Print books are great. But if you want to make your message even more accessible, here’s my #1 recommendation:
Publish an audiobook.
Audiobooks are a fast-growing industry. Over 71,000 audiobooks were published in 2020 alone. And all signs point to more growth in the coming years.
Listeners love audiobooks. They cut down screen time, offer accessibility to a wider audience, and make it easier to multi-task (especially now that so many people are commuting again).
Audiobook sales are going through the roof, growing by almost 25 percent per year. And nonfiction books are experiencing the greatest growth within the audiobook market.
You’ve done the hard work of writing your book. Now it’s time to take the next step and bring it to life beyond the written page.
This article will explain how to make an audiobook, covering five basic steps for preparing to publish and choosing a platform. At the end of the post, I’ll also compare taking the DIY audiobook route with using a full-service audiobook partner.
Step 1. Record and Produce Your Audiobook
There are 3 main paths to recording and producing an audiobook:
- Record and produce it yourself
- Hire Specialists for Specific Steps
- Hire One Company for The Entire Process
I’ll briefly discuss all 3 below, but no matter what you choose, here’s your most important takeaway:
Your audiobook has to sound good.
No one will listen to a book with background noise, fluctuating volume, or a boring audiobook narrator. Audio production matters.
1. Record and Produce Your Own Audiobook
I only recommend recording and producing your audiobook yourself if you already have all the skills to record the narration properly, engineer all the sound files, and package the finished files into an audiobook.
Most people won’t have those skills.
It’s likely that you’re going to need help. So, then the question becomes: Should I hire each piece of this process out separately or go with a one-stop self-publishing shop?
2. Hire Specialists For Specific Steps
Your second option is to hire out some of the specialized tasks involved in producing an audiobook.
For example, you might decide to hire a professional voice actor. A professional narrator can make all the difference between an audiobook people want to listen to and one that no one buys.
Or, you might hire a producer who can engineer and package the files into a finished audiobook.
The piecemeal hiring approach does have some pros:
- You have more direct control over every aspect of production.
- If you can take on some of the skilled labor yourself, you could save money.
- If you already know people who will do a good job, you’ll get to work with a familiar team.
But it also has some major cons:
- If you aren’t used to producing audiobooks, there are many moving pieces that are easy to overlook. For example, a first-time Author might not think to ask whether the recording studio price includes the engineer’s fees.
- You will have to rent a recording studio or buy expensive home recording equipment that you may never use again.
- You will spend a lot of time trying to assemble and coordinate your audiobook dream team. Not all engineers have audiobook experience, and editing an audiobook is a different animal from editing music. Hiring people will require due diligence.
- If you need help at every step of the way, you probably won’t save money.
- You won’t have the expertise of a team that has already collaborated to publish thousands of audiobooks. If any problems arise, you will have to troubleshoot them yourself.
- If you DIY the audiobook production, chances are, you’ll also have to DIY your book’s marketing, promotion, and distribution.
3. Hire One Company For The Entire Process
Most Authors should choose Option 3. It’s best to hire an audiobook producer to handle the whole process—narration, editing, engineering, and final production. It’s the only way to guarantee to end up with a high-quality audiobook.
These pros charge around $500-750 per finished hour (PFH) of the final audiobook.
For a 40,000-word book, that’s about 5 hours, which means the price will come in around $2,500-$3,750.
That might sound like a lot but think of it this way: If you were to record it yourself, you’d probably have to rent out a professional recording studio. Those cost around $100 per hour.
But you’re not looking at finished hours in the studio. Instead, you’ll be dealing with production costs. Expect the process of recording to take two to three times as long as the finished audiobook. That means 10-15 hours of studio time.
To narrate your audiobook yourself, in a studio, with the help of a sound engineer, you’ll pay around $1,000-1,500. Then, you’ll still have to hire someone to tackle the editing.
Frankly, the full-service option will probably be more price competitive. And it will certainly be easier. If you partner with a comprehensive audiobook service like Scribe, you won’t have to keep track of the complicated nuances of the process.
To sum up, here are the most important decisions that go into audiobook production:
- Will you narrate your own audiobook?
- Will you record your own audiobook?
- Will you engineer your own audiobook?
- Or, will you hire a turnkey service that will help you with all of these elements?
If you need more help deciding, we break all 3 options down even more in this post about how to record your own audiobook.
Step 2. Review Your Audio
No matter which of the 3 options you choose, you will want to carefully review your audio. Remember, your audiobook’s success hinges on its sound quality. Listeners won’t pay for bad audio, and audiobook distributors know that.
Let’s assume that you’ve gone the full-service route, like the one we offer at Scribe. Your audiobook narrator has killed it. What happens next?
- An editing engineer will listen to the recording. They will adjust the pacing, remove background noises, and make sure there are no audio pops or clicks. The goal here is evenly paced, clean audio.
- A quality control engineer will also listen closely to make sure nothing escaped the editing engineer’s ears. Their job is to make sure the recording edits are as seamless and inaudible as possible.
When your audio files get back to you, they should sound polished. But don’t automatically trust that they are.
Listen hard. Listen close.
Reviewing your audio is critical because, at the end of the day, your name will be on your audiobook. It’s your credibility and professionalism that’s at stake.
Make sure that everything is pronounced correctly. Make sure there’s no fuzz, no weird noises, obvious edits, or volume shifts.
If it’s hard to pay such close attention for 5 hours straight, break your listening sessions into chunks. The important thing is that you don’t tune out.
Audiobooks are like print books: once it moves into publication and distribution, there’s no going back. This is your last chance to ask for re-recordings, point out rough edits, or notice sound quality issues.
Closely reviewing your audio files ensures that you’re 100 percent happy with the book—and the impression it will make—before it makes it to other listeners.
Step 3. Choose Your Platform
Your next step is to choose what platform(s) or distributors you want to use to publish your audiobook.
You can publish to individual platforms, but it’s more likely that you’ll want to use a distributor, which will publish your book across multiple retail platforms. Distributors also open your book up to libraries and subscription services like Scribd, which can increase your book’s reach.
Here’s a list of your major options:
- Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX (owned by Amazon)
- Findaway Voices
- Lantern Audio (formerly ListenUp)
- Author’s Republic
- Kobo Writing Life
- Publish Drive
Each of these distributors has the power to reach a different audiobook market. When selecting a distributor, you should consider how wide their reach is, whether they’ll help you reach your target audience, and how their royalty structure works.
For example, if you make your book exclusively available through ACX/Audible, you’ll earn a higher royalty rate than if you give them non-exclusive distribution. The higher royalty rate might not be worth it if it means losing out on sales from listeners on Google Play or Nook.
Step 4. Make Sure It’s in the Right Format
Before you can publish your audiobook, you must make sure it’s in the right format. And when I say “format,” I don’t just mean whether it’s an MP3 or a WAV file (although that does matter…).
Different distribution platforms have different requirements for their audiobook formats. For the most part, the differences are slight, but it’s important to know exactly what they are.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on the requirements of Author’s Republic, Scribe’s go-to distributor. They’re a good standard to go by because they release titles across more than 50 platforms and have to make sure their audio will be accepted by all of them.
Here are the requirements your audiobook must meet:
- It must be consistent in its overall sound and formatting.
- It must be comprised of all mono or all stereo files.
- It must include opening and closing credits, in separate tracks.
- It must be narrated by a human. Text-to-speech recordings are not allowed.
- Each file must contain only one chapter or section.
- Each file must be no longer than 80 minutes.
- Each file must contain a section or chapter announcement at the beginning.
- Each file must have between 0.5 and 1 second of silence at the head, and between 1 and 5 seconds of silence at the tail of each track.
- Each file must be free of sounds like mic pops, mouse clicks, excessive mouth noise, and outtakes.
- Each file’s volume must measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS.
- Each file must have peak values no higher than -3dB.
- Each file must have a noise floor no higher than -60dB RMS.
- Each file must be 192 kbps MP3, Constant Bit Rate (CBR).
- Each file must be 44.1 kHz.
- Each file must be no larger than 170MB.
If some of that sounds like gibberish to you, take it as a sign that you’ll need help. As I mentioned, the learning curve can be steep, and it must be done correctly. Otherwise, all your hard work will go nowhere.
I know that these specifications probably sound nit-picky. But you have to pay attention to all of these things if you want your audiobook to be accepted by platforms like iTunes or Audible.
Audible, for example, has strict background noise restrictions. If your finished audiobook doesn’t meet their format standards, they’ll reject it. Their customers expect high-quality books that are easy to navigate, so your book must meet their standards.
That means it’s critical to get your audio right.
Step 5. Upload Your Audiobook to the Distribution Platform
Once you’ve settled on a distribution platform, you’re ready to upload your files.
Make sure that your book’s format matches their requirements.
Most platforms have an audio analysis tool that ensures your files meet their criteria. This keeps you from submitting subpar files by accident.
If you prefer to check the formatting yourself, there is an amazing tool called 2nd Opinion. This software, developed by Steven Jay Cohen, will check audiobook files before sending them to distribution. If the files don’t meet spec, it will give you an error report.
But you don’t want to get to the finish line, only to discover that you have to go back to the mixing or recording stage.
You should also double-check the terms of the distribution contract. Does the royalty match what you expected? Can you move to a non-exclusive deal after a year? What territories will your book be available in? Know what you’re agreeing to before you hit “submit.”
Once you’ve uploaded and submitted everything, the distributor will review your audio files. When the audiobook is approved, they’ll send it to retailers.
Soon, your distribution partner will start reporting sales and sending royalties. If you use Scribe, all this will be trackable in one easy-to-use dashboard.
In this section, I’m going to list and evaluate some of the major audiobook distributors. I will explain why you might or might not choose them to publish your audiobook.
One of the most well-known distribution platforms is ACX, or Audiobook Creation Exchange. ACX is owned by Audible, which is owned by Amazon.
If you’re already familiar with the process of publishing an eBook, you can think of ACX as the audiobook version of Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).
Any books sold through ACX will be available on 3 platforms: Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
You have two royalty options when you publish through ACX:
- Exclusive distribution: If you give ACX the exclusive right to distribute your audiobook, that means you cannot put the book on any other platform (e.g., Google Play). ACX retains this right for 7 years. In return, you will make 40 percent of the retail sales on your audiobook.
- Non-exclusive distribution: Your book will be distributed on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes, but you can also upload it to other platforms or distributors if you choose. You will make a lower royalty rate of 25 percent.
ACX offers a “pay-for-production” option, which involves using an ACX producer or narrator to produce your audiobook. You can either pay PFH Rates, a 50/50 split of your royalties, or an upfront flat fee.
If you publish through ACX, be aware that you cannot set the price on your audiobook. Audible sets the prices, generally based upon the book’s length.
Because Amazon has the lion’s share of the audiobook market, many Authors assume that their best financial bet is going exclusive. But that may not be the case. One best-selling mystery author reported that only 43 percent of her sales came from Amazon. If she had gone for exclusive distribution, she would have missed out on most of her sales.
Findaway Voices has built their business model on allowing Authors to choose where they want to sell their books and at what price.
Findaway Voices currently has more than 40 retail and library partners, which means they offer much wider distribution than ACX.
Authors have full control over pricing, and they can even work with Findaway Voices to set up sales promotions or pre-orders.
Findaway Voices pays Authors 80 percent of the royalties they receive from retailers. That means that if your book sells through Amazon, you would receive 80 percent of Amazon’s 25-percent royalties. The remaining 20 percent goes to Findaway Voices.
Other retailers offer different royalty percentages, so those figures will look different for each platform. For example, Nook pays a 45 percent royalty. That means a $10 book sale would earn the Author $3.60, while Findaway Voices would earn 90 cents.
There are also adjusted royalty rates for library check-outs and subscription services.
Findaway Voices offers a marketplace to connect Authors with narrators, but unlike ACX, there is no royalty-share option. Authors must pay Findaway Voices narrators a flat-rate fee.
Lantern Audio (formerly ListenUp)
Lantern Audio, formerly ListenUp, is one of the oldest audiobook players in the game. They offer both production and distribution services, and they distribute to more than 20 outlets.
Authors receive 80 percent of the royalties, paid by check on a quarterly schedule. Payments aren’t processed until $50 has been earned.
Author’s Republic is Scribe’s go-to distributor. They have a huge network of more than fifty retailers, including outlets popular in other countries, like Kobo and Storytel.
In fact, Author’s Republic is a great option for international Authors looking to break into the North American market. Unlike many other distribution services, there are no geographical restrictions.
Authors receive 70 percent of royalties, paid monthly via PayPal. If Scribe produces the audiobook, Author’s Republic will give the author 85 percent.
Author’s Republic allows Authors to have complete control over their book’s price. They also provide free ISBNs.
Kobo Writing Life
In 2019, the popular eBook site Kobo Writing Life (KWL) began publishing audiobooks. Kobo is part of Rakuten, a Japanese-based e-commerce company, so KWL has a strong international presence. Authors can set their prices in 16 different currencies.
Kobo offers Authors 70 percent of the list price on books priced at $2.99 and higher. For books between 99 cents and $2.98, Authors receive 45 percent royalties.
Kobo also has the unique option to let Authors offer their books for free.
Unlike ACX, KWL doesn’t set book prices. They also don’t ask for exclusivity, so you can easily pair other distribution methods with a KWL account.
PublishDrive is the only distributor on this list that offers eBook and print-on-demand options.
They have direct agreements with certain outlets and a partnership with Findaway Voices for certain retailers. The royalty structure varies depending on the agreement type. You can see the list here.
Their business model is dramatically different from the others listed here. Instead of taking royalties, PublishDrive charges authors a monthly fee. For first-time Authors, the starter fee is $9.99 per month.
Many people think publishing audiobooks is as easy as clicking “record,” “stop,” and “upload.” But it’s not. There’s a lot of technical knowledge involved in audiobook production.
If you want to make your book accessible to the widest audience possible without forcing yourself up a steep learning curve, Scribe Audiobook service could be the right option for you.
After working with thousands of Authors, we know this process inside and out. We have a proven method to source the best possible narrator to be the voice of your book, then record, produce, and distribute your audiobook on all popular platforms where audiobooks are sold.
Most importantly, we’ll keep you informed and involved every step of the way. You’ll never be in the dark about what’s happening with your audiobook.