My short story The Baby and the Crystal Cube is now available as an audiobook on Audible and Amazon and iTunes. I published it in ebook and paperback formats earlier this year, but other authors keep asking me about audiobooks. So, I made one and got hands-on experience working with the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) platform that distributes to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
What did I learn?
First, you don’t need a million bucks to do this, or even a thousand. I do know some professional audiobook talents who built soundproof studios in their homes, stocked with expensive microphones and Pro Tools audio software. If you’re making a career of being voice talent, that’s the right thing to do. But if you are an author with a DIY philosophy and a limited budget, you can get a decent headset mic for $30, download Audacity software for free, and get started.
Second, Audacity has a noise-reduction tool I never used before. With a little trial and error, it helped me eliminate background hum. ACX has strict limits on the decibel level of background noise (“room tone”). I learned I live in a sea of electrical hum! Plus, my first recording efforts took place during rush hour—a terrible time to do this on a busy street like mine. I had much better results recording super late at night when all is quiet.
Third, keep a pen and paper handy while recording. Jot down all the times when you mess up or clear your throat, or when a noise interrupts you. When you edit the recording, start at the last time you marked, and work backwards. If you start at the beginning and snip out mistakes, then the subsequent times are no longer at the place you marked them, but earlier, because you’ve shortened the recording.
Fourth, listen to the whole thing after editing. I was over-confident in my editing the first time I submitted files. I sent one where I missed a major mistake involving cursing loudly and re-reading a botched paragraph. Don’t count on ACX’s quality review team to catch mistakes. They do not listen to every second of your recording. Fortunately, you can upload corrected files, but it’s slightly inconvenient. Do yourself a favor and listen to the whole thing before you submit files!
Fifth, if you have multiple email addresses, set up your ACX account with the same one you will use to email the ACX support team. They absolutely will not lift a finger to help you if you contact them from a different email address. I learned this the hard way. ACX is linked to my Amazon shopping login, which is also my Kindle Direct login, so I needed to change my email address at Amazon. Not a huge deal, but a little inconvenient.
Sixth, the ACX platform and ACX staff really are friendly and easy to work with. I don’t blame them for my failure to use the right email or upload the right files. Once I got my act together, everything with ACX went smooth as silk.
Seventh, the ACX book cover requirements are unique to them. If you already have a Kindle cover, or Smashwords cover, or paperback cover—guess what? You need to make yet another cover! I admit I was a little annoyed by this. As a result, I probably didn’t put enough effort into modifying my existing book cover to fit the ACX size requirement of 2400 pixels by 2400 pixels. Now that I know, I can plan ahead when I design my print and ebook covers.
Eighth, for as much effort and brain surgery as it takes to produce a decent hour of voice recording that meets quality standards, the process is fun and exciting. I may not have the perfect voice, but I do know how I want my own work to sound: the emotional tone, the inflection, and the pacing. Besides the total creative control, reading your own work aloud gives you a more intimate connection with it and understanding of it. You also gain the satisfaction of having your work in a format with even more of your personality in it than the printed page.
Ninth, what works on the printed page doesn’t always work in a reading. I discovered that although my written dialogue makes it absolutely clear who is speaking without excessive speech tags, I needed to throw in a few extra “he said” and “she said” tags in the audio version. Maybe if I had tried to work out different voices for characters, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But I haven’t got that far yet. And how silly would I sound if I did a fake female voice for female characters?
Tenth, I had no say in the audiobook’s price. This isn’t a deal breaker, but with Kindle, Smashwords, and Createspace, I control the price and can even change it after publishing, so long as it meets minimum pricing requirements. With my first audiobook, I wondered, “Where do I set the price?” Answer: I don’t! See the ACX pricing page about how your book’s length determines its price. The ACX royalties page explains how giving them exclusive audio distribution rights earns you 40%, and a non-exclusive deal earns you 25%. “Non-exclusive” means you could sell the audiobook through other channels of your choosing.
To sum it up, you can make your own audiobooks at a low production cost if you learn the ACX requirements, and if you know or can learn basic audio recording and editing. It’s a bit of work, but creatively satisfying.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! In fact, my second audiobook is now available, and I am editing sound files for my third.