The Making of an Audiobook

How do you make an audiobook? We’ve got answers! In this post excerpted from our report on The Global Audiobook Market, Michele Cobb and Michael Desrosiers provide expert advice on the various steps involved the process of making an audiobook.

Creating good technical audio content is one of the most important pieces of the entire audiobook market. The success of an audiobook very much rests on the quality of the recording and choice of narrator. Almost every platform where someone will purchase an audiobook provides reviews of the audio qualities and narrator qualities. A few bad reviews will almost certainly hinder sales except for the most devout followers of the author or narrator.

Step 1 – Know Your Titles

The first step in making an audiobook is to understand the basic character of the book itself. At a minimum, you should understand the voice of the book. Is it male, female, both, or neither? Is it first person or third person perspective? Are accents involved and important? Is there a specific cadence to the book? Are there key characters who are very young? Do you need multiple narrators to make it work correctly? Has this character been voiced before? Once you understand these items, you can begin to cast a narrator who will provide the right voice. You are not just picking someone to read the book aloud; he or she will be creating the voices of the characters that your listeners will hear. Often your authors will have a specific “voice” in mind and that will need to come through the narrator. Having the author involved in the making of the audio is often beneficial to the narrator and to the audio itself, as they can often provide important direction.

Step 2 – Focus on Production

A good audiobook is not just about content, but also the quality of the production. Production values must meet listeners’ expectations, putting the narration in the best light possible. In addition, some audio might need music or sound effects to accentuate the recording.

The highest quality production and best audio sound possible comes from a recording studio with a director and a sound engineer on site overseeing the production. Of course, this is also the most expensive way to record. You are not only paying for studio time, but also the time of the director, the sound engineer, and the narrator over approximately twenty to twenty-five hours. Add to that the required post-production work, which can be expensive, but it is also necessary.

In the case of keeping a high-end author satisfied, your relationship might require that you go all out on the audio production the extra few thousand dollars. An author read of their own book, for example, requires some hands-on assistance; again, you want to make sure that your author is satisfied and feels that this process will benefit them in the long-term. The support team will help with the basics of the production process as well as “in the booth” coaching. You might also want to use this more expensive method if you are going to use a high profile or celebrity narrator. Employing a professional actor to narrate a book might be a straight marketing endeavor for publicity or because the actor has played that character in the movies or on television. Even professional actors may not have a lot of narration experience, or they might require more flexibility in scheduling because of other commitments.

Step 3 – Choosing Your Narrator

Using professional, experienced narrators helps eliminate many issues during the recording process. Although they might charge higher rates, they are often quicker in the booth, making it easier for the post-production crew. Using cheaper, newer narrators can work for easier, shorter book reads or if the financials of a title make it impossible to do otherwise. It may be beneficial to have the authors read their own work, even if they have never performed this service before. If someone is telling “their story,” it should come from them or someone extremely close to them. For business or self-help books, or a book with a strong opinion or hypothesis, then it should come from the person putting their reputation on the line. Because of inexperience, however, author reads may be more expensive and time-consuming to produce.

It is getting increasingly commonplace for professional narrators to have a recording studio at home. A well-created home studio provides a high level of sound quality, and if the narrator is skilled, they do a great job of self-policing to create a high-end reading of the property. The benefit of this type of recording is that you still get a high-quality recording, but at a lower cost, as the studio, director, and/or engineer is bundled into the cost of the narration, which helps create a more competitive cost structure. This method should be used for middle- and lower-tiered audio production, where making a profit on the audio is a priority, and additional layers of production will not reap additional sales opportunities. A highly skilled narrator in their home studio can produce a wonderfully strong production for a very reasonable cost.

Step 4 – Post Editing

Once the raw reading is completed, the post-editing will create the final “master.” Post-editing cleans up the recording and removes any sounds that might have snuck into the production. The post-edit may also require the narrator to re-record patches of text. A professional narrator usually means lower post-production costs. The editor listening and correcting the recording will complete the puzzle and produce a final work for release. Increasingly, narrators may both record and edit their own projects. While this may seem an efficient process, it belies the importance of a second set of ears in the quality control process. If a home-studio narrator/producer is used, it is important to know if the narrator is subcontracting the editing.

Step 5 – Master File Formats

At this point, you will need to know if you are going to release both physical and digital Master File formats. The masters needed to produce them need to be created differently in order to support replication and production requirements. It will take the editor some time to produce both masters, therefore an additional cost. Make sure you’ve made this decision well ahead of time. Once you have a finished, properly mastered digital recording, you can deliver it to your distribution partners for them to load into their systems. With physical product, you will obviously need to go  through the replication and packaging stages before distribution.

Step 6 – Metadata

One of the most important steps in your audiobook endeavor is the creation of your metadata: ISBN, title, author, copyright information, release date, author bio, pricing, weight, duration, carton quantity, etc. Each title can have as many as fifty to seventy- five pieces of information to be transmitted to distribution partners.

The first piece in this process is information gathering. The information for each title becomes available at different times throughout the process. Some items, such as author name and title, will be known at the start of a project; other items, like audio playing time, will not be known until the end. Even after completing and sending metadata to the distribution partners, corrections may need to follow.

One of the big issues with metadata is the time and effort it takes to manage all that data vis-a-vis the distribution parties’ requirements for uploads, which may differ from partner to partner. The publishing systems that help with this process tend to be expensive, especially if you are only using it for audio or are a small publisher. Look at your database and determine if it can handle the addition of the audio for- mat data or if you will need a new system designed for audiobook-specific data. You can manage your metadata with simple tools like Excel, but this becomes more difficult and time consuming. The important issue is to keep current information flowing to the distribution partners.

The final piece is delivering the metadata to the distribution partners. Each partner has a specific “template” for the data, which you may deliver in an Excel spreadsheet or via an ONIX feed. These transmissions will happen with the frequency required to get your titles up and published in a timely manner. For medium to small companies, a monthly upload of all your new titles is probably sufficient. Simultaneous release titles are the most important to focus on to ensure the largest potential sales impact. Any issues that the data distributor can detect upon upload can be corrected when your file is rejected; otherwise, reviewing your title information in your partner’s system after upload is a good common practice. After this step, your titles will be available to sell once the distribution partner finishes their quality control on your audio, art, and metadata files.

This is an excerpt from our digital report The Global Audiobook Market. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about how to make the most of this highly popular format. Download your copy today!

10/17/2018 | Digital, Export, Market Guides