and published. If not, take care of that first and return to this post later. It’ll still be here!
  • You should have access to a computer or an iPad.
  • For my demonstration, I’m using certain gear and software you may not have, and I’m talking exclusively about Amazon, but the general principles will still apply.
  • This is meant to be an overview, not a tutorial. But I’m happy to answer any specific questions you have, so head on over to the Contact page and fire off a question at any time.

Okay, ready?

1. Create an account with ACX. ACX is part of Audible.com, an Amazon.com subsidiary. They help build and manage audio content that gets sold on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. When you start your account, all you’ll need is your bank information (so they can pay you royalties — that’s a good thing), and to find your title in the Amazon database. Once you have your account created, take a look at the Audio Submission Requirements. Basically, know this:

  • You have to include separate opening credits, chapter files, closing credits, and a 1-5 minute sample.
  • Leave silence at the beginning and end of each chapter, and read the chapter headings aloud
  • Reduce noise on the low end, and make sure it’s not louder than -3dB (Don’t worry, I show you how in the video)
  • Export at 192kbps MP3 at 44.1kHz (again, it sounds hard but it’s easy)

2. Get your studio ready. Of course, by studio I mean anywhere you can set up. You’ll need:

  • A computer or an iPad. I use a Mac (my business is copywriting/design/advertising, so Macs are the standard), and as a recording author, this has a great benefit — because every Mac comes with…
  • Recording software. Garageband is the name of the app that comes free with a Mac. For more complicated projects at our studio, we use ProTools, but for a single voice, Garageband is perfect. Easy to use, even for beginners. And it comes free with iPads, too. If you’re working on a PC, you’ll need an alternative. I’ve heard from several people after this post was published that Audacity is freeware and it’s great. That’s not an endorsement, but to let you know that recording options aren’t limited to mac folk.
  • A microphone. You could try to get away with the internal mic on your computer or iPad, but for a cleaner, less noisy sound… you’ll want to have a better mic.  I use an AKG C3000 (about $200, there are a lot of good mics in this price range). But I also have a USB interface called a DUET2 that the mic plugs into (another $600). If you don’t feel like plunking down $800 before you’ve even started, here’s the good news: there are plenty of USB mics that are good enough for this work, and can plug directly into your computer or iPad. I found a great article comparing several, but here’s the quick — for a basic, good sound, try The Blue Microphones Snowball ($55). For a great mic that plugs directly into an iPad as well as a PC, try the Apogee MiC 96k ($229)
  • Headphones. If you want to monitor yourself (not a requirement, but a good idea), you’ll need a pair of headphones. From my experience, basic headphones should be fine.
  • A quiet space. This one’s common sense, and critical. Any extra room noise can ruin a recording, so choose a space with very little ambient noise. Also, open spaces with nothing on the walls can bounce the sound all over. Use blankets, foam, whatever you can to dampen the sound. (We use foam baffling circled pretty tightly around the microphone. You can see it in the video.)

3. Start recording! Fire up Garageband, create a new voice track, and go. Alternatively, I’ve created a Garageband file with the settings I use applied to the master track and first track. You can download it here. (40MB)

This isn’t meant to be a detailed tutorial on Garageband, so I won’t go into terminology, or every setting, but basically here’s what to set in everyday language:

  • Make sure your master volume just hits the “yellow” during loud moments, stays in the mid-to-high green area, and never hits the red.
  • Under Controls (the little dial-looking-button top left) make sure your “noise gate” is checked, and set to around -65dB (You can play with this setting to make sure you don’t get weird-sounding clipping, but make sure when you’re not talking, you don’t hear anything at all).
  • Also under controls, click on the compressor, the EQ, and give yourself a wee bit of reverb. (I show the dials and such in the video, but again, play with this to get the sound you like.)

Okay, when you’re ready to hit the record button and start speaking, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep the mic about 6″ – 8″ from your face. You can play around with this. When you have to whisper, you can come in a little closer, and when you have to scream or shout, DEFINITELY pull back, and turn your head away from the mic a bit.
  • Make sure you’re speaking clearly, and make as few mistakes as possible. When you make a mistake, if it’s a small one, just leave a breath, say a quick “boop!” and repeat. This keeps your flow going, and gives you a visual cue when you go back to edit — the “boop!” shows up as a little spike in the waveform. For a larger mistake, stop recording, delete that range, and go again. If you do these two, you’ll thank yourself when you have to go through and edit all this!
  • Make sure your pace is not too fast and not too slow. Try it a few different ways, play it back. Let someone else listen to them and compare.
  • Minimize loud breath sounds, lip smacks, tongue clicks, pops and other noises. Again, you’ll thank yourself later when you don’t have to edit out all this. You can also buy a cheap pop filter (it’s in the video) that helps with some of this, mostly the “p” sound.
  • Keep characters, voices, and accents consistent, without making them too over-the-top or cartoony. (Although for my book, a comedy, I purposely went a bit over-the-top.). And keep the energy of performance consistent

Once you’ve recorded your opening credits, create a new track. Then for each chapter, do the same. So in the end, you’ll have a separate track for each chapter. This makes it easier to organize and export.

Note: If you want a quick music stinger for your opening credits, or a sound effect here and there, you can find tons of royalty free music beds and sfx on iTunes. There are lots of sites out there as well, LOTS, so if you feel like digging, go for it. Also for free sounds, my usual go-to site is SoundBible.com. Maybe not the biggest catalog, but it’s FREE, and it’s easy to use/download.

4. Edit and export your recordings. This is fun, but tedious, work. You’ll be taking out extra breath sounds, playing with volume and noise, a LOT. When you’re done (whew!) solo each track and export 192kbps MP3s at 44.1kHz (sounds complicated but it’s a couple of buttons).

5. Upload your files to ACX. Also might sound confusing, but it’s easy. You can see in the video, 1-2-3!

Then, once you’re done, you’re done. ACX takes over and packages up your files, and — assuming you don’t have any problems they come back to you with — they distribute it for you through Amazon, Audible, and Apple iBooks. And you earn a percentage of each sale — in my DIY case, 40%. Amazing!

If you have any questions at all about the process, I’d be happy to answer (or investigate if I don’t have an answer). Just head on over to the Contact page.

About the Book:

SCI-FI ODYSSEY. COMEDY. LOVE STORY. AND OF COURSE… NIKOLA TESLA. I’ll let Chip, the main character tell you more: “I found the journal at work. Well, I don’t know if you’d call it work, but that’s where I found it. It’s the lost journal of Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors and visionaries ever. Before he died in 1943, he kept a notebook filled with spectacular claims and outrageous plans. One of these plans was for an “Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus” – that allowed someone (in this case me and my friend Pete) to travel to other versions of the infinite possibilities around us. Crazy, right? But that’s just where the crazy starts.”

CHIP’S OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction: the events depicted in the collection of emails did not happen. I have never been in contact with a covert government group attempting to suppress knowledge of the lost journal of Nikola Tesla. I have not been threatened with death if I divulge the secrets contained inside. They did not buy me this handsome jacket (oh crap, you’re reading this – trust me, it looks great on me). They did not come to my place, and liquor me up, and offer to publish this book as a sci-fi comedy novel to throw the public off the trail of the real truth.

Or did they?

I’m kidding. Of course they didn’t.

Or did they?

God, I can’t keep my big mouth shut.

Praise for Where the Hell is Tesla?

Where the Hell is Tesla? has been compared to Terry Pratchett (the Discworld Series), Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and even Kurt Vonnegut (I know, that last one is probably a stretch.)

“If Bill and Ted were approaching middle age (and gotten just this much more world weary along the way), then went on an Even More Excellent Science Fact Adventure, you might get something like Rob Dircks’ debut novel, Where the Hell is Telsa? Smart, funny, and just like its titular scientist, impressively inventive, this is a must-read for anyone who aced science and, even more so, for those of us who didn’t. Which means, quite simply, it’s a book for everyone.”

– Michael Zam, Screenwriting Professor, NYU

“Reminds me of Vonnegut. Yeah, I said that.”

– Ruth Sinanian, Connoisseur of Fine Literature

Amazon.com Reviews…

“An extraordinarily unexpected delight… will appeal to fans of Pratchett and Adams.”

“A wild, witty wonderful ride through a historically accurate backdrop. You will laugh, it’s not dumb humor but very smart.”

“Very entertaining and a great homage to a great scientist. If you’re looking to laugh out loud while reading, then this is the book for you.”

“I was laughing at times and on the edge of my seat other times. The character of Chip is wonderful.”

rob-portrait

About Rob Dircks

Hi. I’m the owner of Goldfinch Publishing. After independently publishing my first two books, I fell in love with not only writing, but the new process of publishing. As a copywriter, designer, and developer for over twenty years, I realized I had some skills that might be able to help other authors. So in addition to hawking my own books (feel free to buy them here), I’ll be editing, producing, and promoting the works of other talented authors as well here on this site.

My past? I’ve been many things – author, advertising agency owner, aspiring screenwriter, stock video producer, iPhone app developer, photographer, and more. I was even a Sears baby photographer way back in college. (If I never see another red velvet baby Christmas dress, that’ll be just fine.) Feel free to reach out to me on the general Contact Us page, through the Goldfinch SELECT submission process, or with a request for information on paid services over at Goldfinch A LA CARTE.

30 Comments

  1. Helpful article. Curious if a USB headset would be good enough to record audio? I use them for many video projects and find they keep my audio levels more consistent and minimize (if placed properly) breathing and lip smack sounds. Haven’t tried one on a full book yet.

    • Hi John, I’d say you’re probably fine, but could you send me a small sample? Or maybe give me a link to a video you think sounds good? I’ll take a close listen and give you my take. I just sent you a note with my email address. – Rob

  2. Hey Rob, great post and video, thank you. I have a book (in paperback and ebook) but its not for sale on Amazon. Do i need to get it on Amazon before I can set up an ACX account and make an audiobook?

    • Hi Andrew! YES, in order to create your audiobook through ACX/Audible, you need to have the book for sale on Amazon. For my latest novel, here’s what I did: I recorded, edited, and packaged up everything beforehand, and AS SOON AS my book went live on Amazon, I started up the ACX project and uploaded the files.

      There are other channels for audiobook sales, but really? Audible/iTunes are the two games in town.

      If you have any questions about getting your book on Amazon, shoot me an email on the Contact page (http://robdircks.com/contact-me/).

  3. BRILLIANT!!! Thank you SO much for taking the time to do this video walk though – I now feel much more confident I can do this myself :o)

  4. Great! Nice stuff!
    After some research I found some online services that provide audiobook productions. At first I was thinking of narrating my own and then have
    http://www.e-audioproductions.com/audio-book-editing do the post production (they have better rates and gave great tips for self recording) but I am thinking of doing a full production with a pro narrator with them now instead. Has anyone had any experience with such services?

    • I don’t think so. But I’m all-in with them on an exclusive, so it’s not applicable to my titles. I’d suggest calling them (1-888-396-6347) or emailing them (support@acx.com). They have excellent support, even for non-customers.

    • Hi Richard! Sorry, I don’t have any custom jobs like that planned. But I DO have a FREE, new podcast if you want to hear more of my melodious voice — it’s called Listen To The Signal (listentothesignal.com). Check it out!

  5. I have tried Audiobook Builder, an app available on the iTunes App store, to create an Audiobook. But the problem is that it comes in as either a single giant file, or many chapter files. All of the Audiobooks from Audible come in as a single file that has a dropdown menu showing the chapters and allows you to jump around by chapters. Is there any software that allows creation of books like that that do not require use of Audible? Stand alone?

    • I think it depends on how you’re going to listen. You can always record separate tracks, load them into your iTunes library, and just create a playlist called “My Great Book.” Or you can use SoundSould (https://soundcloud.com) to do the same thing so it’s hosted in the cloud (you can get a free account up to 5GB I think.) Basically Audible is doing the same exact thing — I upload separate tracks for each chapter, and the software is showing it to you as one big file — basically a playlist. Does that help?

    • I wouldn’t want to say an outright “no,” but I think you’re probably better off buying an external USB mic at least. In any case, you can send a sample to ACX for them to review, so if you think your internal recorder sounds good, they can confirm it for you.

  6. Thanks very much for this, Rob. I was absolutely lost until I found your explanation. I do have one question: do you ever have any problem with computer noise? I’m using an ancient MAC (early eighteenth century, I think). It works fine although it might be noisy sometimes. Also, I wasn’t able to download your master track file because the garageband version is too ancient. I’ll work it out, though.
    Thanks again. I’m now your loyal follower.

    • Hi Jill — I’m psyched you found the post helpful! About your ancient Mac, yes, noise can be an issue. To mitigate it, you can purchase a longer XLR cable, or USB extension cable, to get your mic as far away from the Mac as possible. It’s a little bit of a PITA, moving back and forth between the mac and the mic, but it definitely will help with the noise.

  7. Excellent. Thank you!

    I think I’ll record my Hacking Kickstarter… Non-fiction book this way. I already have a fiction book (The Abduction of Nelly Don) on ACX where I was lucky to find a great narrator. But this time around, I’ll take a stab at it myself. Purchased the mic and anti-pop thingie. Next is the mic.

  8. Thank you! This was a fantastic overview and makes it so much easier for me NOT to be freaked out about recording my own audiobook to go along with my new book. I’m actually pretty excited now. WOOHOO!

  9. Here’s my question, Rob. What if you’re creating an audiobook from a public domain work? In my example: Beowulf. ACX seems to want a traditional version of the book (credited to me) already available on Amazon. As if audiobooks can’t exist on their own.

    Ideas?

    • Hi! Yes, that’s the trick with ACX, that I’ll add to a later post — you have to have a book published in the Amazon database under your author name to create an audiobook, even a public domain work. I know it’s not ideal, but here’s how I’d proceed: create a kindle version of the public domain work (you need to add photos or illustrations to make it a unique version according to Amazon’s rules), and as soon as it’s in their database add your audiobook in ACX. Again, not ideal, but within the parameters I think it’s the way to go. Good luck!

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