How to Create an Audiobook: What Authors Need to Know
Two Words Publishing often find authors and publishers to have one of two positions on audiobooks: either they don’t know why it’s necessary or even desirable to have their book(s) in audio form, or they want to make every book in their catalog into an audiobook, no matter the length, genre, format, or cost. In this blog post, we would like to help authors in the first camp consider learning how to create an audiobook, and add it to their portfolio of Christian book titles, and those in the second camp to determine what type of book is a good fit for the audiobook format and when they can reasonably hope to be successful in it.
Why are audiobooks important?
Frankly, because your current and prospective readers may be audiobook “readers” (Yes, listening to an audiobook is Reading and not cheating!). There is a large and growing segment of readers who prefer to “read” their books by audiobook instead of through print or e-book mediums. There are many reasons for this, but consistently among the most common answers is that they can consume audiobooks while doing myriad other tasks—whether driving, doing housework, washing dishes, folding laundry, driving, etc. Many avid listeners/readers will easily finish between one and four more books each month by listening while performing other tasks of life. For many in today’s time-starved culture, this is the only way that they can actually start and finish a book they intend to read!
Then there are the market numbers. Audiobooks have had a 9-year double-digit increase in sales and boasted over $1.3 billion in annual sales in the US alone in 2020. While the Christian book market is obviously only a segment of that overall market, it indicates the upside to adding audio to your book portfolio. The latest data shows that despite its rapidly growing market size, 2020 was the first year that over half of Americans reported having listened to an audiobook—so there is still great growth potential! Of course, while our main goal as Christian publishers and Christian authors is never monetary, but spiritual, we all want to see people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ and strengthened and changed by the Spirit into sons and daughters of the Father. This also shows the great impact that audiobooks can have both now and in the future in advancing the kingdom of God.
Choosing Who to Narrate Your Audiobook
Now that we’ve established the background, let’s discuss execution. Many authors think, How hard can it be to narrate an audiobook? I have speaking engagements all the time! Or I read to my kids every night. Yes, some authors narrate their own books. You’ve probably heard great anecdotal stories from an author acquaintance who said it was easy and encourages every author to give it a shot. But: there’s a good chance that author is not you. While many authors are proficient speakers, the skill of public speaking is a completely different skill than that necessary to narrate an audiobook. Most authors who pushed their publishers to narrate their own audiobook decide they never want to do it again! They find that it’s far more difficult and grueling sitting in a professional audiobook production sound booth, hopefully with an experienced sound engineer and a gifted director, trying to read aloud the text that looks so good on paper but trips up the tongue multiple times in each sentence, recording for 4-6 hours a day for a week, while trying to keep the same energy level through the entire book and not falling into vocal patterns that will eventually put the listener to sleep over a 10-hour title. That’s also not to mention the technical difficulty and art of building a recording space that is properly isolated from outside sound and acoustically treated to meet the minimum requirements for audiobooks, and investing in recording equipment (microphone, preamp, recording software, etc.).
If you are an indie author and would like to narrate your book, it would be a good idea to seek professional audiobook narration training. Some excellent resources are Sean Pratt—the best non-fiction narration coach in the business who has specific author-narration training—and Edge Studio. I took both trainings and can attest to their excellence. If you are a traditionally published author, you can expect to be asked to audition to narrate your book. Don’t take it as an offense! The publisher wants to confirm that you, in fact, have the best voice for the audiobook, which, unfortunately, is not always the case. Even internationally-known pastors and speakers rarely narrate their own books (the aforementioned Sean Pratt narrates many books by well-known mega-church pastors and speakers).
Something else to note: not every book will make a good audiobook. Cookbooks, for example, are never going to make for a good listening experience! If your book is heavily illustrated, very technical with lots of data, charts and graphs, or if pictures drive the story, it likely will not be worth the investment. That brings us to address the elephant in the room: how much does producing an audiobook cost?
How Much Does it Cost to Create an Audiobook?
Much like any industry, there is a wide variety of opinions on what an audiobook should cost to publish/produce. With the continuing exponential increase in the number of audiobooks being published each year, there are many aspiring audiobook narrators who may be thrilled to get any audiobook narration/production job they can find. This often means that they will work for well under the standard rate just to get an audiobook on their resume, or may even be willing to do a Royalty Share arrangement. In a Royalty Share arrangement, the narrator will pay for the full production of the audiobook and the rights-holder (whether the publisher or the independent author) will split all royalties received from the sales of the audiobook, usually 50 percent of the net sales. There is nothing wrong with this arrangement as long as the narrator you choose has not only the ability to perform an excellent narration but also the capability to do all the other things necessary in the audiobook’s creation, including editing, proofing to the manuscript, and mastering (making sure the audio files meet minimum specifications). Keep in mind, though, that established, quality narrators rarely take on royalty-share work.
You may find better results if you choose an independent producer or audiobook production company to create your audiobook. Expect to pay in the $400–500 Per Finished Hour (PFH) range. A good rule of thumb for the length (or PFH) of your audiobook is: Word Count divided by 9,300 = # of Finished Hours. You can expect to find established audiobook producers who consistently create excellent audiobooks in that price range, though there are certainly companies who charge more for top-tier, household-name actors. Lastly, there are some who will give you a great product in the $300-400 PFH range, though you will want to do your due diligence to confirm that the quality of the audiobooks they have produced is consistently excellent. If you think that’s out of your price range, remember the last point in this CIPA blog post concerning common indie publishing mistakes. You should consider a great audiobook an investment in your brand and expect to invest a significant sum for it.
Which Books Should You Turn into Audiobooks?
Considering the costs to produce an audiobook, be judicious on what titles you seek to publish in audio. For backlist titles, many audio publishers consider Kindle rankings, Amazon ratings, and Goodreads ratings to determine whether they can reasonably expect to make a return on their investment within a few years; most audiobook distribution contracts begin at 7 years for an initial term, so profitability in 3 or 4 years will give you 3 or 4 more years (at least) of profit. For Kindle rankings, the lower the number, the higher the expected sales; for ratings, the higher the number, the better. Newer titles are harder to quantify, though you’ll want to consider the author and/or publisher’s social media following, the title’s genre, expected print runs, and marketing budget. If you need help on the marketing side, check out this great article discussing book marketing ideas from the CIPA blog.
There are many more companies and platforms where an author can get audiobooks produced these days than there were even 5 years ago, including SpokenRealms, AudiobooksUnleashed.com, ACX.com, Findaway.com/publishers, and many more. Some of these companies will allow the rights holder to split the royalties with the narrator and/or find a narrator who can produce the title for you. They also have different distribution options, so be sure to research what those options are, and ask questions you may have.
Christian Audiobook + Production Companies
While you can find solid production with the above companies, we also think there’s something to be said when the company you choose to produce your audiobook shares your Christian values set forth in your book(s). Some of the Christian audiobook publishing/production companies you can find today include www.oneaudiobooks.com, www.oasisaudio.com, www.twowordspublishing.com, and www.visionaudiobooks.com. Let us know at Two Word Publishing if we can help you with your audiobook production.