I am completely in love with audiobooks. I have listened to thousands of hours of books and podcasts, and that’s not even an exaggeration. So with the launch of our latest book, Expert in a Year, you will not be surprised that Ben Larcombe and I really really wanted to find some way to self-publish an audiobook version.
But how on earth could we go about it? Most of the audiobooks I have listened to are big blockbuster productions. They have professional voice-overs and hundreds of hours of post-production editing pumped into them. They are works of art.
In fact, publishers will normally wait for a book to become a bestseller before even bothering to consider creating an audiobook. The large expense involved in renting a fancy studio and hiring professionals to do the reading and production are just too costly. You need to be sure you’re going to sell a lot of copies before deciding to create an audiobook.
That is until now. Amazon, ever a friend to the indie author, have made it remarkably easy to self-publish an audiobook through their ACX platform. Yes it’s not going to be anywhere near as good as Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, but here’s the secret: It doesn’t need to be! It just needs to be good enough for your audience.
The trick is to narrate your own book. In the industry author read books are often looked down on: “he’s a writer not an actor”, they’ll say. But in reality for someone like me wanting to publish this sort of ultra-niche table tennis audiobook, author-narration is actually better.
Well for one, our book is in-part autobiographical and is written from my point of view – it makes so much sense for me to read it rather than getting a stranger to pretend to be me. But more than that it is because of my writing style. I am not a professional author and I never learnt to write ‘properly’. Rather I write as if I am having a conversation. I write as if I am talking to you. I write as if I were reading you an audiobook… A stranger, even a professional voice actor, would find it really difficult to replicate that conversation.
Still not convinced? Well, let me put it this way: Is it better to have a ‘good enough’ audiobook or no audiobook at all? Because those are the only options most indie authors have.
We did the reading and recorded it in a normal room with equipment costing under $100 (£60). Here’s a sample of the finished product, what do you think?
How ACX Works
Alright, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The Audiobook Creation eXchange (ACX) is an Amazon-owned website that provides a full service for creating and publishing audiobooks.
When you first delve into the site it can be quite intimidating with all the different industry terms and tables of different choices, but as an indie author you really have three options:
- Team up with a voiceover artist and get them to record your book and split a 40% royalty between you. Earning 20% each.
- Pay a voiceover artist and keep the full 40% royalty to yourself. (I believe the going rate is about $200 per hour of finished audio.)
- Record it yourself and again keep the full 40% royalty.
If you decide to go for one of the first two, ACX has a built-in marketplace where you can put your book up for auction. Although unless your book is already a bestseller and guaranteed some strong sales I imagine it would be really hard to find a good producer willing to create your audiobook just for a share of revenue!
We went for the third option – to record and produce it ourselves.
It’s also worth noting that you can opt not to grant ACX exclusive distribution rights. In which case, you’d earn a 25% royalty rather than 40%, but as ACX will publish your book to all the key marketplaces: Amazon, Audible and iTunes I don’t think there is much point.
- under 1 hour: under $7
- 1 – 3 hours: $7 – $10
- 3 – 5 hours: $10 – $20
- 5 – 10 hours: $15 – $25
- 10 – 20 hours: $20 – $30
- over 20 hours: $25 – 35
Sounds quite lucrative eh? A 40% royalty on those prices. Well, that’s true but it’s not the whole story. A large portion of your sales will be from purchases through what are known as ‘Audible credits’.
Subscribers to Audible purchase credits at about £4 each. They can then exchange those credits for books. If they use a credit to purchase your book your royalty will be a share of the total amount spent on credits and memberships in that period. Here’s how ACX put it:
The total of all membership sales receipts derived from sales of all content sold by Audible in the applicable accounting period, less any cash incentives, promotional discounts, device subsidies or rebates, sales or use taxes, excise taxes, value-added taxes, duties and returns, divided by the total a la carte value (as determined by Audible’s applicable a la carte price for the Audiobook at the time the AudibleListener Allocation Factor is calculated) of the membership sales of all content sold by Audible in the applicable accounting period.
Is it possible to get more convoluted than that? Our audiobook is still too recent to work out exactly how much I’m going to earn per credit sale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was £1 or under.
ACX Audiobook Submission Requirements
The process of recording and uploading the audiobook is pretty easy, but you do need to follow their requirements for the files to be accepted. They are explained in detail on the ACX website but here is a slightly simplified summary:
- Each chapter needs to be recorded in separate MP3 files.
- In separate MP3 files you need to record opening and closing credits. Here’s what to say.
- Each uploaded file must have between 0.5 and 1 second of room tone at the head, and between 1 and 5 seconds of room tone at the tail.
- Each uploaded file must contain the section or chapter header.
- Each uploaded file must measure between -23dB and -18dB RMS.
- You must also upload a sample that is between 1 and 5 minutes long.
That’s all pretty straightforward, the only one I wasn’t sure about was what on earth “-23dB and -18dB RMS” means. To be honest, I still don’t really understand it but I far as I am concerned it just means volume. When recording using (Audacity) there is a handy bar which allows you adjust the volume to within the correct levels. I’ll cover exactly how you do that in more detail later.
Ben Larcombe, my co-author, has a successful table tennis podcast which meant he already owned some recording equipment. We didn’t need to make any additional purchases.
His kit is fairly basic but ‘good enough’. If you want to copy us you will need:
- Samson Q2U USB/XLR Microphone with HP20 Headphones at £50.91.
- Studio Microphone Mic Wind Screen Pop Filter at £2.85.
- Any old laptop and the free software Audacity.
- A quiet room that isn’t echoey. If it is echoey try putting as many soft cushions or pillows as you can find it in, you could also try leaving the door open.
I spent yesterday recording the audio version of the #expertinayear book with @sfpriestley. We discovered that reading a book out loud, clearly and correctly is much more difficult that you might think. The release date for the book is Friday 14th August 2015. It should be up for preorders from next week.
We set up the mike, turned on audacity and started recording. Aduacity is pretty straightforward and really doesn’t need much explaining. Just start it and hit the record button. Then listen to your recording back to see if it sounds alright.
I’m sure there are better ways to do it, but what we did is record each chapter in single sittings. If I made a mistake I would just pause for a moment and restart my reading from the beginning of that paragraph. This made the post-production fairly straightforward as all we needed to do was to go through and delete the mess ups.
It took us a while to get a reading pace that we were happy with. I think we must have recorded the first chapter four or five times. Each time changing the speed of the reading, the length of pauses between sentences and the ‘enthusiasm’ in my voice. It quickly became clear that I naturally speak really fast!
To record our 3-hours and 45-minute audiobook it took us three sittings, each of about four or five hours.
One massive tip I have for using Audacity is to export a copy of the audio after each chapter. At one point our projects were corrupted when we tried to move some of the files. Luckily we had most of the chapters backed up, but one whole chapter did have to be rerecorded.
Neither of us have much experience using Audacity and so our post-production was very manual. We added in the required blank sound at the beginning and end of each file and then deleted the paragraphs that I had messed up and rerecorded. We tried to make it flow as smoothly as possible .
That was quite a straightforward if menial task. What was slightly harder was sorting out the volume levels.
Check out the screengrab below. The red box surrounds the decibel root mean squared meter (db RMS). The light green line is the average and the blue line is the maximum. Remember the ACX requirement? The average db RMS should fall between -18 and -23.
If you find that your recording falls outside of that range then you can adjust it with the slider that I have highlighted with the green box.
After you have perfected the volume levels of your first file you will need to go through all the other mp3s and make sure that they all have pretty much the same average db RMS. Remember to listen to each by ear to make sure there aren’t any volume jumps as the listener goes from chapter to chapter.
Uploading to ACX
The actual uploading and publishing on ACX was really straightforward. There is only one page. You just select each of your files separately and upload them. Then add your audiobook cover image and that’s it. Voila. Hit publish.
A quick word about your cover image. You will need to use a separate image to the one you used for your book’s cover. The audiobook one needs to be square (although I have no idea why, perhaps a throwback to CD cases?).
After you hit publish you just need to sit back and wait. At some point over the next week or two your audiobook will be up for sale and strangers from around the globe can listen to your dulcet tones.
My one criticism of ACX is the same as my main criticism with Createspace. You can’t schedule when your book is published, it could be anytime from a few hours to a week or two after you hit that publish button. With ACX your book goes off into the ether for ‘quality control’. It took about 10 days for Expert in a Year to appear on Audible and Amazon.
Unexpected Bonus – Audible Credits
A couple of days after our Audiobook went live we received and unexpected email from ACX:
Complimentary Audible Download Codes
To help you spread the word about your production, we’re giving you 25 complimentary Audible.co.uk copies of the audiobook. These download codes can help generate reviews on Audible, which can lead to future sales. Raffle off a code on your blog or Facebook page, send one to a reviewer, or share them with friends who can spread the word about your production.
Interesting. But here’s the best bit. The codes convert into generic audible credits, that means that they can be used on any audiobook on Audible, not just your own. And they’ve given you 25 of them. Audiobooks range in pricing, but there are plenty out there that are over £20 each. So thank you very much ACX for up to £500s worth of audiobooks for free! You don’t even need to sell any books.
You can of course use them however you want. I got myself Terry Pratchet’s The Shepherd’s Crown and we gave some of the rest away.
The audiobook hasn’t been live for very long so we don’t yet have a good indicator of sales. Watch this space or sign up for my email list to get any updates.
I hope you got something out of this article and thank you for getting this far! If you have any interest in table tennis or just want to hear what our final audio product was like, please buy our Audiobook :).
Are you an author looking to self-publish an audiobook? Drop me an email or comment if you would like any help or further tips.
If you found this article interesting you might enjoy my challenge to write and self-publish a book in just three days. It is similar to this post in that I explain in detail every step along the way.