With the emergence of Amazon’s Match program (where a customer can buy both print and digital book as a package), it has become clear that readers want multiple ways to access a novel. Why not give them a third option to enjoy your book—an audio version.
Why Produce Your Own Audio Book?
When my newest indie book Apothecary came out, I decided to offer it in as many platforms as possible. And like the true indie that I am, I decided to produce my own audio book. It was a long process, and I learned a lot about sound production along the way. But in the end, it was worth reading through 300 pages of prose (multiple times). It gave me a renewed appreciation for dialog placement and effective tags. But more importantly, I caught a dozen typos that had slipped through the editing process. As a result, making an audio book improved the quality of my print and digital products. From now on, I will always record any novel I write before I launch it.
During my audio forays, I tried a couple of different vendors of audio books, but ACX (part of Amazon) was the easiest to work with. I also tried CD Baby and Podio Books. Each venue has certain specifications for the audio files they will accept. In this article, I will discuss the process for ACX production.
The DIY Overview
To create an audio book, you record your novel chapter by chapter using a decent microphone, edit the files, export them to .wav format, import them into an application that will level the sound throughout all your files, export to an .mp3 format, and then upload to ACX. You will also create an intro, outro and sample file for enticing your readers to buy your book. As with everything else online, you will need a book cover and blurb. That’s it!
What You Will Need for Production
This is a room with curtains, rug, and walls that will absorb sound and prevent sound from bouncing all over the surfaces. Bouncing will make your narration sound hollow. Your studio should be isolated from external noise as well, such as planes. Some people work in a walk-in closet or back bedroom. You can also buy a tabletop sound surround that works well to muffle external noise.
- Good condenser microphone with pop filter
- RODE NT1-A microphone
- Focusrite Scarlett21A USB audio interface (This is needed to power the condenser microphone as well as send the sound to your headphones and computer.)
- Microphone stand
- Boom (optional)
- Sound-canceling headphones
- Lip balm
- Cough drops
Recording and Editing Your Book
Open a new file in Audacity and set its options to the specifications of ACX. (Mono, 44100hz, 16-bit PCM) Record each chapter separately, striving for the same voice quality (microphone in same place, same time of day, preferably over a short span of time, drinking the same type of beverage [not dairy], etc.). For ACX, leave .5 second at beginning, say the chapter name, leave 2.5 seconds of dead air, read the chapter, then leave 3.5 seconds of dead air at the end. Listen to the soundtrack with headphones and adjust microphone placement and gain on your audio interface to get the best sound input you can achieve with your system. Remember, bad input cannot be edited into good output. Start with good input or you will be wasting your time.
Laptop fans can really affect sound quality. Try to record away from your computer by using a long enough cord for your audio interface.
Allowing for dead air when you start recording is important. You will use it to establish the ambient noise of your studio and replace things you want to delete in the sound track.
As you record, if you make a mistake, just repeat the entire sentence. You might be tempted to repeat just the boo-boo word. That rarely works. The inflection of your voice changes when you say a single word as opposed to a sentence. A single word won’t match the sentence anymore. You’ll thank me for this tip!
Once you have your recording, you will use the Effects menu of Audacity to improve your sound. Here’s what I do:
- Scan the file for spikes where you have coughed, dogs barked, etc. Delete spikes.
- Noise Reduction
- Equalization to Reduce Sibilance
- Bass and Treble Boost
Each of these processes requires playing with the settings until you get the best quality of sound (warmth, depth, clarity and very low background hiss, if any). Once you have your settings, though, Audacity remembers them. So spend enough time here to get good sound. You can apply the saved settings time after time as you create new files. Use the Effects menu of Audacity to normalize and compress your track to the specifications of ACX. These specifications can be found at ACX.com. If you need to remove background noise, now is the time. Select the stretch of dead air at the end of the file, go to Effects menu/Noise Removal. First, Get Noise Profile. Then go back to your soundtrack and select the entire track. Go back to Noise Removal and adjust/preview the settings until you remove as much of the background noise as possible without compromising the sound of your voice. This is an art, let me tell you.
When you are happy with the sound quality, move on to editing your narration. Copy at least a .5 second stretch of dead air. You will use this to replace every breath you take. It is amazing how noticeable breaths become after listening to yourself for a few minutes! Any bumps or other noises should be replaced with dead air or deleted altogether. Mistake phrases should be deleted. Watch for mouth pops and clicks at the beginnings of phrases. Delete them.
When you are done, save and listen to your new file all the way through. If any of the audio spikes into the red zone, go to that clip and use Amplify to apply a negative amplification to it. ACX will reject files that spike into the red zone, because the sound gets degraded when it spikes. When you are done proofing, you are ready to export the file.
Export the .aup file to .wav, using the File menu. Repeat the process until you have all the chapters of your book edited and exported. Then open the Levelator application and drag and drop all your .wav files onto the program window. Levelator will process all your chapters so they have the same level of sound.
Next, you will go back to Audacity, open each .wav file and export to .mp3, using the ACX specifications. Be sure to fill out the track information (author, title, track, etc.) as ACX requires this. ACX recommends saving the .wav file as your master file because .wav files are of higher quality. I save my Audacity files (.aup and data) as well, because I sometimes have a background music track that I may want to adjust separately later.
You are now ready to go to ACX.com. Create an account and start a new project. The ACX uploading interface is fairly easy to use, but I didn’t understand at first that once I uploaded all my files and pressed “I’m Done,” that meant my files went off to quality control at ACX, and I could no longer edit them. I thought pressing the Done button meant that I would have a chance to hear how the whole thing went together and then continue to edit. (You don’t get that opportunity, by the way.) So make sure you are satisfied with each and every file you upload to ACX before you press the Done button, or else you will have to do a lot of behind the scenes stuff with ACX.
Worth Every Second…Er…Hour
Creating an audio book is rewarding on many levels. But audio production is not for slackers and the faint of heart! It’s a long process. For every hour of recording, expect to spend three hours of editing. In addition, you may discover your voice does not translate well to audio. But even if you never offer your audio book for sale, you can be confident the recording process will make you a better writer and editor.
Patricia Simpson is an award-winning author of paranormal and historical romances. Her latest works, APOTHECARY is available at ACX.com and Amazon. Find more about Patricia at http://patriciasimpson.com